Tutto Verdi - The Complete Operas

Release Date: 12/18/2012
Label: C Major
Catalog Number: 721808
Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Number of Discs: 30

Physical Format:

Low Stock
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Also available on Blu-ray

On the occasion of the 200th birthday of Giuseppe Verdi, the Teatro Regio di Parma and Unitel ClassiCa have joined forces to realize a truly unique project. Up to the Verdi anniversary year 2013, all of the composer’s 26 operas, as well as the Requiem – which is closely related to the operas – will be performed and audiovisually recorded in and around Parma. For the first time ever, and on time for the composer’s anniversary, Verdi’s operatic oeuvre, which comprises the labor of more than 50 years, will be available in high definition and surround sound.

Giuseppe Verdi was born in the little village of Le Roncole in the vicinity of Parma and – even though he celebrated his greatest triumphs in Milan, Venice, Naples, and other cities – spent the longest period of his life in seclusion close to Parma, until his death in Milan in 1901. Today, the region of Parma honors its one-time fellow citizen with the internationally acclaimed Verdi Festival organized by the Teatro Regio di Parma. Every year, Verdi’s masterworks are performed in the historical theaters of Parma and neighboring Busseto over 28 days in the fall. Raising these productions to the level of highly coveted events is the participation of world stars of bel canto such as Leo Nucci, Marcelo Álvarez, Renato Bruson, and Daniela Dessì, and conductors such as Yuri Temirkanov and Gianluigi Gelmetti.

The Teatro Regio was opened during Verdi’s lifetime, in 1829, as the Nuovo Teatro Ducale. It is regarded as one of the most important theaters in italy. Its audiences, in particular, enjoy a very special reputation for being one of the most critical in the world. Many singers report about the fears that gripped them while on the stage, and others about moments of bliss when they were acclaimed there. It is said that tenors who fail on the stage of the Regio are punished even by the porters of the hotels, who refuse to carry their luggage.

A production of Unitel in cooperation with Fondazione Teatro Regio di Parma.


“The Tutto Verdi series, in its goal of being complete, makes it possible to not only hear but see performances of works one seldom encounters outside of Parma, such as Oberto; Alzira (in a 2012 concert version in Dobbiaco); Attila; I Masnadieri (in a performance from the Teatro San Carlo in Naples); Il Corsaro; and La Battaglia di Legnano.

One does not have to be a Verdi completist like me to find a lot to enjoy in Tutto Verdi. The rarities are worth knowing to expand your sense of the composer’s output. The seven operas with Nucci are fascinating on so many levels, not the least of which is that his younger colleagues respond to his work not by being in awe but by allowing themselves to dig deeper and bring their performances to a higher plain than they imagined they were capable of. What would Peppino say?” – Fred Plotkin, WQXR

Review of blu-ray version: 3733000.az_TUTTO_VERDI_Complete_Operas.html

VERDI TUTTO VERDI - The Complete Operas Various performers C MAJOR 721904 (27 Blu-ray discs: 64:47:00)

To mark the bicentenary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi—indisputably (with absolutely no apologies to champions of Richard Wagner) the greatest opera composer in history—C Major/Unitel Classics has issued this set of the complete operas of Verdi, plus the Manzoni Requiem, in a single set of 27 Blu-ray discs. Between this and the 75-CD set on Decca of the complete works of Verdi issued earlier this year, lovers of the Italian maestro now have two impressive, if decidedly flawed (in both cases), cornucopias of musical riches available to them.

First, the logistics. This set (the deluxe edition—there is a less expensive one, with the DVDs in standard plastic cases and no book) comes in an LP-sized heavy white cardboard outer slipcase, which holds an inner black-colored heavy cardboard album. The inner album holds the Blu-ray discs in cut-out slots in heavy cardboard pages, with four discs per page; each slot thoughtfully has a finger-hole cut at the top of it to make it easy to remove the discs with minimal risk of ripping the cardboard. On the back sides of those pages are printed the titles, casts, and small color shots of the four operas on the next facing cardboard page. The album also has a separate pocket that contains a 120-page book (also LP-sized), printed on heavy glossy paper. The book opens with an introduction by renowned Verdi scholar Philip Gossett of the University of Chicago, who is overseeing the monumental project of creating and editing the complete critical edition of Verdi’s operas, and an essay, “The Verdi Myth,” by the distinguished British musicologist of 19th-century opera, Roger Parker. After that follow four-page listings for each opera, all having the same format: a large photo from the live production; logistical information (the title and librettist of the opera, conductor, cast members and corresponding characters, chorus and orchestra, and date and location for that production); a table of contents for the disc, with track titles and their individual timings; and a brief plot synopsis. The introduction, essay, plot synopses, and names of the characters are provided in English, French, German, and Italian. The final two pages of the book provide, in minuscule type, a plethora of background technical information and credits, even down to the various computer programs used to prepare the subtitles in various languages. The layout is generally excellent; I only wish that it also contained the complete timings for each opera and an index of the performers. There is one notable typographical error: an entry for the conductor (Yuri Temirkanov) is missing from the cast list for the Requiem.

As for the discs themselves, each opera comes with an introduction, always lasting about 10:40, that sets the opera in its historical context and provides a synopsis of the plot accompanied by snippets from the performance. Each introduction concludes with rankings of how frequently that particular opera is performed with respect to both Verdi’s other operas and the operatic repertoire as a whole. Absolutely no information is provided as to how these figures were derived (e.g., how many opera houses were surveyed, and for how long a time period), and so they strike me as decidedly suspect. Also, while the introductions are generally quite good, the narrator has a few distracting ticks; e.g., “Desdemona” is given the English pronunciation of the Shakespeare character rather than the Italian one of Verdi’s heroine, and “recitative” is oddly sounded out as “re-cite-tah-teeve” instead of “reh-chih-tah-teeve.” There are also trailers advertising several other operas in the series. Subtitles are available in English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. For audio settings, there is a choice between PCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Quite oddly, while successive discs in the set carry catalog numbers that incrementally increase by 200 (720104, 720304, etc.), this complete set is assigned a catalog number that places it between Attila and Macbeth , rather than at the beginning or end of the entire series.

Now, for the performances themselves. My discussions of the merits and demerits of each performance will (with a couple of exceptions) be relatively brief, for two reasons. First, this review must be kept within manageable bounds of length for this magazine. Second, virtually all of the discs have been released separately, with more lengthy individual reviews of those having already appeared in Fanfare at the hands of my colleagues (mostly Bill White, who reviewed 22 out of 27 items). I will cite these in the course of my own discussions, opening each individual review with a reference to the specific critic and the issue in which his review appeared. In citing alternative recordings, I will confine myself to other alternatives on DVD except in cases where those are unsatisfactory or a greatly superior version exists on CD.

By way of prologue, some comments that apply to all or most of the productions in this set. In his introduction, Gossett notes: “Parma has a reputation as one of the most conservative opera houses in Italy, so by and large the operas are seen in a fashion the composer himself would have recognized.” That is true only up to a point. It is true more of the costumes than of the sets, with many of the latter being far more abstract or spartan than typically would have been the norm even in smaller regional opera houses of Verdi’s time. Thankfully, there are only three major and typically repellant invasions of Regietheater into the proceedings (in Macbeth, I masnadieri, and La forza ). I will only remark upon the sets and costumes in particularly noteworthy instances.

As for the music, several of the performances utilize the recent new critical editions of Verdi’s scores from the project headed by Gossett. (So far, 13 volumes out of a projected 33, plus the Requiem , have been issued over the last 20 years, with four more currently in preparation; see humanities.uchicago.edu/orgs/ciao/Introductory/Vavail.html#operas.) That does not guarantee an uncut performance, however; cabalettas are often truncated, and in I vespri siciliani the entire ballet in act 3 is omitted. One can only term this a major opportunity missed.

Furthermore, the claim that this set embraces the “complete” operas of Verdi is an outright misstatement. The most significant omissions are Jérusalem , Verdi’s 1847 French adaptation of I Lombardi from 1843, and Aroldo , his radical reworking in 1857 of Stiffelio from 1850. Both contain enough new music (in the case of Aroldo , an entirely new last act) that they constitute entirely separate works from their progenitors. To that I would also add the original 1857 version of Simon Boccanegra , which in addition to the new act 2 Council Scene had much of its score drastically rewritten. To my mind, the absence of these three items belies the claim of any Verdi opera series that claims to be complete. Of lesser import are the omissions of the original 1847 version of Macbeth and original 1862 version of La forza del destino , and the original French versions of Les vêpres siciliennes and Don Carlos that are presented here as I vespri siciliani and Don Carlo . (There are also the exceedingly vexed textual issues surrounding the numerous different versions of Don Carlos/Don Carlo; the performance offered here is the five-act Italian version of the Fontainbleau scene added to the four-act Italian revision of 1884.) If one wanted to be pedantic, one could also cite the omissions of the original Italian adaptation of Les vêpres siciliennes as Giovanna di Guzman, and of the later French adaptations of Il trovatore as Le trouvère and of La forza del destino as La force du destin.

Regarding the performances, with two exceptions ( I masnadieri from the San Carlo Opera in Naples and Otello from the Salzburg Festival), all of these derive from provincial Italian opera houses, and not the major theaters in Venice, Milan, Rome, or Naples. In fact, all but five— Alzira, I masnadieri, La battaglia di Legnano, Don Carlo, and Otello —are staged in Parma, Verdi’s home city. Of the Parma presentations, two ( Oberto and Attila ) are staged at the smaller opera house in the suburb of Busseto, with the Requiem being performed at the Teatro Farnese and all the others being given in the city’s main theater, the Teatro Regio. One opera, Alzira , is (regrettably) given in a concert performance instead of a staged production.

Not surprisingly, given their provincial provenance, the performances vary widely in quality from quite good to excruciatingly awful. With a few exceptions, the vocal casts variously consist of young singers working their way up the operatic career ladder, over-the-hill veterans on their way back down the same, and “house” singers whose careers are established primarily at that theater. Since most of the productions are staged in Parma, several “house” singers appear for good or ill in multiple productions. Likewise, with occasional exceptions the conductors are not figures of international stature, though most prove themselves to be quite capable. Unless otherwise stated, assume in all of the reviews below that the conductor leads his forces competently, and that the orchestra and chorus perform creditably, albeit at the level of skill one would expect from a regional theater rather than world-class ensembles. Finally, while I did not have the regular DVD versions available for comparison, I can say that these feature the razor-sharp resolution of detail common to modern Blu-ray issues and fine recorded sound.

