Verdi: Giovanna d'Arco [2 CD]
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I don't enjoy writing negative reviews, but I feel quite strongly that prospective purchasers deserve fair warning. In this case what one may find that one has purchased something that is less than the sum of its parts.
I'll commence with what I disliked most about this recording. I followed the performance with a piano vocal score based on the critical edition. There are a multitude of cuts made in this performance, ranging from single measures to numerous pages. It's a throwback to 1953 rather than what one expects from a performance in 2013, when this was recorded. I really wasn't too surprised, or disappointed, when the tenor's first act cabaletta lost its repeat. My eyebrows did go up when I heard that a full page - 6 measures - was chopped out of Giovanna's first act aria. I thought that cut was a kindness to the prima donna, as it took away the most florid part of the aria, including a descending scale from high-d.
My displeasure increased when I found that Giacomo lost two full pages of his second act cavatina, and the repeat of the cabaletta, naturally. The cuts continued. They abound throughout the score. There's hardly a piece that's performed intact. The third act comes in for a particularly ferocious mauling.
This isn't even a very long opera. The note-complete recording on EMI plays 2 hours. By comparison, the playing time of this performance is nearly 20 minutes shorter. I don't know how the cast and conductor decided on so many cuts. I don't see any reference to the edition used, but they were obviously aware of changes to the text in the critical edition -changes that restore lines the Italian censors found too controversial in the mid-nineteenth century. In summary, the mangled musical text may have been acceptable 60 years ago, but it's out of place in the 21st century.
Now to some comments about what is performed.
In the title role, Anna Netrebko comes off as more careful that committed. I've already mentioned the cut to the most difficult part of her first act aria. There are other places where she simplifies the vocal line to avoid written cadenzas or to skip written high Cs. Yet there are other places of great passion and dramatic urgency. I admire her willingness to take on challenges, but this one, I'm afraid, beat her.
Francesco Meli sings the role of Carlo with fluid tone and some very sensitive phrasing. It's hard to say anything new about Placido Domingo other than: anything he does, he does well. I enjoyed his performance of the tenor role on the EMI recording and I enjoyed his appearance here as a baritone. The two smaller parts are capably handled.
The choral work is very fine and the orchestra responds well. It would have helped if there had been a clearer distinction of what music is played by the banda sul palco and what is played by the orchestra in the pit. I'm reluctant to say anything in praise of the conductor: he, in the end, is responsible for the manner in which the score has been mangled. The sound is clear if a bit bass-heavy.
I regret that I've felt compelled to write such a negative review. However, I felt a duty to give people an idea of what they'll NOT get if they purchase this recording. If you want a recording of this opera, get the far superior EMI recording. If you've already got the EMI recording, you can save some cash and give this one a miss.