August 10, 2020

With Verdi, from Bilbao to heaven | Culture

I Lombardi alla prima crociata Y Jerusalem they are two sides of the same coin within the operatic catalog of Giuseppe Verdi. The second is the French elaboration of the first, although not its mere adaptation. Verdi signed a contract to debut at the Opéra in Paris, in November 1847, with a "new" opera. And he entrusted Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaéz to write a script based on I Lombardi, from 1843. The result was very different from the original. The plot re-portrays the first crusade that ended with the conquest of Jerusalem, but seen from the French side. Dramatic interest is lost in interreligious conflicts, which it represents, in I Lombardi, the couple in love, Giselda and Oronte, between a Christian and a Muslim. But he also wins with a much simpler and better locked plot, where the new sentimental couple, Hélène and Gaston, are both Christians. Verdi reused in Jerusalem good part of the arias and choirs of I Lombardi, although with severe variants, new instrumentation and a different dramatic location. He also composed the recitatives and added several new musical numbers along with the prescriptive ballet of all grand opera.

Are we, therefore, before two different operas or two versions of the same title? The Association of Friends of the Opera of Bilbao (ABAO) It has allowed its audience to verify their differences and similarities within the Tutto Verdi project, which started in 2006 and will culminate next season. If last January was offered uan interesting production of I Lombardi in the Euskalduna Palace, now I know does the same with Jerusalem. The difference is that, while I Lombardi It premiered in Spain in 1844, Jerusalem It is the first time it can be seen in our country, exactly 172 years after its premiere. We are facing a kind of "cinderella" from the Verdian catalog. An opera that did not finish settling in the French repertoire, for being more sober and less outgoing than any Meyerbeer title. But not in Italian, where it was released in 1850 translated, as Gerusalemme, losing the nationalist component that had I Lombardi. Curiously, his first revival did not come until 1963, precisely in its Italian version, and with the Spanish tenor Jaume Aragall as a debutante.

Today Verdi specialists are divided among those, like Julian Budden, consider Jerusalem above I Lombardi, and those who, like Francesco Izzo, argue that the case defies conventional labels. “It is neither a new opera nor a simple case of translation and adaptation,” acknowledges Izzo in his magnificent essay published in the hand program. But everyone agrees that Jerusalem Not only does it show the traces of the later Verdi, but these French operatic incursions were crucial in his own evolution as a composer. And you just have to listen to the first minutes of the opera to verify it: a beautiful introduction, which seeks to connect with the themes of the opera, an attractive duo that places the love plot, the preghiera made of I Lombardi, a brief orchestral interlude that represents the dawn and the first choral number that opens I Lombardi with that aroma to the future Rigoletto.

An image of the representation of 'Jerusalem'.

An image of the representation of 'Jerusalem'.

But the first act did not work well last night at Euskalduna. The Italian director Francesco Ivan Ciampa struggled, in front of a delivered Bilbao Orkestra Sinfonikoa, to arrange with vigor and musicality from the pit, but he did not get rid of some mismatches with the scene. Also the protagonist trio began tense and cold. However, everything improved, from now on, from the second act. Italian bass Michele Pertusi stood out vocally in the air "O jour fatale", although he failed to delve into Roger's complex psychological evolution, from the evil and sinister to the vulnerable and moral. It was not ideal either Jorge de León like Gaston. The Canarian tenor boldly addressed the best-known aria of the opera, “Je veux encore understand” (adaptation of “La mia letizia infondere” from I Lombardi), but also irregularly. He showed, however, ways, volume and treble, as was evident in the famous "ut de poitrine", the final over-the-top Verdi wrote for the show of the French tenor Gilbert Duprez.

The best of the night came from the female protagonist: the Andalusian soprano Rocío Ignacio, a lyric that has widened her voice to face the spinto that Hélène demands. Already in the preghiera "Ave Maria", from the first act, showed some elegance in the dynamic nuances, and, in the third, exhibited dramatic poise in the air "Let m’importe la vie". But it was the polonaise “Quelle ivresse!”, A cabaletta from I Lombardi reworked by French Verdi, where Ignacio had his stellar moment. Very compact and without fissures the rest of the cast, formed mostly by young Spanish singers. And a special mention to the Bilbao Opera Choir, which crowned in the last two acts a memorable performance with a lot of scenic work.

Francisco Negrín's stage direction is part of an ABAO co-production with Theater Bonn, released in early 2016, which also meant première German of Jerusalem. It is inspired by the final scene of the third act, which Verdi composed ex novo For this opera. In it the Crusaders arrange for the execution of Gaston that is portrayed with an infernal atmosphere. But, far from any allusion to the present, an aesthetic close to the paintings of El Bosco is chosen through an imaginative Domenico Franchi costume that presents Gaston as a kind of homose Ecce. That scene was one of the best moments of the entire performance. The whole proposal seems a clear allusion to Dante, as we see in the orchestral introduction of the opera, through a descent into hell. The scenery of Paco Azorín is limited, precisely, to that kind of tunnel or funnel with which Dante represents hell, illuminated by Tomas Roscher and with projections by Joan Rodón and Emilio Valenzuela that provide some dynamism. Unfortunately, the production chooses to suppress ballet and also for a strange exchange of numbers, which ends the second act with the choir that opens the third.

Another highlight of this water, whose replacement at ABAO has been in charge of Angela Saroglou, was the final scene in front of the gates of Jerusalem. The conquered city is presented as a celestial metaphor through a dazzling white light, while the choral anthem “À toi gloire” that closes the opera plays. With Verdi, from Bilbao to heaven.


Music by Giuseppe Verdi. Libretto by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz. With Rocío Ignacio, Jorge de León, Michele Pertusi, Pablo Gálvez, Fernando Latorre, Moisés Marin, Deyan Vatchkov, Alba Chantar. Bilbao Opera Choir. Bilbao Orkestra Sinfonikoa. Musical direction: Francesco Ivan Ciampa. Stage direction: Francisco Negrín. 68 ABAO-OLBE season. Euskalduna Palace, until November 25.

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