Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Stairway to Palermo

June 13, 2008

The big stairs from I vespri
Photo : Wiener Staatsoper

So hear I am in Vienna where there are an amazing number of people with pumped-up calves and fantastic buns. No they are not fußball players, but choristers from the Vienna State Opera who are again spending hours traipsing up and down the giant staircase that is the hallmark of Herbert Wernicke’s production of Verdi’s I vespri siciliani. Now ten years old, this staging consists solely of a giant black staircase that rises into the rafters and, at times, allows the chorus to climb out of a pit below stage level. This seems to require an amazing amount of fleet footedness from everyone involved, which does create some tension in what is otherwise a pretty much stand and deliver affair. If I have been reminded of anything this week, it is the necessity of having lots of stage business or some amazing actors who can hold everyone’s attention in these minimalist stagings.

Luckily there is at least one such artist here. Sondra Radvanovsky is freaking amazing. I continue to be blown-away every time I see her. Instead of slaving away in warmed-over Ernani at the Met, she is one who should be touting major new productions in glossy city bus photos. If you have a chance to hear her sing Leonore in next season’s Trovatore, do not miss it. She’s the main reason I saw the Vespri revival here in Vienna and I cannot say that I left disappointed. Though it is true that not everything in this amazing thigh workout lives up to her standard. On the good side, there is Leo Nucci. Well loved in this part of the world, Nucci still garners a warm welcome despite any diminution of his abilities. He can still deliver “In braccio alle dovizie” in spades no matter what else may have changed. The rest of the cast was not as strong including a rather stiff Keith Ikaia-Purdy as Arrigo and Paata Burchuladze as Procida. The imbalance between the principals was rather difficult to get around but conductor Miguel Gomez-Martinez did a reasonable job of keeping everyone in sync with the very fine Vienna State Opera Orchestra. Certainly this staging has seen more lustrous and storied casts over the years, and while the evening was quite slow to warm up, its charms, including Ms. Radvanovsky, more than made up the difference for me.

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