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Verdi: Oberto (Alli 2007) (Pentcheva/ Bertagni/ Sartori/ Battaglia/ Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma/ Antonello Allemandi/ Pier' Alli) (C Major: 720104) [Blu-ray] 
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To celebrate Giuseppe Verdis bicentenary in 2013, C Major is proud to present the truly unique project, TUTTO VERDI: All 26 operas released on DVD and Blu-ray, together with his immortal Requiem and special documentary.
Oberto was the first of Verdis operas to be staged and was heard for the first time at La Scala, Milan, in November 1839. As a young and unknown composer, Verdi was subject to the rules then governing the opera industry in Italy. Even so, there are already many scenes in this early work that reveal unmistakable signs of the composers individual style.
This is how Verdi should be played.Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Tutto Verdi.
Pentcheva's Cuniza is classily sung: she has a rich, full mezzo and a feel for Verdian legato… Antonello Allemandi balances voices and orchestra well from the miniscule pit. --Mark Pullinger, International Record Review
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Let's be real here: "Oberto" would have been buried in opera's no-man's land had it not been fathered by Mr V. himself.
So basically my main reservation here is on the piece itself - and not the way it is performed - although to be fair if the cast had been a bit more involved, this "Oberto" could have held a bit more together than it does here. But..there is no action, no drama, everything takes place offstage and the psychological dilemmas seizing all these characters are, let's face it, not very interesting. Act I will be an immense tunnel of boredom where I struggled not to fall asleep. Act II is a bit better, particularly from the Quartet onwards (there is also Oberto's cabalette which is quite exciting), but by then it is a bit late...
On the plus side, it is wise from the producers of this performance to have avoided too big a stage that would have exposed a lot of young voices.
As it stands, we see the Verdi operas on a stage that is decidedly human - and which is therefore not going to tax the voices as much as if they were projected on the MET or on the Opéra Bastille.
...Having said that, the Teatro Verdi di Bussetto is amazingly TINY and its minuscule-ness can be felt in the soundtrack, where the public applause feels like it has been taped from a shoebox. There is not a lot of space on stage either and the production of Pier'Alli consists in trying to occupy the little room he has as best as he can: success. It is good taste - but people can't move much..and since the opera itself is very static, we end up in oratorio mode more often than not - and it is not the hand movements of the singers that improve things: arms and hands move regularly, horizontally and vertically, but too often it seems that the singers are regulating traffic...
SPEAKING ABOUT THE SINGERS! First the surprise: the tenor. Rich, clarion-type, with good lyrical qualities and strong projection, the Riccardo of Fabio Sartori is a delight! And since he starts the opera, our hopes are held high. Unfortunately the title role, Giovanni Battista Parodi, has a very constricted voice and too ample a vibrato already. The ladies are not great: Mariana Pentcheva has a big voice, but it is too impersonal while the challenges of Leonora are fatally beyond poor Francesca Sassu.
In the pit, Antonello Allemandi does not manage more than an honest routine from an orchestra that does not have much to do, to be honest.
So overall this is an OK show to discover Verdi's first opera but can it really be Verdi with so little passion?
I would recommend any prospective purchaser in this series, to buy the highlights from the operas on the available DVD or Blu-Ray first, to get an general impression of the series.
There's not a lot of dramatic action as such. Much of the important events have already taken place before the opera even begins, leaving the principal characters involved to fume their displeasure and deep feelings of love, betrayal, anger and desires for revenge through a series of cavatinas and cabalettas. It's pretty standard plotting for the most part, the drama driven by a series of arias/cabalettas, but Verdi brilliantly whips this up into something utterly compelling by adding trios, quartets and choruses to create an explosive atmosphere in manner that makes it impossible not to get swept along.
Recorded in the small, intimate surroundings of the Teatro Verdi di Busseto, this 2007 production settles for a relatively traditional setting that has an appropriately theatrical feel to it. There's nothing too ambitious attempted, the costumes are theatrically period, the sets are confined to backdrops, with minimal use of props and the stage - small as it is - left clear and open for the singers to step forward and let fly. In the absence of any real dramatic interaction, the director Pier' Alli merely gets the performers to stand looking out, look sincere, strike a few dramatic poses and make some curious sweeps of the arms and hand gestures. The presumption - a big one possibly for what is after all Verdi's first opera - is that the music and singing alone will be enough to carry the full force of the work. Fortunately, this turns out to be a not altogether unreasonable assumption.
The singing is generally good, but in such a stripped down production and with the musical arrangements as they are, there's nowhere to hide any weaknesses. There are no concerns at all however with the male tenor and baritone roles. Fabio Sartori gives a gutsy performance as Riccardo, pitching his performance perfectly for the tone of the work and the scale of the theatre, while Giovanni Battista Parodi's Oberto is similarly well-judged, striking the right note as the outraged father looking to restore his dignity without taking it overboard. Mariana Pentcheva also gives a performance of dramatic intensity as the deceived bride-to-be Cuniza, and it's only Francesca Sassu's Leonora that shows any real weakness in the line-up, the soprano unable to bring any depth or drama to the lower end in her opening cavatina, but also fails to hold her own in her Act I duet with Parodi.
When fully supported however, as the opera gathers pace with Verdi works up the musical drama and lightning effects are thrown in for good measure, the qualities of the work and the production become clear. The trio at the revelation of Riccardo's betrayal - resounding with Oberto, Leonora and Cuniza cries of 'traditor!' - is the highlight of Act I, Verdi following it up impressively with a powerful finale, while Act II's quartet has much the same impact, achieving the full Verdi effect. The chorus have an important part to play in this, and do so marvellously, but the main part of the success of this production rests on the driven performance of the orchestra as conducted by Antonello Allemandi that is nicely attuned to the rhythms and dynamic of the work. The sound quality on the Blu-ray disc is simply outstanding. Every instrument is crystal clear, highlighting just how good an account of the work this is.
Released on Blu-ray by C-Major, the image quality every bit as good as the HD sound mixes, Oberto is the first of a series of performances recorded at the Teatro Regio di Parma that will form part of a complete Verdi collection, 'Tutto Verdi', released to coincide with the composer's bicentenary in 2013. Some trailers for other works in the collection are included on the disc, as well as a visual introduction/synopsis for Oberto. The Blu-ray is all-region, with subtitles in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.
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