Jérusalem - Opera in four acts
Gaston, Vicomte de Béarn - Ivan Momirov (tenor); Hélène, his daughter
- Verónica Villarroel (soprano); Isaure, her companion - Federica
Bragaglia (soprano); Le Comte de Toulouse - Alain Fondary (bass-baritone);
Roger, his brother - Carlo Colombara (bass); Papal Legate, Carlo
Di Cristoforo (bass); Emir of Ramla - Reda El Wakil (bass)
Chorus, Orchestra and Ballet of the Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa,
Stage Direction: Piergiorgio Gay
Set and Costumes: Danilo Donati
TV Direction: Paola Langobardo
rec. live, Teatro Carlo Felice, 2000
Performed in an edition by Italian musicologist Arrigo Quatrochi
based on Verdi's Paris autograph
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1. Picture Format: 4:3
Subtitle Languages. French (Original Language), English, German,
Italian, Spanish, Chinese
ARTHAUS MUSIK 107 329
[2 DVDs: 166:00]
Whilst in Milan composing Macbeth, Verdi was visited
by Lumley, the impresario and agreed to compose an opera for
London. The subject was I Masnadieri, the composer’s
11th opera. Verdi travelled to London via Paris staying
briefly and seeing his friend Giuseppina Strepponi who lived
and taught there. Verdi conducted the premiere and second performance.
Michael Balfe, friend of Rossini and composer of The Bohemian
Girl and Maid of Artois, took over as Verdi left
for Paris, where, as well as seeing a lot of Strepponi, he agreed
on a work for the Théâtre Académie Impériale de Musique,
Paris, (The Opéra) to be premiered in November 1847. With
its high musical standards and generous fees, composition for
The Opéra was considered the ultimate aspiration for all nineteenth
century Italian composers.
Given the lack of time, Verdi followed the example of his great
Italian predecessors in adapting an existing work. The work
chosen was I Lombardi alla prima crocciata of
1843, his fourth opera. This adaptation, Jérusalem,
became Verdi’s twelfth opera. The composition kept Verdi
in Paris for the next few months during which time his relationship
with Strepponi came into full blossom. The French librettists,
Royer and Väez, produced a libretto that was no mere translation
of the Italian I Lombardi. Although the shape of the
plot and the historical period of the crusades remained the
same, the Italian crusaders of Lombardy became French … indeed
from Toulouse. Verdi wrote a new orchestral introduction to
replace the brief prelude as well furnishing the required ballet
music. He also composed substantial additions to the score.
Importantly, he discarded the rather immature scene in which
the deceased Oronte appeared from heaven complete with aria.
The changes are sufficient for Jérusalem to be considered
a separate entity from I Lombardi.
Jérusalem, featuring the tenor Duprez, creator
of Edgardo in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, was a
moderate success at its Paris premiere on 26 November 1847.
Although Verdi had high hopes for the Italian translation, Gerusaleme,
these were only partially realised. The changes in Jérusalem
from I Lombardi were sufficient for both operas
to circulate simultaneously in Italian theatres for some years.
The challenges of Paris and its musical standards kept Verdi
interested in The Opéra, whilst Jérusalem was sufficiently
successful to keep the theatre management interested in Verdi.
Jérusalem was to have been followed by a completely new
work by Verdi for The Opéra, but the political upheavals in
France in 1848, leading to the abdication of Louis Philippe
and the establishment of the Second Empire, made that impossible.
Although a regular visitor to Paris, where he saw the play on
which he based La Traviata, Verdi did not return to present
another opera in Paris until Les Vêpres Siciliennes in
For the present production, the Italian musicologist Arrigo
Quatrochi produced an edition based on Verdi’s Paris autograph.
Whilst this production by Piergiorgio Gay is fairly traditional
and has a French conductor, the cast would have gained by the
inclusion of more Francophone singers. The Chilean soprano Verónica
Villarroel is a rather stiff Hélène; her vocalisation is careful
and concentrated, leaving her little capacity for acting the
role with any passion. She improves in scene one of act four
(DVD2 CHs 7-8). This is after Hélène laments the threat to Gaston
as her father arrives when she manages some more dynamic involvement.
Ivan Momirov sings strongly with a not unpleasant plangent tone.
Regrettably he often pushes his voice and there is too much
can belto rather than elegant phrasing of Verdi’s sympathetic
music. This loudness ensures his often-mangled French is ill-disguised
(DVD1 CHs.25-26). True Francophone Alain Fondary starts with
something of a wobble and tends to over-sing after his re-emergence
from being assumed accidentally assassinated by his brother
Roger. The latter is strongly sung, again whilst lacking much
in the way of expression. The lack of directorial awareness
and involvement is particularly evident as Roger sings, as the
hermit, about his hair turning white when it is in fact unchanged
(DVD1 CH.16). In fact his appearance as a hermit is pathetic
and would not confuse a passing child let alone the various
other family members and associates who meet him in that supposed
state of disguise. Both the second basses, Carlo Di Cristoforo
as the Papal Legate and Reda El Wakil as the Emir contribute
some of the better singing and committed acting to give significant
meaning to their relatively small roles.
The costumes are opulent and in period. The sets are different
for each act and scene within the act, seven in all. These are
very good and must have cost a fortune. Was the production ever
reprised or sold on I wonder? Good and apposite as both are
they cannot compensate for the inadequacy of the direction.
Piergiorgio Gay is lauded in the notes as a disciple and sometime
assistant of Ermanno Olmi claimed as one of the giants of Italian
film. That may be so. Perhaps in a film the cast are professional
actors who need little direction. This is not so with many singers
and this in turn means little dramatic involvement by many of
them and sadly this also extends to their singing. This lack
is also evident with the chorus who are loudly booed after one
contribution. Given that the choruses are in the Verdi Risorgimento
tradition, that of the act two O mon Dieu! Vous notre misère!
(Oh God look down on our misery, lost in the desert ….your promise
was in vain) with its musical echoes of Va pensiero in
the earlier Nabucco should have brought the house down
(DVD1 CH.21). The ballet is a redeeming feature being well danced
and appropriate to the music (DVD2 CHs 2-5).
Michael Plasson does his best to keep the drama alive despite
the occasional lethargy on stage and does justice to Verdi’s
writing. Therein lies another problem. In trying to blend with
the French tradition, some of the composer’s music here is routine,
even bland. It lacks the vibrancy of the first version of Macbeth
and I Masnadieri its immediate predecessors, albeit the
latter did not set London alight at its premiere. This
wide-screen film seen on a modern 16:9 TV, or when on auto-setting,
chops off some of the subtitles at the bottom of the picture
and any timing that the viewer might wish to follow at the top.
I found it very satisfactory watching in 14:9 aspect. The stereo
sound is clear and atmospheric. I cannot see another performance
making it onto film unless it is in some wacky European staging
and possibly in 2013, the composer’s bicentenary. As things
stand it is the sets and costumes featured on this DVD that
will stay longest in the memory. I should add that the set can
be had at an alluring price from everyone’s favourite on-line
Robert J Farr