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I VESPRI SICILIANI
WASHINGTON NATIONAL OPERA
SEPTEMBER 21, 2005
Reviewd By: Joseph Giannino
In a word, this performance of Verdi’s “I Vespri Siciliani" by the Washington National Opera on Wednesday, September 21st was ‘awesome’. The story, in brief, is as follows: after his release from prison, Arrigo, a young Sicilian patriot, wants to assist with the uprising against French occupation of his country. He aligns himself with the beautiful Elena and her friend Procida who plan to kill the French Governor Monforte at the upcoming ball. When Arrigo realizes that Monforte is his long lost Father he prevents Elena and Procida from committing their deed. Arrigo is denounced as a traitor by the two who are sent off to prison. Monforte makes a deal with his son that he will pardon and release his son’s friends if Arrigo publicly acknowledges his father. Arrigo does as asked and Monforte pardons the two. In the process he arranges for Elena and Arrigo to marry, hopefully cementing the union between France and Italy. On the day of the wedding Procida informs Elena that the French have let their guard down and that the uprising can go forward. The signal will be the sound of wedding bells. The opera ends with the rebellion, resulting in a slaughter that took the life of every French man, woman and child.
The WNO’s production of Siciliani was one of the most enjoyable evenings that I have spent at the opera in a long time. It started when Maestro Placido Domingo took the stand and conducted a spirited, beautiful and rich overture. Mr. Domingo maintained a strong presence in the pit all evening long and did an outstanding job with the talented Washington National Opera Orchestra. The cast was perfect with Maria Gulegheni and Franco Farina absolutely giving there all in a vocal tour-de-force. Not only were their scenes together wonderful but individually they both seemed to hit their vocal ‘sweet spots’ and never lost control.
Sensational bass and baritone Lado Ataneli as Monforte and Vitalij Kowaljow as Procida respectively rounded out the cast. These gentlemen produced rich, deep and beautiful music throughout the entire evening. Occasionally it was noticeable that the arias were performed directly to the audience with no real interaction with the stage. This was totally forgivable, however, saved by the strength of their performances.
This production was also marked by an absolutely outstanding performance by the Washington National Opera chorus. It was strong and tight all evening long. Verdi usually gives his chorus’ a good amount of work throughout a performance and here was no exception. The stage design, by Paolo Micciche and Antonio Mastromattei, was very interesting. Basically the entire work seemed to be performed within a piece of art. The stage had very large and moveable frames that would basically showcase where the performers were while the backdrop, scrims and individual hanging sheets, would project beautiful Italian art throughout the entire piece. I found the use of sets extremely effective. The costumes, by Alberto Spiazzi, were also well done with wonderfully colorful uniforms for the French soldiers and traditional Italian pedestrian clothes for the commoners. The lighting was also very well done with the bulk of it being handled with the projection of all of the artwork in various locations on the stage. All of the above taken individually would be excellent; taken together in the comfort and great acoustics of the Opera House at the Kennedy Center it became magical. The opera ended and the cast took their well deserved bows. Interestingly, when Ms. Guleghina received Maestro Domingo on stage, it was as if they didn’t want to leave it. This was probably due in no small part because the audience stayed and cheered, recognizing a terrific night at the opera for what it was.
Conductor, Placido Domingo
Stage and Visual Director, Paolo Micciche
Set Design, Antonio Mastromattei
Costume Design, Alberto Spiazzi
Lighting Design, Joan Sullivan-Genthe
One terrific night at the opera