VERDI Oberto Antonello Allemandi, cond; Francesca Sassu ( Leonora ); Mariana Pentcheva ( Cuniza ); Fabio Sartori ( Riccardo ); Giovanni Battista Parodi ( Oberto ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 720104 (Blu-ray: 2:04:39) Live: Busseto 10/16 & 23/2007

(Bill White 36:4) With few exceptions, I almost always find myself in agreement with Bill White on the merits and demerits of various opera recordings, and I have little to add here to his excellent review. We are largely in accord on the overall fine cast of singers, with top honors going to soprano Sassu and tenor Sartori. I find Parodi somewhat rough-hewn in style but effective, and have reservations about Pentcheva, who has a rather squally top with an unattractive spread in the vibrato, though (unlike her other performances in this set) her lower and middle registers are solid here. I would add that conductor Allemandi gives an excellent account of the score, which is far better and more interesting than its unwarranted poor reputation suggests. Unlike White, I did not find anything particularly distracting about the characters’ gestures or the use of a discrete tableau for each scene. If vocally not on the level of the two main studio recordings on CD—the 1992 Orfeo set with Ghena Dimitrova, R?ža Baldani, Carlo Bergonzi, and Rolando Panerai under Lamberto Gardelli, and the 1996 Decca version with Maria Guleghina, Violeta Urmana, Stuart Neill, and Samuel Ramey under Neville Marriner—it is quite enjoyable and much better than its only DVD rival, a 2007 Opus Arte issue with Evelyn Herlitzius, Marianne Cornetti, Carlo Ventre, and Ildar Abdrazakov under Yves Abel.

VERDI Un giorno di regno Donato Renzetti, cond; Anna Caterina Antonacci ( Marchesa del Poggio ); Alessandra Marianelli ( Giuletta ); Guido Loconsolo ( Belfiore ); Ivan Magri ( Edoardo ); Andrea Porta ( Kelbar ); Paolo Bordogna ( La Rocca ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 720304 (Blu-ray: 1:59:37) Live: Parma 1/31/2010

(Bill White 36:4) White placed this on his 2013 Want List. While I had a different choice from this series for mine (see Stiffelio below), I can well understand his enthusiasm, even if I don’t quite share it to the same degree. Again, I am mostly in agreement with his comments up and down the line, but with a few more reservations. Antonacci now has a slight beat in the top of her register, and Loconsolo is shy of a few top notes. On the other hand, tenor Ivan Magri is terrific, a world-class singer who ought to be gracing the stages of the Met, La Scala, and Covent Garden. Marianelli is effective once she gets her top register warmed up, and the two bassos are capable, with Bordogna being superior to Porta. I have not been able to see the competing DVD release on the Hardy label of this same production from its 1997 premiere, also featuring Antonacci along with Cecilia Gasdia, Cesare Catani, Paolo Coni, Alfonso Antoniozzi, Bruno Praticò, and Carlo Bosi, conducted by Maurizio Benini. On CD there is the fine 1973 Philips recording with Jessye Norman, Fiorenzo Cossotto, José Carreras, Riccardo Cassinelli, Ingvar Wixell, Vincente Sardinero, and Wladimiro Ganzarolli under Lamberto Gardelli.

VERDI Nabucco Michele Mariotti, cond; Dimitra Theodossiou ( Abigaille ); Anna Maria Chiuri ( Fenena ); Bruno Ribeiro ( Ismene ); Leo Nucci ( Nabucco ); Riccardo Zanellato ( Zaccaria ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 720504 (Blu-ray: 2:17:54) Live: Parma 10/12–14/2009

(Bill White 36:4) White gave this a very mixed review; my overall verdict is considerably more negative. I found the staging and costumes both to be a largely incoherent postmodernist mish-mash. White said of it: “It looks like Jewish on the cheap to go along with Babylon on the cheap, but all of it works well enough.” For me, it doesn’t work at all. A pair of rather ugly gray walls, ostensibly composed of rectangular stone blocks, is recycled for use into other productions in this series ( I Lombardi and La forza come immediately to mind). The singers are a mediocre to poor lot. Zanellato as Zaccaria is solid, albeit slightly diffuse in voice. The Ismene is painfully whiny, and the Fenena has a wobble in the top half of her voice, though she can do some nice softer singing. Of course, the major attention goes to the two principals; in this case that attention is especially warranted because soprano Dimitra Theodossiou and baritone Leo Nucci are the singers most frequently featured throughout this entire set, appearing respectively in five and seven leading roles (though this is the only time they appear together).

Regarding Theodossiou, back in 33:6 I wrote in a review of her performance in Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia as follows: “When she first appeared on records a decade ago, she possessed a promising dramatic voice, albeit with a slightly thin and unstable top. The top has now completely unraveled, leaving behind a squally, shrill, out-of-tune mess—who needs poisoned wine when you can slay people with simple screeching?” In retrospect that was unkind (a friend commented, “Remember that behind the voice is a real human being”), if nonetheless accurate. In her lower register she is passable if undistinguished, but her upper register is a wobbly mess. Unfortunately, she appears to be a major house favorite in Parma, which does not say much for the acumen of the audience.

As for Nucci, at age 68 he is a canny veteran, but that cannot compensate for the fact that his voice here is painfully dry and hollow, with a wobble whenever he pushes it for attempts at dramatic effect. As subsequent comments will make apparent, in a positive sense he is more uneven than Theodossiou, in that on the right day and in the right role he can still pull together a dramatically effective and vocally tolerable performance. Alas, this is neither that day nor role.

In the course of his review White also observed: “The Parma forces seem to do well enough in Verdi’s more obscure works, but they will have to step it up to be truly competitive in the more popular operas such as this one.” This remark has proved remarkably prescient, even prophetic, when applied to this set as a whole. As for alternatives on DVD—11 others besides this one, and I’ve watched at least portions of every one of them—a curious inverse relationship generally seems to exist between the quality of the staging and of the singing: the better the former, the worse the latter. There are two exceptions, both released by Kultur and featuring Ghena Dimitrova and Renato Bruson in the lead roles: the 1981 Arena di Verona performance conducted by Maurizio Arena, and the 1987 La Scala production led by Riccardo Muti. The La Scala performance is my first choice for any recording of Nabucco , excellent in every way. The one advantage of the Arena di Verona performance is that the two principals are in even fresher voice—Dimitrova is absolutely astounding, and also far less zaftig than she later became—and the huge outdoor staging is impressive for its scale. However, all the other elements—the supporting cast, conducting, costumes, and film and sound quality—are markedly inferior. There are two other, if somewhat lower-ranking, alternatives also worth considering. The Dynamic issue of a 2004 Genoa performance, with Susan Neves, Alberto Gazale, and conductor Riccardo Frizza, offers the gorgeously sung Abigaille of Neves and a solid supporting cast, but has decidedly drab sets and costumes. The DG release of the 2002 Met production, with Maria Guleghina, Juan Pons, and Samuel Ramey under James Levine, features a performance that manages to be effective despite some technically rough singing all around and the misjudged decision to clothe the characters in modern dress. The other versions are all seriously flawed, either in vocal casting or production values, and not deserving of even a first look.

VERDI I Lombardi alla prima crociata Daniele Callegari, cond; Dimitra Theodossiou ( Giselda ); Francesco Meli ( Oronte ); Roberto De Biasio ( Arvino ); Michele Pertusi ( Pagano ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 720704 (Blu-ray: 2:22:53) Live: Parma 1/15 & 21/2009

(Henry Fogel 36:4) Fogel gave this a very positive review and prefers it to the one previous version on DVD, a 1984 La Scala production on Kultur with Ghena Dimitrova, José Carreras, Carlo Bini, and Silvano Carroli under Gianandrea Gavazzeni. We have one pronounced disagreement here: our opposing evaluations of the respective lead sopranos. Fogel has reviewed several of Dimitrova’s other recordings in these pages, and makes no secret of a dislike for her, while here he praises Theodossiou as the “one singer who stands out in an excellent cast....[She] floats glorious pianissimi, soars over the entire ensemble when required, sculpts long phrases naturally, and is deeply inside the character....This is a truly triumphant performance, and marks the arrival of a major Verdi soprano for our time.” I, by contrast, consider Dimitrova to be a magnificent and woefully under-recorded major dramatic soprano, whereas Theodossiou—well, I just had my say about her a couple of paragraphs above in Nabucco . Actually, here she is in considerably better form than her usual wont and is actually vocally tolerable and dramatically effective, though she doesn’t bowl me over. Meli has some strain in his upper register, but is steady and ardent. De Biasio is somewhat white-voiced, but is likewise effective; Pertusi is vocally somewhat diffuse and has dry top notes, but has a potent presence. Among the comprimario singers, Roberto Tagliavini deserves mention by name for a fine performance as Pirro. While the staging and costumes are mostly traditional, there are a couple of odd deviations: the Jews in act 3 appear in modern dress, and among the projected backdrops Picasso’s Guernica puts in an appearance in a rather heavy-handed touch of modern political relevance. Overall this is preferable to the1984 La Scala version, where Carreras has already begun his downhill vocal slide and the rest of the cast (particularly Carlo Bini as Arvino) is weaker than here. However, both are greatly outclassed by two alternatives on CD: a live 1969 performance from Rome issued on various labels (currently available on Opera d’Oro) with Renata Scotto, Luciano Pavarotti, Umberto Grilli, and Ruggero Raimondi under Gianandrea Gavazzeni, and the 1971 Philips studio version (now reissued on Decca) with Christina Deutekom, Plácido Domingo, Jerome lo Monaco, and Raimondi under Lamberto Gardelli.

VERDI Ernani Antonello Allemandi, cond; Susan Neves ( Leonora ); Marco Berti ( Ernani ); Giacomo Prestia ( de Silva ); Carlo Guelfi ( Don Carlo ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 720904 (Blu-ray: 2:10:23) Live: Parma 5/3–19/2005

(Not reviewed) Somehow this DVD eluded being reviewed in these pages, but in 29:6 James Miller reviewed a previous CD release of this performance on the Dynamic label; I agree with all of his comments except for those on Prestia as de Silva, who I find to have a suitably sepulchral voice and imposing presence, albeit with a rather diffuse upper register and unsteady sustained notes. Susan Neves is that present-day rarity, a genuine Verdi soprano in voice, style, and technique; if a few of her high notes are indeed a touch shrill, she more than makes up for it with a genuine and great trill where prescribed. As Ernani, Berti is somewhat beefy in tone and throaty in vocal production; he labors through his ornamental grupettos and has a tendency to lurch into his high notes. That said, he still has the right basic vocal equipment and, in an era parched for even passable Verdi tenors, he would be a welcome addition to the roster of almost any opera house—he is vastly superior to the crudely gauche and incompetent Marcello Giordani that the Met inexplicably keeps casting in one production after another. As Don Carlo, Guelfi has a real Verdi baritone but flawed vocal production; he lacks beauty of timbre, has a slightly oscillating vibrato and throatiness, and some top notes are a bit hollow and not quite stable. Despite those criticisms, he manages to present an effective portrayal. The costumes and sets are thoroughly traditional; the latter, composed primarily of elongated scenic panels as backdrops, appear to have taken inspiration from the paintings of El Greco, a very sensible choice for this work. The choral work and conducting are solid though not outstanding. If no other version were available on DVD this would be a satisfying enough alternative, but it faces powerhouse competition from the Decca release of the 1983 Met production with Leona Mitchell, Luciano Pavarotti, Sherrill Milnes, and Raimondi under James Levine, and the Kultur video of the 1982 La Scala production with Mirella Freni, Domingo, Renato Bruson, and Nicolai Ghiaurov under Riccardo Muti. Looking at the casts on paper, I would have thought the Kultur video an easy favorite for me, but surprisingly it is the Met performance that is the superior choice, as everyone there is firing on all eight cylinders while their counterparts at La Scala are curiously off-form.

