Giuseppe Verdi: Stiffelio
Roberto Aronica (Stiffelio), Yu Guanqun (Lina), Roberto Frontali (Stankar), Gabriele Mangione (Raffaele), George Andguladze (Jorg), Cosimo Vassallo (Federico di Frengel), Lorelay Solis (Dorotea), Simone Savina (Organ), Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma, Martino Faggiani (Chorus Master), Orchestra del Teatro Regio di Parma, Andrea Battistoni (Conductor), Guy Montavon (Stage Director and Lighting Designer), Francesco Calcagnini (Set and Costume Designer), Tiziano Mancini (Video Director)
Recorded live at the Teatro Regio di Parma, Parma, Italy (April 18 and 24, 2012) – 127’ (including bonus introduction)
C Major Entertainment # 723008 (distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English, German, French and Italian – Subtitles available in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Japanese
Riding high on the crest of fortunate receptions of previous operas, Giuseppe Verdi's Stiffelio stopped him dead in his tracks. Political censorship was at an apex with Austrian domination within Verdi’s turf, and that rubbed him the wrong way. Verdi was particularly attached to this subject matter based on Eugène Bourgeois’ play, Le Pasteur, ou l’Evangile et le Foyer (1849), and he scorned confrontation within boundaries of religious jurisdiction.
Stiffelio has demonstrative gravitas, and its intensity is steepened with the conducting of youthful Andrea Battistoni. The passionate and visceral connect with the Orchestra del Teatro Regio di Parma is de rigueur citing a particularly enlightening interpretation of the "Sinfonia" that opens with a beautifully stringed piano pizzicati stemming from the violin section and continues with grandeur and dignified formality.
Francesco Calcagnini's set and costume designs breathe somber tones of muted grays and realistically aged Gothic columns adding unmatched clairvoyance of Protestant Puritanism alongside splays of Guy Montavon’s poignant staging and prophetic lighting. The bracketing of blocking, shadowing, toning and coloring is exceedingly well done.
Seven principals encircling Stiffelio move the plot forward with dramatic tension that is consuming from beginning to end. The lighter edged tenor Roberto Aronica convinces us of Stiffelio's unabashed, ecclesiastical loyalties. Lina, sung by Yu Guanqun, is charismatically bold, driven with a confident soprano delivery that is stalwart and assured. Roberto Fronteli’s Stankar is likely to receive the strongest accolades, especially after his impassioned aria, "Ah sì finisca... Oh gioia inesprimibile" in Act III. Gabriele Mangione's gesticulations in the role of Raffaele are a bit puzzling: he acts more passive than confrontational, but he, nonetheless, adds understated tension.
One can see repeating techniques following the success of Luisa Miller. Stylistically, Act I’s sudden lambast by Stiffelio is in close parallel to that of Edgardo’s repulse toward Lucia ending Act II in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. It's interesting to see past influences seeping into Verdi’s Stiffelio.
Perhaps overlooked in general operatic channels, Stiffelio is riveting, compelling and magnificently stiffened with an exacerbated edge. Guy Montavon's recalculation of Giuseppe Verdi's dramma lirico has substance and depth definitely worth exploring.