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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Giovanna D’Arco, Opera in a prologue and three acts (1845)
Carlo VII, King of France: Luciano Ganci (tenor), Giacomo, a shepherd:
Vittorio Vitelli (baritone), Giovanna D’Arco, his daughter: Vittoria Yeo
(soprano), Delil, an officer of the King: Gabriele Mangione (tenor), Talbot, commander of the English army: Luciano Leoni (bass) Chorus of the Teatro Regio, Parma I Virtuosi Italiani/Ramón Tebar
Stage Directors: Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway. Stage Designer: Annette Mosk. Costume Designer: Cornelia Doornekamp. Lighting: Floriaan Ganzevoort. Choreographer: Lara Guidetti. Video Director: Peter Wilms.
rec. Teatro Farnese, Parma, during the Verdi Festival, October 2-20, 2016
Sound Format: DTS-HD MA 5.01 PCM 2.0. Filmed in HD 1080i, aspect ratio 16:9.
Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Korean and Japanese.
Booklet languages: English, German and French. C MAJOR Blu-ray745704 [127 mins]
The annual Verdi Festival is mainly held at the Teatro Regio in Parma. It is a magnet that draws Verdi enthusiasts from all over the world. He became known, in his lifetime, as The Glory of Italy. Born in the village of Roncole near the town of Bussetto, Verdi spent a lot of his early life in the latter. He later set up home in a villa in the town and brought the lady who was to become his wife to live there. Busseto had only a small theatre and Verdi had a somewhat factious relationship with it, albeit it used his name in its title. The nearby larger city of Parma, by comparison, has more that one theatre suitable and used for opera. The theatre we know best in Parma is the Teatro Regio around which an annual Festival in the composer’s name is based.
Readers of the autobiography of Peter Glossop, one of the greatest Verdi baritones Britain has produced, will remember his description of the pressures on a singer of performing there. The audience is renowned for their treatment of any performer they believed not up to the standard the composer would have wanted to sing his music. In the last few decades, the Theatre Regio has been the base of the Annual Verdi Festival performing the composer’s works. In 2016 the Festival ventured elsewhere in Parma, as well as to the home house of the Regio. This move was to the Teatro Farnese, a venue with a nearly unique interior of wooden theatre boxes. It had been destroyed in a conflagration following a bombing raid by the allies in the Second World War, and only reopened in 2001 after extensive restoration to the original form.
On the occasion of the presentation under review, the interior was turned round, as it were, with the audience in temporary seating, facing the ornate tiered boxes. A circular stage was set in front, whilst the chorus were arraigned in a single row below the boxes. The rear walls of the tiered boxes provided surfaces for the projection of scenes and faces in multiple colours, all changing frequently. In other words, this was not a traditional stage production, but something of a cinematic spectacular. The Directors are not, I believe, regulars as far as staged opera is concerned; they feature in the cinematographic world and in dance. The circular stage provided for enactment of the opera in a stylised semi-dance and movement manner. In the first act I did follow the sequences in relation to the opera I know, later on that relationship became more tenuous, despite my knowledge of the work, especially when dancing doubles were involved.
As to the singing, Korean soprano Vittoria Yeo in the eponymous role sings strongly, with a good range of tone colour and expression. Of the leading men, Luciano Ganci shows more vocal elegance than Vittorio Vitelli as Giacomo. However, I would reserve judgement until such times as I had seen and heard them in a traditionally set out theatre with a stage situated behind a traditionally numbered orchestra. Verdi’s music received good measure from the baton of Ramón Tebar, and the Chorus of the Teatro Regio gloried in their opportunities in this, Verdi’s seventh opera.
Robert J Farr
Appendix. The composition of Giovanna d’Arco and its place in the Verdi oeuvre.
Verdi’s seventh opera is based on Schiller’s drama Die Jungfrau von Orleans. It concerns the period of the fifteenth century Hundred Years War between France and England. It was premiered a mere four months after I Due Foscari and six months before Alzira. These were the years that Verdi was later to call his period in the galleys. He was not only composing, but also presenting revivals in various theatres throughout Italy. His first four operas had been premiered at La Scala, his fifth was first seen in Venice and his sixth in Rome. Both the latter had been successful, helped by the librettos produced by Piave who worked hand in glove with Verdi himself; the composer had an excellent theatrical sense. Although Verdi always felt himself indebted to Merelli, the La Scala impresario who had given him his first opportunities, he had been reluctant to go back to La Scala with a new work. Merelli was a very warm-hearted and generous man, but a pretty lousy impresario. Far too often singers dictated what went on. This even involved them inserting arias, by any composer, in order to show off their strengths or to give greater weight to a part that they considered not commensurate with their status. Although little is known of the genesis of Giovanna D’Arco, it seems that Verdi, perhaps under pressure from Merelli and his publisher Ricordi, agreed to compose another opera for La Scala in 1845 to make up for the loss of his services the previous year. This was despite the fact that the impresario would have the choice of singers, subject and librettist, as was the standard practice at La Scala.
The librettist chosen was Temistocle Solera who had produced the book for both Nabucco and I Lombardi. Solera, aware of copyright problems, was keen to state that his libretto had no connection with Schiller’s play, although the evidence of the libretto itself contradicts that. Verdi knew the play, but may have been reluctant to work on the subject, as several others had done so already. During the composition, Verdi contracted to mount a revival of I Lombardi for the opening of the carnival season, and problems began to gather. The orchestra was too small, the scenery and costumes were inadequate, and the singers were inclined to take too many liberties. These were the same singers scheduled to present Giovanna D’Arco. In fact, despite a poor public response to the tenor, Giovanna D’Arco was very well received and soon the street barrel organs were ringing to the prologue tune of Tu sei bella, the demons’ chorus that haunts Joan. As well as the stage and singer problems, Verdi’s relationship with Merelli became further strained when the latter negotiated the sale of the full score without the composer’s knowledge. It was the end of a friendship. Verdi bowed never to set foot in the theatre or speak to Merelli again. A man who carried grudges, Verdi carried out his threat until the revised La Forza del Destino was premiered at La Scala on 27 February 1869. The hatchet buried, La Scala premiered the four-act 1884 version of Don Carlo and Verdi’s two final operatic masterpieces, Otello and Falstaff.
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