Mêlées and malaise: Il corsaro OFC 2022.VII.22
Updated: Jul 26
Verdi's pithy Corsair finally embarks upon the North Shore:
Opera Festival of Chicago, Pomponi, Romero, Arand, Sandoval
Cahn Auditorium, Northwestern University
Corrado • José Simerilla Romero
Giovanni (Gianni) • Frank DeVincentis
Medora • Christine Arand
Gulnara • Alejandra Sandoval
un eunuco • Benjamin Burney
il pascià Seid • Franco Pomponi
un schiavo • Reuben Lillie
Selimo • André De Mesquita
chorus master • Reid Taylor
conductor • Emanuele Andrizzi
Opera Festival of Chicago
Verdi and Piave's Il corsaro in a nutshell: in vain does Medora, Owner of a Lonely Harp, warn her beloved Corrado against embarking on yet another pirate expedition. The Corrado Kid ends up imprisoned by the Pasha Seid, who in turn is murdered by his favorite concubine Gulnara. Free to escape, the two survivors sail back to Medora, who—poveretta!—in anticipation of Corrado's demise, has taken poison. The lovers reunite only long enough for her to expire in his embrace, and a grief-wracked Corrado hurls himself into the sea.
The culmination of Opera Festival of Chicago's 2022 season was Corsaro's Midwestern premiere, a rare US staging after Sarasota 2004 and San Diego 1982 (with June Anderson as Gulnara and Rosalind Plowright as Medora). Living through it In Person On Site In Real Time, one realized the following
• how episodic the piece is: a series of scenes musically and logistically detached from each other
• how cumbersome it must be to stage
• its melodic invention seems short on that trademark Verdian «ear-beckoning» quality
• such vocally flattering material: each principal's aria is a veritable catalog of their respective technical and phrasing prowess
• it's a compact two hours tops without longueurs as each scene flows toward climax
Breviloquent praise for OFC's efforts, in which company gusto counted for more than polish:
• Franco Pomponi's decadently leonine Seid
• Christine Arand appealingly melancholy with enviable high register mezzevoci as Medora
• Alejandra Sandoval a Gulnara not to be crossed, a passionate stage presence with clearly projected tone
• José Simerilla Romero unflagging through the high-energy vocal and scenic rigors of Corrado
• among the comprimari, Frank DeVincentis dusky of timbre as Giovanni (his performance earlier in the festival season has been praised elsewhere on this blog), and three tenors in brief yet crucial interventions: Benjamin Burney as the harem eunuch, André De Mesquita as Selimo, and as Seid's slave, Reuben Lillie (whose performance just the week prior also has been praised elsewhere on this blog)
• the OFC chorus an enthusiastic wall of sound, the women particularly exuberant; bravo to chorus director Reid Taylor
• such depth of local talent from which to create the OFC orchestra, who played with unstressed unanimity of tone, pitch, and rhythmic response under the vigilance of Emanuele Andrizzi, a maestro who conducted the score as if he loved every measure.
«Rent-a-crowd» noises punctuated major group moments: over the postlude to Corrado's cabaletta marziale, as the pirates rush off to fight; the concubines' distress at finding themselves in the midst of the fray; the tutti reactions to our hero's suicide.
Felicitous production lagniappe: Angelina Genova's sinuous evolutions as the belly dancer in Seid's harem made the authors' failure to stipulate such a personage seem grievous indeed—chapeau!
Obligatory voices of yesteryear
The paucity of Corsaro recordings prior to the 1975 Philips complete set leads this reviewer to revisit i verdiani del passato and imagine how they could have illuminated the canvases of this score. Buon ascolto!
Medora: Rosa Ponselle
Gulnara: Luisa Tetrazzini