Verdi’s Corsaro at Parma in 2008

Completing the composition in somewhat of a rush, Verdi could not have thought much of Il Corsaro, because he did not take the trouble to attend its first performances in Trieste. My first encounter with the work indicates that, if he indeed held a low opinion of it, the judgement would not have been totally unjustified. The main problem lies in its structure and Piave’s libretto which amount to little more than a series of conventional dramatic episodes. True, the piece contains some passages of fine musical invention – what opera by Verdi does not? – but one senses the composer’s impatience with the material.

One might think that Parma’s Teatro Regio would be one of the ideal venues for Verdi performances, it being close to his birthplace Bussetto as well as hosting an annual festival devoted to his operas. My, admittedly limited, experience of the opera house suggests otherwise (see my blog on an abysmal Don Carlo endured there in 2016: It may be that the theatre’s reputation for attracting an audience containing severe critics of vocal accomplishment pushes the management to concentrate on the singers, rather than the staging. The video performance of Il Corsaro, dating from 2008, supports this hypothesis. The stage director Lamberto Puggelli may have been an acolyte of the great Giorgio Strehler but there was little evidence of it in his platitudinous production. The grouping and movement on stage were drearily conventional, the chorus in particular often being required simply to stand about and sing; and when drawn into battle they could not help looking rather silly. The soloists too seemed to have been largely left to their own devices, resulting in some of them limiting dramatic expression to arm gestures and facial anguish or extasy.

Silvia Dalla Benetta, as the concubine Gulnara, was a happy exception to this. She communicated her emotional responses to being forsaken by Corrado, the pirate chief, not only through the intensity of her physical demeanour but also by modulating and colouring the vocal line. The pure top to her soprano and the richness of her lower register also gave pleasure. She outshone somewhat the Russian soprano Irina Lungu in the less interesting role of Medora, Corrado’s betrothed. As Pasha Seid, the pirate’s quarry, Luca Salsi revealed a robust but unsubtle baritone and there was little variety in his bluster. The splendour of Bruno Ribeiro’s tenor matched his ardour and induced acclaim from the Parma public, notwithstanding occasionally reaching a note from one below. The spirited but sensitive conducting of Carlo Montanaro and the playing of his orchestra contributed a much needed positive dimension to the performance.