THE description in the programme of Les Vepres Siciliennes is that it is a Grand Opera in five acts, and this production direction by Sir David Pountney is befitting of that description.
Virtually everything about it is on the grand scale, not least of course Giuseppe Verdi’s towering score varying from the highly dramatic to tender romance, which conductor Carlo Rizzi interpreted with complete understanding. He was quite willing to let soloists, and the in-top-form chorus, have full rein in the strong passionate parts of the story, but without ever resorting to bullying, ensuring that none of the singers (or the WNO orchestra who were as deeply involved in the music as the vocalists) always kept that final bit of control over the musical presentation.
The story, based on real events which took place on Easter Monday 1282 when a rebellion began which resulted in the native Sicilian rebels slaughtering around 13,000 French men and women who occupied Sicily in the name of King Charles 1 of France, is a powerful one. When you add the personal stories of Henri, a Sicilian rebel whose discovers that he is the son of the despot ruler of the country Guy de Montfort, his personal battle to keep faith with his Sicilian love La Duchesse Helene, and his newly found father, at the same time preserving his honour, is indeed a story befitting any grand opera.
At times looking like a likely candidate for online website confused.dot.com, Jung Soo Yun brought out all the agony of Henri’s predicament. It was toss up as to whether his duets with Anush Hovhannisyan’s one minute wonderfully aggressive the next heart readingly romantic Helene, were better than their excellent solo work. The fierce passion that Armenian soprano Hovhannisyan showed in her acting and singing made you want to see her in the role of Carmen.
Another duo, this time arch enemies the despotic Guy de Montfort (Giorgio Caoduro) rebel leader Jean Procida( Wojtek Gierlach) produced two full blooded characters, neither afraid to “go for broke” dramatically and vocally, a style befitting the mood of the production.
We do not always see the ballet which depicts de Montfort’s seduction of Henri’s mother and it was therefore an added bonus to see members of National Dance Company join the production. While Caroline Finn’s choreography for this sequence was very effective, giving an added insight into the minds of those involved, the input of the dancers in the later wedding scene did not fit as readily.
Raimund Baur’s sets, dominated by those enormous picture frame like constructions, often dramatically lit, and moved by hand throughout, may not have pleased everyone, but they made for many for exciting pictures. Not, alas, in the final scene where the rebels rise up and slaughter the French which visually was muddled – unlike the musical input, with Verdi’s music building to an exciting passionate crescendo.
With conductor Rizzi in complete command of those on stage and in the orchestra pit – the Bristol Hippodrome pit is not big enough to accommodate a full orchestra – which made the maintenance of a good balance between singers and musicians even more impressive This was musically a truly fitting end to this grand scale production.
The production will performed at Southampton Mayflower on 21st March as part of its UK tour.