Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Joanna d'Arc - Dramma lirico in un prologo e tre atti (1845)
Nikolay Dorozhkin (tenor) - Carlo VII; Anna Lichorowicz (soprano) - Giovanna; Mariusz Godlewski (baritone) - Giacomo; Lukasz Gaj (tenor) - Delil; Marek Pasko (bass) - Talbot;
Orchestra and Choir of the Wrocław Opera/Ewa Michnik
rec. Wrocław Opera, January 2011
Liner notes and synopsis in Polish and English. Italian libretto but no translation enclosed.
DUX 0846/7 [63:16 + 41:09]
The story of Joan of Arc has been the basis of several operas. Before Verdi’s attempt Pacini, Balfe, Johann Vesque von Püttingen and several others, just as forgotten, were inspired by it. Later Tchaikovsky was more successful and his The Maid of Orleans is the sole survivor unless Verdi should also be counted.
The Verdi has never been regularly performed but there have been both concert versions and fully staged performances. In 1951 it was recorded in Milan in connection with a broadcast and the cast is mouth-watering: Renata Tebaldi, Carlo Bergonzi and Rolando Panerai (Melodram 27021). In 1972 EMI set it down in London with another starry trio: Montserrat Caballé, Placido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes. James Levine conducted what I believe was his first opera recording.
The reasons why Giovanna is such a rare guest in the opera houses may be twofold: this was in the middle of a hectic period in Verdi’s life when commissions for new operas poured in. After Ernani, premiered on 9 March 1844, he wrote I due Foscari, premiered on 3 November the same year. Thereupon he immediately sank his teeth into the libretto for Giovanna d’Arco, which was staged at La Scala on 15 February 1845. Before the year was over he had also seen one more opera being staged, Alzira on 12 August. With this intense tempo it seems plausible that he had no time for subtleties and innovations. However, the music isn’t bad and his sense of dramatic development and catchy melodies is undiminished. This is good early Verdi. Solera’s libretto, on the other hand, has little to commend it. Loosely based on Schiller’s Die Jungfrau von Orleans from 1801 the plot is rather messy but Verdi managed to create several scenes of outstanding musical and dramatic quality.
The story is briefly as follows: We are in France around 1429. The English are preparing an attack and Carlo (Charles VII) goes at night to a statue of the Mother of God to lay his sword there. Giovanna (Joan of Arc) has been praying for her occupied homeland and has then fallen asleep. In a dream she hears angels who tell her to defend her country. When she wakes she takes the king’s sword and declares her resolution. The king is enthralled and they leave together. Her father, Giacomo, who has been watching them from a distance, believes that she is possessed by demons. Under the command of Giovanna the French defeat the English and Giovanna confesses that she is in love with Carlo. Outside the Cathedral of Reims Giacomo accuses his daughter of blasphemy and a thunderclap seems to confirm this to be the truth. Giovanna doesn’t understand the accusation. She is captured and handed over to the English. When Giacomo hears her prayers he realizes that he was mistaken. She is released and returns to the battlefield, where she saves the king - and the country - but Giovanna is killed.
There is a good, three-part overture, several good arias and a truly masterly finale to act II, which opens with an a cappella chorus. Then follows a big ensemble with chorus and the three main characters. There is also a duet scene opening the third act with Giovanna and Giacomo. Father-daughter duets often drew the best from Verdi: Luisa Miller, Rigoletto, Traviata, Simon Boccanegra and Aida. This early example is in that league.
Wrocław may not be one of the top-ranked opera-houses of the world but they have an excellent orchestra and ditto chorus. Ewa Michnic, a one-time student with Hans Swarowsky in Vienna, has a wide repertoire with more than 95 operas. She is the first woman in Europe to have conducted the whole of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. 1981-1995 she was General and Artistic Director of the Kraków Opera and since 1995 she has held the same office in Wrocław. For Dux she has previously recorded Moniuszko’s Halka and Orefice’s Chopin. The latter will be reviewed here before long. Michnik has a firm grip on Verdi’s score, chooses sensible tempos throughout and makes the most of the highpoints.
Of the three main soloists Anna Lichorowicz as Giovanna is rather uneven. Her first solo, the cavatina Sempre all’ alba (CD 1 tr. 9) is squally. Having in the late 1960s seen Anna Moffo’s creamy reading this was disappointing. She is better in her second appearance (CD 1 tr. 17-18). In the duet with Giacomo (CD 2 tr. 7-10) she improves further. Best of all is the final scene of the opera.
The Russian tenor Nikolay Dorozhkin’s operatic roles are eclectic to say the least, ranging from baroque (Cavalli’s La Didone) to Radames in Aïda. His voice is today a typical tenore robusto, strong, heroic and unsubtle. His tone is steady and well-focused and occasionally he even essays something softer than fortissimo. His solo in the last act, Quale più fido amico is delivered with feeling and a plaintive quality; one thinks of Martinelli.
The real hero of this performance - vocally that is - is Mariusz Godlewski. Here is a singer with beautiful tone and sensitive phrasing. His aria and cabaletta in act I (CD 1 trs. 15-16) is well sung. Better still is his aria in act II (CD 2 tr. 2). Generally the baritone has the best music. The aforementioned father-daughter duet in act III should be heard, both for the music itself and for the singing.
The recording is first class and there is a short but informative note on the music and a synopsis. My only regret is that there is no translation of the libretto.
The opera is better than its reputation and the present recording, in spite of some less than first class singing, gives more than a hint of this. Giacomo is good throughout. Carlo, though often rather unsubtle, has spinto qualities and Giovanna has her moments of good singing.
I haven’t heard the Tebaldi/Bergonzi/Panerai recording but have seen some rave reviews. The sound quality, though, is reportedly terrible. The Caballé/Domingo/Milnes recording is also forty years old by now but it wears its years lightly. The singing is glorious but the conducting rather hard-driven. Still, it is the best all-round version.
Göran Forsling
Good early Verdi.