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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Battaglia di Legnano - opera in four acts (1849)
Arrigo - Andrew Richards (tenor)
Rolando - Leonardo López Linares (baritone)
Lida - Dimitra Theodossiou (soprano)
Federico Barbarossa - Enrico Giuseppe Iori (bass)
Primo Console di Milano - Francesco Musini (bass)
Secondo Consolo di Milano - Federico Benetti (bass)
Il Podesta di Como - Gabriele Sagona (bass)
Marcovaldo - Giovanni Guagliardo (baritone)
Imelda - Sharon Pierfederici (mezzo)
Un Araldo - Alessandro de Angelis (tenor)
Uno Scudiero di Arrigo - Nicola Pascoli (tenor)
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Lirico “Giuseppe Verdi” di Trieste/Boris Brott
Stage Director: Ruggero Cappuccio
rec. live, Teatro Lirico “Giuseppe Verdi” di Trieste, Feb-March 2012
DVD: DTS 5.1, PCM Stereo
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
C MAJOR 722608 [129:00: opera: 119:00; bonus: 10:00]

To those with a casual interest in the history of Italian Unification, especially non-Italians, Verdi is the cultural figure we most closely associate with the Risorgimento. There is plenty of evidence of his support for the unification movement in earlier patriotic choruses like Nabucco’s “Va pensiero” or Macbeth’s “Patria oppressa”, but La Battaglia di Legnano is the most closely associated with Italy’s struggle against its oppressors. Verdi wrote it for Rome during the 1848 revolutions, after the forces of conservatism had been ejected and before they managed to reassert themselves.
 
The story concerns a love triangle which revolves around the conflict between romantic and patriotic love. More important, however, is the backdrop of Frederick Barbarossa’s invasion of Italy in 1176 and the efforts of the Lombard League to repulse him. The parallels with the situation of 1848-9 are obvious to the point of being laboured. The Lombards stand for the Italian patriots of 1848, while Barbarossa and his armies represent the forces of reaction and conservatism, most particularly the Austrian Habsburgs who were temporarily displaced from their Italian possessions during the revolutions. Consequently, this opera is the closest that Verdi ever came to bald propaganda, and you can’t shake the feeling that he was struggling to turn this into a convincing work of art, perhaps even that his mind was on other things at the time. Every act contains a patriotic chorus of some kind and these are all attractive enough in a rum-ti-tum way, but the crowd scenes are, frankly, a little banal. Things improve with the domestic episodes, but there is little in the way of psychological penetration. The highlight is the third act where Rolando entrusts his wife and son into the care of Arrigo, not realising that there is an unspoken love between them, and their subsequent attempts to deal with the situation. However, the Risorgimento symbolism is unarguably the opera’s reason for being. This makes it an interesting historical artefact but it also goes some way to explain why it has fallen so far off the radar of modern revival: there is a lot less for Verdi fans to enjoy than in the works that lie on either side of it.
 
That might also explain why this instalment in the Tutto Verdi season has veered off piste, without any acknowledgement or explanation. Where the other instalments have all come from Parma, this one was recorded in Trieste. Is it because Parma wasn’t interested in doing this opera, even as part of their festival? The chief consequence is that the musical values are a little lower than those of the other instalments in the series so far. The singing of the chorus, so important in this opera, is rather ragged and lacks heft and impact. Likewise, the playing of the orchestra is found wanting in conviction, despite some excellent solos. Boris Brott’s direction feels a little workaday, though this could be a partial consequence of the material he is working with.
 
None of the three principal singers are top drawer either. The finest is Leonardo López Linares, who sings Rolando with a committed baritone voice that sounds rich and satisfying. Next to him Andrew Richards’ Arrigo is bright but thin and he struggles noticeably at the top of his range. So, alas, does Dimitra Theodossiou whose rather ungainly soprano seems to struggle with both coloratura and legato. She sounds dangerously off the note in the prayer of the final act. The cameos are very good, such as Enrico Giuseppe Iori as Barbarossa himself, and there is a very fine Mayor of Como from Gabriele Sagona, but neither has very much to sing.
 
The production itself is a bit of a nothing. Cappuccio seems to have no ideas and has disguised this with a superfluity of half-ideas. Chief of these is the preponderance of paintings that get wheeled on and touched up at various points but, try as I might, I couldn’t find any connection, either with the action or between the paintings themselves.
 
All of this makes this DVD a bit of a damp squib. However, recordings of Legnano are very thin on the ground and if you want a DVD then this is practically your only choice. You’ll get a much better overall experience from Gardelli’s CD recording on Philips, though, if you can track it down. It features Ricciarelli, Carreras and Manuguerra with the ORF Orchestra of Vienna, and it packs a bigger punch than anything on this DVD.
 
Simon Thompson 

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