Tuesday, April 10, 2018

I Wanted to Care about Il Corsaro…

…but I couldn’t. I kept watching/listening because of Michael Fabiano, and he did a great job. I love his singing, and generally he is a good actor (but he didn’t have a lot of help here). The other principals sang well, and did their best at the acting part, particularly Viti Praante and Kristina Mkhitaryan. But they were left high and dry by their director, Nicola Raab. She talked a good game; but it didn’t pay off. Il Corsaro is based on a Byron poem, so she cast Corrado (the Corsaro) as the poet. In the first part of the opera, he remembered things past (Acts 1 and 2) and seemingly lived out the conclusion in Act 3. Somewhere in Act 2, it seemed he was working on writing the story.

Even knowing this, it was rather confusing. Framing an opera as a flashback is not a new idea (but it’s not a bad idea, either) but it wasn’t very clear. Gulnara, who in the plot, dies at the end of the opera, seems to rise from the dead to do her first scene in Act 1, then take poison and die before the Act 1 curtain. Then she’s back for the finale of Act 3, apparently still dying. Corrado (Mr. Fabiano) throws himself off a cliff (according to the libretto) at the end, but he and the two sopranos (the baritone was really dead—and in another country) simply turned away from the audience at the end of the final scene.

The staging looked like a high school pageant. The chorus filed on and sang (pretty well, actually), then filed back off—several times. I did like the use of projections on the various scrims. The large blocks that make up the set were OK—not that disappointing—but the singers seemed like they were not really given any direction other than, “enter here, sing, then leave” and maybe perhaps, “act distressed here.” Poor Vito Priante was left in front of a huge box to sing of his love and frustration. At some point he is murdered but that wasn’t very clear either. This is about pirates and sultans and harems. A little swashbuckling would have helped the action—from start to finish.

If you want to do an expressionistic (or is it impressionistic—I always get those mixed up?) production, like the Komische Oper’s Pelleas et Melisande, then go for it! Make it weird and disturbing. Stage Lulu in a giant glass maze or Parsifal in a lab rat experiment or Wozzeck in a puppet theater. But own it! This felt very half-baked.

I stuck with the performance because I really like Michael Fabiano and the other principals I noted above. Il Corsaro is not prime Verdi, but it’s pleasant enough.  It has some nice bel canto arias (mostly typical two-parters), a few ensembles, and some nifty storm music. And since it’s a compact opera—less than two hours—I don’t feel like I lost an important chunk of my life. But if I ever revisit this production (or the opera in any form), I’ll probably just listen. I felt bad for Michael, after his more major appearances at the Met and major European venues, to be stuck in this provincial little production. But at least he got to add another role to his vitae. This is the kind of presentation that gives opera a bad reputation. It's on OperaVision for a few months. Listen to it for Michael, but maybe with the fast forward button in your hand.

I first encountered this opera in a cheap download of the 1975 recording with Carreras, Caballe, and Norman, which is fun. I recommend checking it out if you come across it. 

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