Giuseppe Verdi: Ballet music from Otello; Macbeth; Jérusalem; Don Carlo; Aida; I vespri siciliani & Il trovatre
Ballet was not a regular element of 19th-century Italian opera, but it formed an essential part of the contemporaneous French tradition, which is why almost all of Verdi’s ballet music was either written for his French operas, or added to his Italian operas when they were performed in France; the sole exception is Aida, on which the impact of French grand opera is strong.
This compendium from the Bournemouth Symphony, on lively form under the Uruguayan conductor José Serebrier, makes an attractive collection, particularly as this music is usually cut in theatrical performances. (Again, Aida provides the exception.) Yet it’s quite substantial: the ballet of ‘The Four Seasons’ in I vespri siciliani runs to 30 minutes; even the much rarer additions to Le trouvère (the French version of Il trovatore) comes in at nearly 23 minutes.
Much of it is inventive and full of character. The Trouvère items borrow from the gypsies’ ‘Anvil Chorus’ and introduce some Spanish elements. The Macbeth movements add to the sinister feeling of the work as a whole. Otello – the last music Verdi composed for the theatre, in 1894 – contains some striking invention. Each piece’s vitality and colour are well captured in these performances, which combine sweep with finesse.