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100 Best Verdi
27 Dec 2010

100 Best Verdi from EMI Classics

New recordings of classical music don’t appear from the “big labels” very often these days, but those companies have enormous libraries from which to extract selections for compilation discs.

100 Best Verdi

Click here for tracklisting

EMI Classics 50999 6 40878 2 5 [6CDs]

$19.99  Click to buy

Rather like an enormous body builder flexing his muscles before a crowd of scrawnier types, EMI Classics lords it over other “skinny boy” labels that might put out a double-disc set, producing a line of multi-disc compilations called “Best 100.” Now it is Verdi’s turn for this disputable honor. From a back catalog rather heavy on Riccardo Muti conducting and Placido Domingo singing, it takes 6 very full discs to reach the 100 track goal, which includes some single scenes broken into 2 separate tracks. But why be pedantic. This is a lot of Verdi.

Each disc highlights a vocal genre: Tenors and Baritones, Sopranos and Mezzo-Sopranos, Duets, Ensembles, Choruses, and finally, on the instrumental side, Overtures and Ballet Music. Listened to continuously, each disc tends to reach a saturation point several tracks in, with either male or female voices dominating. Almost any of Verdi’s operas shows a sure command of laying out the narrative through a variety of musical approaches and vocal types. Almost 80 minutes of “ensembles,” for example, can become too much of a good thing, like a one-pound box of chocolates which turns out to be all “Cherry Jubilee.” Anyone with no audio-purist objections to MP3 players would do well to take the discs, upload them to a computer music library, and listen to the compilation in a more random fashion.

As suggested above, certain names pop up fairly often - Placido Domingo gets three tracks on disc one and pops up a few more times on other discs. He opens the set with “Celeste Aida,” from the Aida set conducted by Riccardo Muti, whose extensive catalog gets quite the showcase throughout. Your reviewer would have chosen Franco Corelli’s verison of that aria and then later on the disc, when Corelli fairly mauls “Quando le sere al placido,” put Domingo’s version in that place. While an enjoyable diversion, picking apart the selections is a vain endeavor. Anyone with the broad knowledge of the catalog for such a game probably owns all the sets needed to make one’s own compilation. For the audience this set is made for, all the choices are at least decent (depending on one’s taste) and many more are better than that. Some of the juxtapositions are fascinating - with Maria Callas’s vehement “Ritorna Vincitor!,” sung by an Aida seemingly on the edge of a nervous breakdown, followed immediately by Montserrat Caballe’s exquisite, tastefully mournful “O Patria mia.” By the end of disc 6, the listener emerges from 7 hours of Verdi stunned by the immensity of the man’s genius - and probably needing a break of some duration before returning to it.

EMI Classics provides absolutely nothing other than a booklet of track listings and credits. For the beginner who has happened upon this set, surely a brief biographical note and possibly some suggested reference texts would have been helpful.

Chris Mullins

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