The Royal Opera – Stiffelio [Cura & Radvanovsky]


Stiffelio – José Cura
Lina – Sondra Radvanovsky
Stankar – Roberto Frontali
Raffaele von Leuthold – Reinaldo Macias
Jorg – Alastair Miles
Federico di Frengel – Nikola Matišic
Dorotea – Liora Grodnikaite

The Royal Opera Chorus
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Mark Elder

Elijah Moshinsky – Director
Michael Yeargen – Set designs
Peter J. Hall – Costumes
Paul Pyant – Lighting
William Hobbs – Fight Director

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 20 April, 2007
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Back after an absence from Covent Garden of more than a decade, Elijah Moshinsky’s own revival of his production of Verdi’s “Stiffelio” reunited conductor Mark Elder and soprano Sondra Radvanovsky after their appearance (with Domingo – who shared the role of Stiffelio back in 1995 with José Cura, on his debut) last season in Alfano’s “Cyrano de Bergerac”.

Radvanovsky relished the role of Lina, Stiffelio’s wife who is having an affair with Raffaelo (a House debut for Reinaldo Macias, replacing Andrew Sritheran), arousing both her father’s suspicion and her husband’s jealousy – the great denouement being Stiffelio’s act of forgiveness from the pulpit.

For 140 years “Stiffelio” was something of a lost Verdi opera; censors had savaged the score before the première in Trieste in 1850. Seven years later Verdi had requested the score back from his publisher Ricordi and used it as the basis for “Aroldo”. When, in the early 1990s, both Covent Garden and New York’s Metropolitan wanted to mount productions, the committee producing the new Verdi edition managed to get sight of, and photocopy, the remaining manuscripts that were at Villa Verdi. Too late to influence Sir Edward Downes’s edition for Covent Garden’s production (available on DVD with José Carreras, from 1993), use was made of it for the Met, and – I wonder – whether it was the Met version that was used in the 1995 revival in London?

Although there is a fascinating note in the programme by the managing editor of Chicago University Press and Ricordi’s Giuseppe Verdi edition, and on the editor of Stiffelio, Kathleen Kuzmik Hansel, there is no clear indication as to whether what Mark Elder is conducting this time around is her new edition – which makes use of further study of Verdi’s original manuscript revealing a wealth of markings and changes not visible on the photocopies. One assumes it is, but it is never clearly stated. If so, this revival was something of a première.

Moshinsky – aided by Michael Yeargan’s claustrophobic interior designs (so enclosed that Elder and, belatedly, Moshinsky himself, had to get on stage for the first curtain call, as there is no easy side entries) – translates the action to Bible-belt America, where the religious fervency of the townsfolk works well. The front cloth has an amazing photograph (at least it looks like a photograph) of a Nebraskan church with silhouetted gravestones and crosses against an endless sky. Act Two, outside the church where Stiffelio discovers Lina’s father Stankar fighting with Raffaelo and finds out about her affair also has a similar vista which is equally as threatening as the claustrophobic interior of the meeting hall, inside which all the action of Acts One & Three is crushed.

The tensions are palpable, and Moshinsky’s production stands up very well. José Cura, not in the very best of voice, keeps his extrovert-self contained, but you can see how Stiffelio is boiling inside. By comparison Radvanovsky is stentorian of voice, but has a much more rewarding acting part than Roxanne in ‘Cyrano’ and she seizes it fully. Within the enclosed set, the chorus is on very fine form and Elder, of course, is at one with the score. However, the stand-out performance is Roberto Frontali as Lina’s father Stankar, who will stop at nothing to hide the truth about Lina’s affair and to save his if not Stiffelio’s honour, though things don’t quite turn out that way and the truth unravels wildly.

Jealousy, revenge, pity, forgiveness – all regular themes in Verdi’s later operas – are here in “Stiffelio”. What the censors did when it was first performed has now been corrected – we can see now that “Stiffelio” is classic Verdi, and Moshinsky’s is a classic Royal Opera House production.

  • Remaining performances on 23 April and 2, 5, 8 & 10 May at 7.30 (except 5 May at 7 p.m., which is conducted by Chris Willis)
  • Box office: 020 7304 4000
  • Royal Opera

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