VERDI I due Foscari Donato Renzetti, cond; Tatiana Serjan ( Lucrezia ); Roberto De Biasio ( Jacopo ); Leo Nucci ( Francesco ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 721104 (Blu-ray: 1:56:25) Live: Parma 10/8 & 16/2009

(Bob Rose 36:4, Barry Brenesal 36:6) Both Rose (briefly) and Brenesal (at greater length) endorsed this as a fine performance, and I fully concur. Indeed, it is one of the best entries in this entire series, which makes me particularly happy, as I have a great fondness for this opera among Verdi’s early works. The staging is minimalist but sensible, and the costumes traditional. The big news here is Tatiana Serjan, an absolutely fabulous Verdi soprano who is by a country mile the best Lucrezia on any recording—with the previous best Lucrezia being the fabled Leyla Gencer. Think of a Russian counterpart to Leontyne Price in her prime, and that is what you get here. Roberto Di Biasio is a fine Jacopo, superior to his previous appearance in this series in I Lombardi , singing ardently with pleasing timbre, steadiness, and secure high notes. While he is no match for Carlo Bergonzi’s classic account of the role from 1951, he is the equal or superior of anyone else afterward, from Mirto Picchi through José Carreras and Nicola Martinucci. If Leo Nucci at age 67 is somewhat weaker vocally, he is far more steady and less dry and hollow of voice than in most of his other appearances in this series; he is the right age for the role and plays it well, with far fewer of the distracting histrionics that tend to mar many of his portrayals. Renzetti has a sure grasp of the score, though he rushes a couple of entrances early on, and the chorus and orchestra turn in first-rate work. This is not only an easy first choice for this opera on DVD over two previous releases (the 1998 La Scala performance on Opus Arte with Linda Roark-Strummer, Alberto Cupido, and Nucci, led by Gianandrea Gavezzeni, and the 2000 Teatro San Carlo Naples with Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Vincenzo La Scola, and Nucci, conducted by Nello Santi); it is now the I due Foscari of choice for a recording in any medium, since the best-sung alternatives on CD (see my review of the 1951 Milan broadcast in 36:6) suffer from numerous mutilating cuts to the score.

VERDI Giovanna d’Arco Bruno Bartoletti, cond; Svetla Vassileva ( Giovanna ); Evan Bowers ( Carlo VII ); Renato Bruson ( Giacomo ); Maurizio Lo Piccolo ( Talbot ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 721304 (Blu-ray: 2:08:30) Live: Parma 10/7 & 17/2008

(Bill White 36:5) White rightly dismissed this as a disaster. Vassileva—in the first of three starring turns in this series—has a squally voice with a harsh edge and a wobbly upper register. Bowers is adequate but not more; he has a slightly baritonal timbre and has some corresponding strain in his top notes. Bruson is an absolute vocal wreck: Heaven only knows what possessed him to try to sing this at age 74 (at least he had enough sense to withdraw from the cast after the opening night). The other version on DVD, a 1989 Bologna production on Kultur, is infinitely superior, with Susan Dunn as a lovely-voiced if interpretively generic Giovanna, Vincenzo La Scola as a mediocre but passable Carlo who is no worse than Bowers, and Bruson still in prime voice two decades before as Giacomo. Again, both are greatly surpassed by a classic account on CD, the 1973 EMI recording with Monserrat Caballé, Domingo, and Sherrill Milnes under James Levine.

VERDI Alzira Gustav Kuhn, cond; Junko Saito ( Alzira ); Ferdinand von Bothmer ( Zamoro ); Thomas Gazheli ( Guzmano ); Francesco Facini ( Alvaro ); Dobbiaco Ch & O; Bolzano & Trento Haydn O C MAJOR 721504 (Blu-ray: 1:46:28) Live: Dobbiaco 9/13 & 15/2012

(Bill White 36:6) For unknown reasons, this is the one opera in the series presented in concert (with some minimal acting by the singers) rather than in a staged performance. For reasons equally unknown to me—it is another early Verdi opera for which I have a particular fondness—it remains among Verdi’s least performed works, effectively disowned by the composer after the fiasco at its 1845 premiere. It is his shortest operatic score, timing out at only 10–15 minutes longer than a single CD can accommodate. Again, I find myself in broad agreement with White’s mixed assessment, though my overall reaction is more positive than his. The biggest plus is the conducting of Gustav Kuhn, who is here a masterful Verdi interpreter and draws exceptionally fine playing and singing from the orchestra and chorus. Top vocal honors go to von Bothmer as Zamoro; his somewhat baritonal-sounding tenor lacks brightness on top and occasionally sounds a bit constricted and lacks a smooth legato, but it’s a good, firm, steady voice and he sings expressively. As Alzira, Saito lacks vocal sheen and is slightly edgy on top, but is otherwise fine. As Gusmano, Ghazeli is somewhat hollow-voiced and unsteady, but nonetheless manages to be a reasonably effective interpreter; much the same can also be said of the Alvaro of Facini. I have not been able to view the only other DVD version, a 1991 performance from Parma released by Hardy Classics, but the casting in it of the very mediocre Maurizio Frusoni as Zamoro (the other principals include Keiko Fukushima, Giancarlo Pasquetto and Giacomo Prestia, led by Maurizio Benini) does not make it look promising. The situation on CD is not much better: I would recommend the 1983 Orfeo version with Ileana Cotrubas, Francesco Araiza, Renato Bruson, and Jan-Hendrik Rootering under Lamberto Gardelli over the 1999 Philips issue with Marina Mescheriakova, Ramón Vargas, Paolo Gavanelli, and Slobodan Stankovic under Fabio Luisi, but for sheer singing both are beat hollow by the 1938 German-language broadcast of a slightly abridged version with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Rupert Glawitsch, Manfred Hübner, and Augusto Garabello under Heinrich Steiner.

VERDI Attila Andrea Battistoni, cond; Susanna Branchini ( Odabella ); Roberto De Biasio ( Foresto ); Sebastian Catana ( Ezio ); Giovanni Battista Parodi ( Attila ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 721704 (Blu-ray: 1:58:51) Live: Busseto 10/21 & 25/2010

(Alan Swanson 36:5, Bill White 36:5) Both Swanson and White commended this as a good performance overall for the singing, while having reservations about the rather outré costumes and staging, with features that appear to have been beamed in from a cheesy sci-fi flick. Insofar as particular details are concerned, I side more closely with White, save that I think Parodi is a quite satisfactory Attila once he gets warmed up. Branchini is in far better form here than she is for the abominable Aida discussed below; her tendency to attack every phrase with a vocal sledgehammer works for the character of Odabella, but would be unwelcome for almost anything else but the most rotgut verismo repertoire. By contrast, both De Biasio and Catana are major assets, the latter being a true Verdi baritone who ought to get major international exposure. The main problem this set has is that it is outclassed at virtually every point by the 1991 La Scala performance on Opus Arte, with the all-star cast of Cheryl Studer, Kaludi Kaludov, Giorgio Zancanaro, Samuel Ramey, and Riccardo Muti; if you have inclination or budget for only one DVD version, invest your money in that one instead.

VERDI Macbeth Bruno Bartoletti, cond; Sylvie Valayre ( Lady Macbeth ); Roberto Iuliano ( Macduff ); Leo Nucci ( Macbeth ); Enrico Giuseppe Iori ( Banco ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 722104 (Blu-ray: 2:06:58) Live: Parma 10/6–17/2006

(Raymond Tuttle 31:2, Barry Brenesal 35:2, Bill White 36:6) This is one of two operas (the other being Otello ) grandfathered into this complete series from previous independent releases. All three of my colleagues gave somewhat mixed but overall positive assessments of this version, noting various vocal faults by all the principals but finding it to be nevertheless a compelling production.

Here I will register a strong dissent. First of all, the staging is deplorable, though it accomplishes the considerable feat of featuring elements of Eurotrash without rising even to the pseudo-intellectual pretensions of most Regietheater . The sets are almost all exceedingly spare and drab. The opening scene features air-raid sirens and searchlights panning the ground; apparently 11th-century Scotland somehow picked up some 21st-century technology. The group of witches is doing laundry instead of casting spells; one of them has a spastic fit, and then when the storm music starts she demonstrates that she is having “hot flashes” by hoisting her skirt and thrusting her pelvis. Some of the other women have risible fake beards. All of this is being watched by a group of spectators in modern dress at the back of the stage. In the next scene, the page who delivers Macbeth’s letter to Lady Macbeth is a midget with a long rat’s tail. He runs in circles around a table until Lady Macbeth kicks him over and sings her cabaletta to him. When Macbeth enters, he runs in circles around him as well while clutching a dagger; perhaps all this is supposed to illustrate something about the nature of circular reasoning. Similar instances of directorial idiocy litter the rest of the production.

Second, the singing is generally mediocre to poor. While Valayre as Lady Macbeth has secure coloratura technique and rock-solid high notes, the voice itself is thoroughly uningratiating in timbre and she constantly crops the beginning of phrases. At age 64, Nucci’s voice shows considerable wear and tear, with persistent unsteadiness at the top, which he unsuccessfully attempts to control by forcing too much, resulting in a hard and dry sound. Iori sings smoothly but does not display a truly deep bass voice here, while Iuliano is a mediocre Macduff. The ballet is poorly done, and Nucci crudely goes out of character in act 4 to acknowledge applause. Fortunately, among the numerous versions of Macbeth on DVD there is a superb one that easily walks away with top honors: the 1972 Glyndebourne production, newly reissued by Opus Arte (see Henry Fogel’s recent perceptive review of it in 37:2), with Josephine Barstow, Keith Erwin, Kostas Paskalis, and James Morris under the able baton of John Pritchard, all caught in prime form in an absolutely terrific staging (the emergence of Paskalis and Morris out of dense fog on a moor in act 1 is just one of many riveting moments). To my mind, no other DVD version is even remotely in the same class, vocally or visually.

