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Giuseppe Verdi: La battaglia di Legnano
Rolando Panerai (Rolando), Caterina Mancini (Lida), Amedeo Berdini (Arrigo), Albino Gaggi (Federico Barbarossa/Marcovaldo/First Consul of Milan/Second Consul of Milan/Mayor of Como), Edmea Limberti (Imelda), Manfredi Ponz De Leon (A Herald), Knights of Death, Magistrates and leaders of Como, Lida’s serving maids, Milanese Senators and people, Soldiers from Verona, Brescia, Novara, Piacenza and Milan, and the German Army, RAI Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Rome, Gaetano Riccitelli (Chorus Master), Fernando Previtali (Conductor)
Recorded in Rome (March 1, 1951) – 109’33
Cetra # 2564 662114 – Booklet in Italian and English (downloaded libretto available via Warner Music)

The “years in the galleys” (1842-1853) was a period in which Giuseppe Verdi wrote 16 operas in only 11 years’ time. Here is where we find the oft forgotten La battaglia di Legnano. The successful premiere at the Teatro Argentina in Rome on January 27, 1849 landed in the middle of the Risorgimento, a national fervor focused on unifying Italy in protest to the occupational forces of Austria. What was occurring on Verdi’s terra firma at this time was now being reinterpreted onstage based on Joseph Méry’s play, La Bataille de Toulouse.

When it comes to Verdi operas, La battaglia di Legnano is rarely mentioned. This is unfortunate for beauty, passion and dramatic scoring abounds. Moving forward to the present we find Cetra’s historic mono recording from 1951 being reissued under Warner Music Italia that falls short with regard to two issues: sound and written text presentation. The murky tonality makes this CD unimpressive and dull.

Here are the attributes of this CD. On balance, a positive degree of inertia is displayed by the entire cast. The opera’s patriotic fervor has reminiscence of I masnadieri (1847) and anticipations of Luisa Miller (1849). Amedeo Berdini’s Arrigo has radiant qualities bringing to mind a tempered Carlo Bergonzi while his adversary-turned-compadre, Rolando, sung by Rolando Panerai, rings brilliantly, a distant and lightened version of Cornell MacNeil. The flexibility of Caterina Mancini’s dramatic coloratura soprano voice allows her to tackle Verdi’s high notes despite the upper reaches being a bit shrill alongside scooped phrasing. Albino Gaggi possesses a silvery, polished timbre whenever and whichever role he sings (he sings five parts.) Many memorable and palpable moments exist in Verdi’s music which should serve as an important reminder for potentially interested listeners.

The drive toward an Italian unification is coherent in the “Sinfonia” like that of World War II Victory at Sea reels. This introduction displays a well recognized theme that weaves in and out of the entire opera. The foundational musical clause rolls right into the men’s chorus singing “Viva l’Italia” that patterns after those in I masnadieri. During the closing moments of Act IV, Verdi’s victory bells ring loud and clear, bringing a surge of energy similar to that found in the end of Act I, Scene 2 from Simon Boccanegra. Hymnal strains reverse our memory to Nabucco.

Although La battaglia di Legnano is rarely performed today, a handful of recordings are available in mono and stereo. For English speaking listeners, there is a synopsis translation, but remaining printed material is in Italian. The irritating conundrum: the booklet makes reference to a libretto link, but nothing exists on Warner Music Italia’s website (which is completely in Italian with no optional English translation.) In an attempt to follow along and delineate singers (which is important since confusion exists when one man is singing five different roles) this frustration impinges on the desire to focus on the music itself.

The album places greater emphasis on presenting a product for the Italian speaking contingent. Bearing skeleton detail, compounded by an unavailable libretto does not make a great first impression. Cologno Monzese’s unremarkable remastering has no compelling reason to want to buy this CD (with exception to those who want a commemorative holding.) Granted, Warner Music Italia has a version which is “historic”, and to that extent, it should be commended. But for that reason alone, absent of substantial written backup and sound enhancements, will prove a hard case for collection.

Christie Grimstad




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