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VERDI: I Vespri Siciliani (complete opera), Blu-ray (2012)

VERDI: I Vespri Siciliani (complete opera), Blu-ray (2012)

Cast: Leo Nucci (Guido di Monforte)/Dario Russo (Il Sire di Bethune)/ Andrea Mastroni (Il Conte Vaudemont)/ Fabio Armiliato (Arrigo)/ Giacomo Prestia (Giovanni da Procida)/ Daniela Dessi (La Duchessa Elena)
Performers: Orch. and Chor. of Del Teatro Regio di Parma/ Massimo Zanetti
Director: Pier Luigi Pizzi
Studio: C Major (Unitel Classica) 723904 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 1080i HD 
Audio: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
No Region Code 
Length: 170 minutes
Extras: Introduction (11 minutes)
Rating: **** 

The Sicilian Vespers refers to the Easter rebellion that occurred on the island of Sicily in 1282 against the rule of the French king Charles I, who had ruled the Kingdom of Sicily since 1266. Six weeks later over 4000 French men and women were slain by the rebels, and the government of King Charles lost control of the island. Legend has it that the squall initiated because a Frenchman had hassled a Sicilian woman outside of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Palermo at the time of Vespers. The subsequent war went on for 20 years.

Verdi couldn’t win with this one; the idea was to assume the mantle of the top exponent of grand opera in France, but the problem was that there were too many shady aspects of both sides in the conflict. The French of course demanded their ballet, and Verdi gave them a thirty-minute one smack in the middle. It was only mildly successful, and Verdi was never completely satisfied with the work of his librettist, Eugene Scribe. The reworking for Italy involved translating the work into Italian, eliminating the ballet, and changing the title to what we have today. Even then the Italians balked because of the cynical portrayal of the Sicilian conspirators. As a result the piece never had much success, though the composer placed far more emphasis on the complex personal interrelationships in the piece than anything else.

It ranks quite low on the list of most popular Verdi operas, and really low on the list of most popular operas ever; consequently when a new recording comes along we must pay attention, and a video even more so. There have been only a handful over the years, and this is the first Blu-ray production. We are lucky that it is quite a fine one. Part of the “Tutto Verdi” series from C Major, which is attempting to complete all of the Verdi operas in Blu-ray (to mostly good result so far), this Vespri features excellent singing, bare but effective sets (and a small stage), and especially the radiant performance of Daniela Dessi as Elena, real-life wife to Leo Nucci, a seasoned and excellent Monforte. The singers are not that well-known but quite good, sometimes outstanding. The opera itself gets a deserved recording, as it is much better than a lot of people give it credit for, though not as good as many of its cult followers would have you believe. Much of the music is superb, and it is an important milestone in Verdian development.

—Steven Ritter

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