VERDI I masnadieri Nicola Luisotti, cond; Lucrecia Garcia ( Amalia ); Aquiles Machado ( Carlo ); Artur Ruci?ski ( Francesco ); Giacomo Prestia ( Massimiliano ); San Carlo Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 722304 (Blu-ray: 2:04:22) Live: Naples 3/21–31/2012

(Bill White 36:6) Alas, White pegged this issue quite accurately when he wrote: “This production from the San Carlo opera house in Naples does the opera few favors. If approaching acceptable musically, the visual element drags it back into mediocrity.” The sets and costumes are modern, which might work, but extremely ugly, which does not, and many of the directorial conceits, such as giving the bandits leather jackets and punk-rocker haircuts in day-glo colors, and making Francesco into a hunchback with a limping gait, are (pardon the pun) exceedingly lame devices borrowed from Regietheater . As for the singers, Garcia has the zaftig figure of Caballé (in her purple dress she risibly brings to mind Barney the Dinosaur), and some but not all of her vocal qualities and technique; the voice is more cutting and less sweet in timbre, but quite agile. Machado sounds somewhat like Carreras c.1990; the voice is basically pleasant but somewhat light and has a wobble at the top, and his resources are already exhausted by act 2. Ruci?ski is the vocal star here, possessing a genuine Verdi baritone, albeit one on the dark side, powerful and penetrating rather than suave and warm. He has excellent technique, is interpretively quite expressive, and is also the only one of the four principals who displays any acting ability. As Massimiliano, Prestia once again evinces a slightly cavernous, somewhat diffuse basso, though overall he is acceptable. In the final act, excellent basso Dario Russo steals the entire show vocally in the comprimario role of the priest.

The only competition on DVD is a release issued on New Ornamenti (a vanity label for soprano Adelaida Negri) of a 2009 production from Buenos Aires (not the Teatro Colón) featuring Negri (Amalia), Eduardo Ayas (Carlo), Leonardo López Linares (Francesco), and Mario de Salvo (Massimiliamo), conducted by Giorgio Paganini. I have not heard it, and the New Ornamenti website also notes that subtitles are provided in Spanish only. Listening to clips of the four principal singers in other operas on YouTube reveals voices that do not even rise to the level of provincial, so you needn’t waste any time trying to track it down. On CD, the easy first choice is the Philips set conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, with Caballé, Carlo Bergonzi, Piero Cappuccilli, and Raimondi.

VERDI Il corsaro Carlo Montanaro, cond; Silvia Dalla Benetta ( Gulnara ); Irina Lungu ( Medora ); Bruno Ribeiro ( Corrado ); Luca Salsi ( Seid ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 722504 (Blu-ray: 1:47:48) Live: Parma 10/19 & 21/2008

(Bill White 36:6) I agree with White that, while not flawless, this is nevertheless a very attractive production and well worth acquiring. The sets and costumes are in period and completely traditional and tasteful. The stage action is thoroughly sensible and in accord with the libretto, and the acting by all the principals quite decent. Among the four lead singers, the standout is Silvia Dalla Genetta as Gulnara. Let’s hope that the exposure she receives here launches her on a major international career, for this is a world-class voice—a dramatic coloratura with a rapid but perfectly even vibrato; rich, penetrating vocal color devoid of shrillness on top; excellent breath control, including some marvelous soft singing; spot-on intonation; and an ability to handle wide intervallic leaps with aplomb. My only minor caveat is that her diction could be clearer, though it isn’t bad. As Medora, Irina Lungu is in poor form for her opening aria, but improves greatly with Corrado’s entrance. Her vocal timbre lacks sheen and is somewhat whitish, with a bit of loosening of the vibrato on top that becomes a wobble when placed under pressure. However, her coloratura technique is sound, and overall she sings creditably. In contrast to his poor Ismaele in Nabucco , Bruno Ribeiro is here a major asset as Corrado; while his voice is somewhat nasal, he is otherwise a fine singer in every other way, with a secure top and real interpretive temperament. In the role of Seid, Luca Salsi brings an extremely potent bass voice to bear, and is quite the formidable villain. However, sometimes he pushes his voice too hard; a good vocal coach could easily fix that by impressing on him the lesson that less is sometimes more (or, in this role, Moor). This set is an easy first choice over its only DVD rival, a Dynamic release of this same production from 2004 with a vocally superannuated Renato Bruson and three undistinguished singers in the other key roles. Superior to both, however, is the 1975 Philips set on CD (once again, now reissued on Decca) with Caballé, Jessye Norman, Carreras, and Gian Piero Mastromei under Lamberto Gardelli.

VERDI La battaglia di Legnano Boris Brott, cond; Dimitra Theodossiou ( Lida ); Andrew Richards (Arrigo); Leonardo López Linares ( Rolando ); Enrico Giuseppe Iori ( Federico Barbarossa ); “Giuseppe Verdi” Lyric Theater of Trieste Ch & O C MAJOR 722704 (Blu-ray: 1:58:56) Live: Trieste 2/23–3/2/2012

(Bill White 36:6) White summarized this production by saying: “I would characterize this new Blu-ray rendition of La battaglia di Legnano as pedestrian rather than an out and out disaster. Still, it is one of the weaker productions in the Tutto Verdi series I have seen thus far.” I agree. White details some of the distracting eccentricities of the misconceived staging. While Theodossiou is better here than in Nabucco , she is worse than in I Lombardi , being wobbly-voiced, lumbering, and out of tune on top. Richards is no more than marginally passable; his voice is steady but strained, lacking warmth, amplitude, or any significant use of inflection or other interpretive devices. Much the same can be said of Linares; he has somewhat more power, but also a spread in his top notes. Only Iori, in his one brief scene, manages to deliver the vocal goods. The conducting is quite pedestrian, and the orchestral and choral ensembles both have rather ragged playing that is below par even by the competent but second-tier standard of this set overall. Unfortunately, the one other alternative on DVD, a 2001 Bongiovanni release from the opera house in Catania, Sicily, with Elisabete Matos, César Hernández, Giorgio Cebrian, and Manrico Signori under the baton of Nello Santi, is even worse at every point. For now, stick with the Philips CD set with Katia Ricciarelli, Carreras, Matteo Manuguerra, and Nicolai Ghiuselev under Lamberto Gardelli.

VERDI Luisa Miller Donato Renzetti, cond; Fiorenza Cedolins ( Luisa ); Francesca Franci ( Federica ); Marcelo Álvarez ( Rodolfo ); Leo Nucci ( Miller ); Giorgio Surian ( Count Walter ); Rafal Siwek ( Wurm ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 722904 (Blu-ray: 2:26:51) Live: Parma 10/20 & 22/2007

(Bill White 36:6) This is a production on which White and I have considerable disagreement. First, I will register strong dissent from his statement “All of this fine music unfortunately is a bit wasted on another of Friedrich Schiller’s rather dreary romantic tragedies.” While Schiller’s plays are not universal in appeal the way that Shakespeare’s plays are, there are good reasons that Schiller remains a highly revered literary figure in German culture. What Beaumarchais did by means of satire, Schiller did by means of romantic tragedy in exploring the tensions between social classes of a Europe that was plunging into the throes of revolutionary upheaval.

Second, whereas White praises the modern-day sets and costumes, I find them drab, ugly, and ineffective. Chacun à son goût.

Third, I also take a far more negative view of most of the singers. In particular, I have found myself totally unable to understand the several positive reviews that Fiorenza Cedolins has garnered in these pages; recently released DVDs of Arena di Verona performances of Tosca and Madama Butterfly feature vocalizing from her I can only term ghastly. Here she is somewhat better and does some nice soft singing, but her voice remains squally with a wobble on top, and she has trouble negotiating any fioratura . Franci is likewise squally in her brief appearance as Federica. I continue to regard Marcelo Álvarez as no more than a good second-stringer, a Plácido Domingo manqué if you will; even 30 years ago, before our current tenor-starved era, he would not have ascended higher than the regional opera house circuit. Here he is satisfactory overall, and actually excellent in the final scene, but Domingo, Pavarotti, or Bergonzi he is not. Nucci here is very dry-voiced and not particularly pleasant to hear, but steady. Surian as Walter is horrible, hollow-voiced and wobbly; by contrast Siwek as Wurm has an excellent voice, but acts and smirks like Simon Legree in old Hollywood films. Fortunately, there is a top-notch DVD version on DG of the 1979 Met broadcast with Renata Scotto (surprisingly in excellent voice at that late date for her), Jean Kraft, Domingo, Sherrill Milnes, Bonaldo Giaiotti, and James Morris under James Levine, that puts all the competition on video in the shade.

VERDI Stiffelio Andrea Battistoni, cond; Yu Guanqun ( Lina ); Roberto Aronica ( Stiffelio ); Gabriele Mangione ( Raffaele ); Roberto Frontali ( Stankar ); George Andguladze ( Jorg ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 723104 (Blu-ray: 1:57:21) Live: Parma 4/18 & 24/2012

(Bill White 37:1) This is the entry on which White and I have the most pronounced disagreement. He rated this performance as one of honest competency, but nothing more: “This Stiffelio is really not a bad effort by the Parma forces. I have poked some fun at some of the oddities of the staging, but overall, it delivers the opera intact, with all the drama of the original score and libretto. It is a recommendable recording, just not quite as good as the two previously recorded DVDs, one from Covent Garden and the other from the Metropolitan Opera. Both of those productions have better sets and better singers.” I, on the other hand, placed this on my 2013 Want List, and for that reason I will give this entry a full-scale review.

