RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata - dramma lirico in four acts (1843)
Arvino - Roberto di Biasio
Pagano - Michele Pertusi
Giselda - Dimitra Theodossiou
Oronte - Francesco Meli
Pirro - Roberto Tagliavini
Acciano - Jansons Valdis
Viclinda - Cristina Giannelli
Sofia - Daniela Pini
Ochestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma/Daniele Callegari
Lamberto Puggelli (Stage Director)
rec. live, Teatro Regio di Parma, January 2009
C MAJOR 720608 DVD [144:00]
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 every respect.
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.
Showcases the young Verdi at his very finest.