Classical review: Les vepres Siciliennes, Royal Opera House, London
Friday 18 October 2013
Verdi’s first Parisian grand opera, Les vepres Siciliennes, enjoyed a brief vogue before disappearing from the repertory. Astonishingly, Covent Garden’s crowning contribution to Verdi’s centenary year represents this work’s UK premiere in its original French form. Its historical basis in 13th century French-occupied Sicily was creatively doctored by its librettist Eugene Scribe to tread a careful path round Franco-Italian sensibilities in 1855, but the real attraction for its original audience lay in the staging, which Verdi had demanded should match his "grandiose, impassioned" subject.
Modern British audiences not being overly exercised by Risorgimento politics, it’s necessary to find a new way into the story, and Covent Garden has had the wit to bring in the Berlin-based Norwegian director Stefan Herheim, who has set the piece in a stylised version of the opera house for which it was written, and who has translated its political struggle into one in which art itself is the territory over which battle is raging.
This may sound a hackneyed idea, but, aided by Philip Furhofer’s amazing and inventive designs, Herheim loses no time in putting it brilliantly to work. He uses Verdi’s long and grandly symphonic overture for a symbolic enactment of the events to follow in which the relationship between the occupying power and its victims is expressed through a ballet rehearsal, with the corps sexually brutalised by soldiers, and with their ballet-master (Erwin Schrott as the wounded freedom-fighter Procida) impotent to protect them. Much of the ensuing plot takes place in the context of a murderous masked ball, and Herheim capitalises on this to blend narrative reality and high-flown fantasy without losing an atom of dramatic credibility.
But he does have some fine singing actors, led by baritone Michael Volle as the tormented viceroy Montfort, tenor Bryan Hymel as the hot-headed revolutionary Henri, and Schrott, whose rolling basso profundo grounds the conspiracy scenes and lends sinister comedy to the Odette/Odile charade which is one of Herheim’s flashes of oddball inspiration. Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian’s Helene – granted the opera’s loveliest moment – was on opening night sometimes below the note and uneasy with her coloratura, but she shaped her arias with rare refinement. Under Tony Pappano’s direction chorus and orchestra excelled.
If all this makes a great evening, it’s partly because in Herheim we have that rare thing, a director who allows his fertile imagination to be led by the music, but principally because this rather B-class Verdi opera has been so magically transformed.
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
- 2 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 5 Canadian woman suing police who locked her in van with sex offender who then raped her
Gorillaz Phase 4: Cartoon supergroup is back as new artwork is unveiled
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
As Better Call Saul launches, here are the other spin-off shows we need to see
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
Hard line on immigration could cost Tories the election