Passion and Commitment
Verdi's 'Giovanna D'Arco' at La Scala,
recommended by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
recommended by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
Teatro alla Scala has the reputation of being the most important Italian opera house. As a consequence the Teatro alla Scala opening night of the new season (always on 7 December, St Ambrose, patron of the city of Milan) is the most important inauguration of the Italian opera seasons. It is a special non-subscription gala, with sky high ticket prices (usually paid by sponsors) and an early starting time (6pm) in order to allow for dinners and receptions. This year, special security measures were taken because La Scala's season inauguration had been targeted by terrorists web sites.
In the stalls and boxes was the best of Italian business and finance. In the royal box, the Prime Minister, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Culture and Infrastructures, the Mayor of Milan and their spouses.
The opera selected for the gala was Giovanna D'Arco by Giuseppe Verdi, a rarely performed 1845 work that some critics see as 'a bridge' between the seventh of eight operas of Verdi's youth and the composer's mature work. Others consider it as a rather incomplete and hasty operation. It had been forgotten for decades but since the mid nineteen eighties, it has been undergoing a revival as it is especially appreciated by a few conductors, including James Levine, Nello Santi and Riccardo Chailly, La Scala's principal conductor and rumored to soon become its music director. Performances of Giovanna D'Arco at La Scala are scheduled until 2 January 2016.
The libretto by Temistocle Solera is based on Friedrich Schiller's tragedy, where Giovanna D'Arco is a heroine pursuing national unification, rather than a saint. Solera simplified the very complex plot of the tragedy (and reduced the number of characters from twenty-seven to three principals and two minor roles). He kept, of course, the basics: a dilemma between carnal passion and striving commitment to national unification. Verdi's vocal writing was patterned after a very special soprano, Erminia Frezzolini, whose register had an extremely wide extension. Thus, in its few revivals, Giovanna D'Arco has been a war horse for important sopranos.
Anna Netrebko was the star of the evening. She made a good choice in this role for this point in her career. She started as a light lyric soprano but now she is a generous dramatic soprano with a huge volume, excellent phrasing and the ability to reach a very high register and to descend easily from it. She showed her talent from her initial 'cavatina' to her love duet with the tenor (Francesco Meli as King Charles VII of France) in the first part and throughout the concertato to the final scene in the second part, when she is always on stage. She deserved the accolades and ovations she received from an enthusiastic audience.
Francesco Meli is her partner. He is an excellent tenor, but the role makes him shine only in the duets. The 'cavatina' Verdi composed for him was old music, already in 1845.
The baritone Devid Cecconi (as Giovanna's father) replaced Carlos Álvarez (who was sick). He was quite nervous in the first part but gained confidence and strength in the second.
As in all Verdi operas of that period (such as Nabucco and I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata) there is a fourth protagonist: the chorus (in a wide variety of roles), very well directed by Bruno Casoni.
A key element of the successful evening was the dramaturgy and stage direction of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, the set by Christian Fenouillat and the costumes by Agostino Cavalca. The 1429-31 plot is seen as a dream or a nightmare by a sick woman in a circa 1850 bedroom.
From the walls of the big room, the war, the Siege of Rouen, Reims Cathedral and the British jail emerge, thanks to projection. A real coup de théâtre, making a rather poor libretto plausible.