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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Un ballo in Maschera
Volta la terrea fronte (AR, RV, MG, LG)
Signori: oggi d'Ulrica (RV, AR, AT, AK)
Ve' se di notte (AT, AK, CR, LG)
Saper vorreste (AR)
Don Carlos
Que de fleurs et que d'étoiles (CR, SD)
Questa o quella (RV)
La donna è mobile (RV)
La Traviata
Libiamo ne' lieti calici (AR, SD, AT, RV, MG, LG, AK)
Sempre libera (AR, RV)
Alice…Meg…Nannetta (LD, CR, El Fu, SD, EF, AM, AK, MG, LG)
Quand'ero paggio
Alto là! … Chi va là? (AT LG, MG, A M, AK, CR, El Fu, LD, SD)
Johann STRAUSS (1825-1899)
Andrea Rost (sop); Alan Titus (baritone); Ramón Vargas (ten); Larissa Diadkova (mezzo); Stella Doufexis (mezzo); Enrico Facini (ten); Elizabeth Futral (sop); Lucio Gallo (bar); Massimo Giordano (ten); Anatoly Kocherga (bass); Anthony Mee (ten); Carmela Remigio (sop)
Prague Radio Choir. Berliner Philharmoniker/Claudio Abbado
rec. live, Philharmonie, Berlin, 31 December 2000
Picture format: 16/9 Anamorphic.
Sound formats: LPCM Stereo. DTS 5.1
Sung in Italian with subtitles in English, German, French, Italian and Spanish
EUROARTS 2050858 [94:00]
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Without doubt Claudio Abbado is a conducting polymath. He is as comfortable on the rostrum conducting Second Viennese School compositions and the great Germanic symphonists as he is, or was, in the orchestra pit of the great opera houses of the world. We have come to perceive him as a great conductor of Verdi. But is that perception correct, and if so, how did it arise? Abbado was appointed Music Director of La Scala, Milan in 1968. La Scala is not only Italy’s leading opera house but also one of the world’s greatest. Yet during Abbado’s near twenty-year stewardship there was no production of the country’s greatest opera composer’s most popular works, Rigoletto, La Traviata and Il Trovatore. Indeed, to the present day Abbado has never conducted those works complete. In fact it seems he has only ever conducted seven of Verdi’s twenty-eight operas in performances at Salzburg, Vienna, Berlin and Milan. Not only has he not yet tackled Verdi’s middle period trio referred to, he has not ventured into what are often referred to as the composer’s early works. His reputation in Verdi owes much to the La Scala performances of the revised Macbeth and Simon Boccanegra that were presented in productions by Giorgio Strehler. Although not captured on disc these memorable performances and casts provided the basis for the DG audio recordings made in Milan’s CTC studio in January 1976 and 1977 respectively. Abbado went on to record Aida, Un Ballo in Maschera and the original French version of Don Carlos for DG before leaving La Scala to take the helm with the Berlin Philharmonic. Not until the mid-1990s did he tackle Verdi’s late masterpieces Otello and Falstaff. In the April following the present concert he recorded Falstaff with Bryn Terfel in the title role and with the Berlin Philharmonic (DG 471 194-2).
This concert was given on the evening before the hundredth anniversary year of Verdi’s death. It was not the first such Verdi concert by these good companions; there had been another four years earlier. Given Abbado’s conducting history with the operas of Verdi, it is hardly surprising that the most substantial extracts are taken from Ballo (Chs. 2-5) and Falstaff (Chs. 11-13) with several of the singers in the performance of the latter also appearing in the recording referred to above. The Ballo extracts have Abbado’s characteristic rhythmic verve allied to his consideration and support for his singers. Ramon Vargas as Riccardo sings with good tone and phrasing. In the strict sense Andrea Rost has too full a voice to portray the vocal pertness of Oscar in Saper vorreste (Ch. 5); that caveat apart these scenes provide an excellent introduction to some of the singers and to Verdi’s most melodic music. Vargas is a vocally appealing Duke of Mantua, singing with verve in Questa o quella (Ch.7) and élan in La donna e mobile (Ch.8). In the act one scene from La Traviata, he sings Alfredo with good tone whilst Andrea Rost assays her true fach with coloratura flexibility in Sempre libera (Chs.9-10). The Don Carlos extract (Ch.6) is the least convincing, mainly due to Stella Doufexis being somewhat over-parted as Eboli. She is far better as Meg Page in the Falstaff extracts, the role she sings on the recording. Although scheduled as a concert, appropriate movements are made throughout. This is most obvious and appropriate in the Falstaff sequences. These are acted out to the full, with the help of a couple of stage props in the form of a laundry basket and screen for Fenton and Nannetta, both roles superbly sung. It would have been great to have Terfel present as Falstaff, but in the joy and exhilaration of these scintillatingly performed extracts he was not missed too much. Do try the last scene and its fugue.
In accompanying Alagna and Gheorghiu in their 1998 recording of Verdi duets (EMI 7243 5 56656 2) (see review) Abbado stretches his Verdi repertoire significantly. He is said to be interested in conducting La Traviata. After giving up the Berlin post to Simon Rattle, and recovering from cancer, he concentrated in 2005 on a series of first time performances of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (see review). Perhaps in the near future he will extend his Verdi repertoire and we might enjoy the privilege of hearing the performances on CD or DVD. On the evidence of this concert Abbado has plenty of thoughts on and insights into his great compatriot’s music.
The picture quality has clarity and depth throughout. The video director lets us share the enjoyment of the orchestral players from time to time as well as the conductor and singers. The playing of the Berlin Philharmonic is of the highest standard and their luxuriant sound is well caught. An excellent balance is maintained between orchestra and singers.
Robert J Farr



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