Verdi: Il Corsaro / Palumbo, Bruson, Michailov
Subtitled in Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese
Il Corsaro is still one of Verdi's less known and performed operas. Chronologically speaking, it belongs to the famous "years in the galley", even though it dates from a period (the autumn of 1848) when the composer's name, in Italy, could already be considered established. Although this is considered one of Verdi's minor works, there are many exciting and poignant passages in it, and the tight dramatic action makes for music that has a pressing and incisive rhythm. The renowned baritone Renato Bruson and conductor Renato Palumbo stand out in the cast. The video recording makes the most of Lamberto Puggelli's beautiful sets. FIRST DVD RECORDING
R E V I E W S
Dynamic has issued this live performance of Verdi’s Il corsaro from the 2004 Verdi festival at Parma in both CD and DVD formats. The source of Piave’s libretto was Byron’s narrative poem, The Corsair. The first act is set on the Corsair’s island in the Aegean. After the traditional opening chorus, Corrado, the leader of the pirates, enters and declares that he is not happy. A messenger tells him that the Pasha Seid is preparing to attack. Corrado commands the pirates to attack the Muslims. In the second scene, set in a tower on the island, Medora sings of her love for Corrado and her fear of dark events in the future. Corrado enters, and in a duet she pleads with him not to leave her, but he promises to return soon and goes off to battle.
Act II is set in the harem of the Pasha Seid. Gulnara, who is loved by Seid, declares her hatred for the Pasha. A eunuch informs her that Seid wants her to attend a banquet. She agrees, but wants the other women to accompany her. The scene changes to a pavilion on the shore of the harbor of Coron. Seid leads the assembly in a prayer to Allah. Seid is informed that a dervish has come to speak to him. When fire breaks out in Seid’s fleet, Corrado—who has masqueraded as the dervish—reveals his identity, and his followers attack. In the midst of the battle, Corrado becomes aware that the harem is on fire; he commands his followers to save the women. Seid seizes the opportunity to counterattack, and Corrado is captured. Gulnara pleads with Seid to spare Corrado, but the pasha vows vengeance.
Act III, scene 1 is set in Seid’s apartments. In his aria, Seid expresses his suspicion that Gulnara is in love with Corrado; then, in a cabaletta, he vows to kill Corrado. Gulnara enters and pleads with Sied to spare Corrado, but he refuses and she threatens him. The scene changes to a dungeon inside a tower. Corrado is fearful that Medora will die if she finds out that he is executed. Gulnara enters and tells Corrado she has bribed the soldiers and guards, and that a ship is waiting to take him back to his homeland. She urges him to kill Seid, who is sleeping, but he refuses. She rushes out and then returns, telling Corrado that she has killed Seid. He tells her that he does not love her but is willing to save her.
The final scene is on the seashore on the Corsair’s island. Medora , believing that Corrado is dead, has taken poison. A ship is sighted and Corrado returns. In the final trio, Corrado tells Medora that Gulnara has saved him, but Medora reveals that she is dying because she believed he was dead. Medora dies in Corrado’s arms, and he leaps from a cliff into the sea.
Years ago, the International Record Collector’s Club released a CD entitled “Souvenirs of 19th Century Italian Opera.” In the notes, the author said: “No Italian opera written between the death of Donizetti in 1848 and the premiere of Cavalleria rusticana in 1890 (except those written by Verdi) ever became a permanent part of the international repertoire.” He noted only two possible exceptions: Boito’s Mefistofele and Ponchielli’s La gioconda. The fact is that Verdi’s most formidable competitor was himself. Much earlier, in 1951, in the notes of the Cetra Soria LP release of Un giorno di regno is printed a quote from the magazine L’Europeo, “Better a Failure of Verdi than a Success of . . . (name your own composer).”
Il corsaro, like all Verdi operas, requires great singers. In this performance, three young singers are paired with a veteran. Zvetan Michailov has a ringing spinto tenor. He does well in the dramatic moments, but his voice is monochromatic and lacking the ability to soften the tone when required. Michela Sburlati is a little light voiced for a role that requires a dramatic soprano, but is quite acceptable. Renato Bruson is past his prime. He sang the role of Seid in a 1971 performance that was available on LP. Now, 33 years later, his voice lacks the former ringing quality, and he has some difficulty with the high notes. Adriana Damato reveals a fine lyrico spinto, and is easily the best in the cast. The CD has notes and a libretto. The sound is excellent, and Renato Palumbo conducts with the verve that is necessary.
The only other commercial recording that I know of was first issued by Philips on LP in 1976 and then on CD in 1987. It boasts an all-star cast of Jessye Norman as Medora, Montserrat Caballé as Gulnara, and José Carreras as Corrado. The weak link is the Seid of Gian-Piero Mastromei. The conducting by Lamberto Gardelli is excellent, and it is the best recording of the opera. I totally agree with the opinion of Joe Kay Law who, in a review of this recording in The Opera Quarterly, vol. 5, Nos. 2 & 3, wrote the following: “In short, this reissue on CD should be enthusiastically received either to replace deservedly worn copies of the LP issue or to introduce listeners to an undeservedly neglected opera. Il corsaro may be minor Verdi, but it is far from negligible.” This new recording is recommended to all those Verdi lovers who do not have the Philips release.
Probably for financial reasons, the DVD reveals that all of the action takes place on shipboard, either Corrado’s ship or Seid’s ship. Only the final scene is on a somewhat bare stage. However, the production works well, except for the fire scene and the finale, when Corrado jumps off a wooden ladder in the back of the stage to commit suicide. Zventan Michailov is a rugged, handsome, ideal visual Corrado, and Michela Sburlati a beautiful, blonde Medora. The veteran Renato Bruson is visually excellent as Seid. Adriana Damato acts well, but she is unattractively costumed. Since there is little probability that a competing version will be released, I recommend that those who have a DVD player and love Verdi not hesitate.
Bob Rose, FANFARE
Catalog Number: DYN-33468
Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Renato Palumbo
Performer: Adriana Damato, Michela Sburlati, Renato Bruson, Zvetan Michailov