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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Aroldo

Aroldo - Neil Shicoff (tenor)
Mina - Carol Vaness (soprano)
Egberto - Anthony Michaels-Moore (baritone)
Briano - Roberto Scandiuzzi (bass)
Godvino - Julian Gavin (tenor)
Enrico - Sergio Spina (tenor)
Elena - Marina Comparato (mezzo-soprano)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Fabio Luisi (conductor)
Recorded in 2001
PHILIPS 462 512- 2 [126.41]


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Verdi’s opera Aroldo (1857) was a reworking of Stiffelio (1850) forced on him by censorship. Though very formulaic in its structures, choruses, arias and ensembles, the usual climactic finale to Act Two, rousing cabalettas, offstage choruses with accompanying organ, and a libretto peppered with the familiar operatic cries of ‘Gran Dio’, ‘Orrore’, ‘Cielo’, and ‘Che di?’, there is glorious music here, starting with an extraordinary Overture worthy of the concert hall. It has an extended trumpet solo at the beginning (creamily played here) followed by rousing playing by the Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino under Fabio Luisi, who clearly believes in this opera (he also does Alzira 464 628 and Jérusalem 426 613 in the series which is largely dominated by transfers from vinyl of Lamberto Gardelli’s pioneering work in the 1960s). The music is best in the third act with Egberto’s aria ‘Mina, pensai che un angelo’ given an impassioned performance by the increasingly impressive British baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore. Carol Vaness in the act’s final aria ‘Non allo sposo’ with its plaintive cor anglais backup is proving herself to be a Verdian of the highest dramatic colour, it’s years since her stormy Donna Anna at Glyndebourne (in Mozart’s Don Giovanni that is). Neil Shicoff in the title role has intermittent strain with a tightening sound here and there, the voice now considerably heavier than his Duke in Rigoletto. A slightly wobbly Roberto Scandiuzzi sings the Hermit, which seems to be another inevitable prerequisite for Verdi’s operas of this period (such as I Lombardi).

Having mentioned the orchestration of the overture, there are also novel sounds later on, such as the opening of the last (fourth) act with its hunting horns (apart from moments in Otello, Verdi is not an attraction to an orchestra’s horn section) and rustic pseudo-Scottish wind bands. What did he think they got up to north of the border when it came to playing instruments? Still it’s a rousing chorus full of typical Verdi rhythms, once again the well-tried and tested formulas proving their worth right up to the final diminuendo as they all go dancing off over heather-strewn glens! Then follows a long unaccompanied Ave Maria for chorus and soloists introduced by a village bell, which in rehearsals was out of tune, so Verdi worked on it with a file until he obtained the right note. No such problems here, the tuning of all, bell and singers, is spot on. The ensuing storm (excellently played and sung) is colourful, vivid, full of flashing lightning and shrieking piccolos, rumbling thunder, trumpets and trombones having a field day - a cross between the traditional effects Beethoven used in his Pastoral symphony and what Verdi was to produce 30 years later in the aforementioned Otello.

The first three acts take place in Kent (Aroldo is a Saxon knight who has been fighting crusades in Palestine) before it all moves north, and the year is 1200. With a character called Brian in the castlist it all hovers dangerously on the fringes of Monty Python but, thanks to fine singing and playing, manages to hold its own as an attractive prospect. There’s no way the frontispiece photograph of Verdi in the CD booklet was taken in 1859, more like 1899. Come on proof-readers - do your job properly!

Christopher Fifield

 


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