The first release I encountered in Parma’s complete Verdi
series was I Due Foscari, a release which was momentarily
impressive but which left me fundamentally fairly indifferent.
This Lombardi is a lot better, an improvement in almost
As with Foscari, the set is very bare, but here it is
managed better. The props are fairly non-existent, save the
odd rug or sand dune. The stage is dominated by an enormous
wall at the back which is used as the backdrop for some projections
which suggest locations, be they the square of Milan, the Hermit’s
cave or the desert outside Jerusalem. It’s done fairly
effectively, and it’s a good way of generating locations
without much fuss, though they get ideas above their station
when they project Picasso’s Guernica as a comment on the
horrors of war, not a reading the opera can really sustain.
The costumes are all of the 11th Century, and the lighting is
well managed too. The great wall finally parts only in the final
scene when the city of Jerusalem is seen gleaming in the distance,
a simple idea but effective because so long delayed.
The thing that really marks out this release, however, is the
singing. The punishing role of Giselda requires drama, poignancy,
coloratura and religious fervour. Dimitra Theodossiou does a
very good job of providing all of these. She is perhaps a little
strident in her big Act 4 showpiece, but her expressions of
grief and fear are always convincing and very attractively sung.
Her lover, Oronte, is sung by the clarion-bright tenor of Francesco
Meli. He sings at his very best here: light, exciting, lyrical
and beautiful. La mia letizia infondere, his Act 2 declaration
of love, pulses with excitement and lyricism, and the message
from beyond the grave which he delivers at the start of Act
4 is gorgeously ethereal. Equally fine, but with the advantage
of authority and splendour, is Michele Pertusi as Pagano, the
parricide turned hermit. He is clearly having a fantastic time,
particularly in his villainous Act 1 aria, which is sung with
a thrilling edge of vigour. He then manages to moderate his
tone most impressively to carry a convincing quality of repentance
and holiness. The joint contribution of these three makes the
baptism scene of Act 3 (illustrated on the cover of the box)
the highlight of the opera. Their voices blend beautifully and
they all seem completely convinced by the quality of what they
are doing. Roberto di Biasio sounds much more comfortable than
he did in Foscari, and Roberto Tagliavini, as in Foscari,
makes the most of his small role.
In many ways, though, the most important character in this opera
is the chorus, who have a major role to play in almost every
scene. They sing with brilliant conviction throughout, something
acknowledged by the audience in their applause, and they are
used with intelligence by the director. Their choruses to Jerusalem,
at the start of Act 3 and the end of Act 4, are merely their
finest moments; they cover themselves in glory at every turn,
illustrating the very best traditions of Italian opera choruses
as they do so. Daniele Callegari reinvigorates the Parma Orchestra
so that they sound much, much better than they did in Foscari.
They play with a level of passion that they did not display
in that release, and the violin solo that introduces the baptism
scene is wonderfully realised.
It helps, perhaps, that they are playing such excellent music.
I hadn’t encountered this opera since the last time I
listened to Levine’s Decca CD of the work from the Metropolitan
Opera, featuring Pavarotti and Ramey, but this DVD served as
a reminder of just what a brilliant work it is. It has everything
from family tragedy to religious intensity by way of great passion
and fantastic scene painting, and it showcases the young Verdi
at his very finest, better even than Nabucco, in my view.
It deserves to be far better known than it is, and I hope this
DVD helps to achieve that.