This fine new release in digital splendour is a perfect example of how under the hand of a talented director an opera can be updated and even improved with a revolutionary concept. Revolutionary indeed. The opera is all about revolution, in this case the uprising of the Siciliani against French oppressors in 1282. How ironic and daring that Verdi prepared this French version for a Paris audience in 1855. But of course his mind was on Italy’s fight for freedom and unification.
The Grand Opera tradition that Verdi laid his hands on with variable success must include a ballet and so this version does, making the opera almost five hours long. What Christof Loy of Salzburg fame does with it is a re-enactment of the protagonists’ childhoods which enlightens the rather confusing plot and keeps the action moving. Minimalistic but strong sets, simple props like chairs scattered around, modern costumes used as a dramatic device (the French in dinner jackets, the natives in jeans and loose shirts, Hélène the heroine in a man’s suit and tie) and an overall grey colour scheme all form an artistically unified concept.
Add to this a group of dedicated, enthusiastic singers, Barbara Haveman’s glorious soprano, Burkhard Fritz (the tenor’s vocal acrobatics stand out), a fine chorus always so important in Verdi’s operas and a young, formidably talented and dynamic conductor, Paolo Carignani, who brought the house down in COC’s Tosca this February. It’s a win-win situation with the immortal Verdi emerging as triumphant even with one of his less successful but, in this production, very soul-fulfilling operas.