Amusing Early Verdi
John Cardenas | Ontario, CA United States | 02/20/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I'm giving this title 4 stars because it's currently the only video available of this opera that I know of. Carreras is in dashing form, although his high notes generally tend to spread. Nevertheless, he makes a handsome Moorish prince--although, even he can't bring off the saccharine scene where he's supposed to be an angel in heaven singing to Giselda on earth. The other draw is Ghena Dimitrova. She performed this opera a year or so after her La Scala debut in Turandot. I thought she made a good try, but she seems miscast. And she's physically larger than Carreras, so the two of them together close up on video seem a bit much--but that over the top quality is what we all know and love opera for. If we wanted careful good taste, we'd go elsewhere. Vocally, Dimitrova dominates, of course. When she lets loose those gargantuan, bazooka high notes, everyone else is blown off the stage. She manages at quieter volumes, too. Some of the coloratura is uneasily navigated, and she's always had difficulty in the passaggio, especially at mezza voce. And her voice goes flat sometimes, most glaringly in her big mad scene that ends Act II, where one has the uncomfortable feeling that she's pulling off the stratospheric coloratura and strenuous tessitura by sheer force of will. But what a will! Her high range seems only capable of two effects: soft or very loud (and frequently stridently loud) but not much in between. When I first saw this video, I kept thinking how much better suited she was to roles with lots of unsubtle screaming like Turandot or Abigaille. Giselda is perhaps more difficult: the role demands loud moments, soft, introspective moments, agility, endless legato-spinning, plus she has a big mad scene. The role is basically all over the place but amusingly so. Dimitrova is perhaps not a natural choice for Giselda--she's more of an acquired taste, but considering her natural handicap, she acquits herself ably. Oh, yeah--there are a few other singers in the cast too, but none of them seem to make much of an impression--they seem almost an afterthought. Verdi was obviously trying to reduplicate the success of Nabucco with this opera with its many scenes attempting to echo its predecessor's patriotic choruses and unsubtle political references. The story is, of course, ludicrous. But I must say that after many hearings this opera's roughhewn vitality and schizophrenic scene changes grew on me. Unlike Nabucco, it balances high decibel spectacle with intimate moments, although these generally tend toward the treacly. It's a very vigorous, thumpingly melodic kind of silliness that you either respond to or you don't. This is the kind of opera that people who don't like Italian opera generally point to to indicate their disgust. Their point is taken, but I still think they miss the boat. An opera like this doesn't appeal to one on an intellectual level; it's all visceral and heavy on the sensual appeal--vulgar, yes; boring, no. With two principals in the leads like Carreras and Dimitrova, it's definitely worth the investment, especially since it currently has no competition."
Why isn't this on DVD yet?
Rosomax | Boulder, CO United States | 09/19/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Early Verdi operas are making a slow comeback. While not as stunning musically or dramatically as his later works (La Forza, Otello), they are laden with memorable wonderful melodies "long long melodies," as Verdi himself put it while describing the works of Bellini. While heavily criticized by critics for the "um-pa-pa" beat employed more than generously, a lot of these melodies are actually very intricate and a careful listener can spot "Otello" in "Stiffelio" and "Falstaff" in "Un Giorno". In the 70s, conductor Lamberto Gardelli brought a lot of these works back to life, casting exciting then-new stars, such as Carreras, Ricciarelli, Sass, Domingo, Norman, and Wixell. Today, thanks to Fabio Luisi, we can hear more of these jams, most notably the overlooked "Jerusalem". But on video, these early operas are terribly neglected. Aside from a wonderful "Simon Boccanegra" with Milnes, I can only name a couple more notable releases that made their way to DVD.
