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Giuseppe Verdi: Otello: Act III, Scene 7 (“Ballabile”) – Macbeth: Act III, Scene 1 – Jérusalem: Act III, Scene 1 – Don Carlo: Act III, Scene 2 (“La Peregrina”) – Aida: Act I, Scene 2; Act II, Scene 1; Act II, Scene 2 – Il trovatore: Act III, Scene 1; Act III, Scene 2 – I vespri siciliani: Act III, Scene 2 (“The Four Seasons”)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, José Serebrier (Conductor)
Recording: The Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, United Kingdom Mary 15-17, 2011 – 115’24
Naxos # 8.572818-19 – Booklet in English

If any composer desired to have their creations appear within 19th century French Grand Opéra, there was no way of avoiding the compulsory injection known as “ballet.” No doubt an argumentative topic, the stringent requisites added yet another dimension to the operatic world that will unlikely ever be repeated. Francois Auber’s La Muette di Portici (1828) is credited for ushering in the new realm of theatrics which lasted until the mid 1890s. It is within this timeline that the stylized music of Giuseppe Verdi wound its own distinct way onto the Parisian stage. The genesis of each Verdi opera illustrative of ballet music has a distinct and unique story. Generally speaking, ballet seldom made sense as a vehicle to enhance, clarify or expand upon the opera’s storyline. More often than not, it acted more as a disruptive and distractive force, intended more as a divertissement to satisfy the day’s aristocratic patrons.

Relevancy aside, this Naxos CD is the first of its kind, bringing together in one album the collection of all Verdi ballet music, some of which has been seldom heard for years. The recording is perfect from beginning to end. Award winning José Serebrier has a penchant for digging into the peripheries of opera by uncovering new discoveries and parlaying them into a thoughtful and coherent manner. Under his masterful supervision, The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra hits every note and dynamic with punctilious flair. From percussion to strings to woodwind to brass, detail abounds. The tempos have comfortable zest without a sense of drag.

The CD opens with Verdi’s colorful and descriptive scoring of Otello containing seven separate movements as a salutation to the Venetian ambassadors found at the end of Act III. Shy of six minutes the accelerated journey is scoped with imagination and poignancy; the textures vary greatly and have anticipated patches of Falstaff. Although premiering in 1843 at La Scala under the title I Lombardi alla prima crociata, the Paris opening in 1847 transformed the title to Jérusalem in which the long forgotten extended ballet adheres to more formal structure, including the continuous melodic dance passages for one, two, four and an ensemble. La Peregrina is a showcase piece featuring a beautiful section for solo violin. Saddled on both sides of the Triumphal March from Aida are three splendid movements, initiated by the Bournemouth Symphony’s beautifully executed flute section wafting with exotic élan. The multi-tiered Il trovatore will ring familiarity in the opening Pas des Bohémiens which shadows distinguishable strains of the lead-in bars to The Anvil Chorus. Though a sample commentary, the strong Verdian vibrancy is everywhere.

Serebrier’s forward is well written and informative. Quoted as saying, “Whenever I conduct Verdi operas I find myself having to insist on including the ballet scenes, most of which have been left out of the published scores or included as an optional addendum…”, Serebrier’s passion for ballet music is well represented. Verdi’s powerful music helped shape artistic expression, and whether it be in the form of an arabesque, fouetté, jeté or temps levé his music ultimately transformed dance into inestimable finesse and delicateness.

The Naxos/Serebrier venture is simply superior on all counts.

Christie Grimstad




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