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Decca Opera: Verdi: I Lombardi [2 CD]
Audio CD | 2 CD
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I Lombardi reaches its apotheosis in the famous Trio, well known from the days of 78 rpm recordings. There are some glorious moments and the phrasing if often impressive. Domingo as Oronte is in superb voice, and the villain Pagano is well characterised by Raimondi. Among the supporting cast Stafford Dean and Clifford Grant must be mentioned. Gardelli conducts dramatically and the action projects vividly.
The Penguin Guide
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My introduction to Verdi's I Lombardi actually came in the form of another version of it, Gerusalemme (Jerusalem in Italian), starring Leyla Gencer. It's an old, possibly pirated recording, a different version with much of the same music. My research indicates that Verdi had revised the score for a French version, then allowed it to be translated back into Italian. Despite some recording flaws, I've listened to this older recording many times.
So I was unsure how I'd feel about buying basically the same music, although in a better recording and with my favorite tenor. I'd never heard of the soprano.
Well, the news is all good. I love the recording, love the soprano as well as the rest of the cast, and have to restrain myself from over-listening to it, which is a bad habit of mine. I've bought some excellent recordings recently of a range of operas, but this one--despite being an old chestnut--rises to the top of the heap.
If you like Verdi and Placido, you'll love this. Even, most likely, if you've heard it many times before.
As ever, Solera is more concerned to generate situations affording dramatic confrontation and impact than to achieve subtlety or verisimilitude and Verdi revels in the sequence of opportunities thereby afforded. Some of the music really is of the worst rum-ti-tum-oompah-oompah variety yet there are also lovely numbers, such as Oronte's famous "La mia letizia infondere". That aria is sung very nicely here by a young, sappy and limber Domingo (in his puppy-fat stage according to the photos!) but he does not erase memories of Carreras's account of that aria in his first recital record in 1977 conducted by Roberto Benzi or of Pavarotti in his prime; both achieve more passion and plangency of tone. Nor are Domingo's co-stars to everyone's taste: Deutekom's thin tone and rapid vibrato can give her voice a somewhat gargling effect but she floats some lovely pianissimi and is certainly more vibrant and involved than Domingo, whose characterisation is a little all-purpose-melancholy generic, despite its sheer beauty as singing per se. Raimondi is at his best here, his sonorous, rather lugubrious sound not inappropriate to the dour, sombre Pagano. It is an oddity that there is no true baritone or mezzo role in this opera - though there are three basses (Pagano being more of a bass-baritone, I suppose), three tenors and three sopranos.
This recording was of course the first in the eight operas which eventually constituted the (unfinished) Early Verdi project conducted by Lamberto Gardelli. It is now almost 40 years old, yet it has not yet been bettered and is unlikely to be so.