Opera in Palermo

The Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily’s capital, contains Italy’s largest indoor stage and the second largest stage in Europe.  Opened on May 16, 1897, it was heavily damaged during World War II.  It featured prominently in the final scene of The Godfather.  Now restored, it presents a season comprised largely, but not exclusively, of Italian works.  This season, one of the offerings was Le toréador, ou L’accord parfait, a largely forgotten opera by Adolphe Adam (1803-1856), a composer, successful in his day, but today best known for his ballet Giselle and the familiar carol O Holy Night.

The opera house is situated at the center of Piazza Verdi in the heart of Palermo.  It is a huge, free-standing structure that has been beautifully restored and maintained.  It was closed for renovation in 1974, but because of typical Italian political intrigue, labor disputes, and corruption, it was not reopened until 1996.  The auditorium features five levels of boxes, configured in the style similar to La scala in Milan, plus the “poltrona” or orchestra seats.  The seating capacity today is limited to 1,350.  The interior is plush in the Italian red velvet, gilt, and marble style.  The acoustics of the hall are articulate, lively, and bass-rich, equal to if not superior to La scala’s acoustics.

Le toréador is a typical Parisian farce. Coraline, a former singer, is married to a retired toreador, Belflor, who is engaged in numerous dalliances. A former colleague of Coraline’s, the flautist Tracolin, arrives in Barcelona set on wooing her.  Belflor is eventually trapped into accepting Tracolin as a live-in guest, guaranteeing that the old man will remain faithful, though Coraline is sure to enjoy having the young man at her call.   The performance of April 21 featured as the aged admirer bass Ugo Guagliardo, Coraline was sung by soprano Laura Giordano, Tracolin was sung by tenor Christopher Magiera, and the on-stage flautist was Antonino Saladino from the orchestra.  Coraline is given by far the most appealing music, and it was sung by an attractive Laura Giordano with a bright but full-bodied lyric soprano voice.  Think Roberta Peters, and you can visualize both the role and the intended style, if not quite the coloratura of the incomparable Peters.  Magiera had a smallish but still attractive tenor voice (in transition from his former baritone voice), while Guagliardo was mostly gruff and gravelly.  Flautist Saladino’s skillful playing of the flute, especially the virtuosic variations of  “Ah vous dirai-je maman,” was matched by the playing of the other members of a capable orchestra, sensitively conducted by Steffano Ranzani.

Le toréador was double-billed with Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, which was given a darkly traditional staging that fairly dripped with Sicilian atmosphere.  Santuzza was sung capably and idiomatically by veteran mezzo-soprano Luciana D’Intino, the best singer on the stage that night.  Lola, a thankless role dramatically, was sung well by Valeria Tornatore, who was also convincingly flirtatious.  Carlo Ventre as Turiddu was mostly just loud.  His brutal treatment of Santuzza forfeited any sympathy we might have otherwise have had for him.  Chiara Fracasso’s Mama Lucia added little to the drama.  The highlight of the performance was the Intermezzo, which was paced perfectly by conductor Ranzani who also drew a rich, vibrant tone from the strings in particular.  A long ovation was fully merited.

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