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.
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.
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.
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.
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.