Alexander Meier-Dörzenbach - Dramaturg
Philipp Fürhofer - Set designs
Gesine Völlm - Costume designs
Anders Poll - Lighting design
André de Jong – Choreography
“Grand opera at its grandest – a gorgeous visual and musical treat,” declared The Telegraph of this lavish production of Verdi’s rarely-performed Les Vêpres siciliennes, the magnificent five-act grand opéra that first took Paris by storm in 1855.
Presented in its Covent Garden premiere in Autumn 2013, this staging – directed by Stefan Herheim and conducted by the Royal Opera’s Music Director, Verdi specialist Sir Antonio Pappano – went on to win the prestigious Olivier Award for Best New Opera Production. The Sunday Times hailed it “the best the Verdi year in Britain has to offer,” praising the standout event of the Verdi bicentenary celebrations. “The Royal Opera has done its favourite composer proud.”
Over the years, the opera has become better known in its Italian version (I vespri siciliani), but Verdi wrote it to a French libretto (by the celebrated Eugène Scribe) and adopted elements of the musical style of Giacomo Meyerbeer, who in the 1830s and 1840s defined the quintessentially Parisian genre of grand opéra. After its premiere La Presse stated that: “Verdi's music has conformed to the procedure invented by French genius without losing anything of its Italian ardour.” Although it saw Verdi moving away from the tight dramatic structures and daring innovations of Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata – the ‘Big Three’ that directly preceded it – its epic scale and rich colours paved the way for masterpieces like La forza del destino, Don Carlos and Aida.
Herheim, whose reputation was cemented with his production of Parsifal at Bayreuth in 2008, is a director with a flair for spectacle – and a sense of irony – who rarely takes an operatic scenario at face value. Rather than telling a story of 13th-century conflict between the Sicilians and their French oppressors, his production, transposed to the mid-19th century, provides a commentary on the extravagant world of Parisian opera with its politics, exploitation and betrayals. “The story is told very clearly,” explained Pappano in an interview, “but it's a discussion not only about the French against the Sicilians, but about art and the raping of art, and how art is used … It's a beautiful production; visually stunning and musically sumptuous.' The Financial Times praised the maestro for “the sense of scale and style that [he] brings to the score,” while the Observer spoke of “exciting singing and top orchestral playing under the baton of that matchless Verdi devotee, Antonio Pappano.”
All four leading roles in Les Vêpres siciliennes require exceptional singers, but the soprano and tenor must meet almost superhuman demands. Considered one of the most promising Verdians of her generation, the French-trained Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian rises to all these challenges as the Duchess Hélène. American tenor Bryan Hymel, whose recital album Héroïque is also released on Warner Classics in February 2015, takes on one of Verdi’s highest tenor roles. “Bryan Hymel was the admirable and ardent Henri,” wrote Opera magazine, “with his turbo-boosted bel canto tenor rising fearlessly to the top notes.” His father (and enemy) Montfort is sung by the imposing and charismatic baritone Michael Volle, and the bass Erwin Schrott gives a starry performance as the fanatical Procida. He unforgettably appears in a sparkling black ball-gown in the final scene, which culminates not in a massacre (as per the libretto) but in a dazzling coup de théâtre as the stage spotlights are turned mercilessly on the audience. As The Evening Standard wrote: “virtuoso stagecraft put to thought-provoking and dramatically powerful ends.”
Duration: 181 minutes 38 sec.
Languages: Sung in French, with subtitles available in English, German, Italian, Spanish
Audio spec: Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, NTSC – All regions – 16:9
Extras: Making off 6 minutes 30 sec.
Lianna Haroutounian (Helene), Bryan Hymel (Henri), Erwin Schrott (Procida), Michael Volle (Guy de Montfort), Michelle Daly (Ninetta), Neal Cooper (Thibault), Nico Darmanin (Daniéli), Jung Soo Yun (Mainfroid), Jihoon Kim (Robert), Jean Teitgen (Le Sire de Béthune) & Jeremy White (Le Comte de Vaudemont)
Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Antonio Pappano (conductor) & Stefan Herheim (stage director)