You won't leave the opera house (or your CD player) whistling the greatest hits from "La Battaglia di Legnano," Verdi's fourteenth opera, written in 1848. The piece is more sober and less strikingly melodic than even some of his earlier pieces ("Nabucco," for example), but it has its own character and its own integrity, even if psychological credibility isn't part of the picture, and what remains in the mind are striking scenes rather than individual moments of singing. The Act 3 scene in the tombs where Arrigo swears an oath as a Knight of Death is creepily effective. The whole short Fourth Act, in which the dying Arrigo brings about the reconciliation of his friend Rolando and his wife (and Arrigo's former beloved) Lida is powerful, set as it is in the context of an Italian victory over the Austrian Barbarossa. (Barbarossa plays the enemy of all that's good and true here, an equivalent of Nabucco or Attila). The Act 2 scene in which Barbarossa bursts in on the scene in Como and declares himself the future of Italy is powerful too. What makes it all work, though, is a superb cast and great leadership from Lamberto Gardelli in this installment of the early Verdi series that Philips recorded in the 1970's. Once again, no praise is too high for Jose Carreras, who gives himself to another little-known role here with total commitment and lovely singing. As we look back on Carreras's career, I think we'll appreciate even more than we now do what he did to bring these early operas to the public when his voice was at its most beautiful. It's also a pleasure here to report that I've never heard Katia Ricciarelli sound better: the role of Lida lies well for her, and she too sings with beauty and dramatic force. The Rolando is Matteo Manuguerra, singing effectively in a less compelling role, and the very short role of Barbarossa is taken by Nicola Ghiuselev, in fine voice, but perhaps disadvantaged somewhat by by the recording balance (my only minor quibble with the engineering on this set). There are situations here that will remind you of similar ones that Verdi set later to more memorable music (Riccardo's death in "Ballo," and Alvaro's escape in "Forza"), but for the Verdi aficionado, this will be a necessary set. Excellent booklet notes too by Julian Budden, putting the composition in its Italian political context as well as its musical one. All in all, a very distinguished release.