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Verdi's Il Corsaro at the Teatro Regio in Turin
by Joel Kasow

TURIN - Verdi's neglected early works are beginning to emerge from oblivion with the approaching centennial of the composer's death: Il Corsaro was to have been a co-production of the Teatro Regio with Covent Garden - which plans to present all the Verdi operas by the year 2001. Covent Garden cancelled its participation, for budgetary reasons presumably, although it will present Verdi's Byronic tribute in concert, while Turin courageously went ahead on its own. Evelino Pido's presentation of the new critical edition of the score was a model of how to integrate the Donizettian influences into the early Verdi sound world.

An interesting cast was a plus in enticing me to what is a fascinating city, very 19th century in feeling, with its arcaded sidewalks under which I was able to shelter from the drizzle the afternoon I walked around. A season including Meistersinger in German, Cendrillon in French, a centennial Boheme (which had its world premiere in Turin) and cannot help but attract many subscribers.

The old Teatro Regio was destroyed by fire in 1937 and this new version, resembling a giant movie theater, was built in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the bizarre acoustics of the theater tend to give a matte finish, a defect which it is hoped will be remedied by the extensive renovations to be carried out this summer.

On this occasion, José Cura (considered in some quarters as the new tenor hope) in the title role showed - as in all my encounters thus far - a sympathetic presence and an intrinsically interesting voice in need of further training: his extremely covered vowel sounds and often nasal emission are unpleasant. Maria Dragoni's fascinating voice, far from perfect in its lack of integration from top to bottom, is well schooled and she is more than capable of dealing with Verdi's demanding writing for his prima donna, from declamatory utterances at the bottom of her range to delicate coloratura in the cabaletta to her aria. Her acting is resolutely old-fashioned, in this instance not at all helped by a producer whose sole idea seemed to consist of positioning the singers with one arm against a conveniently located vertical surface. Robert Frontali's forthright Seid did his best in the most unidimensional role in the opera. Debutante Silvia Ranalli was called in to replace Barbara Frittoli after the second performance when the latter was released from her contract to participate in Abbado's Salzburg Otello. Ranalli, like Dragoni, is of the old-fashioned school in her acting, and only at her second appearance of the evening in the finale to the opera did she seemed relaxed and able to produce the sort of singing which presages a significant career. In the first act she did not take into account the Donizettian heritage and tended to belt her way through one of Verdi's most delicate effusions.

Carmelo Giammello's simple decor and Giovanna Buzzi's costumes were positive elements often negated by the posturing encouraged by director Mauro Avogadro who also indulged in singularly ineffective closing tableaux. A curiosity was the use of surtitles in Italian which gave not only the texts of what was being sung but also indications of what was happening on stage, both particularly useless as the singers took sufficient care over words so that they were extremely comprehensible, and the director's ineptitudes did not obscure what was going on.

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