Where to start? First, with the staging. While I agree that minimalism in set design has now long been a tiresome cliché (if it was ever anything but that to begin with), this is an instance where it generally works exceedingly well. Designer Francesco Calcagnini places the unspecified sect in which the drama unfolds on the Mennonite-Amish end of the Protestant spectrum, with corresponding garb and sparse furniture that I find both evocative and effective, with the graveyard scene being particularly well conceived. The only misstep in the sets is the omission of the fireplace from the meeting room, into which Stiffelio is supposed to cast unopened the guilty correspondence between Lina and Raffaele. As for the costumes, Raffaele is dressed in scarlet (not orange) to mark him ( à la Nathaniel Hawthorne) as an adulterer. One can rightly question whether the sect would tolerate one of its members dressing so flamboyantly, but I presume that the costume is a sign (admittedly heavy-handed, and one I could have done without) to be seen by the opera house audience, not something actually visible to the sect members themselves. White also objects to the salt-and-pepper beard of Stiffelio and the severely plain appearance of Lina as running counter to a story of passion and seduction. I, on the other hand, find them entirely fitting. Stiffelio is a patriarchal figure, and marriages of such to younger women in their communities, including real December-May romances rather than socially arranged matches, are common enough. (And, as almost innumerable instances from real life illustrate, contrary to Hollywood film-makers and advertising media moguls, intense attraction and passion are not confined only to the glamorously beautiful.) Also, while the libretto’s weak point is its total vagueness on how the attraction between Lina and Raffaele came to pass (how Lina can characterize her adulterous fall to her husband as “unwitting” is beyond me), there is enough in it to suggest that Lina succumbed to Raffaele’s advances out of loneliness, desperation, and vulnerability, not out of red-blooded lust. Finally, as for the conclusion, I don’t have any of the problems with it that White has, as it seems quite straightforward to me. The rocks that hang on chains above the heads of each sect member’s head in the church are not real, but imaginary projections of the stones lying at hand in each person’s mind, ready to be hurled judgmentally at the sins of another. When Stiffelio finishes reading the passage pronouncing the forgiveness of the adulterous woman, and in so doing publicly forgives Lina, he runs out of the room because he is overcome by emotion. I too would have preferred that moment to be handled differently (and more unambiguously), but it’s a reasonable directorial choice.

Next, there is the singing. White states: “The singing of the principals heard here is solid without being memorable” and compares this set unfavorably to the other two versions on DVD, both from 1993 and the first ones to present the work from a newly restored and uncorrupted score: a Covent Garden production with Catherine Malfitano, Carreras, Robin Leggate, Gregory Yurisch, and Gwynne Howell, all under Edward Downes, and the Met production with Sharon Sweet, Domingo, Peter Riberi, Vladimir Chernov, and Paul Plishka, with James Levine at the helm. I disagree completely.

First, to my own great surprise, I prefer Robert Aronica to either Carreras or Domingo. With respect to Carreras the choice is not too hard, for at that time the Spanish tenor was already on his downhill vocal slide; while he generally avoids a wobble, it is all too apparent that he is constantly forcing his voice in a hard and unpleasant manner, and throughout the performance he keeps his face screwed up in a rigidly odd expression that brings to mind Ricardo Montalban doing a slow burn. As for Domingo, while he is in peak vocal condition, repeated viewings have always left me with a sense that he never really gets inside the skin of Stiffelio, and consequently reduces him to being a generic wounded lover rather than conceiving him as the devout leader of a strict religious community who is torn between his spiritual convictions and moral commitments on the one side and his vulnerable emotions on the other. By contrast, for me Aronica fully captures all these dimensions. I find his voice quite attractive as well; it is steady and well-focused, and has heft and some real ring to it. Instead of being warm in a classical Mediterranean vein, it has more than a touch of Jon Vickers to it (he even looks here a bit like Vickers), which I think is well-suited to portraying the leader of a strict religious sect.

I have similar comparative comments to make about the other two principals. For Lina, Yu Guanqun has it all—a lovely voice, evenly and securely produced in every way, matched to ardent vocal passion. While Catherine Malfitano sings very well (and for once does not have the incipient unevenness in her vibrato that was always an annoying defect), with age her voice has lost some of its sheen. She also frequently assumes a bizarre, almost pop-eyed facial expression that is a total distraction. Sharon Sweet in the Met version is not competitive, being afflicted with unsteadiness throughout much of her vocal range. An even bigger surprise here is the excellent Stankar of Roberto Frontali. Back in 34:1 I had the sad duty of reporting on the wreck of a voice he brought to the role of Germont, ruining an otherwise highly estimable performance of La traviata under Loren Maazel. A couple of other recent recordings I heard him in found him in no better vocal estate, and so when I saw him in the cast list here I groaned in dismay. What a wonderful treat to find him instead in excellent vocal estate—the voice firm and steady, and the interpretation finely honed to bring out all the character’s vacillation between filial love, duty, and anguish and outrage at offended honor. While Chernov for the Met is his equal and Yurisch at Covent Garden lags not far behind, I am very pleased to have him here.

In the supporting roles, Gabriele Mangione is a superior Raffaele who easily outclasses all rivals vocally and makes his character something more substantial than a slithering simp, while George Andguladze is a solid Jorg, not in the class of Gwynne Howell at Covent Garden but vastly superior to the wobbly- and woofy-voiced Paul Plishka at the Met. The conducting of Italian Wunderkind Andrea Battistoni (touted in some circles as that country’s answer to Gustavo Dudamel) is superbly impassioned and on target; he matches Levine at the Met, and is leagues ahead of the curiously choppy and mannered account offered by Downes at Covent Garden. Indeed, looking over my handwritten notes taken while viewing this disc, I find them repeatedly studded with the adjectives “thrilling,” “terrific,” “intense,” “impassioned,” “vivid,” and so on.

So, why do Bill White and I disagree so markedly here? I really don’t know, though I sense that while like me he admires the music, he does not find the religious dimension of the plot as compelling as I do, which may in turn subtly but profoundly influence our responses to both the staging and the singers’ interpretations. Fanfare readers will have to exercise their own judgments, based on previous accord or disaccord with our respective past opera reviews, and make their decisions accordingly. But as someone who passionately loves this opera, I will say that, contrary to all expectation, this is the Stiffelio I’ve been waiting for, easily superior to all other version on both DVD and CD.

VERDI Rigoletto Massimo Zanetti, cond; Nino Machaidze ( Gilda ); Stefanie Irányi ( Maddelena ); Francesco Demuro ( Duke ); Leo Nucci ( Rigoletto ); Marco Spotti ( Sparafucile ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 723304 (Blu-ray: 2:10:43) Live: Parma 10/16–22/2008

(Bill White 37:1) In looking over my notes, of the 22 operas in this series reviewed by White, he and I have fundamental disagreements over only four of these ( Macbeth, Luisa Miller, Stiffelio, and now this Rigoletto ), and significant but lesser disagreements over aspects of three others ( La traviata, I vespri Siciliani, and Don Carlo ), a rather remarkable degree of critical concurrence. Unlike with Stiffelio, I can summarize my points of difference with him here far more succinctly. I dislike the sets, which look to be done on the cheap; in act 1 they are too sparse to convey an opulent ducal court ruled by an untrammeled lecher, and in act 2 they are simply shabby. The camera work has way too many facial close-ups. As Gilda, Nino Machaidze shows the signs of premature vocal decline that have marred some of her other recent performances (see my review of her in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette from 36:3); an unpleasant edginess has come over her voice, and there is an incipient beat that will almost certainly become a full-fledged wobble in the next few years if she doesn’t cut back and retrain herself. There also is not enough characterization to offer compensation, and stylistically she doesn’t seem to know the difference between Verdi and Bellini. As the Duke, Francesco Demuro has a light, pleasant-sounding voice, but a fragile upper register which sounds as if he is on the verge of cracking any number of notes, though fortunately he never actually does so. Nucci is in particularly awful vocal form here, easily his worst appearance in this series; I was cringing in pain almost every moment he had his mouth open. (To makes matters worse, “Si, vendetta” is encored.) The entire remaining vocal cast is mediocre to poor, with the Monterone being a particular trial. My biggest disagreement with White concerns the conducting. He writes: “Verdi’s masterful score seemingly goes from highlight to highlight and Zanetti guides it flawlessly, and with good forward impetus.” I find it uninspired, and the orchestra and chorus both sounding remarkably thin and weak.

Unfortunately, Rigoletto has been rather poorly served on video, and there is no entirely satisfactory version. There are three I would recommend as distinctly superior to the competition:

1) The 1983 Jean-Pierre Ponnelle film version with Edita Gruberova, Luciano Pavarotti, and Ingvar Wixell, conducted by Riccardo Chailly. I’m not normally a big fan of either Gruberova or Wixell, but both are in top form here, and Pavarotti is Pavarotti in his glorious prime, while Chailly offers one of the most compelling accounts of the score by any conductor. For singing and conducting, this is the top choice on DVD (on CD I remain fanatically loyal to the Berger/Peerce/Warren/Cellini outing on RCA). The drawbacks are the lip-synched recording (well done, so that doesn’t bother me), and the usual over-the-top absurdities that mar so many of Ponnelle’s productions (here, to a somewhat lesser degree than usual).

2) The 1977 Met broadcast with Ileana Cotrubas, Domingo, and Cornell MacNeil under James Levine. MacNeil was on the tail end of his career at this point, but if one has to have an over-the-hill veteran as Rigoletto then he is a thousand times preferable to Nucci, and still acquits himself commendably, while the rest of the cast is superb.

3) The c.1947 film version with Lina Pagliughi, Mario Filippeschi, and Tito Gobbi under Tullio Serafin. At present this appears to be available only on VHS tape from the Bel Canto Society and on DVD from Opera Addiction (let’s hope that Hardy soon adds it to its roster of historic reissues). It’s a black-and-white lip-synched film in passable monaural sound with occasional distortion, and with an actress (Marcella Govoni) standing in visually for the zaftig Pagliughi. After a sub-par “Questa o quella” Filippeschi proves to be a surprisingly decent Duke, while Pagliughi is excellent and Gobbi astonishing, with Serafin a sure veteran hand at the helm. Supporting roles are strongly cast, including the black-voiced Giulio Neri as Sparafucile. If, like me, you are a fan of historic opera recordings, this is a must-have item.

VERDI Il trovatore Yuri Temirkanov, cond; Teresa Romano ( Leonora ); Mzia Nioradze ( Azucena ); Marcelo Álvarez ( Manrico ); Claudio Sgura ( Count de Luna ); Deyan Vatchkov ( Ferrando ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 723504 (Blu-ray: 2:20:29) Live: Parma 10/5 & 9/2010

(Bill White 37:1) With this performance White and I are back in sync again. Unfortunately, we concur that this performance is a dud, though I would be slightly kinder to it than White. I have nothing to add to his description of the unenticing lunar landscape staging. Overall the men are fine; the problems lie with the female singers. Álvarez is the star here and after a sloppy opening serenade is generally in good form, though he’s hardly Björling or Domingo, my two favorite tenors in this role. Sgura is actually quite a good Count de Luna—he has a rich, dark baritone with some bite to it and handles his fioratura passages well. Vatchkov as Ferrando is excellent, wielding a potent, black Slavic voice to good effect with fine diction and minimal aspiration, though a couple of top notes are not fully centered. As Leonora, Teresa Romano initially inspires hope with a lovely-sounding spinto voice. Alas, those hopes are dashed with her first ascent into her upper register, where she immediately turns squally and her vibrato spreads upon being placed under pressure, and by act 2 she is lurching into her top notes with a peculiar yelp. Throughout the performance she makes loud, audible gulps for breath, and is a mediocre actress to boot. The less said about the Azucena of Mzia Nioradze the better; she has the jackhammer vibrato of poorly trained Slavic singers who rely too much on chest voice, and her middle and upper registers get more harsh, squally, and wobbly with each passing bar.

