Verdi

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Verdi
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Verdi: Giovanna d’Arco
WORKS: Giovanna d’Arco
PERFORMER: Francesco Meli, Plácido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, Johannes Dunz, Roberto Tagliavini; Vienna Philharmonic Chorus; Munich Radio Orchestra/ Paolo Carignani
CATALOGUE NO: 479 2712

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Verdi’s seventh opera (1845), on the Joan of Arc story, reads strangely in plot terms to those familiar with other versions of the historical original: here Joan dies not at the stake but in battle. A relationship between the saint and the French king is also posited – though it’s clearly more of an attachment on his side than on hers. Lastly, the most complex role is that of Joan’s father, the old shepherd Giacomo, who, assuming his daughter to be in touch with the Devil, brings her down from her position of glory at the French court to that of a putative witch, facing the prospect of execution.

Recorded live in Salzburg in August 2013, this new set centres on this latter character, sung by veteran tenor-turned-baritone Plácido Domingo, who sounds entirely at home in his new vocal category; his voice now fibrous in quality, he is also engaged dramatically. At his side, Anna Netrebko’s soprano has expanded to embrace the stirring warrior-maiden possibilities of the title role, though her fleshy, lavish tone is somewhat indiscriminately deployed. She’s not always note-specific, as Montserrat Caballé was in a 1972 EMI recording of the opera – in which Domingo sang the tenor role. Here Francesco Meli’s healthy and characteristically Italianate tenor creates a credibly weak but volatile Carlo.

Conductor Paolo Carignani paces the score skilfully and demonstrates a good sense of style, discovering more subtleties in the piece than it is usually given credit for; by no means Verdi’s finest early opera, it is nevertheless well worth hearing.

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George Hall