Verdi’s La Battaglia Di Legnano was written under the stimulus of the uprisings across Europe in 1848, most specifically that in Milan. It is a mixture of intimate personal conflict – the usual operatic love triangle – and supercharged nationalism. Actually, it’s more a suspension than a mixture, the two coexist uneasily. Verdi wrote it after his return from Paris where he had heard Chopin and Meyerbeer and had been to the Paris Opera. The result was an opera that is far more sophisticated than anything he had done before. Every commentator on the work mentions its strengths and subtlety, yet only Alzira is performed less frequently. It was premiered at the Teatro Argentina in Rome just a few weeks before the short lived Roman Republic was declared.
So why does the audience not share the views of the musicologists? There are many reasons for the public’s disdain. The title is unfortunate. The battle is only incidental to the opera’s story. It gives a false picture of what the work is about. As mentioned, the interplay between the personal and jingoistic is not well managed. But the main reason the work has not gained an audience is that for all its subtlety and refinement it lacks the passion and white heat that characterize Nabucco and Ernani. Nothing in the opera will sweep you away. Of course, the combination of technique and passion was just around the corner. La Battaglia is better than many of Verdi’s lesser earlier works and is of interest because of what it foretells. It marks the point in his development where the only person who could teach him anything new was himself. From here on he took a solitary artistic path that no one else trod. He founded no school, had no disciples, and influenced nobody. All he did was produce a series of unequaled dramatic masterpieces.
This production is not from Parma, but was mounted by the Teatro Verdi in Trieste. Accordingly, the opera is not set in the 12th century, but rather is in some unspecified time, probably the early 20th century. The sets also have little to do with the story. There are a number of paintings and sculptures scattered around the stage which also have nothing to do with what’s going on. A young woman is painting them. In the first two scenes she’s touching up Velasquez’ The Surrender of Breda. Later on she’s fiddling around a Lego crucifix that contains a life-sized figure of Christ. When the opera ends a frame encloses the entire cast and she goes to work on them. The staging of the opera would have made just as much sense if done on a bare stage and would have been a lot cheaper.
The cast was adequate. Competence was the watchword. Nothing special happened, but then nothing untoward occurred. Soprano Dimitra Theodossiou, who also appeared in this series’ Nabucco and I Lombardi has all the notes but doesn’t have the silky sound Verdi requires. Her soft high notes were there, but were tight. She’s Lida the woman who has pledged eternal devotion to the tenor, Arrigo, but who marries the baritone, Rolando, after the tenor’s supposed death. When he reappears about six or seven years later, he was convalescing under the care of his mother in Verona, he has an hysterical fit over Lida’s failure to wait for him. How do we know he’s been gone that long? She’s got a six year old son. His recovery was obviously really protracted or he was very attached to his mother. In her cavatina Quante volte come un dono she complains how miserable her life is.
After several bouts of patriotism, Rolando catches Lida hiding in Arrigo’s room. He first thinks to kill the tenor, but then comes up with a far worse punishment; he locks Arrigo in the room with Lida. She’s the women he’s been convulsing about for years. And what does he do when he finds himself alone with her? He throws himself out of the window. Now this window is at the top of a tower. Arrigo must have had a soft landing as he rejoins the Milanese army sent to battle the invading Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The Italians are victorious and Barbarossa is wounded by Arrigo who in turn receives a mortal blow; from whom or how is not specified. He is brought back to Milan where with his dying breath he assures Rolando that Lida is pure. Choir, organ, more patriotism – curtain.
Tenor Andrew Richards was Arrigo. He is slim and has a good stage presence. His voice is a pleasant lyric that is strained in its upper register. He made a single appearance at the Met as Don Jose in Carmen last February. His cavatina La pia materna mano is an apostrophe to his beloved – Lida.
The baritone role in this opera is perhaps the easiest Verdi ever wrote for a primo baritone. Leonardo López Linares has a light lyric baritone that is right for the role, though I think it would be taxed by weightier Verdi baritone parts. He occasionally loses control during some of the soft passages. His Romanza Ah! M’abbraccia, d’esultanza is well sung. The duet Digli ch’e sangue italico (with Lida) shows some of the control problems he has, though in the main it’s well sung. Theodossiou also struggles with her piano high notes. Budden considers this duet the most moving music in the opera. Rolando says goodbye to his son before leaving for the eponymous battle. He tells the boy to place his country before nothing save God.
Finally, here’s the finale. So who is this opera for? Certainly Verdi lovers. But it’s also for the general opera audience who will take note of the skill that Verdi showed just prior to the artistic explosion of his middle years.
LA BATTAGLIA DI LEGNANO
Federico Barbarossa – Enrico Giuseppe Iori
Primo console di Milano – Francesco Musinu
Secondo console di Milano – Federico Benetti
Il podestà di Como – Gabriele Sagona
Rolando – Leonardo López Linares
Lida – Dimitra Theodossiou
Arrigo – Andrew Richards
Marcovaldo – Giovanni Guagliardo
Imelda – Sharon Pierfederici
Un araldo – Alessandro De Angelis
Uno scudiero di Arrigo – Nicola Pascoli
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Lirico “Giuseppe Verdi” di Trieste0
(chorus master: Paolo Vero)
Boris Brott, conductor
Ruggero Cappuccio, stage director
Carlo Savi, set and costume designer (with Mimmo Paladino and Matthew Spender)
Nino Napoletano, lighting designer
Recorded live at the Teatro Lirico “Giuseppe Verdi” di Trieste, 23 and 29 February, 2 March 2012