Friday, May 3, 2013


Reviewed by James Karas
Giovanni Battista Parodi, Francesca Sassu, Fabio Sartori, Mariana Pentcheva
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio di Parma conducted by Antonello Allemandi
Directed by Pier’Alli.  C Major, Unitel Classica. Blu-ray and DVD.
Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio was Giuseppe Verdi’s first opera and its occasional productions are almost strictly honoris causa. One does look for nuggets of ore that will turn into gold but the few that you find are not enough to propel the opera into more than the outer fringes of the repertoire.

On the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth, Unitel Classica is issuing all 26 of the composer’s operas on Blu-ray and DVD and Oberto is No. 1 on the shelf if not the first one to be  issued. In fact, the recording is from a 2007 production at the Teatro Verdi di Bussetto, Parma, Verdi’s hometown.

The plot is set in early 13th century Italy but for this production the action takes place sometime in the 18th century. Riccardo (Fabio Sartori) is about to marry Cuniza (Mariana Pentcheva). Leonora (Francesca Sassu) whom Riccardo seduced in the past arrives and interrupts the wedding. She is the daughter of Count Oberto (Giovanni Battista Parodi), the defeated enemy of Riccardo. Cuniza finds out about Riccardo’s infidelity; Oberto challenges Riccardo to a duel and he is killed;  Riccardo goes abroad and Leonora goes to a convent. End of opera.

The story for the libretto by Temistocle Solera after Antonio Piazza is of unknown provenance.

Most of the issues of the production rest with Pier’Alli who is billed as Stage Director and Set, Costumes and Lighting Designer. Part of the problem is no doubt the tiny Teatro Verdi. It has a very small stage and seats a mere 300 people. The sparse reaction from the audience, the small orchestra and the tiny stage gave the “feel” of amateur theatre which it certainly is not.

The opera itself does not help. It consists mostly of a series of set pieces where there is little room for manoeuvring. What little there is, Pier’Alli reduces it to almost none.

The opera opens with Riccardo coming on stage to tell us how happy he is about getting married. Sartori plants his feet on the stage floor, sings his piece and leaves. The smartly dressed chorus is lined up on the sides and there is no interaction between the tenor and them. Sartori sings in more of a stentorian than lyrical fashion but he is pleasant enough.

Leonora, who tells us that she is after revenge because she was jilted by him (but she still loves him), follows him on stage. (Hello, Gilda?)  Soprano Francesca Sassu gives more of a recital than a performance with liberal use of her expressive hands. She sings in a spotlight with almost no indication of a set or anything to place her whereabouts. More of this later.

Then Oberto steps into the spotlight that illuminates the stage floor only and tells us that he is returning from exile. Parodi has a reasonably resonant voice but he seems to have limited range. Leonora joins him and we now have two characters on stage. The two sing a nice father-daughter duet but manage to almost never look at each other. This is the no-eye-contact duet and I am not sure what Pier’Alli was thinking. Throughout the production, performing meant, with few exceptions, facing the audience and belting out your notes.

Bulgarian mezzo-soprano Pentcheva does some fine singing but her movements and acting are almost non-existent.

Lighting was erratic to say the least. The main source was a large spotlight and there were times when the whole stage was lit but the characters stepped out of the spotlight, the chorus was frequently in the dark with someone rushing to turn on the light or waiting for the singer to step back into the lit area.

The Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Regio di Parma under Antonello Allemandi performed Verdi’s creaky music quite superbly.

The sound and video quality are excellent if you can get past the lighting faux pas.

Tutto Verdi means what it says and one is grateful for having all of these operas in quality recordings but one wishes that Pier’Alli was a bit more imaginative in his directing and a lot more careful in his lighting and design responsibilities.

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