"King for a Day" (Un giorno di regno) was one of Giuseppe Verdi's earliest operas, it was his first comedic opera, and it was a colossal flop at its premiere in 1840. Many reasons for this fiasco have been bandied about among those who even cared about this opera, but those shouldn't matter to us today. All I know is that if this production, premiered here in Sarasota with this cast and direction, had been presented to that La Scala audience nearly 200 years ago, Un giorno di regno would trip off the tongues like Rigoletto.
First, this is not the silliest of opera plots; it's really quite clever when delivered with comedic timing and just the right amount of mugging to bring the audience into the fun. Posing as the King of Poland, the Cavaliere of Belfiore (Corey Crider) manipulates the situation for two love matches and finds a happy ending for all, including himself. Crider's baritone voice, in all cases smooth and welcoming, helps him shape this most likable central character.
This entire cast was superb starting with the two bass-baritones in buffa roles, the Baron of Kelbar (Stefano de Peppo) and Signor La Rocca (Kevin Short) who are arranging for La Rocca to marry the Baron's daughter, Guilieta . Whether plotting or arguing, these two nearly always stole the show with their buffoonery and consistent command of their range and patter.
The Baron's daughter Guileta (Danielle Walker), who first appeared surrounded by a chorus of flower-bearing servants offering congratulations, is blunt about what she thinks of marrying La Rocca as her father has planned. "I don't want that man. I'm not that foolish." This soprano with coloratura flair loves Eduardo (Hak Soo Kim), the earnest young soldier. It's perfect match, vocally. Both capture the passion and humor of their characters and Walker revealed a markedly lovely vocal range.
Kim stands out in two scenes; the first with Crider where he pledges his service to the crown. We had to smile as Crider eggs him on with promises of glory. The opening of Act II belongs to Kim with a substantial sequence with chorus. He showed his mettle with some extreme range and intervals landing surely each time.
Mezzo soprano Jennifer Feinstein is an older but wiser woman, who recognizes the fake King as her lover, Belfiore. She's on a mission to make him hers and has the voice to make it happen. The cunning is in the libretto in this opera, and her exchanges with Crider are exceptionally delivered.
Musically, this is clearly Verdi utilizing the conventions of his time. We hear plenty of Rossini of the buffa craze and, of course, the solid foundations of Mozart's example. A careful ear can hear clues that foreshadow the harmonic and dramatic signature for which Verdi is known today. The orchestra, under the direction of Victor DeRenzi, added sparkle to this effervescent operatic experience.
Not enough can be said about the exceptional quality of the chorus in ensemble scenes. Loving attention to detail in costume, set and lighting on the handsome set of the Baron's palace and gardens, as well as stage direction amplified the sense of fun and folly that this charming opera epitomizes. Unable to rely on tradition, director Martha Collins and De Renzi, created a pleasurable introduction to this newly found gem of an opera. It was a delightful evening in the theater… I'm still grinning.