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An Ode to Romanticism

Teatro Verdi
05/14/2024 -  & May, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19*, 2024
José Carlos Martínez (choreography), Adolphe Adam (music)
Marin Ino*/Anastasia Matvienko/Nina Noc (Giselle), Filippo Jorio*/Yujin Muraishi/Kenta Yamamoto (Albrecht), Denis Matvienko*/Hugo Mbeng (Hilarion), Tjasa Kmetec/Nina Noc*/Erica Pinzano (Myrtha), Filip Juric/Oleksandr Koriakovskyi*/Yujin Muraishi/Kenta Yamamoto (Wilfrid), Tjasa Kmetec/Nina Noc/Katja Romsek* (Bathilde), Lukas Zuschlag (Duke of Courland), Soloists & Corps de Ballet of the Slovenian National Ballet Ljubljana
Orchestra della Fondazione Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi di Trieste, Ayrton Desimpelaere (conductor)
Inaki Cobos Guerrero (sets & costumes), Andrej Hadjinjak (lighting)

F. Jorio, M. Ino (© Darja Stravs Tisu)

The ancient city of Trieste is one of Italy’s hidden jewels. It’s truly an unusual and magnificent place. Located some 150 kilometers east of Venice, it’s Italy’s easternmost city, bordering present day Slovenia and the Adriatic coast. Due to the Republic of Venice’s increasing encroachment on Istrian and Dalmatian cities on the Adriatic, Trieste placed itself under the protection of the Hapsburgs to avoid being annexed by La Serenissima as early as the late 14th century. More than six centuries later, it became part of a united Italy after the collapse of the Austro‑Hungarian Empire in 1918.

Previously Austria’s port on the Adriatic, its importance diminished after it joined Italy. It became even less important after WWII when it bordered then‑socialist Yugoslavia. After a century as part of Italy, it still maintains its uniqueness: its palazzi are distinctly Hapsburg, it has the most amazing café culture, and it even has an operetta tradition. A look at Teatro Verdi’s summer programme revealed an operetta summer season with works by Oscar Strauss, Emmerich Kálman and Franz Lehár. The city has many historic cafés that feel like Vienna much more than Turin or Rome. Many of these cafés have regular musical and cultural evenings reminiscent of Vienna in Schubert’s time.

As far as opera is concerned, it has a jewel of a theatre, the Teatro Verdi, after the beloved composer. It saw the première of two of his works, Il corsaro (1848) and Stiffelio (1850) as well as premières of operas by Salieri, Nicolai, Mayr and Smareglia. Built in 1801, it’s a hybrid, with an interior similar to Venice’s La Fenice and an exterior reminiscent of Milan’s La Scala. Teatro Verdi is just off the Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia, one of the most beautiful city squares in the world, with imposing Hapsburg‑style buildings, including the city top café and chocolatier, Caffè degli Specchi, an essential stop, should you visit.

Claimed by Yugoslavia, Trieste was heavily contested by the end of WWII. Today, with both Italy and Slovenia members of the EU, there is substantial cultural exchange. Today’s performance, the ballet Giselle, with the Slovenian National Ballet, is one such collaboration.

Not too many tourists were among the public, but a large number of Slovenians were present. There was also a sizable contingent of young people, likely dance students.

The SNB astounded with this production, thanks largely to the leading soloists performing Giselle and Albrecht, Marin Ino and Filippo Jorio. The two are technically flawless, and imbued with natural grace and elegance. Moreover, they appear youthful and enjoy great chemistry. This helps dramatically explain their mutual and rapid infatuation. It avoids the unpleasant “innovation” that some productions have of extending Giselle’s naïveté into making her a simpleton. It also renders Albrecht more sympathetic; he is not the conniving aristocrat disguising himself as the peasant Loys with bad intentions. He looks like a curious adolescent enamoured with a pretty village girl.

The story of Giselle is simple yet powerful. Giselle, a naive young woman from a small town who loves to dance, despite her frailty, is seduced by the peasant Loys, who is none other than the flirtatious Albrecht Duke of Silesia in disguise. He’s also already engaged to a lady of his rank. Hilarion, the gamekeeper and Giselle’s aspiring suitor, is suspicious of the stranger. When he discovers Albrecht’s ornate sword hidden in a neighbouring hut, he confronts the incredulous Giselle and the cowardly Albrecht. He then blows the hunting horn to summon the party of nobles, including Albrecht’s betrothed. Upon realizing she’s been duped, Giselle, confused, dances haggardly in what resembles a “mad scene,” reminiscent of bel canto operas. Grief stricken and exhausted, she collapses, dead from a weak heart strained by excessive dancing and the shock of Albrecht’s cruel duplicity.

Giselle is a role known for its élévation, a feature introduced by the legendary Carlotta Grisi (1819‑1899) and Marie Taglioni (1804‑1884), creators of Giselle and its progenitor La Sylphide (1832) respectively. Both ballets had elements of the supernatural, a feature of early Romanticism, and featured the heroine jump higher than was then traditional, with delicately elongated hands so as to appear as an ethereal creature suspended in flight. This performance’s Giselle was definitely a master of élévation.

Marin Ino may be the best Giselle I have seen in recent years. Not only is she an accomplished dancer with beautifully executed jumps and a masterful technique, she is blessed with expressiveness. Her enchantment with Albrecht’s flirtation, her delight in dancing with the dashing young man and especially her despondency and despair upon figuring out his treachery, were all apparent to the audience. Her charisma is overwhelming, much like the greatest post‑WWII Giselle, Carla Fracci (1936‑1921).

Turin-born Filippo Jorio is a delightful Albrecht. Technically accomplished, his handsome innocent looks made him endearing. How could a young village girl not be smitten upon seeing such a man? As I wrote, this makes this Albrecht particularly appealing and more an accidental seducer than a purposeful rake. His grief and atonement in Act II are thus totally natural. Although Giselle is the uncontested star of the show, Albrecht is one of the most demanding roles for a male dancer. This is especially the case in Act II when he begs Myrtha, queen of the Wilis, for forgiveness. The jumps required in that scene are legendary. Even more so are his jumps as Myrtha tries to make him dance to his death. Awe‑inspiring is how I would describe Filippo Jorio in that scene. Moreover, he does it all physically effortlessly, while ably expressing pain and exhaustion through his angelic face. Un coup de maître !

The card playing scene that opens Act II was omitted. Though it is of no technical appeal, it sets the mood to the second act, known as “the white act”, due to Myrtha, the Wilis and Giselle’s spirit being dressed in white tutus against the dark background of the nocturnal forest. This omission was more than compensated for by the excellent lighting, thanks to which the sets evoked an unsettlingly creepy feel.

An examination of the names of the dancers surprisingly revealed several nationalities. The evening’s lead roles were Japanese and Italian, but there were many other countries represented in the ensemble. Even more impressive was its egalitarian spirit: two of the three dancers performing Giselle were alternating in the lesser roles of Myrtha and even Bathilde, Albrecht’s noble fiancée. Likewise, the three dancers performing Albrecht also alternated as the gamekeeper Hilarion and Wilfrid, Albrecht’s attendant. A company with such talented dancers and equitable energy is so unique that I plan to travel in the near future to Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, to see the Slovenian National Ballet performing “at home.”

Ossama el Naggar



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