WORKS: Les vêpres Siciliennes
PERFORMER: Lianna Haroutounian, Bryan Hymel, Erwin Schrott, Michael Volle; Royal Opera House Chorus & Orchestra/Antonio Pappano; dir. Stefan Herheim (London, 2013)
CATALOGUE NO: Warner DVD: 0825646164349; Blu-Ray: 0825646164318
The first Royal Opera House production of Verdi’s tribute to the more-is-more aesthetic of Meyerbeer and his contemporaries was supposed to bring together the opera and ballet companies in spectacular celebration of the composer’s bicentenary. Artistic differences resulted in the withdrawal of choreographer Johan Kobburg and the Royal Ballet, replaced by a troupe of freelance ballerinas under the direction of André de Jong. Even minus Verdi’s Act III ballet, presumably collateral damage in the dispute, dance is a constant in this febrile, melancholy, glittering score. Antonio Pappano draws some exquisitely supple playing from the strings and woodwind, holding plenty of energy in reserve for the grand confrontations and choruses where the brass blaze with Berlioz-like ferocity. Pappano’s skill in teasing tension from a dramaturgically uneven work is not matched by Herheim. The production looks no better on DVD than it did in the theatre.
Philipp Fürhofer’s designs transpose a drama of slow-burning insurgency in French-occupied Sicily to the site of its 1855 premiere, the Salle le Peletier. The dancers, routinely subject to sexual harassment in 19th-century Paris, represent the raped Sicilian women, including the woman who gives birth to Henri (Bryan Hymel), bastard son of the French governor, Montfort (Michael Volle). The rebel Procida (Erwin Schrott) is here a cross-dressing ballet-master. Together with Lianna Haroutounian’s dramatically uncommunicative Hélène, we have four principals with radically divergent musical and acting styles. Hymel, a veteran of Robert le Diable, takes the laurels for delivering an emotionally truthful and sophisticatedly sung performance against astonishing odds.