It took over 150 years for Les Vepres Siciliennes, or The Sicilian Vespers, to make it to London and onto the Royal Opera stage, but this week it debuted and proved that it truly does consider its title as one of the best operas by Verdi. It also turned out to be a great production for ballerinas, soloists, and choruses alike.
The opera is quite long at four and a half hours, but it has to be in order to fit in soloists, a pit orchestra, two choruses, and a corps de ballet. All of these elements take time to incorporate into an elaborate opera. Despite the fact that it is long thought to be the missing link between Verdi operas helping to bridge together the earlier smash successes of Verdi such as Il Trovatore with later pieces such as Otello or Aida, it has not been performed much since it premiered back in 1855.
As part of the 200th year celebration of the birth of Verdi the opera was brought back to life with separate productions taking place in New York as part of the Caramoor festival and in Frankfurt. This past Thursday saw the premier of the opera at Covent Garden and its grand reception only begs the question of why it took so long in the first place.
Stefan Herheim, the Norwegian stage director, has a great deal of experience within the opera world having produced massive operas such as Wagner prior to this production. For The Sicilian Vespers he chose to update the time period taking it away from the 13th century and moving it to the 19th century with a setting in Paris instead of Sicily. This allowed for the introduction of the grand opera of Paris helping to make an even more majestic opera within an opera.