Think you know your Verdi operas? With this month’s selection, featuring the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra with Jose Serebrier on the podium, you might be surprised at how much music Giuseppe Verdi wrote for his operas that is rarely heard in public today.
Blame it on Paris. In the 19th century - when Paris was the capital of the ballet world -- it was expected that a composer premiering an opera at The Opéra write a ballet for the third act. Despite his assertion that this practice would "break the continuity of the action." Verdi obligingly wrote ballet music for the operas he adapted or composed outright for the Paris stage. Often he was more than obliging, writing 15 or 20 minutes, even a half hour of music to accompany this purely non-vocal, plot-stopping segment of his work.
Nowadays, when these operas are performed, the ballet sections usually get the ax. Not so with conductor José Serebrier, who insists on including Verdi’s ballet scenes in his performances of the operas, and who conducts all of Verdi’s operatic ballet music with England’s Bournemouth Symphony in this innovative and very enjoyable two-disc set from Naxos.
The most familiar music here comes from operas where the ballet action is actually an essential component of the story. Verdi’s exotic, Eastern-inflected music for Aida is tinged with restlessness and excitement. And the evocative "Four Seasons" ballet from I Vespri Siciliani is a half-hour of pure sensuousness and delight.
Rarely heard, but a treat if you're a fan of the work, Verdi’s ballet music for Il Trovatore quotes melodies heard elsewhere in the opera, including the popular "Anvil Chorus." A beguiling Turkish motif opens the relatively brief ballet music for Otello, which packs an astonishing number of changes in mood and atmosphere into its 5.5 minutes. A true discovery in this collection is the music for the 1847 opera Jérusalem (AKA I Lombardi), which bookends quintessentially Parisian galops and can-cans around lovelier, more intimate passages featuring solo flute, oboe, and harp.
With his ballet music, Verdi provided more than mere accompaniment to the dancers. His trademark long, flowing, and singing lines are instantly captivating, and the variety of dance forms and patterns he employs, sometimes in quick succession, keeps things interesting. The music holds up well next to the ballet scores of other great Romantic composers like Tchaikovsky and Delibes.
The Bournemouth Symphony performs this music with obvious affection. The players are quick-witted and responsive to the frequent tempo and mood changes and play with such precision and understatedness that you can practically see the dancers. The ensemble playing is tight, and the soloists are top-notch. If you’re an opera or ballet music lover wanting to hear more of Verdi than usually meets the ears, this recording will not fail to charm.--Mark