Giuseppe VERDI(1813-1901) Joanna d'Arc - Opera in a prologue and three acts
Carlo VII, King of Spain - Nikolay Dorozhkin (tenor); Giacomo, a
shepherd - Marinz Godlewski (baritone); Giovanna D’Arco, his
daughter - Anna Lichorowicz (soprano); Delil, an officer of the
King - Lukasz Gaj (tenor); Talbot, commander of the English army
- Marek Pasko (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Wroclaw Opera/Ewa Michnik
rec. live, Wroclaw Opera, January 2011
DUX CD 0846-7 [63.16 + 41.09]
Giovanna D’Arco is Verdi’s seventh opera.
It is based on Schiller's play Die Jungfrau von Orleans,
a fact denied by the librettist for copyright reasons. It was
premiered a mere four months after I Due Foscari and
six months before Alzira. These were the years that Verdi
was later to call his period in the galleys. Not only was he
composing, but also presenting revivals in various theatres
throughout Italy. Whilst his first four operas had been premiered
at La Scala, his fifth was first seen in Venice and his sixth
in Rome. Both the latter had been successful, helped by librettos
produced by Piave who worked hand in glove with Verdi, the composer
having an excellent theatrical sense. Verdi had been reluctant
to go back to La Scala with a new work as far too often singers
dictated what went on. This even involved them inserting arias,
other than by the composer of the work on stage, in order to
show off their strengths or to give greater weight to a part
that they considered not commensurate with their status. Although
little is known of the genesis of Giovanna D’Arco
it seems that Verdi, perhaps under pressure from Merelli, impresario
at La Scala and his publisher Ricordi, agreed to compose another
opera for that theatre in 1845 to make up for the loss of his
services the previous year. This was despite the fact that the
impresario would have the choice of singers, subject and librettist,
as was the standard practice there.
During the composition, Verdi contracted to mount a revival
of ILombardi for the opening of the carnival
season. Problems began to gather. The orchestra was too small,
the scenery and costumes were inadequate whilst the singers
were inclined to take too many liberties. These were the same
singers scheduled to present Giovanna D’Arco. Despite
a poor public response to the tenor, the work was well received
and soon the street barrel organs were ringing to the prologue
tune of Tu sei bella, the demons’ chorus that haunts
Joan. As well as the stage and singer problems, Verdi’s
relationship with Merelli became strained when the latter negotiated
the sale of the full score without the composer’s knowledge.
It was the end of a friendship. Verdi vowed never to set foot
in the theatre or speak to Merelli again. A man who carried
grudges, Verdi carried out his threat until the revised La
Forza del Destino was premiered at La Scala in 1869. The
hatchet buried, La Scala premiered the four-act 1884 version
of Don Carlo and Verdi’s two final operatic masterpieces,
Otello and Falstaff. Giovanna D’Arco is scored for three primo singers,
soprano, tenor and baritone. It requires true Verdian voices,
ones with a subtle combination of legato, a wide range of vocal
expression and also the heft to convey the emotional freight.
None of the three principal characters, Joan herself, Carlo
the King and her father Giacomo, are sketched, musically, in
any great depth or complexity. The trio of soloists have to
work really hard to make the roles anything other than ciphers.
This may well contribute to the paucity of both staged and recorded
performances. The only studio recording is that from EMI in
1972 with James Levine conducting the trio of Montserrat Caballé,
Placido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes. Levine’s conducting,
particularly of the overture and chorus scenes, is to my ears
often harsh and metronomic.
With the Verdi bicentenary due in 2013 perhaps Wroclaw and its
music director saw an opportunity to raise the theatre’s
profile with a staging and associated recording. Certainly the
conducting is one of the strengths of this performance with
Ewa Michnik on the rostrum having a nice feel for Verdian line
and melodrama. Given the paucity of recorded competition why
cuts have been made in the score defeats me. Around sixteen
minutes have been excised compared with the EMI issue. Granted
some of the deleted music cannot be described as vintage Verdi.
It does, however, add to the melodrama particularly in respect
of the choral contributions, which are quite good here. Consequently,
the cuts result in some loss in terms of quality and vitality.
Levine benefits from a trio of some of the best Verdi singers
of their generation, all approaching the height of their powers.
Ewa Michnik’s soloists are not in the same league. Nikolay
Dorozhkin, the tenor in this performance, has some vocal grace
but often sounds strained and tight, even raw (CD1. Trs. 3-6).
As Joan, Anna Lichorowicz has plenty of vocal heft and some
promising tone at times though her legato is not an ideal. She
also tends to interpolate high notes and sound shrill. Her voice
thins under pressure as in Qui! Qui ..dove pui s’apre
(CD 1.Trs. 17-18). There is the inevitable father-daughter duet
(CD 2.Trs. 8-11) which shows baritone Marinz Godlewski at his
expressive and tonal peak. He is by far the best of the trio
of soloists here (CD1. Trs. 7-9).
The recorded sound is good with a relaxing ambience. The booklet
has a full track-listing with cast. There is a brief introductory
essay and synopsis in Polish and English, albeit the translation
has its idiosyncrasies. The performance libretto is given in
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