This "I Lombardi" with Carreras and Dimitrova is currently the only version available on video, and it is in the VHS format. The recording, thus, has many faults. The image is sometimes blurry and the music sounds like a mono recording. But the voices are almost incredibly good. The young Carreras absolutely shines as Oronte, effectively managing heroic and dramatic aspects of the role that hints at Il Trovatore. His range extended to almost 2.5 octaves and there wasn't any noticeable break in passagio - a must for bel canto and early to mid- Verdi operas. Thanks to Hristo Brombardov two huge operatic stars of the late 20th century literally shook down the opera stages around the world - Ghena Dimitrova and Nicolai Ghiaurov. Dramatic soprano Ghena Dimitrova possessed possibly the largest soprano voice in opera history. This was not a voice that could be easily recorded, let alone matched on stage. Surprisingly, Carreras manages to do just that - the super-loud crescendos are perfectly matched by the two singers; it's actually quite amazing how a lyric tenor could do that. The perfect Giselda, both physically and vocally, though, would be Katia Ricciarelli, Carreras's long-time partner on both "I Lombardi" and "Jerusalem". While Dimitrova's huge voice is a wonder to admire, IMHO the role of Giselda requires more subtlety and more gentle acting than she is able to muster. Although Act 4 duet is indeed marvelous and melting in its beauty.The supporting cast consists of singers I haven't heard of before, but they do a very good job, particularly Silvano Carroli as a character aptly named Pagano (don't you just love the names of some characters in Verdi's operas of this period? How about a "Luisa Miller" villain named Wurm?).
The costumes are somewhat strange and too elaborate. I would prefer more understated design of Oronte's garbs, especially considering Carreras's dashing good looks. The sets are actually very good, I was able to make out most of the detail despite the relatively dark and sometimes "smudged" picture.
I hope this video soon becomes available on DVD. Several things for the engineers to watch out besides the picture would be a) Dimitrova's voice overwhelming the chorus more than once and causing major sound disturbances, b) the subtitles appear and disappear somewhat randomly. Performance-wise this is an opera not to miss by any means. It's also the only one available, so don't hesitate and get it."
If you want subtle go elsewhere
Richard | Minneapolis, Mongolia | 10/17/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"But if you want thrilling early Verdi with all his flaws and with all his genius stop right here. I wonder if you could cast this opera today. Certainly not as well as this 1984 La Scala production. It is good to see Carreras, the 3rd tenor, at work. And Dhimitrova is at her straight out best. The production also deserves a word of praise. A full traditional production with real grandeur. The sound is a little thumpy but that's its age. All in all a welcome addition to the galley years of the Verdi canon."
La Scala comes up trumps with its 'Lombardi'
Gerard Fagan | Dublin Ireland | 06/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the most unjustly neglected operas in the Verdi canon is his fourth opera 'I Lombardi' premiered in 1843. After the success of 'Nabucco' another opera was commissioned by the La Scala impresario Bartolomeo Merelli. At this stage in his career Verdi was relatively insecure.Though 'Nabucco' was a furore the boos and hisses that had greeted 'Un Giorno di Regno' still rang in his ears. Consequently 'I Lombardi' largely rehashes the format of its predessor in the use of massive choral passages. The Act IV chorus 'O signore dal tetto natio' is clearly an attempt to repeat 'Va pensiero'. Critics have unjustly accused the composer of cynicism in sticking to a successful formula. I personally consider that insecurity played its part. The opera's premiere was more successful than that of 'Nabucco' largely because the Milanese identified more with the Lombards than with the Herbrews of 'Nabucco' but elsewhere 'Nabucco was the more appreciated opera.This DVD production comes from the theatre of its premiere and serves the opera very well. The La Scala chorus sing very movingly in the 2 big choruses 'Gerusalem' and the aforementioned 'O signore...' and thrillingly in the numerous battle hymns. The cast is not to be faulted. In the soprano role Ghena Dimitrova, a battleaxe as Abigaille shows her softer side and produces some lovely sounds. As Oronte Jose Carreras looks every inch the romantic hero and produces sounds to match. His death scene in the Act III trio 'Qual volutta trascorrere' (made famous from the 78 era by the 2 recordings Caruso/Alda/Journet and Gigli/Rethberg/Pinza) is not to be bettered. They are matched in dramatic ability and beauty of tone by Silvano Carroli a baritone Pagano rather than the usual bass. Carlo Bini is superb in the second tenor role of Arvino, a rather thankless part in some ways. (Imagine having to sing as much as he does and still end up as second fiddle!)Gianandrea Gavazzeni conducts superbly even if he does commit the (venial) sin of giving only one verse to the cabaletta della visione.The production captures nicely the period of the crusades"