Thankfully, there is a terrific alternative on DVD, a 1978 Vienna State Opera production available from both Arthaus and Kultur with Raina Kabaivanska, Fiorenza Cossotto, Domingo, and Cappuccilli under Herbert von Karajan. Fans of historic performances will also want the 1957 black-and-white monaural film version issued by Hardy with Leyla Gencer, Fedora Barbieri, Mario del Monaco, and Ettore Bastianini under Fernando Previtali. There’s nothing subtle there—the vein-bulging, pop-eyed overacting of Del Monaco is a particular hoot—but thrilling operatic Italian rotgut vino doesn’t get any more potent than this.

VERDI La traviata Yuri Temirkanov, cond; Svetla Vassileva ( Violetta ); Massimo Giordano ( Alfredo ); Vladimir Stoyanov ( Germont ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 723704 (Blu-ray: 2:12:45) Live: Parma 10/9–15/2007

(Bill White 37:1) Given the generally unsatisfactory state of La traviata on DVD—something I’ve discussed in more than one review in these pages—I was desperately hoping for a “sleeper” hit here. Alas, that didn’t occur. Though White and I agree on that, we disagree about why. While I concur that Vassileva’s singing here is much better than in her disastrous Giovanna d’Arco discussed above, and that she acts well and has the right appearance, she still doesn’t cut it vocally—she never gets the squalliness and wobble out of her upper register, and adds to that mushy diction and some very out-of-tune high notes. Admittedly, she does improve overall in moving from act 1 to act 3. On the other hand, I don’t understand White’s complaint about Massimo Giordano allegedly “ducking high notes” and exhibiting “distress” in his upper register—I think he’s terrific in every way (I was thrilled in person by his Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi at the Met shortly afterward) and one of the finest Alfredos in any recording, both vocally and interpretively. His voice is one of limpid silver, seamless and supple, with ringing high notes and superb control of dynamic shading, and he is an excellent actor to boot. White and I do agree about Vladimir Stoyanov being a fine Germont; his voice here is powerful, rich, and firm, but he knows how to scale it down for more tender moments. He is also the right age, and is not made to be too old. We also concur on the excellence of Temirkanov’s conducting and of the staging and costumes—Flora’s party is the best version I’ve ever seen—though there are a few missteps in act 3 (Dr. Grenville is dressed as a clown for Carnival season, Alfredo does not embrace Violetta, and Gastone inexplicably appears at Violetta’s’ deathbed). If Parma had only had the good sense to cast the marvelous Tatiana Serjan as Violetta instead (refer back to my review of I due Foscari above), this might have become the La traviata of choice on DVD. As it is, I will refer readers back to my existing preferences (all variously flawed) in the DVD medium: the 1968 film version on VAI with Anna Moffo, Franco Bonisolli, Gino Bechi, and Giuseppe Patané; the 1972 Tokyo performance (with poor video and mediocre sound quality) on VAI with Renata Scotto, Carreras, Sesto Bruscantini, and Nino Verchi; the 2006 Los Angeles Opera production on Decca with Renée Fleming, Rolando Villazón, Renato Bruson, and James Conlon; and the 2009 Covent Garden performance on Opus Arte with Fleming, Joseph Calleja, Thomas Hampson, and Antonio Pappano.

VERDI I vespri siciliani Massimo Zanetti, cond; Daniela Dessi ( Elena ); Fabio Armiliato (Arrigo); Leo Nucci (Monforte); Giacomo Prestia (Procida); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 723904 (Blu-ray: 2:49:50) Live: Parma 10/13 & 17/2010

(Bill White 37:1) Those who have read my several previous reviews of what I often term the “operatic gruesome twosome,” the husband-and-wife team of Daniela Dessi and Fabio Armiliato, can imagine the barnyard epithet I uttered when I saw their names in the cast list here. Instead, this turned out to be a relatively pleasant surprise: while it never rises above the mediocre, it is not the excruciatingly awful exercise in aural torture I anticipated. Again, White and I are generally in concurrence here, though I rate most everyone a notch lower than he does. Dessi is a well-known quantity, a once formidable dramatic soprano whose upper register has gone to pot (think of Renata Scotto in the 1980s). She still has some interpretive artistry and coloratura technique, but her voice simply no longer does what she wants it to do. Armiliato is actually better than what I’ve encountered from him before. His voice is still hard of tone and forced on top, and his vocal technique crude, but for once he actually sings instead of barks, and even has some ring to his upper register (think of him as the poor man’s Veriano Luchetti). Nucci sounds somewhat worn and has a beat to his voice, but gets through the role of Monforte with his dignity intact. As in his previous appearances, Prestia has the right vocal color, but a beat in his voice and a spread and wobble in his upper register. The setting is updated to the 19th century, with spare but acceptable sets; the orchestral and choral playing both are fine, but I find the conducting tepid.

There are two much better alternatives on DVD: the Opus Arte release of a 1989 La Scala production, with Cheryl Studer, Chris Merritt, Giorgio Zancanaro, and Ferruccio Furlanetto under Riccardo Muti, and a 1986 production from Bologna on Kultur with Susan Dunn, Luchetti, Nucci, and Bonaldo Giaiotti under Riccardo Chailly. Both are strong, though neither is ideal. Neither one is given a first-rate staging. As with this production, both also are set in the 19th century (which somehow seems more natural than its putative 13th-century setting would). The La Scala production has some terribly amateurish painted backdrops, while the entire Bologna production—including the act 4 prison scene!—is set in an outdoor tropical glade. Although I prefer Chailly’s warmer conducting and orchestral sound, Muti is precise and has the superior vocal cast. While Dunn has a prettier voice and more agile coloratura technique than does Studer, she offers little in the way of interpretation, whereas Studer acts both vocally and physically. Luchetti and Merritt are of equal vocal merit to me, though I suspect most people will prefer Merritt’s brighter, less throaty sound. Zancanaro and Furlanetto completely outclass Nucci (who is of course in far better vocal form in 1986 than in 2010) and Giaiotti (whose once solid voice had by this time developed a spread in the vibrato). In addition, Chailly cuts but Muti includes the ballet, so for a truly complete I vespri on DVD Muti is the only real choice. Be warned, however, that the singing, conducting, and orchestral execution are all inferior to that of the contemporaneous EMI release on CD with the same forces.

VERDI Simon Boccanegra Daniele Callegari, cond; Tamar Iveri ( Maria ); Francesco Meli ( Gabriele ); Leo Nucci ( Boccanegra ); Simone Piazzola ( Paolo ); Roberto Scandiuzzi ( Jacopo Fiesco ); Paolo Pecchioli ( Pietro ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 724104 (Blu-ray: 2:16:55) Live: Parma 3/23–28/2010

(Bill White 37:1) Again, White and I are in concord here. While not outstanding, this turned out to be a relatively pleasant surprise vocally. Just shy of age 68, Nucci is in unexpectedly fine voice here and turns in a good, sound, professional performance. Iveri is a dramatic rather than lyric soprano, who is technically secure but lacking the gentleness needed for a true Amelia. Meli (who previously appeared in this series in I Lombardi ) has a basically healthy solid tenor, though he’s a bit shy on his high notes and lacks subtlety and gracefulness. Roberto Scandiuzzi seems to have recovered somewhat from his disastrous vocal collapse of some years back; he turns in a decent if not memorable Jacopo with a minimum of vocal diffuseness and wobble. Both Piazzola and Pecchioli are excellent and outshine the principals. The chorus, orchestra, and conducting are satisfactory. Where this production fails is in its hideous sets and cheap costumes. On top of an attractive floor mosaic are planted drab facades of flat-faced buildings with alternating horizontal black-and-white tiers; taken together, the whole looks like a depressing modern urban industrial zone or ghetto public housing project. Little is done with this except to leave the characters to weave their way up and down between the facades. I join White in recommending instead the 1995 Met production on DG, featuring Kiri Te Kanawa, Domingo, Vladimir Chernov, Robert Lloyd, and James Levine as the best alternative on DVD, with the 1976 Tokyo performance featuring Ricciarelli, Giorgio Merighi, Cappuccilli, Nicolai Ghiaurov, and Oliviero de Fabritiis a fine if somewhat dated alternative.

VERDI Un ballo in maschera Gianluigi Gelmetti, cond; Kristin Lewis ( Amelia ); Serena Gamberoni ( Oscar ); Elisabetta Fiorillo ( Ulrica ); Francesco Meli ( Riccardo ); Vladimir Stoyanov ( Renato ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 724304 (Blu-ray: 2:17:29) Live: Parma 10/1–23/2011

(Not reviewed) Along with Ernani and the Requiem, this is the one other entry in this series that has not had a previous review in Fanfare . Unfortunately, it continues the consistent pattern of mediocre presentations of the mature Verdi operas. Kristin Lewis has been hailed in some quarters as “the new Leontyne Price”—an unfair burden that seems to be placed mindlessly on every promising African-American soprano. Alas, here at least she comes nowhere close to filling that billing; she has a piercing rather than beautiful vocal timbre, somewhat nasalized vocal production, a weak lower register, an upper register spread, and dicey intonation. The Ulrica of Elisabetta Fiorillo is awful to the point of parody, with a machine-gun vibrato and a wobble that could trigger the next earthquake on the San Andreas Fault. Serena Gamberoni as Oscar is much better: she has a bright, attractive vocal timbre, solid high notes, decent coloratura technique, and even a real trill. Francesco Meli gives Riccardo an honest effort, but is less up to the demands of this role than he is to those of Gabriele in Simon Boccanegra . Here he has a slight beat and spread to his upper register, along with weak low notes, and he lacks agility in negotiating runs and ornamentation. Stoyanov is better, but he does not have the voice and personality for Renato that he did for Germont in La traviata . His upper register has a beat; he is also interpretively stiff, and objectionably comes out of character to acknowledge applause after “Eri tu.” The Silvano is excellent, the Sam and Tom are poor. The costumes and staging, thoroughly traditional and in period (though typically European rather than colonial American in style despite the standard Boston setting), are generally very well done. One wishes that Fiorillo offered an Ulrica worthy of the chilling, fog-filled graveyard that is the aptly spooky setting for her scene, and later for act 2 as well. The transformation in act 3 from Riccardo’s study to the final grand ball scene is very effectively made by use of a translucent painted backdrop for the former that lifts to reveal the latter. Finally, special note should be made of the superb conducting of Gianluigi Gelmetti; I have in the past found him to be somewhat erratic, but here he turns in one of the finest accounts of this score I’ve heard since the 1951 German language broadcast under Fritz Busch that is my touchstone for this work. While there are several good alternatives for Un ballo on DVD, my clear first choice is the 1980 Met production on Decca with Ricciarelli, Judith Blegen, Bianca Berini, Pavarotti, and Louis Quilico under Giuseppe Patané.

