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Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio (1839)
Ildar Abdrazakov (bass) – Oberto; Evelyn Herlitzius (soprano) – Leonora; Carlo Ventre (tenor) – Riccardo; Marianne Cornetti (mezzo) – Cuniza; Nuria Lorenzo (mezzo) – Imelda; Chorus of Ópera de Bilbao
Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias/Yves Abel;
Stage Director: Ignacio García; Set and Costume Designer: Domenico Franchi; Lighting Design: Vinicio Cheli; Television Director: Angel Luiz Ramirez
rec. live, Palacio Euskalduna de Bilbao, 26, 29 January 2007
OPUS ARTE OA 0982 D [152:00]

After a lot of initial trouble the young Giuseppe Verdi was accepted to study with La Scala’s chief conductor Vincenzo Lavigna. He turned out to be a brilliant student who while still studying received his first important commission: to write an opera – not for La Scala but for Teatro Filodrammatico in Milan. There is some mystery surrounding this project. He began to work on it in 1836 but the opera, Rocester, was never performed. Possibly it wasn’t even completed. Some scholars believe that it was Oberto he was working on as early as that and it was first performed at La Scala in November 1839. It may not have been a sensation but it was positively received and saw fourteen performances during the autumn season. The impresario at La Scala had Verdi sign a contract to write another three operas. He may not yet have found a style of his own; the music is Bellinian but one can also discern features that point towards a Verdian tonal language. There is a quite efficient trio near the end of the first act but the quartet in act two is certainly more than a blueprint for the famous quartet from Rigoletto. This was a number that Verdi held in high esteem later in his career. The title role, Oberto, is also the first in a long line of Verdian bass characters and he is given a splendid aria with chorus just before the quartet. To be more or less an apprentice work it has enough to offer and Merelli, the Scala impresario detected a master in the making.

What most of all lets it down is the libretto, about which few commentators have had much positive to say. It was written by the journalist Antonio Piazza but it was in some degree revised and amended by the young Temistocle Solera. It is set about 1228 at the castle Bassano, where Cuniza is living. The young count Riccardo arrives to marry her. Riccardo has before this seduced Leonora, daughter of his friend Oberto. When Oberto learns about this he persuades Leonora to tell Cuniza about it. Cuniza decides to reject Riccardo and claims that he must marry Leonora. Oberto is not satisfied with this and challenges Riccardo to a duel. Oberto is killed and Riccardo goes into exile. For Leonora nothing remains but to go to a nunnery.

This production from Bilbao, filmed earlier this year (2007), has quite sparse sets but it is visually enticing through Vinicio Cheli’s evocative lighting. The costumes are period and as in many of Verdi’s early operas the chorus play an important part, even though he wasn’t yet ready for the great masterpieces that were still some years in the making: Nabucco, I Lombardi, Ernani. Verdi had not at this time found a sound personal and typical of his work; this was still far away. Macbeth is possibly the first work with a characteristic language. His style only became fully developed when he reached his middle period a dozen years later with Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La traviata. Nevertheless we can still enjoy the detail which yields pleasures of its own.

Is Oberto worth the effort? It depends. There are splendid things, there are several good things and there are sections that are indifferent. And what about the performance? The chorus and orchestra make an honourable showing and one can’t blame Yves Abel for some longueurs, but some of the soloists are a bit off the mark. Most wayward is the tenor Carlo Ventri, who has all the notes but only one nuance – fff! This is certainly can belto. Marianne Cornetti, who was a splendidly sung and acted Azucena in the recent Trovatore DVD from Bregenz, is a bit wobbly but she is a good actor and she phrases sensitively; by and large hers is a winning performance. Evelyn Herlizius, heavily in demand as a Wagner soprano, has a surprisingly light voice and she too is a sensitive singer but her tone can be rather edgy. It is however Ildar Abdrazakov as Oberto who suitably dominates his own opera. His firm flexible bass is ideal for the role and his aria in act 2 is, without a doubt, the highlight of the performance.

Early Verdi is well worth the acquaintance and even though I can imagine classier singing of some of the roles this is still a more than decent production with an extra plus for the evocative lighting and Ildar Abdrazakov’s splendid singing of the title role.

Göran Forsling 



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