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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

DVD Review: It's Not Delivery

It's Un Giorno di Regno, Verdi's second opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The wife of bath: Anna Caterina Antonacci as the Marchesa in Un Giorno di Regno.
Image © 2012 C Major Entertainment
(Ed. Note: This is the second step in a planned Superconductor celebration of Verdi's 200th birthday. The idea is to write about different recordings or DVDs of all of the Verdi operas plus the Requiem, ideally ending with Falstaff in October. The series started in January with a review of Oberto.)

Un Giorno di Regno ("King for a Day") was Verdi's second opera and his first attempt at comedy. It was also the first catastrophic failure of his career, premiering to hisses and boos at La Scala in 1840. Faced with a choice of libretti, the young composer selected a text originally titled La Finta Stanislao. This was an attempt at madcap, Da Ponte style comedy, the story of a a young nobleman who has to pretend to be a Polish king at a French court so the real King can slip off to Warsaw and legitimize his reign. And yes, it's based on historical incident.

This DVD was shot at the Teatro Regio di Parma in January of 2010. It is the first release of Un Giorno for home video, and the second of Tutto Verdi: a series of DVDs of all the Verdi operas on the C Major label. With a young cast of singers and an energetic conductor in Donato Renzetti, one had hopes that this lost Verdi comedy might be the latest of his many operas to be rehabilitated for the world stage.

Although the light, fizzing overture (staged as a ballet with the curtain up) gives the listener hope, the opera itself is a major letdown. This is a young composer indulging in an uncomfortable mix of Rossini-type ensembles, dry recitative, and fits and sparks of the compositional brilliance to come. (It should also be noted that Verdi wrote Un Giorno in a period that saw the death of his first wife and two children. Comedy might not have been in the cards for the young composer.)

The most compelling performance here is Anna Caterina Antonacci as the Marchesa de Poggio, in love with the titular pretender. She has a gorgeous introductory aria ("Grave a core innamorato") sung as an elegant striptease as that noble lady prepares to take a bath. She also nails the fierce Act II cabaletta "Si, scordar saprò l'infido ". Unfortunatey, Guido Lonconsolo seems curiously uninvolved as Belfiore, the character around whom the comedy should spin.

Verdi had a predilection for bringing low voices together, a musical device that figures in mature masterpieces Rigoletto, Simon Boccanegra and Don Carlos. Here, the big duet between the Barone (Andrea Porta) and La Rocca (Paolo Bordogna) provides one of the highlights of the first act as the two plotters nearly come to blows. Their duet is set to a jaunty theme that the composer would later recycle into the Triumphal March from Aida. Also of note: the two big Act I ensembles, Rossini-style finales that bring all the characters together in a rising crescendo against the orchestra. They have the propulsive momentum that one associates with Verdi's best work.

Part of the problem with Un Giorno is the unfocused series of subplots that seem added in an effort to give comic fizz to the story. The requisite second couple: Eduardo (Ivan Magri) and Giulietta (Alessandra Marianelli) have some of the better music to sing, and prove an ardent and attractive pair. Yet their part in the story is minor, and as everything is resolved by a deus ex machina anyway, what's the point?

Any shot at redemption is undermined by Pier Luigi di Pizzi's ugly production and stage direction, which manages to underline the serious libretto problems. Mr. Pizzi seems to have trouble differentiating between librettist Felice Romani's characters, creating cardboard figures that fail to elicit the viewer's sympathy. The cavernous, drab sets don't help matters, nor does the use of digital video with its lower light levels that make the singers look washed out. 
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.