VERDI La forza del destino Gianluigi Gelmetti, cond; Dimitra Theodossiou ( Leonora ); Mariana Pentcheva ( Preziosilla ); Aquiles Machado ( Don Alvaro ); Vladimir Stoyanov ( Don Carlo ); Carlo Lepore ( Melitone ); Roberto Scandiuzzi ( Padre Guardino ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 724504 (Blu-ray: 2:58:02) Live: Parma 2/2 & 5/2011

(Bill White 37:2) With this entry we reach the nadir of the entire series. White rightly criticized it heavily, noting several major last-minute cast changes within a month of the production’s premiere and observing: “Several of the singers are in role premieres, miscast and out of their depth, with not a true Verdian singer among them....[O]ne may wonder by what ill-fated star this mediocre cast of Verdian wannabes was ever assembled.” Still, he termed it only mediocre and tried to find a few kind things to say about it. For the most part, I cannot; this is, put bluntly, a visual and aural atrocity. First off, along with Macbeth and I masnadieri , it is an instance in this series in which Regietheater has been allowed to intrude its hideous head. The characters are dressed in shabby contemporary garb to no purpose—if Leonora is trying not to attract attention in male disguise, why is she clad in an outlandish brown fur coat with a towering stovepipe hat? The sets are frightfully ugly and lack any coherent conception—e.g., what is a giant corrugated bronze ball on a chain doing hanging next to Don Alvaro in act 3? (The exception is act 2, scene 2, where the rectangular gray faux block stone walls previously seen in Nabucco and I Lombardi are effectively used to create a backlit cross shining through an aperture). As for the stage action, White duly notes several idiocies, so I will forego comment on those.

I second White’s on-target descriptions of the attempts at singing. Theodossiou remains as before in other entries in this series, with a wobbly mess on top that she tries to conceal with soft crooning. Pentcheva is horribly squally and sings out of tune. Machado has a meaty lower register but a thin wobbly top and no acting ability. Stoyanov is the one decent singer here, though again he does not match his previous accomplishment as Germont in La traviata . Scandiuzzi is back to his more recent vocally decrepit form as Padre Guardino, and Lepore is no better as Melitone. Ziyan Afteh offers a solid if slightly hollow-voiced Calatrava. On the podium, Gelmetti is nowhere near the galvanizing presence he is in Un ballo , but considering what he has to work with here one can hardly blame him.

White’s final paragraph sums up the deplorable situation of La forza on DVD quite well, save that he does not mention the excellent Arthaus DVD of the 1998 Kirov production of the original 1862 St. Petersburg version of the score under Valery Gergiev (see my review of that in 36:1). For the final 1869 version, the 1958 Teatro San Carlo production on Hardy, for all its technical limitations by modern standards and traditional performance cuts, remains sine qua non for its staggeringly great cast of Renata Tebaldi, Franco Corelli, Ettore Bastianini, and Boris Christoff. On CD my first preference among several good alternatives remains the 1956 Decca set with Tebaldi, Giulietta Simionato, Mario del Monaco, Bastianini, Cesare Siepi, and Fernando Corena under Francesco Molinari-Pradelli.

VERDI Don Carlo Fabrizio Ventura, cond; Cellia Costea ( Elisabetta ); Allas Pozniak ( Eboli ); Mario Malagnini ( Don Carlo ); Simone Piazzola ( Rodrigo ); Giacomo Prestia ( Filippo II ); Luciano Montanaro ( Grand Inquisitor ); Modena Community Theater Lyric Ch “Amadeus”; Dell’Emilia-Romagna Regional O C MAJOR 724704 (Blu-ray: 3:24:16) Live: Modena 10/15–21/2012

(Bill White 27:2) Heretofore the entries in this series for the mature Verdi operas—generally agreed to begin with Luisa Miller —have been largely a string of mediocre failures interspersed with a few disasters. Here, White and I agree that this is a shining exception; significantly, it does not emanate from Parma, but instead from Modena. As White notes, “Sets are not lavish, but shrewdly functional”; if not competitive with the almost intimidating splendor that the major opera houses in New York, London, Vienna, and Milan can muster, they are handsome and work very well to frame and advance the action; only the sets for the act 1 Fontainbleau scene (this is the 1884 revision of the Italian four-act version with the original opening act restored as well) and the act 5 finale are a bit sketchy and fail to be fully satisfactory. The costumes are in period and thoroughly attractive.

As for the singing, I am even more enthusiastic about that than is White. We both agree on the considerable merits of Cellia Costea as Elisabetta. I have tended to find this one of Verdi’s less compelling heroines (my favorite is Leonora in La forza ), but Costea fully succeeds in bringing her to life. Her voice is somewhat reminiscent of Tebaldi’s, but without the creaminess of texture; initially her top notes seem a bit tentative, but they become more secure as she warms up.

Where White and I have a major disagreement is on Mario Malagnini as Don Carlo. Dismissing his performance as “mailed-in,” he writes: “Malagnini looks too old and sings too poorly to be the title singer in a major production such as this, and he hasn’t got the first clue about acting or interacting with others.” I’ll concede that he looks a bit old for the role, but that didn’t stopped Domingo from singing it well into his middle age with no complaints about his looks. As for Malagnini’s acting, I have no problems with it (though I admittedly don’t set the bar very high here for opera singers)—he’s no worse than most of his peers, and better than some. I also think he is playing Don Carlo as a more indecisive and hesitant, rather than impulsive and temperamental, character, a choice I find acceptable. Most importantly, he has a good, solid tenor voice—somewhat similar to that of Bergonzi, albeit with less warmth. It includes a steady vibrato, a secure top, real vocal color, amplitude, and sufficient heft and variety of phrasing to carry off what is in many ways Verdi’s most thankless leading tenor role. While he’s not Domingo, Pavarotti, or Bergonzi, he is a sound, sturdy vocal craftsman of a sort that many opera houses are crying out to have nowadays, and I am thankful to hear him here.

For the rest, Poznaik is a compelling if slightly Slavic Eboli. Piazzola (the excellent Paolo in Simon Boccanegra ) is a little too dark-voiced for the ideal Rodrigo, lacking an open top and corresponding range of expression, but is otherwise vocally solid. Prestia as King Filippo is, as elsewhere in this series, somewhat diffuse and wobbly of voice, though he improves as he warms up (unfortunately, not until after his act IV aria), while Montanaro provides a firm-voiced Inquisitor. In the comprimario roles, Irène Candalier warrants special notice for an excellent Tebaldo and Voice on High, but Paolo Buttol is a disappointingly hollow-voiced and wobbly Friar/Charles V. The conducting is a bit slow in spots, but catches fire and momentum as the proceedings move forward.

Were it not for Prestia’s substandard Filippo, I would put this almost on a par with the 1983 Met broadcast on DG, with Mirella Freni, Grace Bumbry, Domingo, Louis Quilico, Nicolai Ghiaurov, and Ferruccio Furlanetto for a preferred five-act version of Don Carlo on DVD. (I intensely dislike both the Covent Garden and Netherlands Opera stagings as thoroughly ugly.) For those willing to settle for the four-act version, either the 1992 La Scala production on EMI with Daniele Dessi (when she still had a real voice), Luciana D’Intino, Pavarotti, Paolo Coni, Samuel Ramey, and Alexander Anisimov under Riccardo Muti, or the 1986 Salzburg production on Sony with Fiamma Izzo D’Amico, Agnes Baltsa, Carreras, Cappuccilli, Furlanetto, and Matti Salminen under Herbert von Karajan, can be recommended.

VERDI Aida Antonello Allemandi, cond; Susanna Branchini ( Aida ); Mariana Pentcheva ( Amneris ); Walter Fraccaro ( Radamés ); Alberto Gazale ( Amonasro ); Carlo Malinverno ( Il Re ); George Andguladze ( Ramfis ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 724904 (Blu-ray: 2:34:21) Live: Parma 2/1 & 5/2012

(Bill White 37:2) White rightly gives this performance short shrift, saying that it “has gotten poor reviews elsewhere and deserves them. It is one of the poorer offerings in the Tutto Verdi project.” I will go further and say that this competes with the La forza in this series for a race to the bottom of the operatic dungheap. The sets are reasonably attractive, but feature nothing that isn’t found to much better effect elsewhere. Direction of stage traffic is non-existent to incompetent. The singing can only be termed gruesome. Branchini, who was an asset, if a flawed one, as Odabella in Attila , is here a squally mess throughout her entire range. Pentcheva as Amneris turns in the worst of her three appearances in this series, being naught but an ongoing wobbly vocal splatter. As Radamés, Fraccaro has some vocal stamina and little else; his voice is unsteady and short on top, and he is musically sloppy and utterly tasteless, given to every bad habit in tenordom. As Amonasro and the King, respectively, Gazale and Malinverno are both hollow-voiced, dry, and wobbly. Andguladze as Ramfis is a bit better, initially nasal-voiced and somewhat tremulous but improving as he gets warmed up; as the Priestess, Yu Guanqun (the excellent Lina from Stiffelio ) offers momentary respite from this vocal house of horrors with some solid singing, but she is miscast in a role that demands a lighter, more fluid voice. The conducting, orchestral playing, and choral singing live down to the level of the principal singers. There are any number of well-cast versions of Aida on DVD that one can turn to instead; my preferred choice is the 1985 La Scala production on Arthaus with Maria Chiara, Ghena Dimitrova, Pavarotti, Juan Pons, Ghiaurov, and Paata Burchuladze, an unlikely constellation of vocal talent that stunned me when I encountered it with its unexpected greatness. (Mine is a decidedly minority opinion here, so readers should consult other reviews for alternatives.)

