Hungarian State Opera – I vespri siciliani

I vespri siciliani – Opera in five acts to a libretto by Augustin Eugène Scribe & Charles Duveyrier [sung in Italian with Hungarian surtitles]

Monforte – Massányi Viktor
Bethune – Gurbán János
Vaudemont – Cser Krisztián
Arrigo – Bándi János
Procida – Rácz István
Elena – Bazsinka Zsuzsanna
Ninetta – Gémes Katalin
Danieli – Daróczi Tamás
Tebaldo – Mukk József
Roberto – Anbrus Ákos
Manfredo – Kiss Péter

Chorus & Orchestra of Hungarian State Opera
Kesselyák Gergely

Matthias von Stegman – Director
Frank Philipp Schlössmann – Sets
Nagy Viktória – Costumes

[Hungarian names presented in surname/first-name order]

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 21 June, 2010
Venue: Hungarian State Opera, Budapest

I find the lack of scheduling of this opera inexplicable – it is in many ways a more coherent narrative than “La forza del destino”, for example, so three cheers to Hungarian State Opera for bothering to stage it. Three more cheers given that all forces are its own – an ensemble company, which can have its drawbacks, but here paid great dividends.

Modernists would, no doubt, snigger at the clarity and coherence of Matthias von Stegman’s direction, but he simply respected the libretto, had confidence in Verdi and told the story. There were individual touches, notably in his direction of Elena, who is set rather apart, somewhat aloof for much of the work, totally apt for a woman in mourning for her dead brother, and for a Duchess of Austria. The set comprised huge rusting metal panels which moved in an out from the wings in various combinations to suggest a change in location on the stepped stage, costumes were vaguely Napoleonic, but Monforte wore a shiny blue floor-length outfit straight out of Star Trek. It mattered not, because the musical values were so high and the enthusiasm for the work so palpable.

While one could not claim that all the voices were of international standard, there was a real sense of ensemble and engagement here. Zsuzsanna Bazsinka possessed all the attributes of Elena, except the voice. She acted superbly and was alive to the nuances of her words, but hers is a smallish, light voice which she is forcing into heavier repertoire – she tended to be lost in large ensembles and was at her best (she is a good musician) in her delightfully rendered Act Four ‘Arrigo! Ah, parli a un core’.

All the men (Elena is the only main female principal) were in fine voice with Viktor Massányi producing a river of untiring tone as the French Governor Montfort. Alas, he cannot act, but it was of little import given his truly impressive singing. János Bándi is a house favourite, a tenor who has progressed from light roles all the way to Otello. It is easy to see why – he produces a sound we have not heard in Western Europe for quite some time and which reminds of Vladimir Atlantov – the top of the voice is huge; if you were unkind you would call it a bellow, but he integrates it with the line. Additionally, he delivers all his words with real punch, making much of the sonorities in Italian and is a keen stage actor, perhaps a little silent movie-like at times, but effective nonetheless.

István Rácz made for a slightly mad and decidedly bad Procida, his sonorous bass dominating ensemble and pouring out the glory that is his Act Two set-piece aria ‘O tu Palermo’. He prowled the stage, unpleasantly forceful with the other protagonists, a half-demented patriot blindly sacrificing everyone else’s happiness for ‘The Cause’. This was a superb portrayal.

Chorus work was committed and enthusiastic and the Orchestra played with true passion under Gergely Kesselyák; he was unafraid to unleash the orchestra in moments of musical violence yet also to rein it in for the more contemplative moments in this great Verdi score.

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