Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Joanna d'Arc - Opera in a prologue and three acts (1845)
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 I Lombardi 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 Italian only.
Robert J Farr
Idiomatic conducting, but mediocre soloists. This live performance only fills the gap of a modern recording for enthusiasts.
see also review by Göran Forsling