This is the Verdi opera that separates the casual admirer from the dyed-in-the-wool devotee. Once you put on this recording and listen half way through, you will feel that you have died and gone to Verdi Heaven, and you know what - for all intents and purposes, you have! A strong, strong story…a score that gets better by the minute…a cast and conductor to die for…it is truly a Masterpiece. This is It! This is Opera! Unfortunately, none of us in our lifetime will ever see on stage a company like this one. Cappuccilli, Mirella Freni, Ghiaurov, Jose Carreras…van Dam, Foiani, Savastano conducted by Claudio Abbado. Simply Awesome!
The opera Otello by Giuseppe Verdi and Arrigo Boito not only represents the outstanding result of an intensely fruitful creative collaboration between composer and librettist, but also one of the most important core works in the opera repertoire. With his musical setting of Shakespeare’s play, the composition of which took him several years, Verdi also achieved a new level of quality within the framework of his operatic oeuvre. His path was resolute and consistent, leading him away from structured numbers of arias, recitatives and ensembles, and towards the through-composed, large-scale dramatic form. All this based on the timeless literary foundation of Shakespeare's play.
The outstanding production of Verdi’s Masked Ball at the Salzburg Festivals 1989 and 1990 was Herbert von Karajan’s legacy to the Festival. Supported by a cast of superlative actor-singers in opulent scenery, Sir George Solti agreed to conduct the opera at short notice after Karajan’s unexpected death in 1989. The production had been expected to be a highlight in Karajan’s series of Verdi operas at Salzburg. Karajan’s celebrated ability to unite a cultivated sound with dramatic effects was known to create extraordinary and highly acclaimed opera events. For Un ballo in maschera Karajan planned something unusual: He would not set the opera in colonial Massachusetts, as the censors had forced Verdi to do when he was composing the work, but in Stockholm in the 1790s at the court of King Gustav III of Sweden, as Verdi had originally conceived his work. Together with the film director John Schlesinger and his stage team, Karajan developed a concept that promised theatrical splendour equal to the musical excellence that the conductor and the handpicked cast of singers would surely provide in collaboration with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Verdi's opera Attila takes as its starting point Attila’s plans to storm Rome with his army of Huns and the Romans’ attempts to prevent him. As with Nabucco and I Lombardi, Verdi spiced up the action with a number of patriotic choruses, guaranteeing that – against the background of the Italian movement for unification – the opera was a great success. 'Michele Mariotti owes much to the fact that this evening became a celebration of voices' (Opern-Kritik). Ildebrando D´Arcangelo is 'perfect for the serious Verdi roles', Fabio Sartori has a voice of immense brilliance' (Opern-Kritik), 'Simone Piazzola was an impressive Ezio' (theoperacritic.com) and 'the real warrior of this Attila is the soprano Maria Jose' Siri … with her voice, touching each primordial sentiment in every note of the opera, she commanded ‘Attention’ from everybody' (La Repubblica).
Verdi and his librettist had originally intended that The Masked Ball would be set in the late 18th Century setting of the court of Gustavus III of Sweden. However this was not acceptable to the censor and it was changed to an imagined colonial Boston. In this production the opera has been set in its intended Swedish setting and appropriate changes made to the text. The staging reflects the setting and the scenery has a deliberately heavy feel which accentuates the sombre atmosphere of the opera. Nonetheless, all sets and costumes are lavish – clearly the ‘Met’ does not penny pinch with its productions. In particular the final scene "A large and sumptuously decorated ballroom" accurately reflects the description and the fancy dress costumes are really splendid.
Il Trovatore was always one of Herbert von Karajan‘s favourite operas. He conducted it at the very beginning of his career and his first studio recording in 1956 was made in Milan with Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano, but „his“ Trovatore really made its mark in the legendary performances given at the Salzburg Festival in 1962, which formed the basis for this successful revival in Vienna. He once declared in an interview that what he loved about this opera was its archetypal human passions, its compression of highly dramatic situations into the smallest conceivable space and Verdi‘s genius for translating such situations into music. This 1978 performance is steeped in scandal. Franco Bonisolli was originally cast in the lead role but abandoned the cast during a rehearsal where the public had been admitted entry, and, after throwing his sword at the conductor, left the stage in fury, to be later replaced by Plácido Domingo. What this performance makes so special: Karajan not only conducted the opera, but he was also responsible for the stage direction.
Verdi, child of the people, king of popular opera, began life as the son of an innkeeper. He was brought up in modest circumstances. He first received lessons from the village priest, who was amazed by the young musician’s talents. Verdi’s musical education was rounded and complete: at the age of sixteen, the composer wrote fugues, masses and symphonies, which he would later destroy. As he met with reticence in Milan, he settled in Busseto where he fell victim to the pettiness of the town. However, his strong willpower enabled him to pursue his musical path without paying heed to what people said.