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Giuseppe Verdi


AROLDO (1857): Only one recording to date, and that with immense shortcomings: a live performance on CBS with Montserrat Caballé, Gianfranco Cecchele and Juan Pons conducted by Eve Queler. A new recording has been announced by Philips with Carole Vaness, Neil Shicoff and Anthony Michaels-Moore conducted by Fabio Luisi.

UN BALLO IN MASCHERA (1859): Many recordings are available, but few attain a high level of achievement. My recommendations would include either of the recordings with Carlo Bergonzi, either Decca (Solti, Nilsson, Simionato, MacNeil, Stahlmann) or RCA (Leinsdorf, Leontyne Price, Verrett, Merrill, Grist), with perhaps a slight leaning toward the latter. Another possible choice would be Muti for EMI, with Arroyo, Cossotto, Domingo, Cappucilli and Grist, but the remaining versions have at least one grave casting error.

Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera

LA FORZA DEL DESTINO (1862): A recording of the original version emanates from the Kirov, site of the world premiere. Valery Gergiev for Philips is in total control, and the all-Russian cast maintains the sombre tone. This is a version worth hearing, particularly Act Three which is entirely restructured and includes an additional aria for Alvaro, here thrillingly sung by Gegam Grigorian. The more familiar standard version has done well on disc, with my vote going either to Renata Tebaldi, Giulietta Simionato, Mario del Monaco, Ettore Bastianini, Cesare Siepi and Fernando Corena on Decca conducted by Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, or Leontyne Price, Shirley Verrett, Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill, Giorgio Tozzi and Ezio Flagello on RCA conducted by Thomas Schippers.

Verdi: La Forza del destino

DON CARLOS (1867): My personal favorite of Verdi's operas, and the one posing the greatest number of problems to musicologists. Verdi wrote the work in French for the Opéra de Paris. Between the dress rehearsal and opening night, Verdi eliminated a number of passages so that those members of the audience dependent on train service could get home after the performance. At a later date, Verdi revised a number of passages (notably, Carlos-Rodrigue scene, Philippe-Rodrigue scene, quartet in Act 4, scene 1). Because the work was still considered exceptionally long, Verdi sanctioned a version eliminating the first act, aversion that persisted until the Covent Garden revival in 1957. Later discoveries recovered some of the passages that were removed before opening night and have occasionally been reinserted. Of the versions currently available, two can unreservedly be recommended: Giulini, Caballé, Verrett, Domingo, Milnes, Raimondi for EMI, Solti, Tebaldi, Bumbry, Bergonzi, Fischer-Dieskau, Ghiaurov and Talvela for Decca. The former is more spiritual, while the latter is more exciting, with Tebaldi beyond her best period but with the two basses easily outclassing those on EMI. The Théâtre du Châtelet version (EMI) is sung in French but is inconsistent in its musical choices, veering uncomfortably among all the extant versions. Antonio Pappano is in control, with Karita Mattila, Roberto Alagna, Thomas Hampson, José van Dam and Eric Halfvarson almost atoning for the wild vocalizing of Waltraud Meier.

Verdi: Don Carlo

AIDA (1871): Three classics once again lead the way: Leontyne Price, Rita Gorr, Jon Vickers, Robert Merrill, Georg Solti for Decca, Renata Tebaldi, Giulietta Simionato, Carlo Bergonzi, Cornell MacNeil Herbert von Karajan again for Decca, and Zinka Milanov, Fedora Barbieri, Jussi Bjoerling, Leonard Warren, Jonel Perlea for RCA. If you hanker for something more recent, you might consider Montserrat Caballé, Fiorenza Cossotto, Placido Domingo, Piero Cappucilli and Riccardo Muti for EMI.

Verdi: Aida

REQUIEM (1874): Two choices should satisfy most listeners: Giulini, Schwarzkopf, Ludwig, Gedda, Ghiaurov for EMI or von Karajan, Freni, Ludwig, Cossutta, Ghiaurov for DGG. Both conductors have the power for the Dies Irae, but also the intensity for the more spiritual sections.

Verdi: Messa da Requiem

OTELLO (1887): For sheer elemental power, you should listen at least once to Toscanini conducting Ramon Vinay, along with Herva Nelli and Giuseppe Valdengo (RCA). More modern versions would include Tullio Serafin, Leonie Rysanek, Jon Vickers and Tito Gobbi (RCA), James Levine, Renata Scotto, Placido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes (RCA) or, to break the RCA monopoly, von Karajan, Renata Tebaldi, Mario del Monaco and Aldo Protti (Decca).

Verdi: Otello

FALSTAFF (1893): A great opera that has had several great recordings, perhaps the best of which is that for EMI by von Karajan, with Tito Gobbi, Rolando Panerai, Luigi Alva, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Anna Moffo, Nan Merriman and Fedora Barbieri. Much pleasure may also be found in the recordings by Leonard Bernstein for CBS (Fischer-Dieskau, Panerai, Oncina, Ligabue, Sciutti, Resnik), George Solti for Decca (Evans, Merrill, Kraus, Ligabue, Freni, Elias, Simionato) and Giulini for DGG (Bruson, Nucci, Gonzalez, Ricciarelli, Hendricks, Valentini-Terrani). Under no circumstances must one forget Toscanini's RCA recording with Giuseppe Valdengo, Frank Guarerra, Herva Nelli, the young Teresa Stich-Randall, Nan Merriman and Cloe Elmo.

Verdi: Falstaff

Related Culturekiosque Articles: Culture Wars in Italy Over the Anno Verdi

Suggested reading:

Julian Budden: Verdi
(London: Dent, 1985). An excellent introduction. For a deeper study of the individual operas, Budden's three-volume study is also highly recommended.

Mary Jane Philips-Matz: Verdi: A Biography (Oxford: OUP, 1993). The most up-to-date biography of the composer.

Frank Walker: The Man Verdi (New York: Knopf, 1962). The first re-examination of many of the legends surrounding Verdi, establishing the truth.

William Weaver and Martin Chusid, eds.: A Verdi Companion (London: Gollancz, 1980). A fascinating collection of contributions by Isaiah Berlin, Julian Budden, Luigi Dallapicola, Andrew Porter and others.


Jean-François Labie: Le cas Verdi
(Paris: Laffont, 1987).

Gilles de Van : Verdi, un théâtre en musique
(Paris: Fayard, 1992).

L'Avant-Scène Opéra. A bi-monthly publication, each issue of which is devoted to a single opera, including detailed performance histories and thorough discographies.




Verdi's house


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