Monday, 7 October 2019

Verdi - Le Trouvère (Parma, 2018)

Giuseppe Verdi - Le Trouvère

Teatro Regio di Parma, 2018

Roberto Abbado, Robert Wilson, Giuseppe Gipaldi, Roberta Mantegna, Franco Vassallo, Nino Surguladze, Marco Spotti, Luca Casalin, Tonia Langella, Nicolò Donini

Dynamic, Blu-ray

Verdi's French operas have remained rare and infrequently performed. Even those originally written for a French audience, Don Carlos and Les Vêpres Siciliennes are better known in their Italian counterparts, Don Carlo and I Vespri Siciliani. Lately however not only have we been able to better assess the relative merits of those works in actual performance, but we've even been able to compare I Lombardi alla prima crociata against Jérusalem, both works rare in either language, but Verdi's French version of Il Trovatore has remained largely overlooked, and perhaps with good reason.

Notwithstanding its popularity and a number of famous choruses, Il Trovatore has pacing and plot credibility issues in its Italian version, and it's hard to imagine that it could be improved with a change of language and the insertion of a long ballet at the beginning of Act III. Any yet, watching the 2018 Verdi Opera Festival production from Parma, it's clear that Verdi's Le Trouvère is Il Trovatore like you've never heard it before. Or, perhaps more pertinently, like you've never seen it before, since Robert Wilson's characteristic direction has a way of placing a very different complexion on any familiar opera.

This is not the best place to consider the merits of Wilson's approach to theatrical presentation (Wilson makes his own arguments for it in the booklet of this BD/DVD release), but arguably they do seem better suited to works that have a more spiritual dimension rather than the full-blooded melodrama of a Verdi opera. I've rarely seen a production so beautiful but unsuited to the music and drama as Wilson's production of Verdi's Aida, and yet Wilson does unquestionably impose a huge presence and influence that colours how you perceive any opera he is involved with.

'Colour' being the operative word here. You know what to expect - a sparse light-box stage lit in shades of teal or aquamarine blue, geometric shapes floating above the stage, figures in stylised costumes contrasted against the light, striking strange static poses, with occasional objects and figures mysteriously floating past or wandering onto the stage. All this is very much present in Wilson's production of Le Trouvère which, in acknowledgement to the history of the venue and its composer, this time has the addition of some period photographs of Parma projected and animated, and one old man, looking very much like an elder Verdi, observing it all with amusement.

Even if you are familiar with Robert Wilson's designs and techniques, it still looks extraordinary, completely unlike anything else. Whether it is appropriate or not for the work - well, it certainly doesn't look like any familiar view of this opera, but it does succeed in establishing a haunting and vaguely sinister quality that suits Il Trovatore, or Le Trouvère, very well. Whether that feeds into the musical performance or whether the French version has its own particular character is harder to determine, but why speculate and attempt to deconstruct? It is what it is, and in its totality it is utterly compelling and beguiling whether as French Verdi or as Wilson doing French Verdi.

In some ways, Wilson's cool approach - while it might not have done much for Aida - suits the overheated melodrama and wild flights of Il Trovatore and works well to tone it down and bring it into focus. It doesn't so much cool it however as show it for its true stylisation - in its own way - as a dramatic piece. The credibility of characterisation or ability to follow the machinations of Azucena the gypsy and the switched identity of Manrico (Manrique here) and his romantic attentions towards Léonore is largely irrelevant. Le Trouvère creates its own universe where anything can happen and Wilson's production makes it possible for the viewer to enter into that world.

But there are a number of clear differences and revisions that do make Le Trouvère a different prospect from Il Trovatore, and it does indeed even have a very different character sung in French instead of Italian, sounding more lyrical and less declamatory. The majority of the actual changes are small tweaks, the excision of a cabaletta here, the addition of an aria there - but there are a couple of significant changes, notably the Act III ballet and the handling of the conclusion. Whether any of these changes are noticeably for the better is doubtful but they are fascinating to hear and see performed. Unfortunately, Wilson, like nearly every other director I've seen faced with a Verdi ballet, doesn't know what to do with it, and 20 minutes or so of extras boxing - not matter how stylised - really tests even the most tolerant Wilson fan.

Despite such additions Le Trouvère thankfully doesn't aspire to grand opéra extravagance, and Wilson's show-paced choreography and direction would never permit it anyway. Conductor Roberto Abbado recognises the more sweeping lyrical flow of the score and takes a varying approach to the pacing, never letting it head off at full-tilt but rather working with Wilson's direction to establish a piece that works on mood rather than dramatic action. Perhaps the French singing also makes a difference on the character of the work, but what matters most here - as it does with any Verdi opera in any language - is that it is superbly sung by the cast. The voices are clear and resonant Roberta Mantegna's Léonore representing that romantic lyrical quality, while Giuseppe Gipaldi's Manrique and Nino Surguladze's Azucena soar above the drama. All remain focussed on vocal character and delivery, never getting submerged by the music or indeed by the extraordinary visual aspect of the production.

It's difficult to transfer that character effectively to the screen, but the Dynamic Blu-ray release looks great. The usual transfer issues of blurring in movement are hardly noticeable in a slow Robert Wilson production, but vitally, the image gets across the subtle graduations of colour tones and lighting, with deep, rich blacks in the shadows that are essential for the contrast and the mood. It looks simply amazing in High Definition. And the audio tracks packs a punch as well. Voices are clear and resonant, there's good presence to the orchestra, although not always full detail. An impressive presentation nonetheless.

The only extra on the Blu-ray disc is a guide to the Teatro Farnese venue in Parma, but the enclosed booklet is wonderfully informative with a look at the history of the French edition of the work, including notes from Robert Wilson on his approach and a synopsis. The disc is BD50 for an almost 3 hour opera, all-region compatible, with subtitles in Italian, English, French, German, Japanese and Korean.

Links: Teatro Regio di Parma