Verdi Complete Ballet Music from the Operas
There have been a number of collections of the ballets that Verdi wrote for Parisian productions of his operas. Notoriously, the members of the Jockey Club insisted on having a ballet in all the operas. Not only that, it had to be in Act 2 or later, so that they could finish their dinners before coming on to the opera. Verdi complied with the convention imposed on him but we can deduce from this collection what members of the Jockey Club preferred. It comes out very clearly in the ballet music for Verdi’s penultimate masterpiece, Otello. This bears little or no resemblance to the late style of the main opera but rather relates to the style of Verdi’s early operas. Shrewdly, Serebrier makes this point right at the start by placing this five-minute piece first on disc 1. In that brief span, Verdi offers a sequence of tiny genre pieces with an oriental flavour.
Serebrier follows that with the three atmospheric numbers Verdi wrote for Act 3 of his much earlier Shakespearean opera, Macbeth, ending, not very appropriately, with pure rum-ti-tum band music. Far more ambitious is the set of four pieces he wrote for Jérusalem, his revision of what had originally appeared as I Lombardi: he used the same music but with different plot and characters. Next comes the long ballet scene for the original French version of Don Carlos, with its sections including some for solo cello and violin, all beautifully played here.
The second disc opens with the one exceptional ballet, that for Aida. This, of course, is much better known than any of the other items, though the seven genre pieces, mainly with a gypsy favour, that he wrote for Act 3 of Il trovatore do include a sudden reference to the Soldiers’ Chorus in the fifth number. Last of all comes the most ambitious of all the ballets, the four substantial numbers representing the seasons of the year that Verdi wrote for I vespri siciliani.
As he has often shown in the past, José Serebrier has a remarkable gift for drawing polished and vigorous performances from his orchestra. The result has all the tension and bite of a live performance with the advantage of studio techniques, helped by refined and beautifully balanced recording, transparent in texture.