PERFORMER: Samuel Ramey, Maria Guleghina, Violeta Urmana, Stuart Neill, Sara Fulgoni; London Voices, Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
CATALOGUE NO: 454 472-2
Verdi’s first opera – premiered at La Scala, Milan, in 1839 – seems unusual territory for the Academy and Marriner, but the orchestral playing is consistently fine (though not always well served by the technical balance, which occasionally over- and under-compensates for certain groups at odd times). Marriner proves a staunch advocate of this powerful music, supporting singers and ensembles with sturdy but empathetic accompaniments. London Voices provide excellent, focused set pieces and commentaries.
Neill is an effective, somewhat robust Riccardo who gives a poignant delivery of his Act II romanza. Urmana is vocally spellbinding as Cuniza; her warmth of sound and fluidity of phrasing are heard to great effect in her opening Act II aria, ‘Oh, chi torna l’ardente pensiero’, and also in her later cavatina from the appendix tracks, where music which Verdi wrote for possible inclusion at later performances is recorded for the first time. Guleghina’s dramatic Leonora has an occasionally intrusive vibrato but, overall, she delivers an intensely rewarding performance, especially exciting in ‘Sciagurata!’, her Act II farewell. Ramey seems gloriously resonant but strangely uneven in his Act I ‘Oh patria terra’ (where there are too many obvious edits) but, after this, his ringing top notes and stylish delivery of Oberto’s searing and driven music results in the hugely impressive ‘L’onor del tradimento’. Elise McDougall