Verdi’s rarely staged but often magnificent The Sicilian Vespers offers a fictionalised account of the lead-up to a massacre that occurred in Palermo in 1282, when the local populace turned on their French overlords at the signal of the ringing of a bell.
David Pountney’s production is the final segment of a Verdi trilogy he has staged for the company he led up till 2019. The first – La Forza del Destino – was an exceptional success in 2018; its follow-up, Un Ballo in Maschera, less convincing the following year. With much of the same visual material recurring again, the show regularly looks overfamiliar.
Written for the Paris Opera at the height of its opulence in 1855, the piece includes a lengthy ballet – usually cut in modern performances.
Whereas the original was pure divertissement – an entertainment on the theme of the four seasons – Pountney turns it into a drawn-out depiction of the abusive relationship between French governor Montfort and the mother of his Sicilian patriot son, Henri. Do we really need yet another graphic depiction of the violent rape of a woman on stage? It’s nonsense to suggest that Verdi and his librettists would have countenanced such a thing.
It’s not a great evening, either, for the principals, with the exception of Anush Hovhannisyan’s spirited Hélène, which demonstrates her considerable potential. Much of the rest of the singing is rough-hewn.
No problems at all with the sterling work of the Welsh National Opera Chorus and Orchestra, though, while conductor Carlo Rizzi once more exhibits his mastery of the Verdian style.