Il Corsaro

Giuseppe Verdi, Libretto by Francesco Maria Pave
Teatro Regio di Parma
Teatro Regio di Parma, Italy
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Il Corsaro

Lord Byron dashed off his epic poem The Corsair in ten days. Published on 1 February 1811, it sold 10,000 copies on the very first day. The poem inspired Berlioz to write an Overture and Verdi to write what many people consider his worst opera. There have been many ballets, most notably by Marius Petipa.

One of the most thrilling moments of my theatregoing life was seeing Rudolph Nureyev in the pas de deux from Petipa’s second act, a dazzling display of Tartarian pyrotechnics. His soaring leaps were so high and so fast that you could hear the audience taking in its collective breath. The dancing lasted 10 minutes. The applause went on for 20 minutes.

The very word pirate conjures up images of Long John Silver, Captain Hook and especially Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn and Johnny Depp, all swashbuckling away. The best comic stage pirate I have seen was Tim Curry in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore.

Audiences, however, coming to Verdi’s opera expecting exotic sensuality, wild savagery and some great tunes are going to be very disappointed.

Il Corsaro, which premièred in 1848 in Trieste and was not seen in the UK until 1966, begins with Corrado (Bruno Ribeiro), a very Byronic Greek pirate, going off to fight Turkish Muslims and telling his hysterical mistress, Medora (Irina Lungu), to calm down and that he will be back soon. The pirates burn the Turkish fleet and the palace but they are defeated in battle and Corrado is captured.

The pacha (Luca Salsi) is very angry when he discovers his favourite concubine, Guinera (Silvia Dalla Benetta), has fallen in love with Corrado and orders his torture and execution. The ever-resourceful Guinera not only helps Corrado to escape prison but she also kills the pacha when he refuses to do so.

Corrado returns home to find that Medora, thinking he is dead, has just committed suicide. They are able to have a last sing before she dies; and it is one of the opera’s better moments.

Lamberto Pugelli’s uninspired production, conducted by Carlo Montanaro, was seen at Teatro Regio di Parma in 2008 The stage is tiny and the staging is very cramped. The battle scene is absurd. The opera comes to life with the appearance of the pacha. The most Verdian moment is the interjection of the chorus during his prayer for victory.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch