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Va pensiero, sull’ali dorate
Verdi’s life told by Thomas Hampson
A film by Felix Breisach
Written by Peter Beringer and Felix Breisach
Thomas Hampson (baritone)
Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment/Richard Armstrong
Sound: PCM stereo
Video format: 16:9.
rec. 2001
Booklet languages: English, German, French
EUROARTS DVD 2051048 [58:00]

I assume this biographical survey of Verdi’s life is re-issued as part of the Verdi’s bicentenary. Even before his passing he had been titled: The Glory of Italy. From birth in a war-ravaged Po valley, and an upbringing by parents trading in the small village of La Roncole, he rose to world renown, showered with honours, as well as being a member of Italy’s first national parliament. His funeral in Milan filled the streets with three hundred thousand people with Arturo Toscanini conducting an eight hundred and twenty-voiced choir singing the famous chorus Va pensiero from Nabucco. It’s the title of this disc.
 
The American lyric baritone Thomas Hampson tells the story of Verdi’s life. His spoken voice is easy on the ear. His singing voice, whilst being beautiful is not ideal for Verdi’s great dramatic roles, such as Rigoletto, even Macbeth (CH.4) or Di Luna from Il Trovatore (CH.6). His best Verdi role as Germont père from La Traviata is heard, regrettably without the cabaletta (CH.8). He has also been notable as Rodrigo in Don Carlo and I unexpectedly admired his assumption of the eponymous role in Simon Boccanegra in a recording from Florence in 2005. The latter is a role he is singing at Covent Garden in the summer of 2013.
 
Verdi’s life, its early triumphs and family tragedies (CH.3) and what he called his Anni di Galera (Years in Galleys, CH.5), when the pressure of work brought strain on his physique and psyche are told succinctly. Perhaps the most appealing facet of Verdi’s sometimes irascible character is covered in the Epilogue (CH.9). This recounts what the man himself called his most beautiful work, the Casa di Riposos di musica, the retirement home for musicians in Milan. Completed in 1900, it is still in use today. Verdi bequeathed his estate to its upkeep and maintenance - a worthy memorial to The Glory of Italy. Certainly it can stand alongside the stage works that continue to form the backbone of opera house repertoires around the world.
 
There is a direct alternative, or complement, to this issue in a DVD entitled: Verdi, The Pursuit of success and the Burden of Success narrated by Sir Mark Elder (Kultur DVD D4226). Lasting twice as long, it features more music and singers, mainly from English National Opera. A more extensive account of Verdi’s life, operas and recordings can be found in my own four-part conspectus on this site as detailed below.
 
Part 1: Verdi's background, getting established and first five operas from Oberto (1839) to Ernani (1844) 
Part 2: Verdi’s Anni di Galera. The ten operas from I due Foscari (1844) to Luisa Miller (1849)  
Part 3: Verdi’s middle period. The eight operas from Stiffelio (1850) to Un ballo in Maschera (1859)  
Part 4: Verdi’s great final operas from La Forza del Destino (1862) to Falstaff (1893) and including the revisions of Macbeth and Simon Boccanegra as well as appendices covering the Requiem, collections of arias, overtures and choruses.
 
Since the publication of this conspectus, and particularly in this anniversary year, a number of other recordings have appeared of the composer’s works. However, Verdi’s life and activities surrounding the compositions remain the same.
 
Robert J Farr
 



Sections
A Gifted Student. [10.55]
I due Foscari - O vecchio cor [2.35]
Success and Tragedy [3.37]
Macbeth - Pieta, rispetto, amore [10.20]
The Galley Slave
II Trovatore - Son regard [4.15]
Crowned with Laurels [14.08]
La Traviata - Di Provenza il mar [4.27]
Epilogue [4.14]