Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
I Lombardi alla prima crociata - Lyrical drama
in four acts (1843)
Arvino, son of Falco - Roberto De Biasio (tenor); Pagano, Arvino’s
brother, later the hermit - Michele Pertusi (bass); Viclinda, Arvino’s
wife - Cristina Giannelli (soprano); Giselda, Arvino’s daughter
- Dimitra Theodossiou (soprano); Pirro, Arvino’s squire -
Roberto Tagliavini (bass); Acciani, tyrant of Antioch - Jansons
Vadis (bass); Oronte, Acciano’s son - Francesco Melim (tenor)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio, Parma/Daniele Callegari
Directed: Lamberto Puggelli
Set Design: Alessandro Camera
Costume design: Santuzza Cali
Video Direction: Tiziano Mancini
rec. Parma Verdi Festival, 15, 20 January 2009
Sound Format: DTS-HD MA 5.01 PCM 2.0.
Filmed in HD 1080i. Aspect ratio 16:9
Booklet languages: English, German, French
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French,
Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
720704 [144:00 + 10:00]
I Lombardi alla prima crociata (The Lombards of the First
Crusade) was Verdi’s fourth opera. It was premiered at
La Scala in February 1843, ten months after the great success
of Nabucco. It is appropriately numbered 4 in this series
of recordings from the Parma Verdi Festival. Issued under the
title Tutto Verdi this series of all twenty-six of his
operas plus The Requiem is issued to celebrate the bicentenary
of the composer’s birth. Each opera in the series has
a ten minute narrative introduction to the work concerned, in
English if required and using visual snippets from the performance.
In the case of the complexities of this story, and the switches
of venue involved in this dramatic and melodic opera, I strongly
recommend viewing it.
After the massive success of his third opera, Nabucco,
at La Scala in 1842, Verdi was quick to realise that the Italian
audience related their situation, under Austrian occupation,
with the oppressed Jews of the opera. Any subject which showed
Italians united against a common enemy would be off to a flying
start in occupied Milan, albeit with the Austrian censor likely
to be a stumbling block. However, in this case it was the Church
that took exception to the subject of the opera. Fortunately,
the police chief, a music-lover, let the libretto pass with
only minor amendments, Salve Maria instead of Ave
Maria and as much for form’s sake as any other.
A great success in Milan, I Lombardi quickly spread to
the rest of Europe, not least helped by Verdi himself. At Venice
he insisted on a production to go along with the commission
for the opera Ernani. Such was Verdi’s growing
stature as a composer that Merelli, intendant at La Scala asked
Verdi to name his own fee for I Lombardi. Uncertain,
the composer sought the advice of Giuseppina Strepponi, creator
of Abigaille in Nabucco and later his mistress and wife.
She advised him to ask what Bellini asked for Norma (Budden.
The Operas of Verdi. Vol. 1. Cassell 1973. p.115).
I Lombardi dispenses with an overture, and opens with a
short prelude which leads straight into the first of several
choruses spread throughout the work (CHs.2, 14, 22 and 26).
The chorus are major players in this opera. The strong vibrant
tones and Italianate squilla of the Teatro Regio forces have
a significant part to play in all these early Verdi recordings;
none more so than in this opera. The women of the chorus are
tasteful, full-toned, and particularly affecting in the Act
1 Chorus of Nuns (CH. 6).
Only three of the opera’s characters are listed as ‘prima’
voices, Pagano, Oronte and Giselda. Somewhat strangely, the
substantial role of Arvino is listed in the original libretto
as tenore comprimario; the role certainly involves a
very big sing indeed and any weakness of casting of this part
can seriously undermine any performance of the opera. Perhaps
it is due to the fact that Arvino does not get a solo aria,
merely featuring in duets and ensembles. In this performance
Roberto De Biasio, who sings the principal tenor roles in several
of this Tutto Verdi series, does so here with the bright
forward tone that I have admired. This is coupled with his ability
to sing softly, at least occasionally. Add his ability to act
the role as well as express emotions in his singing and there
is no chance of his being over-parted, as can be the case.
As the brother who commits parricide in the belief that it is
his sibling, the physically imposing Michele Pertusi acts well
and sings with steadiness and good characterisation. That said,
I would like a little more sonority in his tone. As his squire
Pirro, Roberto Tagliavini in a secondo bass role also has the
requisite tonal security allied to clear diction. The Giselda
of Dimitra Theodossiou is also worthy. She has become more a
lirico spinto soprano since her earlier days in bel
canto. Her quick vibrato is more in evidence and she has
moments of wavery tone. Importantly she holds the line well
in her Act 1 prayer (CH.11) where she is expressive and involved.
She has sufficient vocal heft to ride the chorus and orchestra
at climaxes. Elsewhere her characterisation is good although
her coloratura and trill could be better.
The primo tenor role of Oronte, son of the Tyrant of Antioch
who in his love for the captured Giselda converts to Christianity,
is taken by Francesco Meli who has sung at the best operatic
addresses and recorded on major labels (see review
1 and review
2). He sings with vocal strength, some elegant phrasing
and a keen sense of words, not least in his duet with Giselda
from heaven following the chorus of the celestial spirits (CH.
If one component of this performance stands out it is the singing
of the chorus, whether as crusaders or pilgrims. It is outstanding
and fitting that the chorus master and they should take the
first bow (CH.41).
With many small scenes requiring quick changes it is difficult
to comment in respect of how the sets and changes came over
in a live performance. Alessandro Camera’s sets, involving
large blocks of movable wall are flexible and are particularly
effective as they open to reveal the vision of Jerusalem to
the crusaders and the mortally wounded Pagano. The mise-en-scène
of the final act is particularly effective. Lamberto Puggelli’s
direction is efficient albeit with the silly gimmick of having
Jews, dressed in modern day clothing and complete with the hats
of their particular sect, pray at the wall of Jerusalem! Otherwise
the costumes are in period and appropriate.
The conductor paces the work well and has a good feel for a
Verdian phrase. He is not afraid to play the rum-ti-tum Verdian
beats of the Crusaders for all they are worth. He allows the
chorus time for the lovely phrases of Gerusalem (CH.26)
and O Signore, dal tello natio (CH.36) in particular
to soar. One can but imagine how the words of the latter O
Lord, Thou didst call us with holy promise from our native hearths
went down in Austrian occupied Milan!
On DVD the only quality rival is the spartan staging from La
Scala in 1984 featuring Carreras as Oronte and Ghena Dimitrova
as Giselda. Jerusalem, the version that Verdi produced
for his French début at the Théâtre Académie
Impériale de Musique, Paris, (The Opéra) in
November 1847, and which will not feature in this Tutto Verdi
series, is available on a year 2000 recording in 4:3 aspect
from the Teatro Carlo Fenice in Genoa (see review).
On CD there are excellent performances from Decca featuring
Pavarotti (455 287-20) and from Philips, in one of their first
early Verdi recordings, with Domingo (422 420-2).
Robert J Farr