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Giuseppe Verdi


By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 7 May 2001- In this year observing the centennial of the death of Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901), Italy's greatest operatic composer, it is perhaps time to offer a series of recommendations for those wishing to extend their collections, or perhaps even start one.

A word to readers of this section: please bear in mind that these are my own personal choices so do not be offended if I do not recommend what you consider to be the "ultimate" version. I have not included catalogue numbers as they sometimes vary from country to country as well as from one reissue to the next. I have basically limited this list to commercial releases and discuss the operas in chronological order. I have also tried not to include any recordings in which there are major casting flaws.

One additional word of warning: back in the 1970s, Philips issued eight of the early operas in what were for a long time the only commercial recordings, all conducted by the routine Lamberto Gardelli. In a few instances these are still the only easily available versions.

OBERTO (1839): There have been three commercial recordings of Verdi's first opera, the first (Italia, now Warner-Fonit) can be dismissed except for those who would like to hear Angeles Gulin, for the grey tone of Simon Estes in the title role and the tenorino of Umberto Grilli are singularly inappropriate. A second version on Orfeo was distinguished by the participation of Carlo Bergonzi, with Rolando Panerai singing Verdi's adaptation of the title role for baritone, but now we have Ghena Dmitrova who can be as unruly as Gulin. Surprisingly, it is the recent Philips version conducted by a dynamic Neville Marriner that can be wholeheartedly recommended, with Samuel Ramey, Maria Guleghina, Violeta Urmana and Dennis O'Neill, particularly as it includes a tripartite appendix with Verdi's first or second thoughts on his opera.

verdi: oberto

UN GIORNO DI REGNO (1840): Verdi's comic opera written in the midst of personal tragedy, unsuccessful then as now, is available in a competent version on Philips, conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, with Jessye Norman, Fiorenza Cossotto, José Carreras, Ingvar Wixell, Vicente Sardinero and Vladimiro Ganzarolli, but the piece is difficult to bring off under the best of circumstances.

verdi: Un giorno di regno
NABUCCO (1842): Verdi's first unqualified success has fared better on disc, though neither of the two most recent versions can be endorsed without a quibble here and there. Earlier versions featuring Elena Suliotis and Tito Gobbi (Decca) or Caterina Mancini and Paolo Silveri (Cetra) need not be considered. The choice today is between Giuseppe Sinopoli, Ghena Dmitrova and Piero Cappucilli on DGG or Riccardo Muti, Renata Scotto and Matteo Managuerra on EMI, with a slight preference for the latter. Scotto may not be in the steadiest of voices, but her instinct and musicality just about convince us. Muti's reading is more straightforward than that of Sinopoli, while Nicolai Ghiaurov for Muti offers a more Italianate reading than Yevgeni Nesterenko in the role of Zaccaria.

Verdi: Nabucco

I LOMBARDI (1843): I Lombardi's two recordings present listeners with less of a dilemma. Gardelli's version for Philips offers Placido Domingo and Ruggiero Raimondi, offset by the charmless Christina Deutekom, while Levine's recording for Decca features Luciano Pavarotti, Samuel Ramey and June Anderson, all three in excellent form.

Verdi: I Lombardi

ERNANI (1844): Ernani has fared well on disc since the pioneering set on Cetra with Caterina Mancini and Gino Penno, a version easily overshadowed by that on RCA with Leontyne Price, Carlo Bergonzi, Mario Sereni and Ezio Flagello, under the thrilling direction of Thomas Schippers. More recent versions on Hungaroton with Sylvia Sass or Decca with Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti can be quickly forgotten as the singers are far from being in the prime of youth or vocal condition, while that conducted by Riccardo Muti and featuring Mirella Freni, Placido Domingo, Renato Bruson and Nicolai Ghiaurov rules itself out of consideration by occupying three full-priced cds.

I DUE FOSCARI (1844): Only Gardelli's version for Philips need enter into consideration, with Katia Ricciarelli, José Carreras and Piero Cappucilli in excellent form, although it is clear that Cappucilli is not at his most convincing when he does not have a stimulating conductor to show him the way.

GIOVANNA D'ARCO (1845):EMI here comes to the rescue, with Montserrat Caballé, Placido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes convincing all the way, though James Levine is occasionally over-enthusiastic.

Verdi: Giovanna d'Arco

ALZIRA (1845): Verdi's least-loved opera has not fared well, with an Orfeo recording featuring the totally miscast Ileana Cotrubas and Francisco Araiza under the sturdy baton of Lamberto Gardelli. A new version is at hand on Philips conducted by Fabio Luisi, with Marina Meschkeriova, Ramon Vargas, Anthony Michaels-Moore and Eldar Iliev, not released at the time of writing.

ATTILA (1846): Two competing versions offer complementary visions and casting: for Philips, Lamberto Gardelli, Carlo Bergonzi, Sherrill Milnes and Ruggiero Raimondi support a wavery Christina Deutekom, while for EMI, Riccardo Muti and the La Scala forces surround Cheryl Studer, Neil Shicoff, Giorgio Zancanaro and Samuel Ramey. As usual, Muti offers the strongest possible contrast to Gardelli, so the choice for listeners boils down to individual preferences.

Verdi: Attila

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