Verdi's 28 operas make a perfect mosaic. An immense arc where each title is a fundamental keystone of its structure. The link of a chain that allows to understand the evolutionary path of the composer of Busseto, from 1839 to 1893. It is affirmed by the current musical director of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Riccardo Chailly, in his book of conversations Il segreto è nelle pause (Rizzoli, 2015). But the Milanese theater, which witnessed the birth of so many Verdian operas, today is perhaps not the best place to contemplate that mosaic, arch or chain, but the Bilbao Association of Friends of the Opera (ABAO). The project Tutto Verdi, another fascinating bilbainada started in 2006, faces its final straight this season with I lombardi alla prima crociata, premiered precisely at La Scala, in 1843. They will follow him, Jerusalem, which is the French revision of I lombardi, next season, and it will culminate, with Alzira, in 2021.
I lombardi is one of the most interesting and least valued titles of Verdi's early catalog. It is usually seen as a way to make the patriotic success of Nabucco, with that popular choir of the fourth act, "O Signore, dal tetto natìo", which replicated with the same character the now more famous "Va pensiero". But it also supposes a fascinating advance in the aforementioned Verdian evolutionary chain, as explained by Francesco Izzo, responsible for the critical edition of Verdi's work (University of Chicago Press / Ricordi) in his admirable text for the book-program of ABAO. The composer not only begins, for the first time, with an orchestral prelude, that sediments that mysterious, solemn and sentimental tone of the work, but the band goes off stage, then, it refers us to the future Rigoletto. The choir acquires a multifunctional protagonism and as soon centers a scene as it intrudes with its own voice within a quintet, just as we heard in "T'assale a tremito!". And the instrumental accompaniment, far from being conventional, gains in depth, with maleficent figurations that anticipate Macbeth, in Pagano's aria, "Sciagurata! hai tu creduto ", and chamber music announcing the late Otello, like in the preghiera "Salve Maria!" And I could continue commenting on details in the second, third and fourth acts where this title surpasses Nabucco.
I LOMBARDI ALLA PRIMA CROCIATA. Music by Giuseppe Verdi. Libretto of Temistocle Solera. With José Bros, Ekaterina Metlova, Roberto Tagliavini, Sergio Escobar, Jessica Stavros, David Sánchez, Rubén Amoretti, Josep Fadó. Bilbao Opera Choir. Euskadiko Orkestra Sinfonikoa. Musical direction: Riccardo Frizza. Stage direction: Lamberto Puggelli. 67 Season of ABAO-OLBE. Euskalduna Palace, until January 28.
But the problems of I lombardi They are not related to the novelty of Verdi's music, but to the complexity of his plot and the difficulty of his music. The first one determined the cold welcome of the Bilbao public at the premiere on Saturday, January 19. And the second put to the test the cast of soloists in a winter dates always complicated for the lyric; In fact, before starting, it was announced by public address that two of the three protagonists of the opera, the bass Roberto Tagliavini and the tenor José Bros, would sing affected by a vocal indisposition. Fortunately, the other three musical pillars of a good I lombardi, that is to say, the orchestra, the choir and the soprano that Giselda sings seemed assured. Undoubtedly, the Italian Riccardo Frizza was the most relevant of this production. He directed with nerve, elegance and flexibility, at the head of a brilliant Euskadi Symphony. And he supported his reading in a careful planning of the dynamics and tempi, which ensured a fluid and natural dramatic flow within each scene. For its part, the Bilbao Opera Choir resolved with quality the numerous choral passages, some of great difficulty, although the two most famous numbers (Gerusalem! Y O Signore, dal tetto natio) were not among the best of the night.
In the vocal section, the big winner was Ekaterina Metlova, who debuted in the demanding role of Giselda. The Russian soprano was successful in the vocal challenge, although with more audacity than elegance. And more aware of the notes of the score than the nuances of the character. He started tensing the coloraturas, in the preghiera of the first act, but it improved in the second act, with a brilliant cabaletta Do not! … giusta causa non è d'Iddio, which was the best of all his performance. Roberto Taglivini overcame his announced problems and was a good Pagano, of noble and compact timbre, which stood out in his romanza of the second act, Ma quando a suon terribile. On the contrary, the Barcelona tenor José Bros sang indisposed his first Oronte. In spite of everything, Metlova, Tagliavini and Bros got, together with concertino of the Euskadi Symphony, give luster to one of the most novel scenes of the opera in the third act, which starts from a virtuoso concert for violin and culminates with the exquisite terceto Qual voluttà trascorrere. Well the rest of the cast and, to highlight, the dye Arvino spinto, of the toledo tenor Sergio Escobar, and the compact Pirro of the Burgos bass Rubén Amoretti. Both, together with Metlova, debutants not only in this title, but also in ABAO.
Another important problem of I lombardi It is based on the staging with 11 changes of scenery set in the time of the First Crusade (end of the eleventh century) that extends from Milan to Jerusalem, passing through Antioch and the Josafat Valley. But the staging of the late Lambert Puggelli, which has been replaced in Bilbao by his widow, Grazia Pulvirenti, provides a timeless approach without contravening the historical issues of the plot. For example, Santuzza Cali's costumes include contemporary Orthodox Jews in front of a set design, by Paolo Bregni, which revolves around several projections on the Wailing Wall. But Puggelli incide, with success, in the anti-war mood of the plot. For this he relies on the illumination of Andrea Borelli, too dark at the beginning and too bright at the end, when we contemplate that Jerusalem as a utopia of peace. And it also uses projections of cultural references, such as Guernica, of Picasso, at specific moments, like during the anti-Islamism choir Stolto Allhà !.
Indeed, Verdi and his librettist do not take sides here by either side, whether Christian or Muslim, and emphasize that in war there are never victors. They use Giselda, a brave woman who believes her Muslim lover to be dead and confronts her father and the other crusaders at the end of the second act, criticizing the Deus vult of Pope Urban II with a vehement cabaletta : "No! .. It is not the just cause of God / to bathe the earth with human blood", some words that the composer marked with the pen very tight in the autograph of his score. Verdi, yesterday, today and always.