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Giuseppe VERDI

Rigoletto: La donna è mobile (Luciano Pavarotti, London SO/Richard Bonynge)
Va pensiero (Chicago SO & Chorus/Sir Georg Solti)
La Forza del Destino:
Overture (Kirov Orch/Valery Gergiev)
La Traviata:
Un dì felice (Dame Joan Sutherland, Carlo Bergonzi, Florence May Festival Orch  Chorus/Sir John Pritchard)
I Vespri Siciliani:
Mercè, dilette amiche (Maria Chiara, Covent Garden Orch/Nello Santi)
La Traviata:
Libiamo (Sutherland, Bergonzi, Florence MFO & Chorus/Pritchard)
Il Trovatore:
Di quella pira (José Carreras, Covent Garden Orch & Chorus/Sir Colin Davis)
Il Trovatore:
Vedi! Le fosche notturne spoglie (CSO & Chorus/Solti)
Il Trovatore:
Stride la vampa (Stefania Toczuska, Covent Garden Orch & Chorus/Davis)
Ritorna vincitor! (Leontyne Price, Rome Opera House Orch & Chorus/Solti)
Don Carlo:
Dio, che nell'alma infondere (Carlo Bergonzi, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Covent |Garden Orch & Chorus/Solti)
La Traviata:
Prelude to Act 1 (Florence MFO/Pritchard)
Caro nome (Sutherland, LSO, Ambrosian Opera Chorus/Bonynge)
Don Carlo:
O don fatale (Olga Borodina, Covent Garden O/Bernard Haitink)
Se quel guerrier… Celeste Aida (Bergonzi, Vienna PO/Herbert von Karajan)
Ernani! Ernani, involami (Sutherland, Paris Conservatoire O/Santi)
Un Ballo in Maschera:
Di tu se fedele (Jussi Björling, Florence MFO/Alberto Erede)
Un Ballo in Maschera:
Morrò, ma prima in grazia (Dame Margaret Price, National PO/Solti)
Luisa Miller:
Quando le sere al placido (Pavarotti, Vienna Opera Orch/Sir Edward Downes)
Gloria all'Egitto; Grand March (CSO &Chorus/Solti)
Dies Irae (extract) (Vienna State Opera Chorus, VPO/Solti)
La Forza del Destino:
Pace, pace, mio Dio! (Angela Gheorghiu, Milan G. Verdi SO/Riccardo Chailly)
Questa o quella (Bergonzi, New Philharmonia O/Santi)
Bella figlia dell'amore (Sutherland, Huguette Tourangeau, Pavarotti, Sherrill Milnes, LSO/Bonynge)
Ave Maria (Renée Fleming, LSO/Solti)
La Traviata:
Parigi, o cara (Gheorghiu, Frank Lopardo, Covent Garden O/Solti
Ah, la paterna mano (Pavarotti, Vienna Opera O/Downes)
Il Trovatore:
Squilli, echeggi la tromba guerriera (CSO & Chorus/Solti)
Don Carlo:
O Carlo, ascolta (Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Covent Garden O/Haitink)
Ingemisco (Pavarotti, VPO/Solti)
Simon Boccanegra:
Come in quest'ora bruna (Kiri Te Kanawa, La Scala Orch/Solti)
Brindisi (Mara Zampieri, Renato Bruson, Neil Shicoff, Lucia Aliberti, German Opera Orch & Chorus, Berlin/Giuseppe Sinopoli)
O patria mia (L. Price, Rome OHO & Chorus/Solti)
I Lombardi:
La mia letizia infondere (Placido Domingo, Royal PO/Lamberto Gardelli)
I Masnadieri:
Lo sguardo avea degli angeli (Montserrat Caballé, NPO/Gardelli)
La Forza del Destino:
Solenne in quest'ora (Gegam Grigorian, Nikolai Putin, Kirov O/Gergiev)
Macbeth: Patria oppressa (CSO & Chorus/Solti)
Il Trovatore:
Tacea la notte (Katia Ricciarelli, Covent Garden O/Davis)
I Due Foscari:
Dal più remoto esilio … O Dio solo, ed odio atroce (Carreras, Mieczyslaw Antoniak, ORF SO & Chorus, Vienna/Gardelli)
Don Carlo
: Auto-da-fè Chorus (extract) (La Scala O & Chorus/Gabriele Santini)

Decca - 4671282
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I have listed the contents of these two CDs item by item, with the performers after each one, since any more rational grouping together might lead readers into imagining that, well, items from the same opera appear together, maybe even in the order in which they actually appear in the opera or some other logical solution. But no, two Traviata duets really do frame the Bolero from I vespri with a third duet on the other disc and taken from another performance entirely, and two extracts (and again, there's a third on the other disc) from the Davis Trovatore really do appear with a chorus from the same opera conducted by Solti slipped in between.

