Tuesday, 5 June 2018

'The Battle of Legnano' at Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

While in Florence last week I went to see 'The Battle of Legnano' by the Opera di Firenze, a little performed opera by Verdi. The performance was at the rather box-like Teatro del Maggio Musicale. It's quite a new building just out of the centre of town but easy enough to find from Santa Maria Novella, and down it's own drive way, well away from the noise of the traffic outside. Nice and spacious inside with all the staff smartly dressed in black and white, all well scrubbed up for the final performance of the opera. It didn't seem like there was much of an atmosphere in the place but the audience seemed to be very excited.

The story is a simple tale really, of the glories of battle for your homeland spiced up with a love triangle (of course) for good measure. We meet Arrigo, a young man from Verona who loves Milan because it makes him feel alive. He was wounded in battle and thought dead but his mother nursed him back to health (there are lots of mentions of his mother but we don't see her). He meets his best friend Rolando who is astonished that Arrigo is still alive and invites him home to meet his wife, Lida, who, surprise surprise, is the love of Arrigo's life and they planned to marry before he was thought to be dead but now she is married to his friend. O woe, how can this be?

As soon as they're alone for a few minutes Arigo lays into her for being faithless and an oath-breaker since she swore to die if he did (missing the point that he didn't actually die). It's a very harsh scene where Lida accepts that she's the one at fault but I'm not sure why. She sort of blames her father for arranging the marriage to which she had to acquiesce but I went off Arrigo at that point.

Arrigo is inducted into the Knights of Death who are sworn to die in their fight against the Austrians rather than surrender or be captured and he and Rolando go off to negotiate with the elders of Como to get them to join Milan's cause. Their tactics are based on insulting the people of Como as traitors to the Italian cause which doesn't seem like a good strategy. Luckily, the evil Barbarossa, King of Austria, appears and says he's going to subjugate the whole of Italy under his boot. That does the trick and the Como elders are won over.

Of course, an opera can't possibly go that smoothly and Rolando is given a letter that Lida has written to Arrigo and that enrages him and he turns green with jealousy. He confronts the former lovers and threatens to kill them but no, a worse fate for a nationalist would be humiliation and cowardice, so he locks Arrigo in the tower while the armies go off to war, and everyone will think Arrigo is a coward. That cannot be borne so he jumps from the tower to follow the army.

The ladies of Milan gather together while the battle is happening off-stage and then a trumpet sounds and their heroes return to much rejoicing because they have won the battle. Then news comes that it was Arrigo who single-handedly proved his valour and honour by unseating Barbarossa and won the battle but at a cost. He is wheeled on stage on a gun carriage, dying from his wounds as Rolando sings his praises and Arrigo sings that he has no regrets since he is dying as a patriot for Italy. He tells Rolando that Lida is pure and honest and he should forgive them both since nothing happened which Rolando promptly does because it is the greatest sin for a man to tell a lie on his deathbed. Arrigo promptly dies and is draped in a white flag with a red cross on it (the flag of England? no, it can't be!).

So there we have it. Our hero dies as a patriot so all's well that ends well. The political messages about Italian unification and nationalism do go rather over the top and smack of nationalism to a rather unpleasant extent - a man can be forgiven anything so long as he is a nationalist. The nationalism did rather go on a bit and rubbed it in too much. I went off Arrigo after his harsh and misogynistic accusations against Lida but Lida is also a bit feeble - no Violetta from 'La Traviata' or Tosca is she. Arrigo got some of his mojo back for being valiant in battle.

Our stars were Giuseppe Gipali as Arrigo, Vittoria Yeo as Lido and Giuseppe Altomare as Rolando. I also liked Marco Spotti as red bearded Barbarossa although he was only on for a short time. The music was excellent and very stirring in places and I read the words to the songs in English in the surtitles above the stage. I liked the costumes which were very traditional with lots of flowing robes but thought the sets were a bit bare and basic and couldn't help wonder what the sets would be like at the Royal Opera House in London. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and experience of seeing an opera in the Florence opera house.

The evening was rounded off by walking beside the dark Arno back to my hotel and seeing an almost full moon over the Ponte Vecchio.

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