(soprano) Hélène; Marcello Giordani (tenor) Gaston; Roberto
Scandiuzzi (bass) Roger; Philippe Rouillon (bass) Le Comte; Simon Edwards
(tenor) L'Ecuyer; Hélène Le Corre (soprano) Isaure; Daniel
Borowski (bass) Le Légat; Wolfgang Barta (bass) Le Soldat; Slobodan
Stankovic (bass) L'Emir, Le Herault; Jovo Reljin (tenor) L'Officier; Chorus
of the Grand Theatre, Geneva; Suisse Romande Orchestra/FabioLuisi.
Philips 462 613-2 [three discs]
Jérusalem is the result of substantial alterations to
his opera I Lombardi that Verdi made for a production in Paris
in 1847. The first performance took place at the Académie Royale de
Musique in November of that year. The occasion was a success: hardly surprisingly
so, for all the requisite elements to please the French sensibilities were
in place, including an extended ballet of nearly twenty minutes duration.
However, what Jérusalem offers is much more than a window into
the thought processes of a genius-in-the-making. It is very much a piece
in its own right: Verdi tightened the structure of Lombardi, reduced
the tally of scenes from eleven to seven in the process, discarded the weaker
passages and added musically strong linking sections.
What Jérusalem needs from a modern recording more than anything
is the conviction of belief, and Fabio Luisi clearly fits the bill. There
is never a hint of any apology for this piece, and the listener need not
feel he has to make any allowances. It is good to know that Luisi is at the
helm in the recordings of Alzira and Aroldo in this series
(464 628-2 and 462 512-2 respectively). The orchestra excels throughout.
The story of Jérusalem begins in 1095, soon after the First
Crusade had been decided upon, the remainder of the opera being set four
years later when the crusaders are about to conquer the city of Jerusalem.
A typically operatic plot of wrongly attributed murder and eventual acceptance
with plenty of scope for spectacle and intrigue along the way, it is easy
in this performance to suspend one's disbelief and be carried away in the
heart-on-sleeve emotions of it all.
It is obvious from the spirit of the punchy Introduction that Luisi cares
about this opera, something that is never called into question, especially
in the more tender sections of the score. The tenor Marcello Giordani (who
takes the part of Gaston) has a fresh voice, possibly lacking a little in
body but nevertheless dramatically complete: his plea for mercy in Act 3
Scene 2 is an indicator of his capabilities. The soprano
Marina Mescheriakova is tender and pure
of voice, the ideal interpreter of Hélène's prayer to the Virgin
Mary in Act 1. She has the innocence in her voice to convince us that her
entreaty to 'cause all hatred to disappear together with my fears' really
could come true. Where she really impresses, however, is in the duet in which
she is reunited with Gaston. Here she is the very model of barely-controlled
ecstasy. Her Act Three soliloquy, Que m'importe la vie attests to
her expressive capabilities. She has an assured technique which means she
can negotiate with ease the many difficulties of her part.
The cast is carefully chosen. The Papal legate, sung by Daniel Borowski has
the judgemental weight necessary to the role, both in Act One and in Act
Three. His voice is beautifully focussed at each entry. The bass Roberto
Scandiuzzi, who takes the part of Roger, is sometimes wobbly but nevertheless
still authoritative. Most importantly Luisi keeps the experience fresh
throughout. The booklet essay comes from no less an authority than Julian