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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Marina Mescheriakova (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] [168'56].

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 Budden. Recommended.


Colin Clarke



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