'Giovanna D'Arco' in the Farnese Theater,
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
In a Verdi Festival centered on operas based on Friedrich Schiller's tragedies, it is natural to include Giovanna D'Arco [seen 2 October 2016], a rarely performed 1845 work which some critics see as a bridge between the seven operas of Verdi's youth and the composer's mature work. Others consider it as a rather incomplete and hasty operation. Verdi himself had a soft spot for this opera. He thought that it was one of his best, and broke relationships with La Scala for several decades because he assumed that the work's poor success was due to the inexpensive, even cheap, production at the premiere.
Giovanna D'Arco had been forgotten for decades, but since the mid 1980s, it has been undergoing a revival because it is especially appreciated by a few conductors such as James Levine, Nello Santi and Riccardo Chaily, who is La Scala's music director. On 7 December 2015, it was chosen to inaugurate La Scala's 2015-16 season, a very importantevent in Italy. (See 'Passion and Commitment', 10 December 2015.) At the Parma Verdi Festival, it was last heard and seen in 2008 with Bruno Bartoletti in the pit, and a traditional but effective staging by Gabriele Lavia.
The libretto by Temistocle Solera is based on a Schiller tragedy, where Giovanna D'Arco is a heroine pursuing national unification, rather than a saint. Solera simplified the very intricate 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 carnallove and the striving engagement of national unification. Verdi's vocalwriting was patterned after a very special 'amphibious' soprano, Erminia Frezzolini, whose register had an extremely wide extension.
Music did not appear to be the main concern of this 2016 production. Theperformances are not taking place in the regular opera house, Teatro Regio, but in the nearby Teatro Farnese, an impressive Renaissancemonument planned for huge parties where the guests would sit on rows of huge wide staircases, and in the central parts, horse shows and even naval battles would take place. Indeed, even for this original purpose, it was rarely utilized, due to the sheer costs involved. It was bombed duringWorld War II, then reconstructed. In the last decades, it hosted a couple ofconcerts and a series of performances of Falstaff. It is extremely impressive but has a dry acoustic. Nothing can be done to improve it because is a national monument.
Some twenty years ago, Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway fell in love with the Teatro Farnese and planned a movie to be shot entirely inside the structure. Now they have been entrusted with this production ofGiovanna D'Arco. It is a quite astonishing work of visual projections: Giovanna is interpreted not only by a singer (the young Victoria Yeo) but also by two dancers, one expressing her heroic attitude and the other her childish heart.
There is, of course, a lot of action and many references to 'second life', forests and animals. The costumes (by Cornelia Doornekamp) place the action any time, but definitely not in 1431 or during the fifteenth century. The underlying concept is that the story of Giovanna D'Arco is timeless and very relevant to our time of wars.
I was sitting in a good place, as far as acoustics are concerned, and could appreciate the young ensemble 'I virtuosi italiani' conducted by Ramon Tebar and the chorus directed by Martino Faggiani. Luciano Ganci (KingCharles VII) is a good powerful tenor, Vittorio Vitelli (Giacomo, Giovanna'sfather) a real Verdi baritone, and the young Vittoria Yeo is, at the moment, a lyric soprano, thus with a quite different voice than that Verdi planned for the role.
The audience applauded the show, but I don't know how much music they listened to.