Any veteran like me who might be getting a bit supercilious about the merits of early Verdi will have those weary thoughts cast aside by this splendidly honest and virile recording. Opera in English is here fully justified by virtue of an excellent cast all-round who let us hear every word of the old, trusted translation by Norman Tucker and Tom Hammond, pioneers of giving works in the vernacular. But perhaps the most convincing reason for acquiring this set is the superb singing of the Opera North Chorus, who are in a sense this work's heroes. From start to finish they sing wholeheartedly and make the most of the text.
Heading the cast is Alan Opie, perhaps giving his best performance to date on disc. He reveals every facet of the troubled king's character. His early wilfulness, followed by madness and then his conversion to Jehovah, are all depicted with an unerring feeling for every word of the text. Of course the core of the opera comes in the great Act 3 duet with Abigail, then the noble solo “Lord God of Judah”, which Opie sings with proper sorrow and contrition.
In the duet he is partnered by Susan Patterson. Greatly improving on her performance in Chandos's A Masked Ball (11/04), she conveys every bit of the anti-heroine's scheming and unforgiving character, sings pretty much all of her taxing part with firm, full tone, then at the close shows suitable remorse in the Act 3 finale. As the one truly upright character, Zachariah, Alastair Miles proves his pre-eminence among British basses today in Verdi: every note of his two solos is sung with strength and a feeling for line, and he is as happy on high as below. Fenena is well served by Jane Irwin's lovely mezzo, shining forth in her Act 3 solo ending with a glorious high A. The one disappointment is the rather feeble Ismael, but he doesn't play a very big part in proceedings.
David Parry makes the most of Verdi's early, rudimentary style, conducting the piece for all its worth, supported finely by the Opera North Orchestra. We have the customary slightly over-reverberant Chandos sound, which at times favours the chorus and band at the expense of the soloists, but that is a minor blemish on a truly exemplary performance.