I Masnadieri

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I Masnadieri, the eleventh opera by Verdi is very rarely presented, even in concert form, indeed as of right now, apart from the Monte Carlo Opera performances, there are no more I Masnadieri scheduled anywhere in the world for the next 18 months at least. When I spoke to the director of Monte Carlo Opera, Jean-Louis Grinda about putting on a fully staged production of one of this, he told me that he wanted to put it on because he just wanted people to see it, experience it, as he thought it was great and should be seen a lot more as Verdi really had so much to offer audiences– after seeing it, I could not agree more. My first opinion after the curtain closed was how is this opera not in the repertoire of every major opera house in the world? It is a stunning achievement.

I Masnadieri (The Robbers/Thieves), was first presented in London in 1847, just mere months after the premiere of the first version of Macbeth, it is about Carlo (Ramón Vargas), the eldest and favourite son of Count Moor (Alexeï Tikhomirov) who through bad choices has become a member of a gang of thieves, he doesn’t like it and he wants to make amends with his father and marry his former love Amalia (Roberta Mantegna), unfortunately his jealous younger brother Francesco (Nicola Alaimo) has other plans…

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With a story as dark as this one, one would expect music more akin to that of Otello or Macbeth, dark, explosive, but here Verdi lulls the audience, at pointsthe music is positively romantic and sweet, the juxtaposition of this to the story is one of Verdi’s masterstrokes. From the first bars of the Preludio it is gripping, a beautiful rising piece with an absolutely stunning cello solo by Delphine Perrone. I would have liked the earlier acts to be a bit stronger, but conductor Stefano Visconti makes up for it by upping the volume and the tempo with each act, raising the tension until the end is a glorious crescendo, so typical of Verdi and yet always so effective. The orchestra were flawless, especially the strings, and I really enjoyed seeing Visconti’s passion and enthusiasm for this piece.

This production was first presented at the Teatro Regio in Parma and its direction by Leo Muscato, with sets by Federica Parolini are very well done. In the early sets it’s the same curtain spread across the stage as a background and I thoroughly enjoyed how just different coloured lighting on them could be soeffective and look so different. The grave yard sequence in particular was another highlight, as was a whole collection of trees coming and going in to place, every element had been perfectly designed and worked out, no movement or action was out of place.

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Ramón Vargas is a great Carlo, his voice is strong and you can feel the emotion coming through, he acts well too and it is a particularly challenging role. The audience were very appreciative of his work; Monte Carlo adores him, particularly after his attendance there regularly over the last few years, it’s quite a shame that it looks like he won’t be back next season.

The phenomenal Roberta Mantegna was quite a shock to me because of just how good she was, she gave it her all and her all was more than enough; her voice hit every night with ease. When I heard during the interval that she had rehearsed this role whilst also working on Il Corsaro overseas is just amazing as she looked very confident and comfortable on the stage, and she rightly ruled it, her career is definitely one to watch with interest.

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The crowd also went justly wild for Nicola Alaimoas the evil brother Francesco, his character has the most time alone in the opera and his brilliant acting and singing fill the stage very capably. For me, he was the best actor on the stage, his enthusiasm for playing this evil role was palpable, one can tell when someone is really enjoying themselves, relishing what they do, and Alaimo was one of those people, he was absolutely thriving on stage, his energy and his sheer capacity to sing well were infectious.

The chorus have a lot to do in this opera as the gang of thieves and they are brilliant doing it.  I have very rarely seen an audience applaud the chorus during an opera and it is a testament to this chorus, their power and their ability, that they were applauded during it, they were on the top of their game.

The only criticism that I have for this is that whilst I know the ending is the big crescendo, I would have liked the last few minutes a little slower, as it seemed a bit rushed, but apart from that, it was a wonderful opera and an inspired production. All of this really does beg the question, why is this opera not done more? It has everything that a great opera needs and so much more.

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