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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Jerusalem, Opera in four Acts (1847)
Libretto by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaez
Gaston, Vicomte de Béarn - Ivan Momirov
Hélène, daughter of the count - Veronica Villarroel
Isaure - Federica Bragaglia
Le Comte de Toulouse - Alain Fondary
Roger, brother of the count - Carlo Colmbara
Raymond, Cavalier of Gaston - Giorgio Casciarri
Adhémar de Monteil - Papal legate
A soldier - Giancarlo Tosi
The Emir of Ramla - Reda El Wakil
An officer of the Emir - Enrico Facini
A herald - Alessandro Patalini
Corps de Ballet of the Teatro Carlo Felice
Chorus of the Teatro Carlo Felice/Ciro Visco
Orchestra of the Teatro Carlo Felice/Michel Plasson
Recorded at the Teatro Carlo Felice, Genova, November 2000
Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, PCM Stereo. Region Code All, PAL, Aspect Ratio 4:3
TDK DV-OPJER [2 DVDs: 166.00]


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Verdi’s Jerusalem is not merely a version of I Lombardi. It is so different to its progenitor that Verdi wished to have an Italian translation of this French work introduced to La Scala as a new piece. The full story is clearly explained in Alexandra Maria Dielitz’s excellent notes to this DVD. This production was filmed at the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa. It is sung in French and, appropriately, conducted by a Frenchman, Michel Plasson. Most of the singers are Italian, presumably members of the Carlo Felice theatre company.

Let us clear away the technical issues of both video and production that might influence purchase. Despite the video aspect being 4:3 the picture is in effect wide-screen with the subtitles superimposed on the black bar beneath the picture. The picture is clean and good to look at, as is the production. But on my system the DTS and Dolby Digital tracks were muffled and so far out of synchronisation with the picture as to make it unwatchable. Switching to plain vanilla PCM Stereo solved that and the sound was perfectly acceptable, in fact quite good. Purchasers looking for the surround experience should avoid this DVD. The English titles are poorly proof read with many errors in the sung libretto - "gender" for "tender" at one point for example. The translation itself is not consistent either, there being parts where it stops altogether. Those whose French is up to following the libretto sans subtitles will have to contend with the very foreign sounding French of the Russian lead Ivan Momirov who sings Gaston. He even looks strange singing in French! As if that were not enough, the chorus are an ill disciplined lot who manage to look either wooden, or distracted by things elsewhere on stage. On many occasions they can be seen looking in quite the wrong direction.

On to the opera performance itself! The whole piece looks very good, the scenery is conventionally realistic but up to a high standard; no wild, philosophical, directorial ideas here thank goodness. The costumes are similarly normal and suitably sumptuous. The stage director has overlooked some aspects of the visual experience. For example in Act 2 when Roger sings of his whitened hair it is quite obviously still black as it was in Act 1 before he suffered a trauma. He is in fact almost entirely unchanged throughout, save for the costume, which makes the endless number of meetings with people who fail to recognise him a bit hard to accept, even in opera! The work itself is slow to start and it was only in Act 2 that I began to take an interest. Hélène’s big aria (DVD 1 Track 19) is livelier than anything in Act 1. The chorus sings the subsequent number (DVD 1 Track 20) well and are treated by the audience to prolonged booing for their pains. I could not quite understand why. Perhaps the editor’s scissors removed some dreadful fluffs before the performance reached DVD. The final duet of Act 2 is a very good piece of Verdi with contrasting cries of "to arms" against the surging rhythms of the lovers oath of fidelity.

Act 3 takes place in a harem and is Verdi’s excuse for a ballet to satisfy the Parisian audience. The scene as the curtain rises draws a spontaneous outburst of applause from the Genovese audience, it is indeed very beautiful with coloured drapes and highly appealing costumes. Scene 2 of this act is more "big" static singing which comes as a bit of a let down after the dancing of Scene 1. Act 4 showed just why Jerusalem is not vintage Verdi. It is full of ranting clerics going on endlessly about the mercy of their obviously savage God. It reinforces the absence of truly sympathetic characterisation. Most of the characters are cyphers and they do not engage one’s sympathies. Even in the set piece dramatic confrontations with which the piece abounds, one just doesn’t care what happens to any of them.

So, do you buy this DVD? You get about 2½ hours of Verdi spread over two discs, much of which you probably do not know. It looks very good, it sounds good (in stereo), and the singers are generally more than capable of performing the piece. Michel Plasson drives it along at a lively pace and the orchestra plays well. Yes, you buy it because there is unlikely to be another Jerusalem along any time soon and it is, when all is said and done, by Verdi.

Dave Billinge

 



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