Reviewed by James Karas
Aronica, Guanqun, Frontali, Mangione
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio di Parma, Andrea BattistoniDirected by Guy Montavon
C Major, Unitel Classica. Blu-ray and DVD.
**** (out of five)
You are not likely to see Stiffelio, Verdi’s 1850 potboiler, in your local opera house but this DVD and Blu-ray recording goes a long way towards satisfying any craving to enjoy that neglected work. Recorded live at the Teatro Regio di Parma in April 2012, the production features some outstanding singing and striking staging that simply add to the question of why has Stiffelio been ignored and woefully underrated for so long.
Stiffelio is about adultery, murder and (perhaps) forgiveness played against a religious background and suffused with biblical references. Not surprising, of course, since the title character is a Protestant minister. Tenor Roberto Aronica, shaved upper lip, heavy whiskers and minister’s tabs, looks quite patriarchal. On his return home from a trip, he rightly suspects his wife Lina of infidelity and he treads the course between vengeance and forgiveness.
Aronica delivers a powerful performance that expresses both pain and anger. He has a very good voice but it falls short of the tremendous emotional impact that a great tenor can deliver.
Soprano Yu Guanqun dominates the production as the erring wife Lina. She has a ringing, powerful and splendid voice that tears straight to the heart. With glasses, an ordinary hairdo and a very ordinary dress, she is no Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina but when she sings she displays uncommon emotional depth.
Baritone Roberto Frontali sings Stankar, the stentorian and melodramatic father of Lina. He is the catalyst of the plot that pursues and eventually kills the adulterer. A very dramatic performance both vocally and theatrically.
Tenor Gabriele Mangione is the adulterer Raffaele, a conventional rake, well sung. George Andguladze sings the role of the older preacher Jorg. We hear his sonorous voice but the old man keeps his head down much of the time and we see the top of his hat quite frequently.
Guy Montavon as stage director and lighting designer gives us a dour, almost monochromatic version of the opera. A long table and a few chairs is about all we get in the first act which takes place in the courtyard of Stankar’s mansion. A forbidding cemetery lit in blue is the setting for the second act and a church scene with a large open bible makes up final scene. A cross is visible frequently adding to the dramatic effectiveness.
Lighting comes from the side and the floor is usually brightly lit with quotations from the bible written on it. Quite appropriate, of course. In the final scene in the church, Stiffelio comes upon the Biblical story of the woman taken in adultery. He takes his cue from Christ and forgives his wife. But does he? In a fine directorial stroke, Montavon has Stiffelio run out of the church as soon as he indicates “forgiveness.”
A youthful Andrea Battistoni conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio di Parma briskly and the sound and video quality are excellent.
Stiffelio is part of Tutto Verdi, a recording of all 26 of his operas on the 200th anniversary of his year of birth, all done in high definition and surround sound. A major achievement.