Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Oberto, Conte di Bonifaci - Opera in two acts (1839)
Oberto - Giovanni Parodi (bass); Leonora, his daughter deceived by Riccardo - Francesca Sassu (soprano); Riccardo, Count of Salinguerra, betrothed to Cuniza - Fabio Sartori (tenor); Cuniza, set to marry Riccardo - Mariana Pentcheva (mezzo); Imelda, Cuniza’s confidant - Giorgia Bertagni (mezzo)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio, Parma/Antonello Allemandi
rec. Verdi Theatre, Busetto, October 2007.
Director, Sets and Costumes: Pier´Alli
Video director: Tiziano Mancini
Video format: 1080i; Aspect: 16:9; Sound Format: DTS-HD MA 5.01
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
C MAJOR BLU RAY 720104 [124:00 + 10:00]
Oberto was the first complete and staged opera by Giuseppe Verdi. This recording is numbered one in a complete edition of his operas, called Tutto Verdi. All recorded at the Parma Verdi Festival the edition marks the bicentenary of the great Italian opera composer’s birth with recordings of all twenty-six of his operas. This simple statement on the product case begs a lot of questions not least whether Oberto was Verdi’s first shot at opera composition. There is extant correspondence indicating an opera by him called Rocester. It was never staged. Whether it formed the basis for Oberto, or if any of the music written for it has otherwise been utilised is not known. A second obvious statement needs making: it is that there are twenty-eight different titles in the Verdi canon. Two titles are not included in this series, first, Jérusalem (1847), which was a re-write of his fourth opera, I Lombardi (1843) to a French libretto for the composer’s debut at the Paris Opéra and Aroldo (1857). The latter was a re-write of Stiffelio (1850) designed to get away from the portrayal of a married Protestant Minister that offended some audience sensibilities. Both operas contain new music, much as did Verdi’s revisions of Macbeth and Simon Boccanegra for example, whilst their musical core is as in the original.
Oberto was staged for the first time at La Scala, Milan, in November 1839 when the composer was twenty-six years of age, by which age Rossini had twenty-four operas to his name! As a young and unknown composer, Verdi followed the general format of opera productions at the time. Even so, there are already many scenes in this early work that reveal unmistakable signs of the composer's individual style. The fact that it was premiered at La Scala and the impresario Bartolomeo Merelli stood all the costs of production and staging indicates that he recognised the individuality and musical quality in Verdi’s first effort. Due to illness among singers, Oberto conte di Boniface, No. 1 in the Verdi oeuvre was not premiered until the 17 November 1839 rather than the spring as planned. During the rehearsals Verdi’s second child, his son Icilio, died. The opera was a big enough success for Merelli to extend the number of scheduled performances to fourteen that season and twelve the next. He also sold the score to Ricordi for the not inconsiderable sum of two thousand Austrian Lire thus recouping some of his investment. More importantly for Verdi, Merelli contracted the composer for three more operas to be presented over the next two years for a fee of four thousand Lire each together with half the money raised if the score were sold. Oberto is also significant insofar as it shows the composer drawn from the start of his career to the often-troubled father-daughter relationship that was to occur overtly in so many of his works.
The story concerns the conflict between two families in the early thirteenth century in what became Italy. Oberto of San Bonifaccio was driven into exile leaving his daughter, Leonora, behind. Whilst he was away, one of the opposing family, using a false name but really Riccardo, courts and seduces Leonora with the promise of marriage before deserting her in favour of Cuniza. Leonora meets her father, who has returned in disguise near Cuniza’s castle. He bitterly reproaches her, refusing her embrace. When Cuniza learns of Riccardo’s promise she renounces her intended marriage. Meanwhile Oberto challenges Riccardo to a duel. Despite the latter promising to marry Leonore, the two men fight and Oberto is killed. Leonore refuses to accept Riccardo saying her future life will be as a nun.
This performance was recorded at the Teatro Verdi in the town of Bussetto, where Verdi lived and later bought his estate. It was the place where as a child he had lodged with Barezzi, who later financed his musical education in Milan and whose daughter he married. She, together with their two young children died as Verdi sought to build his career. The building of the theatre and its naming brought some conflict between Verdi and the town council who expected him to contribute to its building. He eventually did so, but never entered it. It seats only about three hundred, fewer for opera productions. Its cramped stage conditions are challenging for directors. Franco Zeffirelli has produced operas there, as has the vastly experienced Pier Luigi Pizzi who presented I Vespri Siciliani in 2003 (see review). The theatre is also used for the production of the composer’s ninth opera, Attila, in this Tutto Verdi collection (under review).
The costumes are in period whilst the set, on the small stage of the Verdi Theatre in Bussetto, is extremely simple with representations of rooms, and a forest, situated at the stage rear and revealed by opening screens. Director Pier´Alli brings the singers and chorus forward at every opportunity, using adjacent boxes to accommodate the latter on occasions. The use of the hands is an important component of the acting and in this respect the Leonore of Francesca Sassu is particularly responsive. Her soprano is warm-toned, if thinning a little in the upper region (CHs.6-8 and 37). Nonetheless her assumption is a significant one in the dramatic realisation of the opera. As her father, Oberto, Giovanni Parodi is imposing of stature and sings with steady tone and good diction whilst expressing the emotions of the words well (CHs. 10, 27-28). As his adversary, the seducer Riccardo, the rather chunky Giorgia Bertagni sings with a bright rather dry lyric tenor voice. He can and does sing softly, but only loses that dryness at forte (CHs.4 and 33). A little stiff in her acting Mariana Pentcheva as Cuniza has an even, well projected, mezzo voice (CHs. 23-24). The comprimario role of Imelda, sung by Fabio Sartori, has more than usual to sing in the duets and particularly in the rondo finale for the three women where all the ladies fulfil the dramatic and vocal demands well (CHs. 36-38). On the rostrum Antonello Allemandi teases out the Verdian characteristics of the music and supports his singers with gentle élan whilst ensuring the dramatic moments get full value.
The main competition on DVD comes from a performance in Bilbao in 2007 conducted by Yves Abel (Opus Arte OA 0982 D). With more grandiose sets it has strengths and is competitive; as of the present it is not available on Blu-Ray. On CD there is an outstanding contender on the Philips label under Marriner. Recorded in 1997 it features Sam Ramey as Oberto, Maria Guleghina as Leonora and Violetta Urmana, then singing as a mezzo, as Cuniza.
Robert J Farr 

In the intimate setting of the small theatre in Verdi’s hometown, in period costume znd with simple sets, this performance and staging have many virtues. 
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