Poor Verdi never thought too highly of ballet music. He had to write this "silly music," forced by the Paris Opera requirement for a major ballet scene in every work. The Italian composer later published the scores to his operas without the ballets, which typically had nothing to do with the plot.
Yet Verdi couldn't have known how much fun future choreographers would have with his buoyant, sparkling music. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under José Serebrier makes a strong case for its charms in a new recording of the complete Verdi ballet scenes: Otello, Macbeth, Jérusalem, Don Carlo, Aida, Il trovatore and I vespri siciliani.
Just how rarely this music is actually performed in the opera house or in orchestral concerts only adds to the value of this recording. Certainly overlooked is the half-hour-long depiction of the Four Seasons from I Vespri Siciliani, a kind of masque (ruled by the god Janus), with witty and lyrical dances. Similarly obscure is the extensive ballet music from Jérusalem (I lombardi), and the colorful “ethnic” dance episodes from Il trovatore (note how it quotes the “gypsy” tunes from the opera’s first act, including the Anvil Chorus).
Serebrier captures the spooky goings-on of Macbeth in exemplary fashion, particularly milking the grotesque final dance of the witches. Verdi was more concise in the five-minute ballet episode from Otello, while the three short ballet pieces from Aida are probably best-known to modern listeners.
Serebrier, whose interests run from neglected works by Glazunov to film scores, is no Italophile but he renders this undervalued music with great expressive range.
Verdi: Complete Ballet Music From The Operas
Jose Serebrier, Bournemouth Symphony
Available at Arkivmusic.com