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February 1, 2023

Verdi’s masterworks, forever contemporary

Between the subversive ‘Nabucco’, announcing the riots of 1848 and the ‘popular trilogy’ in the early `50 (‘Rigoletto’, ‘Il Trovatore’ and ‘La Traviata’), Verdi took inspiration from the drama of and ‘Sturm und Drang’ paying attention to Schiller ‘s lesson. A patriotic drama (‘Giovanna d’ Arco’, 1845), a revolutionary drama (‘The Bandits’, 1847) and a bourgeois drama (‘Luisa Miller’, 1849) – the works the Hungarian Opera of Cluj put together in a ‘trilogy’ for the first time to mark the Verdi bicentenary. Three young directors ( Zalán Zakariás , Pál Göttinger Artur Sz?cs), theatre settings made ??in a unique workshop style, a common scenography (same shapeless, permuted sculptures), similar red suit for choirs, plus a music in which the project’s initiator György Selmeczi has identified ‘modernist structures’ that Verdi himself abandoned afterwards in the case of successful posterity works. Richer in ‘Giovanna d’ Arco’, the scenography becomes more minimalist in ‘Luisa Miller’ by doubling the actors’ performance with a ‘theater of shadows’ through light projections upon some characters in front or behind a background screen. This space almost ‘empty’, the asymmetry in favor of more majestic shadows that emphasize the impression of intrigue of illusions (which is a also a reference to the title of Schiller’s tragedy ‘Cabal and Love’), the book fetish symbolizing vulnerability towards interpretable words, the aura of ambiguous ‘artificial’ light applied several times to the character representing the usurped authority – these are some of the options turning in this case the last work of the ‘trilogy’ into a directorial masterpiece. Rather shapeless sculptures present in various combinations in each of the three performances, seek to suggest a world of crude, conflicting passions, difficult to be refined, which ultimately crush the lives of ‘Sturm und Drang’ animated characters. Used in ‘Giovanna d’ Arco’ and ‘The Bandits’ and to sketch a dark thicket of woods, the sculptures are trying to also represent the ‘drama’ of a (human) vegetation threatened to be destroyed by storms too powerful. The demonic temptation (of lack of faith, murder, betrayal) is always present, although the demonism of certain characters – Wurm in ‘Luisa Miller’, played in a key of cunning firmness, gnawed by a cynical resentment but efficient through an impetuous energy, by an admirable János Szilágyi – is more intense and decisive than the threat of an ‘implacable destiny’. In this sense, the tragic heroines gain a privileged role, a combination of vulnerability and stubborn fidelity, despite some tortuous reactions. If Yolanda Covacinschi is less convincing in the role of Giovanna (both in dramatic terms, being too ‘passive’ and docile, and in vocal terms), Klára Kolonits in the role of Luisa and especially Apollónia Egyed manage to cope with churning male confrontations. Baritone Sándor Balla ( in ‘Giovanna d’ Arco’), tenor Adorján Pataki ( in ‘Luisa Miller’), bass Arpad Sandor and especially tenor Hector Lopez- Mendoza (both in ‘The Bandits’), a rebel wearing punk clothes, a sort of Dmitri Karamazov divided between passion and redemption, impetuous but also versatile, manage to stand out. In the latter case, the choreography for choir singers, armed with spears, is underscored here and there by the attempt, a little artificial, to use an iconography specific to classical paintings ( such as works by Velazquez or Rembrandt). The Cluj project of this ‘trilogy’ succeeds in pulling the interest in Verdi from the exclusive area of ??successful masterpieces. For example how many are aware of the beauty of the overture in ‘Giovanna d’ Arco’?

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