Notes and Editorial Reviews
Writing this in November, I believe that this is a Christmas-present-solving DVD. It is not the well constructed refined smooth opera of later Verdi. It is neither the greatest nor the definitive recording, but it is one that bears replaying again and again with different facets appealing to ear or eye.
This is the 1984 La Scala and the revival by Gavazzeni of an opera which had not been produced there for half a century: an odd ‘trivial pursuit’ fact when we remind ourselves that it was written for La Scala. Indeed La Scala had invited Verdi to ‘name his price’ for his next opera after the success of Nabucco. Whilst it has the requisite arias, ensembles, hymns and grand scenes, it does not have the smooth, simple libretto or music. It is not the greatest but the music foretells some of the greatness to come.
This production has its own greatness. It is not the ‘one set fits all’ production. It uses the cavernous height of La Scala to quite excellent effect: whether in the opening scene of massive arches for the square outside the cathedral; the use of magnificent drapes for Acciano’s palace or Arvino’s tent; or the lowered symbolic shield upon shield. And that ignores the small fortune spent on costumes for the huge chorus. All extremely stimulating and evocative.
So what of the singers? Which incidentally raises the question: is there a leading role? Pagano the villain who becomes the redeemed hermit around whom much of the plot revolves; Arvino as the leader of the Crusade; Giselda, his daughter, who without explanation manages to get herself captured by the enemy, Acciano; or Oronte, Acciano’s son, who falls in love with Giselda, and he with her, with no preliminary about how they met or why she is free. All very loosely plotted to enable fun to be poked at the opera – but who cares?
With a twenty year younger José Carreras as Oronte, no-one will care. He is on top form: everything middled, excellent of diction, tone second to none and enough colouring to compete with the costumes. Cued at Oh madre mia to lead into it, La mia letizia infondere, is delivered with tear-jerking power and brings forth entirely justified roars of audience approval.
That reception is also accorded on occasions to Ghena Dimitrova but I am not convinced that it is entirely justified. From time to time, instead of trying to fill La Scala with the sound of her voice, she seems to be trying to demolish it. The unfortunate consequence, particularly on high, is that she becomes squally and not at all comfortable on the ears. Which is really very sad because when piano on high she can and does float notes and leaves them hanging in mid-air – with a quite exquisite sound.
Silvano Carroli as Pagano - the evil, does not succeed. He is an uptight Pagano, the static deliverer of arias. However Silvano Carroli as the hermit is just that – provided you rid yourself of your unjustifiable assumption that a hermit should be a wizened old man. As Pagano, he sings well and particularly Sciagurata! Hai tu creduto (the only occasion when the orchestra are a little competitive). As the Hermit he sings excellently and particularly in the last scene: deep, warm, brown of tone and smooth of timbre: singing to savour.
Of the leading roles that leaves Carlo Bini’s Arvino – with whose sound I seem to have problems. Therefore I hawked the DVD to friends’ players and also a retailer, with no improvement. The problem is that too often his voice seems slightly muffled – as if there is a shallow piece of cotton wool over whichever microphone(s) is picking him up. Occasionally this problem arises elsewhere; and, then the sound suddenly becomes crystal clear which causes regrets over the preceding lapses of clarity as to what might have been.
The supporting roles are small and all are despatched ably but with no real opportunity for vocal display.
Of course, as a Nabucco sequel, there has to be a large role for the chorus. So here we have both a large role and a large chorus who provide a serious depth of sound with good disciplined dynamics even if their diction leaves something to be desired. The disadvantage of a DVD is that you can immediately identify the cause of the problem: no wide mouth opening or appropriate mouth shapes for the words.
This is 1984. Cameras then distracted. Even the great Carreras actually looks at the camera from time to time as do some members of the chorus. Gavazzeni cannot resist a glance. His is the staid style of conducting. He produces an excellent performance from the orchestra, now lingering lyrically, now driving dramatically. Franco Fantini plays the violin solo prelude of Act III and fully justifies the applause accorded him.
Despite my reservations, this is a (Christmas) present pleaser. There is so much to enjoy.
-- Robert McKechnie, MusicWeb International
NTSC, Region 1.
Sung in Italian, with subtitles available in English, German, and Spanish.
Full Screen 4:3, Linear-PCM Stereo.