Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Opera Festival of Chicago
Cahn Auditorium at Northwestern University
Opera Festival of Chicago is dedicated to presenting fully staged productions of Italian opera masterworks that rarely grace the stage in the United States. Verdi’s Il Corsaro was part of their 2022 season.
Lord Byron’s epic pirate poem, The Corsair, dashed off in ten days, sold 10,000 copies on the very first day of publication in 1811. The poem inspired Verdi to write what many people considered his worst opera.
Il Corsaro premièred unsuccessfully in 1848 in Trieste and was not seen in the UK until 1966. It is in no way as bad as its reputation. Audiences, however, coming to this Chicago production, directed by Amy Hutchison and conducted by Emanuele Andrizzi, hoping for the full Byronic swashbuckling panache, exotic odalisque sexuality and barbaric savagery, are going to be disappointed.
Corrado (Jose Simerilla Romero), a heroic Greek pirate going off to fight the Turks, tells his hysterical mistress, Medora (Christine Arand), not to worry and that he will be back in no time. The pirates burn the Turkish fleet and the palace but they are defeated in battle and Corrado is captured.
Despotic Pasha Seid (Franco Pomponi) is very jealous when he discovers his favourite concubine, Gulnara (Alejandra Sandoval), has fallen in love with Corrado and orders him to be tortured and executed. Gulnara, brave girl, murders Seid and helps Corrado to escape from prison.
Corrado returns home to find that Medora, thinking he is dead, has taken poison. They are able, of course, to have a last duet before she dies. Corrado then throws himself into the sea.
There is much to enjoy in the score which has its unmistakable Verdian moments. The lead singers are very good, especially Romero; but they are let down by Amy Hutchison’s old-fashioned and insipid production, which is so awkwardly stage-managed for them. The chorus of odalisques and pirates, standing and sitting around in pretty groupings, are an unconvincing and sexless amateur sight; comically so in the fights.
Opera Festival of Chicago’s Il Corsaro can be watched free on YouTube.
Reviewer: Robert Tanitch