Anna Netrebko, Francesco Meli, Carlos Álvarez; La Scala Chorus & Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly; dir. Moshe Leiser & Patrice Caurier (Milan, 2015)
Decca 074 3967 136 mins (DVD)
In 2015 Riccardo Chailly took up his principal conductor post at La Scala, Milan, with the theatre’s first production in 150 years of Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco – an opera premiered there in 1845. The work is neglected for various reasons: not least, the lead soprano role presents gargantuan demands.
The libretto, though inspired by Schiller, is full of oddities. Giovanna and Carlo, King of France, fall in love; Giovanna’s father, Giacomo, accuses her of giving her soul to the forces of evil (i.e., sex); her military triumphs take place, anti-climactically, off stage. Her unforgivable father is quickly forgiven. She is not burned at the stake. Still, Verdi’s music rumbles, storms, struts and rises to heaven as only his can. Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s staging sets the scene in Giovanna’s 19th-century bedroom. She is a disturbed young woman – and no wonder, with a father obsessed with her virginity, who publicly denounces her. The interpretation makes sense, but rather diminishes the grand scale of the drama. There’s plenty of spectacle nonetheless: vast projections serve the battle evocations of Act I, and later a giant Reims cathedral rises up out of the floor. Less fortunately, Giovanna and Carlo, giving way to passion, are subsumed under a mound of predatory red devils. Musically, though, this is breathtaking. Chailly’s attention to detail scrubs up an iffy opera into something frequently astounding. The orchestra and chorus are magnificent, and Anna Netrebko as Giovanna is simply a force of nature. Across her huge vocal range and the role’s giant proportions, her tone remains powerful and her charisma sweeps all before it. Her ensemble is spot-on with the mellifluous Francesco Meli as Carlo and the rich-toned Carlos Álvarez as Giacomo. A moment of slightly wild intonation reminds us that she is human. The filming could make more of the impressive coups de théâtre, but the sound quality is very good.