Verdi I Lombardi Alla Prima Crociata
Francesco Meli, Angela Meade, Giuseppe Gipali, Alex Esposito; Teatro Regio Torino Chorus & Orchestra/Michele Mariotti
Dynamic CDS7826 134:29 mins (2 discs)
Verdi’s fourth opera, one of the finest achievements among the composer’s early scores, was recorded live in Turin in April 2018. The Lombards at the First Crusade (1843) – to translate its full title – was based on a recent epic poem on the subject; but while favouring the crusaders and especially the role of the contingent from northern Italy, the opera is by no means a one-sided affair: the complaints of Acciano (based on the historical Yağısıyan, Muslim governor of Antioch) about the crusaders ‘raping and plundering … leaving behind a heap of bodies and ruins’, are voiced loud and clear, while the opera’s heroine Giselda accuses her Crusader father of working against the will of god in his warmongering, notwithstanding its religious inspiration.
As Giselda, US soprano Angela Meade may not offer such vivid Italian as her colleagues, but she knows what she’s singing about, possesses abundant technical skill and is grand in expression. As her Muslim-turned-Christian beloved Oronte, Francesco Meli’s contribution is more problematic, an almost constant beat in the voice undermining what is otherwise regularly vital and stylish singing. Of the three principals the finest is Alex Esposito’s Pagano – a villain-turned-holy man, the complexities of whose ambivalent character are skilfully observed both musically and dramatically. In secondary roles, Giuseppe Gipali’s Arvino is engaged and Alexandra Zabala’s Sofia adequate, but both Antonio Di Matteo’s Pirro and Lavinia Bini’s Viclinda are bland. The orchestra of the Teatro Regio is perfectly capable and the chorus firm and disciplined, if not especially tonally distinguished, though in the bigger scenes of the third act it sounds improved. Michele Mariotti is an uneven conductor, but the best of his work has plenty of dynamism and goes with a real swing. The sound is limited – enclosed and with a dull surface.