2013 is rapidly approaching and with it the 200th birthday of Giuseppe Verdi. To celebrate, the C Major label and the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma have put together a worthy birthday present, DVDs of all his 26 operas plus the Requiem performed to perfection on Italian stages, by Italian singers, conductors and designers. According to critics: “this is how Verdi should be played.” So far from what I’ve seen and heard I definitely agree.
Un Giorno di Regno (C Major 720208) the 26-year-old Verdi’s second opera for La Scala was a total, unremitting failure. He not only failed miserably trying to write a comic opera, but at the same time lost his wife and two children and was near suicide. He decided never to compose again and the piece was almost ignored until recent years. Seeing this production from Teatro Regio di Parma, a regional theatre of architectural splendour, one is immediately taken by the wealth of catchy melodies, all original, no repeats, the irrepressible upbeat rhythms and hilarious comedy at its best. A connoisseur however would find the influences of Rossini and Donizetti, but at the same time hear premonitions of the master to come (e.g. echoes of the Su vendetta of Rigoletto). Conducted by Donato Renzetti, the production was designed by famous Italian Pier Luigi Pizzi with an elegant, symmetrical renaissance set with ingenious lighting changes following the progress of the day (giorno). Six major voices (four male, two female) mainly all young singers in top form carry the action that never for a moment stands still. It’s unfair to pick a favourite, but I was partial to the lead mezzo Anna Caterina Antonacciwhose vocal power in all registers, beautiful intonation, feeling for nuances and a comic talent could put any mezzo currently basking in glory to shame. The protagonist Guido Locansolois a radiant baritone,looks the part, elegant, regal but relaxed and charmant, a worthy foil for Antonacci.
The legend goes that Verdi, driven to near suicide, found a new libretto smuggled into his furnished room but in desperation threw it on the floor. The new libretto, Solera’s masterwork, fell open with the words “Va pensiero, sull’ali dorate” (Fly thought on golden wings) and the rest is history. His new opera Nabucco (C Major 720408) became a tremendous overnight success and firmly established his reputation. The opera is conducted with excitement and enthusiasm, beautifully pointed, with soaring melodies and upbeat tempi by a young Italian named Michele Mariottiand sung by youthful, strong voices so that even the lowliest chorister could be a soloist at any world stage. In addition there are two veterans in the principal roles. Leo Nucci as Nabucco is easily the world’s top Verdi baritone (succeeding the legendary Renato Bruson) who is larger than life, with a voice of immense power and touching lyricism. Dimitra Theodossiou takes one of the most murderous dramatic soprano roles in the entire opera repertoire, that of Abigaille, a role usually reserved for the Callases in the past, and simply astounds the audience to a thunderous ovation. A third principal, a stentorian basso with exceptional power even in the deepest registers, is Riccardo Zanellato as Zaccaria, the high priest of Israel. This is a production to cherish. It’s as good as can be and this bodes well for the rest of the series. I can hardly wait!