I Lombardi alla prima crociata
Daniele Callegari, cond; Dimitra Theodossiou (
); Francesco Meli (
); Roberto de Biasio (
); Michele Pertusi (
); Teatro Regio di Parma O & Ch
UNITEL CLASSICA 720608 (DVD: 154:00
Text and Translation) Live: Teatro Regio, Parma 1/2009
It takes some courage to produce this opera, whose title translates as “The Lombards at the first Crusade,” in these times of tensions between the worlds of Islam and those of Western religions. Portraying the Crusaders as heroes in their defeat of the infidel Muslims, and depicting with glory their taking of Jerusalem, could easily result in a
being called down upon an impresario’s head. There is no doubt that I winced uneasily at moments during
However, the element of religious war really serves as a backdrop to stories of love gone wrong, and to Verdi’s interest in character exploration. Verdi shows here, in only his fourth opera, an already highly developed talent for drawing strong character differences with the music he creates for each. He also shows here his strong melodic gift, and his imagination. For its time,
is daring in the scope of its choral writing. Indeed, the chorus is a fifth principal in the opera. And then there is that remarkable trio at the end of the third act, with a concertante violin solo and a little orchestral prelude at its beginning. This is very innovative writing. So despite some basic dramatic silliness (all the key characters wind up at the same place, whether they have gone there to do battle or have been exiled; Giselda inexplicably is in love with the leader of the infidels, who at his death converts to Christianity for her!), the sweep and inspiration of Verdi’s music carries the listener/viewer along.
I am only aware of one other video, a 1984 La Scala production with José Carreras in one of the two lead tenor roles (Oronte). He is in great voice, but he is not enough to save the performance from the squally Ghena Dimitrova, thin-voiced Carlo Bini, and wooden singing of bass Silvano Carroli. Parma, on the other hand, assembled a first-rate cast, and conductor Callegari has both the moment-to-moment details and the long line in perfect balance. His ability to keep things moving, while lingering when lingering is needed, is one of the reasons for this performance’s success.
If one singer stands out in an excellent cast, it is Dimitra Theodossiou. The Greek soprano is onstage for much of the opera, and she dominates when she is. She reminds me, in her approach to this music, of Caballé, though she may lack the Spanish soprano’s remarkably distinct beauty of tone. Theodossiou floats glorious
, soars over the entire ensemble when required, sculpts long phrases naturally, and is deeply inside the character. Giselda may well be the opera world’s first anti-war activist, and we identify strongly with her horror at the mentality of the Crusaders. This is a truly triumphant performance, and marks the arrival of a major Verdi soprano for our time.
The remainder of the cast is very good, if not quite as outstanding as Theodossiou. One difficulty in casting
is the need for two good tenors. Complicating things is the fact that the one with the smaller role gets the good aria! In Meli and De Biasio, Parma has found two good ones. Meli has the lighter color, de Biasio a bit more tonal richness. But both sing beautifully, using the full range of dynamics available to them, and both have strong top notes produced without strain. Michele Pertusi has a dual role—that of Pagano (Arvino’s brother) and then disguised as a hermit (who undergoes a dramatically absurd transformation from a vicious murderer to a man of peace). He starts off with a touch of tonal unsteadiness in his first scenes, but quickly warms up and gives a performance of great distinction. These three men, two tenors and a bass, share the load fairly equally, and it is a great strength of this performance that they are all very good.
The stage production is extremely traditional—no “Eurotrash” here. We get simple backdrops that create the illusion of location (a castle, a cave, Jerusalem) and very elaborate and effective period costumes. There is no attempt, thank Heaven, to bring contemporary relevance to the opera by updating it into the current Mid-East cauldron. I don’t know if anyone was tempted, but we must all be grateful that they avoided that trap. This is probably
as Verdi and his librettist, Solera, imagined it—although I doubt that they imagined a performance any better.
Special kudos to the unnamed concertmaster who plays the solo in the third act gorgeously. Tiziano Mancini’s direction for the camera would have benefited from a bit more patience. His camera shots jump from one to another too often—particularly during Giselda’s solos. He should have trusted the music to hold us. But this is only a minor annoyance in what is overall a DVD that any opera lover will want.