I Masnadieri was first performed in at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London on July 22, 1847. Verdi led the first two performances. There were only two more in the English capital. Verdi spent much of his time in England complaining about the weather; and he was there during the Summer. He was at the height of his multi year bout of advanced hypochondriasis which likely explains his more than usual grouchiness. The opera later appeared in Italy and a few other European houses and then joined Alzira in deserved obscurity.
How to explain the backward step from its immediate predecessor Macbeth? Part of the problem is its libretto. Its author, Andrea Maffei, was a distinguished poet, but an amateur librettist. The libretto is an adaptation of Schiller’s Die Räuber. Its hero Karl Moor (Carlo in the opera) is self absorbed, self pitying, and unidimensional. In fact there’s not one memorable part in the whole opera. How can the audience identify with a hero who kills his lover right after she has declared that she loves him no matter that he’s taken to a life of crime. Ostensibly he does this to spare her the anguish of living with the wretch he’s become. In Italian opera, tenors are not supposed to kill their leading ladies. Awful! The shock of this terrible denouement is the result of the trivial way Maffei and Verdi treat Carlo’s descent into murder, robbery, and rapine. Setting fire to Prague seems a lark rather than a monstrosity.
Verdi’s music shows a gain in technique; but while it’s mostly very competent, it’s almost totally lacking in inspiration. The best of it occurs before the curtain rises. The prelude is a concertino for cello. There’s not a tune in the rest of the opera that’s as good as this. I Masnadieri Prelude
This DVD, unlike like those that proceeded it, is not from the Parma company. It’s from the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. It was staged last year – see below for details. One look at it and you know that it’s not one of the mostly traditional productions that are mounted by the Teatro Reggio. The sets and costumes are a combination of punk and Mussolini baroque. There are lots of leather, fedoras, and automatic weapons. The unitary set has a multi colored skull at its back and a raised platform that goes nowhere. We’re obviously not at the beginning of the 18th century. When Carlo’s evil brother Francesco attempts to force himself on Amalia she fends him off not with a knife, but with a handgun. Francesco is portrayed as a deformed hunchback with a frozen right lower extremity. By comparison, Rigoletto looks like he’s ready for the Decathlon in Rio De Janeiro. The libretto makes no mention of any such physical deformity; it’s Francesco’s character that’s twisted not his body. Francesco stabs himself to death at the end of first scene of the fourth act instead of running away which make hash out of his father’s concern for both his good and bad sons in the next scene.
The singing is pedestrian. Aquiles Machado has a lyric tenor that thins at its top. Carlo needs a spinto to delivers the forceful outbursts that characterize the role. Machado, however, is quite good at the soft lyrical phrases that occur in the love duet. The lightness of his voice may explain the small microphone he wore throughout the performance.
His lover, Amalia, is sung on this recording by Venezuelan soprano Lucrecia Garcia. The role was written for Jenny Lind. Verdi even allowed Lind to insert her own embellishments to her music. Garcia gave a straightforward reading to the part which the way she sang it requires a rich Verdi spinto. Her voice is not lush and his a bit forced at its highest reach.
Polish baritone Artur Ruciński was the evil brother Francesco. This role requires a fully loaded Verdi baritone. Ruciński’s repertoire, as far as I know, has no other Verdi parts in it and his voice was a little light for the part. Nevertheless, his was the strongest portrayal on the disc. It’s a wonder that he could sing at all given how contorted was his body by the demands of director Gabriele Lavia.
Bass Giacomo Prestia was Massimiliano the woolly headed father – both literally and vocally. There’s not a whole lot to his part which he acted well. There’s a lot for the chorus to do and they did it well, though none of the writing is memorable.
Conductor Nicola Luisotti is the music director in both Naples and San Francisco. Everything I’ve heard him lead has been first rate. This performance was no different. He keeps the action going with energy and excitement and realizes all the lyricism inherent in what he conducts. He got as much out of I Masnadieri as was possible. An off day for opera’s greatest composer.
YouTube has this performance. It’s linked below. I suspect it won’t be up for long. But at least for now you can watch the entire production and make your own judgement about it.
Teatro di San Carlo, 2012
Massimiliano – Giacomo Prestia
Carlo – Aquiles Machado
Francesco – Artur Ruciński
Amalia – Lucrecia Garcia
Arminio – Walter Omaggio
Moser – Dario Russo
Rolla – Massimiliano Chiarolla
San Carlo Theatre Ballet School
San Carlo Theater Chorus and Orchestra
(chorus master: Salvatore Caputo)
Nicola Luisotti, conductor
Gabriele Lavia, director
Alessandro Camera, set designer
Andrea Viotti, costume designer
Carlo Netti, lighting designer
Recorded live at the Teatro di San Carlo, Naples, 21, 25, 27, 29, 31 March 2012