Verdi: Les Vêpres Siciliennes [De Nederlandse Opera] Blu-ray Review
- Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0
- Subtitles: English
- Region: A
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1
- Studio: Opus Arte
- Blu-ray Release Date: October 25, 2011
- List Price: $39.99
Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
In order of composition, Les Vêpres Siciliennes, or The Sicilian Vespers was the 20th of Giuseppe Verdi’s 28 completed operas, coming hard on the heels of triumphs like La Traviata and Rigoletto. Now more commonly performed in Italian, Verdi wrote it originally for the French opera theater, a major reason for its mid-performance ballet sequence. The plot is a particularly complex one, centering on the 13th century French occupation of Sicily. A good bit of the action concerns the rather brutal treatment of the Sicilian women by the French soldiers, a fact not lost on Sicilian physician Procida who plots an uprising against the French occupiers. French governor, Montfort holds the power of life and death. Henri, a French mercenary, discovers that he is Montfort’s long-lost son, creating a conflict between love and duty that extends right up to the opera’s conclusion. This relationship results in the sparing of Procida and Dutchess Helene (Henri’s love) who have been sentenced to death. Montfort arranges the wedding between Helene and Henri, and as the palace bells chime, the Sicilians respond to this signal to massacre Monfort and the French, as the opera ends.
This 2010 performance features a reasonably strong international cast, led by Verdi veteran, Paolo Carignani who conducts the Netherlands Philharmonic. Particular kudos go to Dutch soprano Barbara Haveman (Helene), German tenor (Burkhard Fritz) and Roumanian bass (Balint Szabo). The only casting let down is Alejandro Marco-Buhrmester in the important role of Montfort who seemed a bit underpowered on this evening. This is the third Christof Loy BD opera production that I have reviewed, the others being Berg’s Lulu and Handel’s Theodora. The minimal nearly bare staging and the use of modern formal dress are Loy trademarks and may or may not suit some operagoers.
The videography is generally excellent with liberal use of close ups to gain dramatic tension in an opera where there is a lot of stand-and-deliver singing and only occasional bursts of action. Detail is quite good and the color palette, such as it is in a frequently monochromatic backdrop, is well balanced.
Voices come from a bit back of the proscenium, giving the orchestra more prominence than usual. However, being an orchestra-heavy score, this sonic perspective is not a disadvantage. Maestro Carmignani deserves credit for allowing the discrete inner voices in the pit to be well heard. I noted that this is actually a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 soundtrack, although the lack of the 0.1 channel is not missed in this case, there being a limited amount of low frequency effects. The perspective is clearly upfront, making the surround soundtrack marginally more engaging than the PCM 2.0 version.
This set features a behind-the-scenes “introduction” to Les Vêpres Siciliennes which will prove to be helpful to those unfamiliar with this opera. There is also the usual cast gallery.
The Definitive Word
Les Vêpres Siciliennes is opera in its grandest manner, just take a gander at the finale of Act III. It is a neglected Verdi masterpiece that surely deserves to be heard more often. At best, this 2010 Nederlandse Opera production is a mixed bag. While some works can surmount minimal staging and hodgepodge wardrobes, I don’t think that Vêpres is one of those works. Christof Loy’s concepts fail to create the kind of onstage atmosphere that a long opera like this truly needs to sustain viewers’ attention. Another total misfire is the Seasons Ballet in Act III which looked like Hansel and Gretel dropping acid, replete with juggling and doing it doggy-style. What were the choreographers thinking or not? Helene, pregnant before the wedding ceremony? Another gratuitous and dramatically pointless revision of the drama. Musically, there are some very strong performances, particularly from Haveman and Fritz, and Carmignani’s leadership is well appreciated. The camera work helps mitigate some staging issues by keeping a focus on the singers, and away from the sets or lack thereof. What are Verdi lovers to do, given my reservations about this Nederlandse Opera production? This BD is this opera’s video premiere and there will not likely be another one anytime soon given the casting demands that it exerts. I have three audio recordings of the Italian version, the best of which features Verdi luminaries James Levine, Placido Domingo, Martina Arroyo, Sherill Milnes and Ruggero Raimondi. This current release is nowhere near that level of performance but would be a stop-gap recommendation for Verdi completists and for those who simply must have a video version of this masterpiece.
Additional Screen Captures