And I liked it a lot! But it is a somewhat uneven performance, when viewed objectively.
Giovanna d'Arco is Verdi's seventh opera; it is a melodic, fast paced, musically intense work that enjoys some sustained popularity in Italy, but less so elsewhere. And with Parma being in the heart of "Verdi Country", the reaction of the audience gives a new definition to the word enthusiastic. Personally, I was first introduced to the work in a recording with Caballe, Milnes and Domingo, and "bonded" with it at first hearing.
At the outset, I feel it necesssary to note that this is a regional Italian opera company; it is not the Met. The stage is small, and I suspect that the Parma budget for staging opera is a bit less than the Met's. Staging, costumes, sets, etc. reflect this.
That said, there is some wonderful singing in this performance, and some that is a bit less so. Svetla Vassileva is an intense Giovanna. Berger ("Verdi With a Vengeance") notes that the role is the first of the Verdi soprano roles "...to encapsulate an archetype" Vocally, Vassileva is secure throughout the range, exciting to hear and dramatically the best of the three leads. "Incandescent" is the word that came to my mind when seeing her.
Evan Bowers is new to me; vocally I actually prefer him to the CD Domingo. There is a sweetness in the voice that resonates with me, and he is secure from top to bottom. Dramatically however, he needs a LOT of help. It is almost like he is thinking his blocking instructions: two steps left, sing, three steps forward, sing. It is near painfully obvious in the first act; later on, it is less so. There are explanations other than lack of acting skills, such as a small stage, but I think that lack of acting skills is it. Vocally, though, Bowers is the real deal!
When I reviewed the Tutto Verdi sampler disc, I noted my reservations of having Renato Bruson sing Giacomo, Giovanna's father, and having now experienced the performance, I have mixed feelings. The man is nearly 80 ( born 1934) and it shows; the top wobbles a lot and there is some spread to the vowel focus, and yet ... I just have huge admiration for an old guy who is a bit older than I that can really pull this role off! And he does, wobbly top and all. Any time Verdi gets a baritone dad and a soprano daughter together in the same scene, music and dramatic peaks are scaled. That happens here in deeply moving style.
Bruno Bartoletti has, I think, been conducting for as long as Bruson has been singing. Yet despite a noticible hand tremor, he does a splendid job in fully realizing the score. Orchestra and chorus do very well with some choruses that have been subject to some critical jibes over the years. Chorus costumes for the demonic folk are just plain odd.
The audience was hugely enthusiastic about this performance. Bruson probably got the most applause; I suspect that he is a bit of an icon in Parma. I saw some reviews to the effect that he sang opening night only and Bowers not much more. I, too am very enthusiastic about having this disc and expect to view it often. Picture quality is excellent and sound in the DTS mode gave my viewing room a real sense of presence. There are subtitles in all western and most oriental languages.
I think that a reviewer needs to be objective in doing a review here, noting both good and not so good features of a performance. That said, gentle reader, I hope that the negatives do not send you away from this hugely enjoyable performance.