Verdi: Un Giorno Di Regno / Loconsolo, Porta, Renzetti [blu-ray]

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VERDI Un giorno di regno Donato Renzetti, cond; Guido Loconsolo (Belfiore); Anna Caterina Antonacci (Marchesa del Poggio); Ivan Magri (Edoardo); Alessandra Marianelli (Giulietta); Andrea Porta (Baron Kelbar); Paolo Bordogna (La Rocca); Teatro Regio di Parma O & Ch C MAJOR 720304 (Blu-ray); 720206 (1 DVD: 119:00 opera, 10:00 bonus) Live: Parma 2010

Giuseppe Verdi’s second opera, Un giorno di regno, proved to be a real disaster, the opera was pulled from the stage at Milan’s La Scala after only one performance, during which the raucous crowd loudly vented their displeasure, sending the young composer into a paroxysm of despair. Yet conditions were never propitious for the opera’s success. Due to the favorable reception of Verdi’s first opera, Oberto Conte di San Bonifacio, he had been signed to compose three more for the Milan house. The intendent, Bartolomeo Merelli, decided at the last minute he needed a comedy to round out the new season, and Verdi was given a choice of several old discarded and rejected librettos from the house stock. According to Verdi himself, he picked the one he disliked least, an older work by Felice Romani, probably updated and touched up for him by house librettist, Temistocle Solera. Verdi’s métier was never comedy, he did not write another until his last, Falstaff, when he was nearly 80. This particular comedy, an opera buffa, was already old-fashioned for the times, employing secco recitatives (sung passages accompanied only by piano) long out of style. After only recently losing his young son to illness, while he worked on this new opera Verdi’s wife fell sick and died as well. Shocked and in grief, Verdi wanted nothing more to do with composing for comedic situations, but Merelli, desperate for the opera, cited the contract and forced the composer to finish the music in a rush. To top it off, the somewhat temperamental singers employed at La Scala were not committed to the work and one key singer was in bad voice. The result was predictable.

With all the above excuses now offered, my opinion of the work is considerably higher than that of the opening night crowd. They were hoping to see top notch Donizetti and only got average Rossini (still pretty good) with a dash of Verdi mixed in. The opera has some strong musical numbers and could easily be mistaken for an early Rossini piece, in fact it is quite reminiscent of Rossini’s first staged opera, La Cambiale di matrimonio, except that instead of one set of mismatched lovers, here we have two, in the pattern of romantic operetta, along with a pair of quarreling buffo basses. The tenor, Belfiore, is posing as the King of Poland while the real king carries out a delicate mission of state. Belfiore must not reveal his true identity while he is a guest at the castle of Kelbar in France. He is in love with a young widow, the Marchesa del Poggio (mezzo), who is also in attendance at the castle. The Marchesa recognizes Belfiore and gets wounded feelings because he won’t acknowledge her. She has been toying with another man, and in a fit of spite, announces she will marry him. Among the other characters are the junior pair of young lovers, penniless tenor Eduardo and his would-be girlfriend Giulietta, the daughter of castle owner Kelbar. Rounding out the lot are the two basses, Baron Kelbar himself, and La Rocca, the state treasurer, who also has his eye on Giulietta. Belfiore uses his royal powers to help straighten things out, and get everyone matched up properly again. When he is finally able to renounce the throne, the others accept the fait accompli with at least grudging good grace. Sound like Strauss Jr. or Franz Lehar? Verdi could probably have used their help, but he was half a century too early.

It may be a long time before a better case is made for Verdi’s maligned second opera than on this C Major video of a 2010 production from the Teatro Regio in Parma. This is set No. 2 in their Tutto Verdi project to record all of Verdi’s operas on high definition Blu-ray disc, and already one of the highlights of the series. Sets are stylish and traditional, costumes in period and finely appointed. Stage Director Pier Luigi Pizzi to his credit pretty much sticks to the story in this seldom seen work, although there is a quite enjoyable tongue-in-cheek bathing scene for the Marchesa where she gives us an old-fashioned strip tease as she disrobes. Mezzo Anna Caterina Antonacci still has the goods to make it riveting entertainment for we males. (And what is the Marchesa doing taking a bath at the castle when she is not an overnight guest? Who cares, it’s harmless and entertaining.) Antonacci sings quite wonderfully, as usual, and even assays Verdi’s coloratura with confident aplomb. Her creamy mezzo voice is always on pitch and she is one of the best actresses on the stage today. She gives the distinct impression that if Belfiore is lucky enough to end up with her she is going to be a handful. Hot young tenor Guido Loconsolo also brings plenty of vocal talent to the role of Belfiore and he looks great as well. The second set of lovers, tenor Ivan Magri and Italian soprano Alessandra Marianelli, despite a few wayward pitch problems are both more than satisfactory here. The quarreling buffo basses should be more properly termed quarreling buffo baritones, neither Andrea Porta as the baron nor Paolo Bordagna as La Rocca have the strong bottom range for a buffo bass (think Osmin in Mozart’s Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail). Both do however bring a nice comedic flair which suits the story well. The chorus seems curiously muffled in a couple of spots but sings quite well when you can hear them, The Parma house orchestra here under conductor Donato Renzetti, seems quite capable, at least in early Verdi. I will be interested to see how they hold up in the blockbuster operas of middle Verdi and the even more demanding scores like Don Carlos and Aida.

Musical highlights include the cleverly written overture, quite reminiscent of Rossini, the virtuoso tenor aria “Pietoso al lungo pianto,” the mezzo soprano aria “Si mostri a chi l’adora,” and the septet, patterned after the septet in La Cenerentola, but not quite as tuneful or as funny. The staging of the septet here is quite reminiscent of the Cenerentola staging from Houston Grand Opera seen on DVD where everyone sits in chairs and pops up when it is their turn to sing, similar to the old Whack-a-Mole game at the carnival. There is a competing video version of Un giorno di regno being released this month with a strong cast on Hardy Classics which I have not seen, but I would recommend this set even if there were a dozen others out there; I am quite pleased with it.

FANFARE: Bill White   

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 720304

  • UPC: 814337012038

  • Label: C Major

  • Composer: Giuseppe Verdi

  • Conductor: Donato Renzetti

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Parma Teatro Regio Chorus, Parma Teatro Regio Orchestra

  • Performer: Alessandra Marianelli, Andrea Porta, Anna Caterina Antonacci, Guido Loconsolo, Ivan Magri, Paolo Bordogna