PERFORMER: Marina Mescheriakova, Ramón Vargas, Paolo Gavanelli, Torsten Kerl, Jana Iliev; Geneva Grand Theatre Chorus, Suisse Romande Orchestra/Fabio Luisi
CATALOGUE NO: 464 628-2
One of the least known of all Verdi’s operas, his eighth work for the stage, Alzira (1845), had little success, and the composer himself later seemed to take against it, calling it ‘really ugly’. Yet like all his scores, it contains beautiful and memorable passages, though in this case interspersed with others that are undistinguished.
The setting is 16th-century Peru, where the conflict between the Spaniards and the Incas produces many victims, notably Alzira, daughter of an Inca chieftain, who is forced by the Spanish governor Gusmano to marry him as the price of saving her lover Zamoro from the stake. At the wedding ceremony Zamoro stabs Gusmano, who dies forgiving his killer – a surprising change of heart given that he’s spent the entire opera persecuting him and his people remorselessly.
This unlikely denouement is a problem, and the performance itself insufficiently strong to convince. Paolo Gavanelli’s soft-grained baritone lacks dynamism as Gusmano, Marina Mescheriakova’s delicacy as Alzira sometimes lapses into uncertainty, and even Ramón Vargas’s suave Zamoro frequently fails to engage with the text. Despite solid choral and orchestral support, these factors combine with the rather bloodless conducting from Fabio Luisi to make this one essentially for Verdi completists. George Hall