Verdi Bicentennial Recordings Go For Starpower

Sunday, October 06, 2013

You won't find many new full opera recordings in this Verdi 200th anniversary year – the production costs are simply too prohibitive – but record companies are dolling out compilations from their brightest vocal stars. And given that Verdi is sharing the spotlight with Wagner and Britten anniversaries in 2013, it's hard to complain about a lack of interest in the Italian composer. Below is a quartet of noteworthy new releases, each mixing familiar chestnuts with overlooked rarities.

Jonas Kaufmann: The Verdi Album
Available at

Jonas Kaufmann has been buffing his Wagnerian credentials these past few years, especially in New York, where he sang the title role in the Met’s Parsifal last season, and previously played Siegmund in the Robert Lepage Ring Cycle. But this German tenor first made his reputation playing a range of French and Italian roles, and with this recording, he applies his dark, dramatic voice to heroic roles of Verdi. Standout numbers include extended scenes from La forza del destino and Don Carlo (joined by the superb baritone Franco Vassallo). There's also a nicely characterized “Ah! sì, ben mio … Di quella pira” from Il trovatore (with Erika Grimaldi). Skip the heavy "La donna è mobile" from Rigoletto and don’t get too pumped for his "Celeste Aida." But all in all, it's a fine selection of Verdi scenes well supported by the Orchestra dell’Opera di Parma.

Anna Netrebko: Verdi
Deutsche Grammophon

Available at

Anna Netrebko is that rare breed: a virtually critic-proof soprano. While she took some ribbing for the photoshopped cover of this Verdi collection (and eyebrows have raised over her salty language or politics) she remains the biggest female opera star of our time. Netrebko's contribution to the Verdi bicentennial opens in striking fashion with a suite of five arias from Macbeth, a role that she’ll be bringing to the Met in the 2014-15 season. What stands out most is the marriage of form and function: the full, lush quality of her voice is well served with Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare's most notorious female character. This is Netrebko’s first studio album in five years and it reveals a growing opulence in her tone, particularly in turns as Leonora (Il Trovatore), Elisabetta (Don Carlo) and Elena (I vespri siciliani). Rolando Villazón turns up in the Act Four duet of Trovatore, sounding in particularly fine voice.


Placido Domingo: Verdi
Available at

Can Placido Domingo credibly play a baritone after five decades of living in the tenor range? Absolutely. Will his baritone performances eclipse his many renowned tenor recordings? Probably not. But one can admire this recording on its own terms. The 72-year-old singer takes on baritone arias from Verdi's Macbeth, Rigoletto, Un ballo in maschera, Don Carlo, La forza del destino, Ernani, Simon Boccanegra and Il Trovatore – all operas in which he has previously sung the principal tenor role. Especially heartfelt and vocally assured is his rendition of Germont's Act II show-stopper, "Di Provenza il mar, il suol," from La Traviata. Conductor Pablo Heras-Casado leads the Orquestra de la Comunítat Valencíana. Domingo talks with WQXR's Jeff Spurgeon about the recording in a special hour-long special on Tuesday.


Montserrat Caballe sings Verdi

Available at

Like fellow Spaniard Domingo, Montserrat Caballé has had an enormously wide-ranging repertoire (including some notable stints into crossover territory) but it is Verdi that she has sung more than any other composer. This two-CD collection spans several decades and includes Verdi favorites including “Va Pensiero” from Nabucco, “Sempre libera” from La Traviata and Caro Nome from Rigoletto. There are also some early-career performances (Otello and Un Ballo in Maschera) and several Verdi rarities including an exciting 1979 live performance from Aroldo. One for both fans and newcomers.


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Comments [1]

Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

The placement of these recordings at this time speaks to the current state of opera.Recordings of full operas would be most appropriate,and their absence is an important one.The issuance of recital discs by "stars",rather than by more relevant Verdi performers (Radvanovsky,Hvorostovsky,Zajick,Nucci,(etc.)says a great deal about marketing in these difficult days for classical music.

Oct. 07 2013 11:35 AM

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The Albums of the Week are compelling new recordings that we spotlight every week. These include creative repertoire choices, engaging musical personalities and artistic statements that stand out from the pack. You can hear the Albums of the Week throughout the day and evening on WQXR.