VERDI Otello Riccardo Muti, cond; Marina Poplovskaya ( Desdemona ); Barbara Di Castri ( Emilia ); Aleksandrs Antonenko ( Otello ); Stephen Costello ( Cassio ); Carlos Álvarez ( Iago ); Vienna St Op Concert Association Ch; Salzburg Festival Children’s Ch; Mozarteum O Salzburg; Vienna PO C MAJOR 725104 (Blu-ray: 2:23:13) Live: Salzburg 8/5–10/2008

(James Altena 34:1; Bill White 37:2) I reviewed this release in detail when it first came out in 2008, and White has seconded my views of its generally disappointing nature (excepting Poplovskaya’s lovely Desdemona and Costello’s fine Cassio), so there is no need for any further discussion of it here. As White surmised, it has been stripped of the original extras from the 2008 release and fitted with ones conforming to this series instead. I will only remark further that, upon viewing it again after going through so many mediocre entries in this Tutto Verdi series, it came off better than it did before. Even if Antonenko and Carlos Álvarez (not to be confused with Marcello, of course) are hardly Verdians of the first rank, they still have voices of a stature far beyond most of those heard throughout this set, and even when off form Riccardo Muti can conduct circles around virtually any of his colleagues here. For the front-ranking alternative on DVD (with no apologies to fans of Jon Vickers), the first choice remains the 1992 Covent Garden production on Kultur with Te Kanawa, Domingo, and Sergei Leiferkus under Georg Solti.

VERDI Falstaff Andrea Battistoni, cond; Ambrogio Maestri ( Falstaff ); Svetla Vassileva ( Alice ); Daniela Pini ( Meg ); Barbara Bargnesi ( Nannetta ); Romina Tomasoni ( Mrs. Quickly ); Antonio Gandia ( Fenton ); Luca Salsi ( Ford ); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 725304 (Blu-ray: 2:11:01) Live: Parma 10/10–25/2011

(Bill White 37:2) Once again, White and I agree 100 percent—indeed, to a degree that I’m not even going to bother to say anything more here, because White did a perfect review of this ho-hum production with uniformly mediocre singing, conducting, and staging. I have reviewed three other DVDs of Falstaff in these pages. In the first (back in 34:1), a Glyndebourne production conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, I provided a comprehensive overview of versions of the opera on DVD. To my previous two top choices of 1979 film version on DG starring Gabriel Bacquier and conducted by Georg Solti, and the 2001 La Scala production with Ambrogio Maestri (in far superior form to here) under Riccardo Muti, I would revise a previous opinion and add the unexpectedly fine 1976 Glyndebourne production with Donald Gramm and conducted by John Pritchard, just reissued by Arthaus (see the excellent review by Barry Brenesal in 29: 3).

VERDI Requiem & Yuri Temirkanov, cond; Dimitra Theodossiou (sop); Sonia Ganassi (alt); Francesco Meli (ten); Riccardo Zanellato (bs); Parma Royal Theater Ch & O C MAJOR 725504 (Blu-ray: 1:36:25+54:00) Live: Parma 10/8/2011

& Verdi’s Backyard (documentary)

(Not reviewed) This is a bonus entry of sorts. Of course, the Requiem is not an opera, though some critics have not without reason termed it Verdi’s greatest opera for its vivid musical depictions of the Day of Judgment. This is a decent but not distinguished performance. As anyone who has read my foolscap this far would expect, the weak link vocally is Theodossiou in the soprano part. Here she isn’t too bad, primarily because she can often avoid having to sing at full volume in her upper register and thus minimizes the number of times she loses control of her vibrato. The other three soloists (only Ganassi has not previously appeared in this set) all offer solid, competent singing, with no real faults but nothing worthy of note either. The orchestra and chorus likewise dispatch their parts capably but not exceptionally. Temirkanov takes a broadly devotional view of the score rather than a more dramatic one. Naturally, there is less need for a DVD version of this work than for any of the operas, and readers likely already have favorite versions on CD; mine include ones by Toscanini (1951 for RCA), Solti (his first, for Decca), Barenboim (his first, for Erato), and the live 1983 performance conducted by Jesús López-Cobos that I reviewed in 34:5 and placed on my 2011 Want List. For those looking for a DVD version, the two best versions are the 1970 London Symphony performance on Kultur with Martina Arroyo, Josephine Veasey, Domingo, and Raimondi, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, and the 1967 La Scala performance on DG with Leontyne Price, Fiorenza Cossotto, Pavarotti, and Ghiaurov, conducted by Herbert von Karajan. For its part, the documentary is a mildly interesting but not terribly substantial piece that focuses upon Verdi’s villa in Parma and his surroundings. You don’t miss much by not having it.

In conclusion, then, this set cannot be recommended as such, as the overall level of quality is far too low. Instead, Verdi lovers should acquire the following operas from it individually: Oberto, Un giorno di regno, I Lombardi, I due Foscari, Il corsaro, and Stiffelio, with Ernani, Attila, and Don Carlo also recommended to collectors who want more than one version in their DVD collections. With the exceptions of Stiffelio and Don Carlo , not a single opera from Verdi’s middle and late periods makes the cut, and among the early operas Oberto and I Lombardi get in partly due to a lack of competition. Still, the ground is now more or less officially covered for Verdi, as was previously done for Mozart in Salzburg; when will the same be done for Wagner with DVD versions of Die Feen and Das Liebesverbot?

FANFARE: James A. Altena
Works on This Recording
1. Oberto by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer: Francesca Sassu (Soprano), Giorgia Bertagni (Mezzo Soprano), Giovanni Battista Parodi (Baritone), Fabio Sartori (Tenor), Mariana Pentcheva (Alto)
Period: Romantic
Written: 1839 ; Italy
2. I lombardi by Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Daniele Callegari
Period: Romantic
Written: 1843 ; Italy
3. Giovanna d'Arco by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer: Luigi Petroni (Tenor), Maurizio Lo Piccolo (Voice), Renato Bruson (Baritone), Svetla Vassileva (Soprano), Evan Bowers (Tenor)
Conductor: Bruno Bartoletti
Period: Romantic
Written: 1845 ; Italy
4. Un giorno di regno by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer: Ivan Magri (Tenor), Andrea Porta (Bass), Alessandra Marianelli (Soprano), Paolo Bordogna (Baritone), Anna Caterina Antonacci (Soprano), Guido Loconsolo (Baritone)
Conductor: Donato Renzetti
Period: Romantic
Written: 1840 ; Italy
5. Ernani by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer: Samuele Simoncini (Tenor), Giacomo Prestia (Baritone), Nicoletta Zanini (Soprano), Alessandro Svab (Bass), Susan Neves (Soprano), Carlo Guelfi (Baritone), Marco Berti (Tenor)
Period: Romantic
Written: 1844 ; Italy
6. Alzira by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer: Joe Tsuchizaki (Tenor), Ferdinand von Bothmer (Tenor), Francesco Facini (Bass), Thomas Gazheli (Baritone), Junko Saito (Mezzo Soprano), Anna Lucia Nardi (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor: Gustav Kuhn
Orchestra/Ensemble: Bolzano-Trento Haydn Orchestra
Period: Romantic
Written: 1845 ; Italy
7. Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer: Alessandro Spina (Bass), Mauro Buffoli (Tenor), Leo Nucci (Baritone), Dimitra Theodossiou (Soprano), Riccardo Zanellato (Bass), Anna Maria Chiuri (Soprano), Bruno Ribeiro (Tenor)
Conductor: Michele Mariotti
Period: Romantic
Written: 1842 ; Italy
8. I due Foscari by Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Donato Renzetti
Period: Romantic
Written: 1844 ; Italy
9. Attila by Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Andrea Battistoni
Period: Romantic
Written: 1846 ; Italy
10. Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Bruno Bartoletti
Period: Romantic
Written: 1847/1865 ; Italy
11. La battaglia di Legnano by Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Boris Brott
Period: Romantic
Written: 1849 ; Italy
12. Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Massimo Zanetti
Period: Romantic
Written: 1851 ; Italy
13. I masnadieri by Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Orchestra/Ensemble: Naples Teatro San Carlo Orchestra
Period: Romantic
Written: 1847 ; Italy
14. Luisa Miller by Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Donato Renzetti
Period: Romantic
Written: 1849 ; Italy
15. Il trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer: Roberto Jachini Virgili (Tenor), Cristina Giannelli (Soprano), Marcelo Alvarez (Tenor), Claudio Sgura (Baritone), Mzia Nioradze (Mezzo Soprano), Teresa Romano (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor: Yuri Temirkanov
Period: Romantic
Written: 1853 ; Italy
16. Il corsaro by Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Carlo Montanaro
Period: Romantic
Written: 1848 ; Italy
17. Stiffelio by Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Andrea Battistoni
Period: Romantic
Written: 1850 ; Italy
18. La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Yuri Temirkanov
Period: Romantic
Written: 1853 ; Italy
19. I vespri siciliani by Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Massimo Zanetti
Period: Romantic
Written: 1855 ; Italy
20. La forza del destino by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer: Tiziano Bracci (Bass), Dan Paul Dumitrescu (Bass), Alastair Miles (Bass), Salvatore Licitra (Tenor), Carlos Alvarez (Baritone), Nina Stemme (Soprano), Elisabeta Marin (Soprano), Nadia Krasteva (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor: Zubin Mehta
Period: Romantic
Written: 1862/1869 ; Italy
21. Otello by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer: Marina Poplavskaya (Soprano), Carlos Alvarez (Baritone), Barbara Di Castri (Mezzo Soprano), Antonello Ceron (Tenor), Aleksandrs Antonenko (Tenor), Mikhail Petrenko (Bass)
Conductor: Riccardo Muti
Period: Romantic
Written: 1887 ; Italy
22. Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer: Roberto Scandiuzzi (Bass), Paolo Pecchioli (Bass), Francesco Meli (Tenor), Tamar Iveri (Soprano), Leo Nucci (Baritone)
Conductor: Daniele Callegari
Period: Romantic
Written: 1857 ; Italy
23. Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer: Mario Malagnini (Tenor), Cellia Costea (Soprano), Giacomo Prestia (Baritone), Irene Candelier (Soprano), Simone Piazzola (Baritone)
Conductor: Fabrizio Ventura
Period: Romantic
Written: 1867/1886 ;
24. Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer: Svetla Vassileva (Soprano), Barbara Bargnesi (Soprano), Romina Tomasoni (Mezzo Soprano), Ambrogio Maestri (Baritone), Daniela Pini (Soprano), Antonio Gandía (Tenor)
Conductor: Andrea Battistoni
Orchestra/Ensemble: Parma Teatro Regio Orchestra
Period: Romantic
Written: 1893 ; Italy
25. Un ballo in maschera by Giuseppe Verdi
Period: Romantic
Written: 1859 ; Italy
26. Aida by Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Antonino Fogliani
Orchestra/Ensemble: Parma Teatro Regio Orchestra
Period: Romantic
Written: 1871 ; Italy
27. Requiem Mass by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer: Riccardo Zanellato (Bass), Francesco Meli (Tenor), Dimitra Theodossiou (Soprano), Sonia Ganassi (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor: Yuri Temirkanov
Period: Romantic
Written: 1874 ; Italy
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