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Severini Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
I Lombardi Alla Prima Crociata (1843)
Opera in four acts, sung in Italian
Pagano, Giorgio Surian (bass)
Giselda, Dimitra Theodossiou (sop)
Oronte, Massimo Giordano (ten)
Arvino, Francesco Picolli (ten)
Coro Del Circuito Lirico Lombardo

Orchestra I Pomeriggi Musicali/Tiziano Severini

Recorded live performance at 'Teatro Ponchielli,' Cremona, Italy. November 2001
Full Price
DYNAMIC CDS 390/91 [2CDs: 75.33+60.40]


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After the massive success of his third opera, Nabucco, at La Scala in 1842, Verdi was quick to realise that the Italian audience related their situation, under Austrian occupation, with the oppressed Jews of the opera. Any subject which showed Italians united against a common enemy would be off to a flying start in occupied Milan, albeit with the Austrian censor likely to be a stumbling block. However, it was the Church which took exception to the subject of the opera and the police chief, a music lover, who let the libretto pass with only minor amendments, as much for formís sake as any other.

The first night of I Lombardi at La Scala on February 1st 1843, eleven months after the premiere of Nabucco, was a wild popular success. Critics were more circumspect and noted 'the opera lacks the central vision which gives purpose and unity to the earlier work'. Indeed, the opera failed badly in Venice the following year.

The opera dispenses with an overture, and opens with a short prelude, which leads straight into the first of several choruses spread throughout the work. The singers of the chorus are major players in this opera. Here, we have a fair sized (fifty plus) chorus of Italians singing in their own language. There is always, and particularly in Verdi, something special about that combination and so it is here. There are not that many provincial opera house choruses that can field twenty-one tenors and their contribution alone gives an added vibrancy to the chorus singing as Crusaders. The women of the chorus are tasteful, full-toned, and particularly affecting in the Act 1 'Chorus of Nuns' (CD 1 tr.6)

Although only three of the opera's characters are listed as for 'prima' voices, Pagano, Oronte and Giselda, Arvino has a very big sing indeed. He is listed in the original libretto and cast as 'tenore comprimario'. A weakness of the casting of this part can seriously undermine any performance of the opera. In this performance Francesco Picolli sings the part very adequately with a strong, slightly nasal, tone whilst not being particularly subtle in phrasing or variety of modulation. These latter characteristics are, however, to be found in the distinctive and characterful singing of Giorgio Surian as the 'bad' brother and later hermit. His bass is solid, true, and strongly projected with a wide range of colour and expression. Above all it does not spread under pressure. (CD1 tr.19). The Giselda of Dimitra Theodossiou is also worthy. A lyric soprano with a quick vibrato, she holds the line well in her Act I prayer (CD1 tr.11) and has sufficient heft to ride the chorus and orchestra at climaxes. Elsewhere her characterisation is good whilst her coloratura and trill are, by the highest standards, a little sketchy. The 'prima tenore' role of Oronte is unusual in a Verdi work in having relatively little to sing, featuring, except for his Act 4 prayer from heaven, only in the middle acts. Massimo Giordano, sings with a strong forward and virile tone (CD1 tr.17). His prayer, sung offstage, is open voiced, firmly sung and not forced. He is no putative fourth tenor, but one would welcome his contribution if met in the theatre. On CD, his rivals are Domingo (Philips) and Pavarotti (Decca). He is not in their league but he is not shamed in comparison.

The conductor paces the work well and has a good feel for a Verdian phrase. He is not afraid to play the rum-ti-tum Verdian beats of the Crusaders for all they are worth. The orchestra has moments of thin string tone as at the start of the great chorus 'Oh Signore' (CD2 tr.10), with its echoes of ĎVa pensiero', in Nabucco. The recording is clear with the voices set back as though heard from the rear of the circle or gallery. There are a few stage noises but they are not overwhelming nor is the audience applause a cause for concern.

The booklet has an introduction to the opera in English, German, Italian and French. The full libretto is translated only into English. The track listing for CD2 is sequential in numbering with CD1 in the booklet, but not on the disc, which is tracked in the normal way. To add to the difficulties the numbering in the booklet for Act 4 is wrong, but not the numbering in the libretto.

Whilst not displacing favourite studio recordings on Decca or Philips, this is a vibrant recording of a work that gets few airings in the theatre outside Italy and is a welcome addition to the catalogue. An earlier live performance of the opera from Rome in 1969 has had circulation on various labels. It features Scotto as Giselda, Raimondi as Pagano and Pavarotti as Oronte. Whilst being well sung it is in poor sound, particularly compared to this recording.

Robert J Farr

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