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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Alzira - Opera in a Prologue and two acts (1845)
Alvaro, Governor of Peru - Francesco Faccini (bass); Gusamo, his son, and also governor of Peru - Thomas Gazheli (baritone); Ovando, A Spanish officer - Joshua Lindsay (tenor); Zamoro, Chief of an Inca tribe - Ferdinand von Bothmer (tenor); Ataliba, Chief of an Inca tribe - Yasushi Hirano (bass); Alzira, Ataliba’s daughter - Junko Saito (soprano); Zuma, her sister - Anna Lucia Nardi (mezzo); Otumbo, an Inca warrior - Joe Tsuchizaki (tenor)
Orchestra Haydn di Bolzano e Trento/Gustav Kuhn
rec. in concert, Grand Hotel, Central Cultural Dobaccio, Alto Adige Festival, 13, 15 September 2012
Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
Video format: Full HD 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
Also available on DVD
C MAJOR 721504 [105:00 + 10:00 bonus]  

When it was announced that C Major, in association with Unitel Classics, were to record performances of all twenty-six of Verdi’s operas during the bicentenary of his birth in a series titled Tutto Verdi, my heart leapt in anticipation. I understood that these recordings were to be in association with the Teatro Regio in Parma and its annual Verdi Festival. In my mind this meant staged performances, as have been the first eight issues in this sequential series, except that Verdi’s eighth opera, Alzira was missing and Attila, his ninth, was substituted in the first launch tranche of the project. That performance of Attila, given in the small theatre in Verdi’s hometown of Bussetto received my imprimatur as a Recording of the Month (see review). Given that Alzira is Verdi’s least performed opera, and one I am never likely to see on stage, I hoped that the recording would be treated similarly, and perhaps even performed and staged with the similar imagination on that small stage. My wishes and understanding turned out to be wrong. Whatever earlier plans there might have been, the outcome presented in this recording of Alzira, Verdi’s eighth opera, is of a semi-staged concert performance.
 
This recording of Alzira comes with the second instalment of six issues in the Tutto Verdi series. Ignoring the re-write of I Lombardi for Paris, which is not included in this project, the other five works are Verdi’s tenth to fourteenth operas. They are Macbeth, I Masnadieri, Il Corsaro, La Battaglia di Legnano and Luisa Miller. All are fully staged and with the exceptions of the second and fourth, they were recorded at the Teatro Regio, Parma. As with the first tranche, all are issued on both Blu-Ray and DVD and will be reviewed on this site.
 
Verdi had conquered Milan, Rome and Venice when he received an invitation to write for the San Carlo at Naples. The theatre still carried the imprimatur conferred and character imbued by the formidable impresario Barbaja who had drawn Rossini to Naples to become the music director of the Royal Theatres of that city. Verdi was also drawn to working with the theatre librettist Salvatore Camarano, widely accepted as the best in the business following the retirement of Romani and who had earlier written the libretti for Donizetti’s successful Lucia di Lammermoor and Roberto Devereux. The drawback was that the commission came during the most hectic period of what Verdi called his Anni de galera - years in the galleys - when his schedule of new works and revivals took its toll on his fragile health and psyche. In fact he had a breakdown and asked for a postponement of the premiere, submitting medical certificates in support. The impresario, Vincenzo Flauto, himself a doctor, at first dismissed his pleas suggesting the warm air of Naples would effect a speedy cure. With Cammarano’s aid a postponement was achieved and Alzira, Verdi’s eighth opera, was premiered on 12 August 1845.
 
The story of Alzira derived from a five-act play by Voltaire, Alzire ou les Américains that Verdi had read. It was not his choice, but he did not demur believing that Cammarano would work its largely philosophical text into an opera he could set to music. Cammarano’s libretto for Alzira reduced Voltaire’s five-act play to a prologue and two acts, a total of six scenes. The plot became a love triangle for tenor soprano and baritone set in Lima, Peru. Verdi is said to have composed the music in twenty days, for him a barely believable time-scale. The opera was only moderately well received in Naples and was a failure when revived in Rome in the November following its premiere. A revival at La Scala in 1846 earned Verdi his worst notices since the fiasco of Un Giorno di Regno. In later years the composer recognised Alzira’s limitations and considered it beyond redemption. It was lost sight of until revived in a production in Rome in 1967 that indicated the score to be at least vibrant and melodic in parts.
 
This semi-staged concert performance takes place in what looks like the ballroom of the hotel in the Tyrolean resort of Dobaccio, a scenic winter resort set among the Dolomites. The chamber-sized orchestra, and chorus of around thirty members, are on a stage with the singers performing in front, and moving to chairs at the stage side when not singing. Most of the soloists are in white tie and tails except Ataliba who is in full morning dress, including grey waistcoat. The tenor hero of the piece, Zamoro, is in an open necked black shirt. There are no props, not even a wooden stage knife for Zamoro to stab his rival with in the final scene (CH.31).
 
All the soloists are trained professionals who, unlike the chorus, sing without the music in front of them, thus enabling them to act their parts. All are competent singing actors who I suspect ply their trade in the smaller opera houses of neighbouring countries. All act with conviction as they are singing and bring good expression and diction to their roles. This is what I would hope for and expect in such a small venue and with a small orchestra. Francesco Faccini as Alvaro, the elder governor, is a little wavery in tone. His son, Gusamo the baritone baddy of the plot, sings strongly and acts with conviction whilst not rivalling the likes of Bruson or Gavanelli on the rival CD versions. Unlike those versions, Ferdinand von Bothmer, the tenor hero here has, I surmise, no bel canto aspirations. His tone is strong and somewhat dry and baritonal rather than lyric with little mellifluousness about it. As Ataliba, chief of an Inca tribe, Yasushi Hirano sings with strong tone. His upright and physically imposing stature are ideal for the part. In the title role, Junko Saito sings with warm expressive tone, good diction and also acts with conviction. In the small role of Alzira’s sister Zuma, Anna Lucia Nardi, also sings with pleasant tone.
 
What any potential purchaser will have to address is the visual presence of titles against the international casts on the two rival CD sets. The oldest, recorded in 1982, features Ileana Contrubas, Francesco Araiza and Renato Bruson as principals with that nonpareil Verdian Lamberto Gardelli on the rostrum (Orfeo CD C057-832 H). The more recent issue is that from Philips. Recorded in Geneva in 1999 it features the idiomatic Fabio Luisi conducting alongside Ramón Vargas and Marina Mescheriakova, who is not always ideally steady, as the lovers and Paola Gavanelli as the baritone rival (Philips 464 6282 PH2). Both sets are enjoyable with each conductor bringing the best out of Verdi’s admittedly sparse originality or creativity. Of the two, my summary is that the Philips recording is more atmospheric whilst the Orfeo has the stronger soloists, particularly Bruson.  

Robert J Farr
 

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