LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Oberto Conte di san Bonfacio
PERFORMER: Ildar Abdrazakov, Evelyn Herlitzius, Carlo Ventre, Marianne Cornetti, Nuria Lorenzo; Ópera de Bilbao Chorus; Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias/Yves Abel; dir. Ignacio García (Bilbao, 2007)
Verdi’s first opera took several years and several revisions – one draft, now lost, was entitled Rocester – to reach the stage, but when it did it enjoyed an auspicious premiere at La Scala. Further commissions immediately followed, setting Verdi on course for his great masterpieces. Going back to this in some ways feeble work now, it is fascinating to find his distinctive tinta already there, and Yves Abel’s propulsive conducting in this Bilbao performance makes a positive case for the score. The dramatic weaknesses – Oberto is a fairly stock story of betrayal set against the backdrop of crude and cruel battles in medieval Italy – are much less well disguised in Ignacio García’s static production and Domenico Franchi’s heavy designs. Calixto Bieito has clearly not reached this part of Spain. It’s good to be able to see this rarely performed work (British audiences may have memories of Opera North’s staging with John Tomlinson in the title role), and Opus Arte has moved quickly to release a performance filmed only in January. Bilbao’s enterprising company has plans to stage all Verdi’s operas by 2021, and it casts well here. Ildar Abrazakov brings gravitas and warmth to the title role, one of the few Verdi wrote for a bass, and the soprano Evelyn Herlitzius is compelling as Oberto’s daughter, Leonora. The tenor Carlo Ventre is less convincing as the baddie, Riccardo.