Verdi’s seventh opera, Giovanna D’Arco premiered in 1845 and tells the story of Joan of Arc, an exceptionally popular subject at the time. Madrid’s Teatro Real have put on a concert version of the opera with the legendary Plácido Domingo as Giacomo, Carmen Giannattasio as Giovanna and with Michael Fabiano as Carlo VII.

King Carlo is about to give up his throne to the English, when Giovanna dreams that God has told her to fight for France and prevail, making her father Giacomo believe his daughter has sold her soul to the devil. Giovanna does prevail but her father stirs up sentiment against her, believing she is an agent of the devil, and she ends up being captured by the English. Giacomo realises his mistake and sets his daughter free. She fights once more and wins but dies in battle before rising from the dead for a moment so that her father and the King can praise her and bid farewell.

The music is an interesting mix. The overture is at points bombastic and strong, descending quickly into multiple flute solos. It’s fascinating to be able to listen to Verdi’s progression as a composer, since the music is the basis for some of his orchestration for Macbeth (his tenth opera), particularly the chorus pieces and the King’s arrival at Macbeth’s castle (just after ‘Or tutti, sorgete’). This is quite a chorus-heavy opera and the Teatro Real chorus are more than up to the challenge. They are brilliant – even though this is a concert version, they still undertook the huge feat of memorising the lyrics.

The star of the opera is without a doubt Plácido Domingo, 78 years old and his voice outshone everyone else. His voice is incredibly rich, strong and versatile, with the most amazing colour throughout, a true masterclass. His ‘Speme al vecchio era una figlia’ in which he despairs his daughter has signed a pact with the devil was particularly moving. Domingo’s acting was also very strong. You could really see and hear the feeling, the intensity of the performance. Truly incredible.

Carmen Giannattasio played Giovanna powerfully and with skill. Her coloratura needed a bit more colour but it was a good performance overall. She brought colour in other ways though, as throughout the concert performance she had three different costume changes. Michael Fabiano as Carlos VII had a strong middle range, but it showed on his voice when he was trying to push for the higher notes; it’s just not what he’s suited to.

Teatro Real should be commended for these concert versions of rare opera, it’s so important to keep promoting them. The orchestra and chorus were fantastic, especially the flautists who had their work cut out for them. The cast was uniformly good with Plácido Domingo showing exactly why he is a living legend. This is the must-see operatic event of July.

Giovanna D’Arco is on at the Teatro Real, Madrid with Placido Domingo until 20th July.  For more information, visit the Teatro Real.

Words by Stuart Martin.

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