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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Giovanna d'Arco, Dramma Lirico in One Prologue and Three Acts (1845)
Giovanna – Jessica Pratt
Carlo VII – Jean-François Borras
Giacomo – Julian Kim
Delil – Roberto Cervellera
Talbot – Emanuele Cordaro
Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia, Chorus of Teatro Petruzzelli/Riccardo Frizza
Stage Director and Set Designer: Fabio Cersa
Video Directors: Raffaele Agrusta, Cesare Orlando
Sound: PCM 2.0, DD 5.1
Picture: NTSC/16:9
Region: 0
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Korean, Japanese
rec. 28 and 31 July 2013, Palazzo Ducale, Martina Franca, Italy
DYNAMIC DVD 37676 [117:00]

Giovanna d’Arco is an unpopular Verdi opera, an early work with many fine moments, but probably kept from the canon by its awkward plot. Joan, prone to visions and eager to repel English invaders, is torn between her father and her king. Father Giacomo believes that she is possessed by Satan, and Charles VII is in love with this woman warrior. These are the only three notable roles in this opera. Much of the plot centers on Joan’s chastity, which is not a compelling theme for modern audiences, and the spooky bits are less comfortable than in Macbeth.

This production is from the Festival della Valle d’Itria Martina Franca, which has generated many welcome recordings of underperformed Italian opera. Their production values are not always high, but one is still grateful to them for bringing under-performed music to listeners. The costumes are cheesy, and the stage is generally gloomy. The orchestra is certainly proficient, but not very exciting. Two of the three main singers are quite good. Australian mezzo Jessica Pratt has built a reputation in bel canto roles, with impressive recordings of La Sonnambula, as well as such Rossini rarities as Ciro in Babilonia and Adelaide di Borgogna. Here she is moving into Verdi territory; her voice has the power to make an impact, as well as the agility to keep Joan’s part interesting. She is not asked to do anything extraordinary as an actress, but conveys a fine sense of Joan as militant, confused, and vulnerable. It would be wonderful to hear her in other Verdi roles, such as Abigaille in Nabucco. Jean-François Borras is an excellent Charles VII. His voice is rather sweet-toned, but he can provide regally ringing tones when appropriate. The weak link is Julian Kim, singing Joan’s odious father, who turns his daughter over to the English. Kim seems wooden, and unsure of how to handle this unappealing role. This is another of Verdi’s anguished fathers, but one who elicits little sympathy from the audience. There are many fine moments in the performance, such as the Act I duet between Joan and Charles, whose ardent and uplifting melody is interrupted by an off-stage chorus of devils.

Among early Verdi operas, Giovanna d’Arco ranks in the middle in terms of musical quality. It is not in same league as such masterpieces as Ernani or Nabucco, but is much better than Alzira or Il Corsaro. That means that there is much pleasure to be found in this score, which often reminds one of Macbeth or Nabucco. Veteran conductor Riccardo Frizza knows how to maximize the best moments, mostly by keeping things moving at a brisk pace. The sound is pretty good, if occasionally a little boomy.

This release faces stiff competition from a 1990 performance, with Riccardo Chailly conducting the Bologna opera, featuring Susan Dunn, Vincenzo La Scola, and Renato Bruson. This is the one to watch. Chailly’s conducting is more incisive, the sound is at least as good, and all three singers are fine. Bruson conveys the right amount of craziness to make Giacomo compelling. The production, staged by Werner Herzog, is colorful and interesting. This Musicweb review provides details.

There is another video of Giovanna d’Arco made for the Verdi centenary. It features Svetla Vassileva, Evan Bowers, and Renato Bruson, with Bruno Bartoletti conducting. I have not seen it, mostly because I feared disappointment from an aging Bruson. A Musicweb review suggests that this anxiety is well-founded.

Richard Kraus



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