I think that as far as the experienced collector is concerned (he will have already noticed that the performances chosen are mostly fairly obvious ones) the discs are self-commenting, but for the man who is starting to know classical music and wondering if Verdi is for him, this is a listener-friendly sequence which gives a fair idea of the riches which both the composer and many of his most celebrated interpreters over the last 40-odd years have to offer. One of the greatest Verdi singers is missing for obvious contractual reasons, namely Maria Callas (she was an EMI artist); yet I suspect the compiler of being an out-and-out Callas fan, for otherwise how extraordinary it is that we have not a note from Renata Tebaldi, Callas's arch rival and a mainstay of Decca's operatic catalogue for over twenty years.

A mainstay of the Decca catalogue for much longer than that was Sir Georg Solti, and it seems somehow typical that his name appears complete with knighthood on all the fourteen items he conducts, whereas Davis, Downes and Pritchard are shorn of theirs, as are Margaret Price, Sutherland and Te Kanawa of their Damehoods. Davis's Trovatore has been described as laid back, yet Di quella pira provides some of the most exciting conducting on the discs (though Carreras is sadly over-parted), and it is the following Solti-led chorus which is well and truly laid back. Solti was very much the elder statesman of music by the time he made his Chicago collection of Verdi choruses, and extracts from it crop up like weary milestones all through the set. Decca has in its vaults a collection of Verdi choruses under Carlo Franci which has real Italian blood in it (as has the chorus from Don Carlo conducted by Santini) and which might profitably have been used instead. The much earlier blood-and-guts Solti can be heard in the two Aida excerpts. Leontyne Price's voice is thrilling to hear, but in Ritorna vincitor she and Solti seem hell-bent on seeing who can make the most noise. In the end he does, but it's a close-run thing. Even in the quieter music towards the end her line is bumpy. O patria mia is emphatically more successful. With much more delicate orchestral writing she regains her poise. It's still a whopping voice, but it has the essential grease-paint people go to the theatre for and is one of the set's highlights. Solti-bashing can be a pleasing sport, but between these extremes he did much distinguished work, not least the Vienna Requiem from which we get a thrilling (but not overdriven) extract from the Dies Irae and a further extract which leads us to another Decca mainstay, Luciano Pavarotti.

Pavarotti has become one of those figures the cognoscenti love to hate, but the Requiem movement gives us prime Pavarotti, a glorious timbre used to finely musical effect. The same may be said of the two arias from the recital under Downes, but even the later Rigoletto extracts find him in fine fettle (the quartet is splendidly launched). Of the other tenors it is always a pleasure to hear Bergonzi, whether in duet with Sutherland (of whom more later) or on his own, notably in a seamless Celeste Aida. It is a pity we only get one reminder, in a little-known aria, that Domingo has been one of the most musicianly and well-schooled tenors of recent years. The item from I due Foscari gives more evidence than that from Trovatore of the fresh, bright timbre with which Carreras attracted audiences at the beginning of his career, but truth to tell there are signs of forcing even here. In the Björling item the engineers have brightened up the sound of the elderly recording far too much and I didn't enjoy this as much as I had hoped.

Not long ago I was reviewing a 1960 recital by Joan Sutherland which included a superb Caro nome. The recording under Bonynge was a late venture and the voice is notably darker at the beginning. But her technical armoury is unimpaired and, while the earlier version (or that from the early 60s set conducted by Nino Sanzogno) might have been preferred, this is still an astonishingly fine performance. Her Traviata extracts are also very fine (the beautifully-shaped Prelude under Pritchard reminds us that this was a distinguished set) and the Ernani aria, from another early recital, contains so much that is quite fabulous that I am at a loss to explain a couple of somewhat ungainly high Cs. Of the other big names Caballé, in a very rare piece, shows her warm tones to good advantage and reveals almost unbelievable control in her cadenza. Margaret Price provides a wealth of fine shading in her aria from Ballo but Kiri Te Kanawa makes rather heavy weather of the Boccanegra excerpt. It is a pleasure to hear a little-remembered soprano, Maria Chiara, making light of the difficulties of Mercé, dilette amiche, but one also notes an unsteadiness to the voice-production which perhaps explains why her international career was not long. Will future critics be saying the same of Angela Gheorghiu? However attractive her timbre may be in much of Pace, pace, mio Dio, there is a fundamental unsteadiness which is even more noticeable in the Traviata duet. Renée Fleming seems to have a much firmer technical backup, and I venture to suggest she will stay the course.

Lower voices are not much in evidence in this collection though Hvorostovsky's account of the death of Rodrigo provides some compensation. And to end, as I began, with the conductors, Sinopoli gives a fizzing account of the Macbeth extract and those who look at the timing of Gergiev's Forza Overture and imagine a space-rocket account are reassured that this is a shorter version of the piece than we usually hear and the tempi are quite normal. A note to explain this? No notes, let alone texts, accompany this pair of discs, but as an introduction to the range of music to be found in Verdi they can be safely bought.

Christopher Howell

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