Italian opera: The awkward middle child – Verdi’s Les vêpres siciliennes from Opera21
Italian opera: The awkward middle child -Verdi’s Les vêpres siciliennes
‘Why can’t it just be normal?’ This was the implied complaint in an elderly gentleman’s question to Stefan Herheim, after his dramaturge; Alexander Meier-Dörzenbach had taken us through their concept for a new production of Verdi’s Les vêpres siciliennes at the Royal Opera House. This was ostensibly in response to Herheim and Meier-Dörzenbach’s ‘alternative’ setting for the piece: instead of thirteenth century Palermo, the plot unfolds within the Paris Opéra of Verdi’s time, thereby engaging the history of the piece itself as a dramatic force. This is especially relevant for Vêpres, considering the Draconian influence that the commissioning theater had on the shape on the piece, namely the requirement of a ballet in the third act, which was at odds with the Italian melodramme Verdi was accustomed to composing. But what is the effect of not ‘being normal’, and what advantage does it have in bringing one of Verdi’s more obscure operas to light?