VERDI: I Due Foscari
VERDI: I Lombardi
Teatro Regio di Parms is a famous opera house long associated with Verdi and Arturo Toscanini; Verdi lived in nearby Busseto, Toscanini was born in Parma. It is a small theater with ambition—over a period of years they plan to present all of Verdi's operas, four each season, and some already are available on DVD. Three of the most recent are listed above.
Oberto, composed in 1839, was Verdi's first opera. The libretto by Temistocle Solera focuses on Count Oberto, defeated in battle, and his daughter Leonora who has been betrayed by Count Riccardo who now plans to marry Cuniza. She is the sister of Ezerlino da Romana, leader of the forces that defeated Oberto. Vengeance, infidelity and betrayal are rampant, and the opera ends as Riccardo goes into exile and Leonora becomes a hermit. However, for this unlikely plot, Verdi has written some wonderful music, and it is fascinating to hear. It is unfortunate this performance isn't better. Giovanni Battista Parodi is fine in the title role, but soprano Francesca Sassu is disappointing to say the least. A wooden actress, she approximates many of the notes. Pier'Alli's costumes and sets are basic and work well. Video and audio are fine, and this is the only DVD currently available of the opera featuring the composer's very first Riccardo and Leonora. It's unfortunate the performance isn't better.
I Due Foscari, composed in 1844, was Verdi's sixth opera immediately following Ernani. The text by Francesco Maria Pieave tells of the unfortunate Doge of Venice, Francesco Foscari, and his son Jacopo who has been unjustly accused of murder. Jacopo must stand trial before the Council of Ten, led by Francesco who is in the awkward situation of balancing love for his son and his responsibility for justice. Jacopo's wife, Lucrezia Contarini, figures prominently throughout, pleading for her husband and respecting her father when he decides to have her lover executed. After . Jacopo is executed, Francesco, because of his age, is forced to relinquish his position as Doge, and dies. The opera is filled with big arias; even at this early stage in his career, Verdi knew how to write for the voice. There are some superb audio recordings of Oberto, and two DVDs including one issued about a decade ago from Teatro San Carlo with Leo Nucci as Francesco. Nucci still in fine vocal state in this new release, perhaps not quite as assured in the upper range, but impressive and he is a fine actor. Roberto De Biasio and Tatiana Serjan are outstanding, and the chorus does their work very well. Joseph Franconi Lee's staging is simple and effective. I viewed the Blu Ray version; video is outstanding, and audio is OK, if not particularly "surround." The "bonus" is just a listing and brief sampling of other opera DVDs on the label.
I Lombardi, written in 1843 right after Nabucco and before Ernani, is considered to be Verdi's first "grand" opera. The libretto by Temistocle Solera is based on an epic poem by Tommaso Grossi concerns the unfortunate lives of the Lombards—and just about everybody they meet— during the first crusade. We encounter two brothers (Arvino/Pagano) who have a hostile relationship, their father (Lord Folco) accidentally killed by Pagano, and the beautiful Viclinda who married Arvino 18 years earlier; they have a daughter, Giselda. But Pagano still lusts after Viclinda and plots to have her. We also have Orante who is in love with Giselda. The confused plot involve forgiveness, denial, love, trust, and a lot of praying, with a number of big choral scenes, particularly the ending when Pagano, now a hermit, dies, as a vision of Jurusalem appears. The stilted libretto gives many chuckles as read on screen. I Lombardi has many impressive arias and it is remarkable it isn't given more often. Although excerpts were presented in concert at the Met, the premiere there didn't take place until December 2, 1993 when James Levine conducted with a casting featuring Aprile Millo as Giselda, Samuel Ramey as the troubled Pagano, and Luciano Pavarotti as Orante, and Bruno Beccaria Arvino. Only 11 performances were given one of which was televised and is available on DVD.i This new splendid Pama DVD makes a strong case for I Lombardi, with state-of-the-art video and audio.
Macbeth,written in 1847, the same year that also produced I Masnadieri and Jerusalem, and was Verdi's tenth opera. Macbeth has always been a showpiece for baritones and sopranos. There are recordings featuring Leonard Warren, Giuseppe Taddei, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Piero Cappuccili, Sherrill Milnes and Leo Nucci in the title role, and sopranos Maria Callas, Leonie Rysanek, Birgit Nilsson, Shirley Verrett, Eleana Suliotis. and Fiorenza Cossotto as the conniving Lady Macbeth. This production directed by Phyllida Lloyd was first presented at the Royal Opera in 2002. The DVD contains the revival from the June 13, 2011 performance, and it is a winner in every way. The sets and costumes, emphasizing blood red and blak, are simple and work perfectly. There often is a large gilded cage on stage in which much of the action takes place. Fortunately there are no bizarre directorial excesses as happens so often nowadays. And the cast throughout is outstanding, featuring the remarkable new Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, sensational as Lady Macbeth. Her qualities have been recognized by the operatic world; soon she will sing Abigaille in Nabucco at both the Royal Opera (with Plácido Domingo as Macbeth) and at La Scala, and also will make her Met debut as Aida. A bright star on the operatic scene, for sure. The reliable Simon Keenlyside is a sensitive, troubled Macbeth, Raymond Aceto is outstanding as Banquo. The many choruses are sung with uncommon precision under Antonio Pappano's direction. Viewed on Blu-Ray, this is stunning visually, with excellent audio as well. Another outstanding operatic DVD!
R.E.B. (November 2012)