I lombardi alla prima crociata was Giuseppe Verdi's fourth opera, and came fast on the heels of his first big success, Nabucco. I lombardi ... made its premiere at La Scala, Milan on 11 February 1843, and the piece was very well received. The opera, to a libretto by Temistocle Solera, is adapted from an epic poem by Tommasso Grossi about the First Crusade. Later, it would become Verdi's first grand opera when he revised it four years later for its debut in Paris under the title Jerusalem.
Though this four-Act opera explores the themes of conflict, mercy and redemption which unites the rift between families as well as faiths, the Archbishop of Milan levied a number of complaints due to the presence of Catholic ritual within the work. Despite the matter being investigated by the police, they generally ruled in Verdi's favour, thus only minor alterations to the score were deemed necessary.
Listen — Verdi: Prelude and Introduction (I lombardi alla prima crociata, Act I)
(900351 CD1 track 1, 0:00-0:41) ℗ 2023 BRmedia Service GmbH :
The opera opens by the Church of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan, where the two sons of Lord Folco are holding a public reconciliation. The cause of their prior feud was their mutual desire for the hand of Viclinda, a matter which led to Pagano's exile when he threatened to kill his brother Arvino. Since then, Arvino and Viclinda have wed and had a daughter named Giselda. When a crusade to the Holy Land is declared, one which Arvino will lead, Pirro and Pagano conspire to murder Arvino and take Viclinda. When the conspirators storm the Palace, the coup ends with Pagano bloodying his sword and carrying Viclinda outside. When Pagano sees Arvino, the former is horrified to learn that the man he killed was their father and not Arvino, in whose chamber the father had been sleeping.
Pagano is about to be executed for his patricide, but Giselda changes the sentence to exile, causing Pagano to flee his home once again.
Listen — Verdi: Parricida! (I lombardi alla prima crociata, Act I)
(900351 CD1 track 14, 0:53-1:26) ℗ 2023 BRmedia Service GmbH :
As a result of the ongoing crusade, Giselda has been captured and is now held in the harem of Acciano, the ruler of Antioch. Oronte, Acciano's son, has fallen in love with Giselda, something his mother is very pleased by, as now there is hope that Giselda will convert her son to Christianity. Meanwhile, Pirro has now become the guardian of the city gates and, on the advice of a hermit, he lets the crusaders past the gate to atone for his sins. In the ensuing battle Arvino slays Acciano and Oronte, and declares Giselda mad because she condemned him for his actions which, she said, were not according to God's will. To escape Arvino's anger she flees the camp. There she encounters Oronte who, miraculously, is still alive.
Listen — Verdi: Oh belle, a questa misera
(I lombardi alla prima crociata, Act III)
(900351 CD2 track 3, 2:16-3:14) ℗ 2023 BRmedia Service GmbH :
The two lovers run away together but Oronte's strength is fading. As Oronte lies dying, the hermit appears and baptizes the Prince, while assuring Giselda that they will meet again in heaven.
As Giselda sleeps she has a vision of Oronte in heaven, who tells her of a fountain where the crusaders may drink to save themselves from the desert heat. Giselda, with the dying hermit, returns to her father's camp and passes on this information. Before dying, the hermit reveals himself to be Pagano. He asks his brother for forgiveness and the two are finally reconciled as Jerusalem draws closer. As the crusaders sing praises unto heaven and the holy city Pagano expires, forgiven and at peace with both God and brother.
Listen — Verdi: Te lodiamo, gran Dio di vittoria
(I lombardi alla prima crociata, Act IV)
(900351 CD2 track 14, 1:56-2:47) ℗ 2023 BRmedia Service GmbH :
This beautiful opera is, unfortunately, seriously undervalued. What a pity, because this is Verdi at his inventive best, despite being only at the beginning of his stellar career. I lombardi ... is not only overflowing with great and stirring music, but has many dramatic colpi di scena and exciting ensembles - all that one expects from Italian opera in the 1840s.
Passionately conducted by Ivan Repušić, soloists, chorus and orchestra performed with an intensity that was not only overwhelmingly thrilling but also powerfully robust, and yet, the splendour of the score was never sacrificed to any trivial showoffs that at times turn a great work into a mediocre one.
Another triumph in Repušić's ongoing cycle of early Verdi in excellent sound and annotations.
Copyright © 3 December 2023