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Three Country Premieres in Only Three Days
At the beginning of December, The Magyar Opera in Cluj suggested the project which, under the title 'the Verdi - Schiller Trilogy', presented the operas 'Giovanna D'Arco, I Masnadieri (The Thieves)' and Luisa Miller, for three nights in a row, for the first time in our country. Embodying an idea launched by Selmeczi Gyorgy, the one standing at the music rack, the productions were made in collaboration with The Budapest Opera, so that the cast could include soloists from both theatres, who were applauded along with the ensemble from Cluj equally at the Erkel Theatre and the Magyar Opera.
Starting with the desire to give unity to the certain trilogy, the mountings take place in a background set with common marks (conceived by Csiki Czaba) and costumes (sketched by Kiss Zsuzsa) which also maintain elements which are retrieved in all three operas, even if the space and era in which they were placed by Schiller and Verdi were totally different, being thus 'assimilated' through an unique approach. If in the first two works, the rock or wooden (eventually, suggesting a kind of primitive sculptures), complete each other with images which take place in the woods, with huge twisted root-branches, which create a strange picture of other lands, in Luisa Miller there are kept only the uneven structures and the entrances through odd 'arcades' - changed from caves into potential palace gates or from Miller's dwelling - while the huge stone-wooden cross, with peculiar insignia, is constantly present in all productions. On the other hand, the choir invariably wears red clothing, so that in Giovanna D'Arco it becomes hard to 'guess' which is the French army and which is the English one, in Masnadieri both the 'thieves' and Francesco's men can be mistaken because they are almost identical, and in Luisa Miller, the young girl's friends look like Count Walter's soldiers. The unification of things in the background blends with the soloists' costumes, combined and easily debatable, suggesting noble attires and plain garbs, from today or some other time, from nowhere… anyway. In terms of directing young people Zakarias Zalan, Gottinger Pal and Szocs Artur were approached - probably to promote the new generation, not bringing pithy visions, leaving the relation between characters to 'flow' with ease or, on the contrary, forcing some pretty unclear combinations and solutions.
It is true that the libretto for the first two scores were simplistic, schematic, a kind of very 'thin' soap operas, Verdi succeeding to create, even in these… precarious conditions, a splendid music, the trilogy's cornerstone at the Magyar Opera being exactly the quality of interpretation, starting with the cello's solo and the entire orchestra which sounded excellently and homogenously, smoothly, with a variety of nuances which were various and perfectly suitable with the characters' states, proceeding with the choir's level (prepared by Kulcsar Szabolcs), precise, pithy and involved in the stage movement, as well , and after that proceeding with the majority of soloists, some of them well-known (not only in Cluj), and the other being discovered by the music lovers during those evenings. In Giovanna d'Arco, the tenor Cristian Mogoșan performed a difficult role (Carol VIIth), with a 'heroic' writing fitting its tone, incisive and penetrating, metallic and brightly acute; the baritone Sandor Ballo sang again through his generous vocal, round and encircling, typically Verdian, with Giacomo's phrasing and 'big line', especially vocally expressive, because with respect to the scenic aspect, he is not at all offering; with the main role, the soprano Yolanda Covacinschi was a pleasant surprise, her progress and way of singing proved to be higher than those sustained before, playing her character with faith and sensitivity, even in the unsubstantial and even aberrant sequences of the libretto. The cast was completed by Gaspar Istvan (Talbot) and Retyi Zsombor (Delil), in an interesting and balanced performance , directed by Selmeczi Gyorgy with rigour and I could even say, with passion, whose ample gestures betrayed his emotional attachment to the interpretation of Verdy's creations which were proposed by the Cluj audience , which also filled the hall the following evening, wishing to discover I Masnadieri, as well; the tenor Hector Lopez, who has freshly become an employee of the Romanian Opera in Cluj (this happened after the Opera in Bucharest did not extend his contract, even if he is in 'a very good shape'), convinced the audience not only that his voice was improved - he gained a dramatic weight both in colour and metal - but also that he knows now how to give gravity and sonority to sentences and typically Verdian accents, trying at the same time to be a credible Carlo, a character which is pretty contradictory; the soprano Egyed Apollonia made herself distinguishable, having the debut with her first important role (Amalia), displaying an ample voice, beautiful and consistent especially in tessitura, having some difficulties with the acute 'traps' and the colouring which sometimes is unpleasing, her agreeable stage presence being another argument for her success. If Tamas Daroczi was Armino appeared, a high-rated tenor, for a long time both singing in the country and at the Budapest Opera, in the role of Francesco I remarked Massanyi Viktor, baritone with a 'black' voice, harsh and ample, perfectly adapted for the 'negative character', fulfilled through his imposing appearance besides Sandor Apad (Massimiliano), Jekl Laszlo (Moser), or Ujvari Gergely (Rolla), thus making a balanced team in spite of some differences determined by the qualitatively uneven vocal data.
Of course that Luisa Miller attracted the audience as a magnet, being the most known opera from that 'trilogy', benefiting of a more logic and consistent libretto, bringing to the stage soloists with penetrated voices, Kolonits Klara coming from Budapest, the lyric-spinto soprano who, in Luisa, primarily relied on the vocal scale, singing almost everything with strength, with a sincerity of living that compensated the expression's linearity, after that the mezzo-soprano Karolyi Katalin, the beautiful Countess Frederica, the bass Kovacs Istvan in Count Walter succeeding to exceed the score's difficulties and the unpleasing structure of the role, such as the baritone Busa Tamas, honest but dull in Miller; the host-theatre soloists were 'up to the standard', the bas Szilagyi Janos impressing in Wurm with his excellent voice, well-driven, with a rough sonority, sharp, as it is being asked from the brutal 'negative' character, the tenor Pataki Adorjan conquering this time as well with the warmth of his voice, through musicality and sensitivity, hesitations and some difficulties (temporally - I hope) from the acute shifting to secondary plan and because his famous aria was impeccably performed, the mezzo-soprano Veress Orsolya interpreted the character Laura with accuracy, as well.
At the end of the three Verdian evenings which were offered to the audience after intense repetitions in which the ensemble's effort was one of a kind, and the homogenization of the soloists in those combined arranging was resolved in an extremely short time, no one seemed to be tired, the shows reaching an appreciable level, sometimes even of high performance, having strength, fluency, dramatic tension, namely every 'ingredient' of a really successful production. The music lovers' enthusiastic applause, as well as the appreciations of the musicians which were in the hall, have fully rewarded the effort of everyone who has been involved, beginning with the director Szep Gyula, always calm, always smiling, even if this kind of event rises many problems and is extremely exhausting as it is, proceeding with conductor Selmeczi Gyorgy's enthusiasm and professionalism, happy that his idea came to life and has been proved to be a certainly success, as well as everyone who has been involved in the fulfillment of the 'trilogy' which, not only brought to us, in premiere, works from the composer's youth, implicitly something new in the Magyar Opera's repertory, but also build the most beautiful tribute to the bicentennial of Giuseppe Verdi's birth - a demarche with weight for the event as it is, which fully deserves our applause.
Translated by Corina Gidea and Elena Daniela Radu
MTTLC, The University of Bucharest