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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Best of Verdi: Opera Choruses
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio di Parma, except where shown. Various conductors, stage directors and venues
Sound Format: PCM Stereo. dts-HD MA 5.1. Picture: 16:9, HD
Sub-titles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
Also available on DVD
C MAJOR Blu-ray 718804 [95:00]

This is one of two recent issues that might be considered as samplers for C Major’s Tutto Verdi series of video recordings. I reviewed the other, Best of Verdi Opera Arias, contemporaneously. Both are issued at bargain price.

The Tutto Verdi series emerged during 2013, the bicentenary of the composer’s birth. It was claimed to present all twenty-six of Verdi’s operas plus the Requiem. As I outlined in each of my twenty or so reviews from the series, this was not the whole picture. There are twenty-eight titles in the Verdi oeuvre, the 'missing' two being major re-writes. Even that needs to be expanded upon: as there is more than one version of several other of his operatic compositions but in those cases without the complications of a name change. A relevant example is Macbeth. Verdi rewrote around a third of the music for performances in Paris eighteen years after the original from which two of the choruses (CHs.14-15) in this issue are taken. The act four introductory chorus, Patria oppressa (CH.15), was enlarged in this second version together with major changes to the chromatic structure. These are detailed in volume 1 of Julian Budden’s seminal three-volume analysis entitled The Operas of Verdi (Cassell, 1973, pp. 306-7).

Whatever the implicit criticisms in the above paragraph, it was an imaginative idea for C Major to undertake the venture. They focused on Parma's Teatro Regio in the nearest major town to Busseto, Verdi’s birthplace and later where he had his estate. The Teatro Regio had been running an annual Verdi Festival for several years with some of the productions filmed. The idea was to base the whole series on that theatre. However, that was impracticable especially in respect of some of the composer’s early operas, which, even after the significant Verdi renaissance of the past forty or so years, are rarely staged. The upshot was that the series entailed filmed productions in other theatres. Also worth noting is that the Parma forces perform and are filmed in two other venues than the Teatro Regio, their major home theatre. These are the tiny eponymous theatre in Busseto that Verdi help fund, but never entered, and the Teatro Farnese in Parma itself where Falstaff was filmed (review). Where any venues and forces other than the Teatro Regio are used I have given relevant details.

In terms of the Italian opera scene Parma, whilst not in the premiere league, comes pretty near the top of the second. This status is due mainly to the strength of their chorus. Their committed acting and excellent singing is notable as is their strong native squilla, or Italianata, allied to their considerable number and vocal discipline. Exactly what I mean is evident in the opening two choruses from Verdi’s third opera, and first big success, Nabucco. This is evident in the vitality of the emotion in the opening Gli arredi festivi (CH.1) as the Hebrews determine not to be cowed but pray to Jehovah. This is followed by the famous Va, pensiero (CH.2) when the Hebrews, in chains, pray to their Lord in sorrow at their plight. Poignancy pours out of every phrase, both items being aided by the excellent conducting of Michele Marriotti, not a virtue shared by all the conductors here. The set and costumes are updated with the Hebrews praying in their kippahs (yarmulkes) at a stage version of what I take to be the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

The mixture of traditional and updated productions is evident throughout the series and is exemplified in the selections on this disc. The only one that really grates is that from Naples’ Teatro San Carlo from Verdi’s eleventh opera I Masnadieri. Composed for London in 1847, the staging is primitive representational and the costumes are updated; the robber gang all carry sub machine guns (CH.9). I am sorry that the operas are not featured in composed order, although that might have caused problems with Macbeth in particular. Nonetheless it is interesting to play them in that manner as Verdi’s maturing skills as a composer are very evident in the evolving complexity of the music. The last of what may be termed his Risorgimento operas, La battaglia di Legnano premiered in 1849 (CH.12) and the choruses from Il Trovatore (CHs.10-11) three years later are good illustrations of his compositional as well as political maturity. Those from La Forza del Destino (CHs.18-19) and Don Carlo (CH.18) of 1884 take the process further whilst the final fugue chorus from Falstaff is utterly masterly. Premiered in the composer’s eightieth year his consummate skills are evident in the mood as well as the compositional intricacy.

Apart from my grumbles about the sequencing of the items, the wacky modernist director concept productions and the rather short timing considering what is available, my only other regrets include a major omission. I refer to the absence of the great soaring chorus La vergine degli angeli from act two scene two of La Forza del Destino as Leonora is offered refuge and comfort by the Father Guardian and monks. It is far superior to the somewhat nondescript Padre Eterno, Signor, pietÓ di noi (CH.19) albeit not related in the same way as the other item from that opera Compagni, sostiamo (CH.20). I also wonder about the selection from Otello, incidentally taken from another production than that included in the Tutto Verdi series. It is rather trite compared with the chorus that heralds Otello’s arrival in Cyprus.

I had better point out that the introductory menu does not give choices for sound system or subtitles. You will have to facilitate those via your Blu-ray handset; on my Panasonic model this is facilitated via the Display key.

Robert J Farr
Disc contents:
Gli arredi festivi [4.47]
Va, pensiero [5.49]
Esultiamo [1.53] from)
Si ridesti il Leon di Castiglia [1.51]
I Lombardi!
O signore, dal tetto natio [5.08]
I due Foscari
Silenzio, mistero [3.13]
Attila, recorded at the Verdi Theatre, Busseto
Urli, rapine [1.59]
I Masnadieri. recorded at the Teatro di San Carlo, Naples
Le rube, gli stupri [2.45]
Il Trovatore
Anvil Chorus [2.48]
Squilli, echeggi la tromba [4.45]
La battaglia di Legnano recorded at the Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi, Trieste
Viva Italia! Sacro un patto [3.01]
Giovanni D’Arco
Tu sei balla, tu sei bella [3.30]
Tre volte [4.09]
Patria oppressa [6.53]
Zitti, Zitti [1.30}
La Traviata
Noi siamo zingarelle. Di Madride noi siam mattadori {5.40]
Don Carlo, recorded at the Teatro Communale, Modena
Spuntato ecco il di d'esultanza [7.03}
La Forza del Destino
Padre Eterno, Signor, pietÓ di noi [3.38]
Compagni, sostiamo [2,27]
Gloria all'Egitto [11.41]
Fuoco di gioia [2.35]. From the complete recording filmed in the Courtyard of the Ducal Palace Venice. Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro la Fenice /Myung-Whun Chung. (review)
Tutto nel mondo Ŕ burla [3.16] recorded at the Teatro Farnese, Parma