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Verdi operas on CDs show variety in conductors' approaches. Sets vary in amount of fidelity to score and composer's intent

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There was a time when performing early and middle-period Verdi operas was a fairly simple matter: Singers who had the high notes were allowed to interpolate, i.e., add a harmonically complementary higher note to the one in the score.

Repeat verses of arias were eliminated, as were some incidental moments throughout the score - a musical process known as cutting.

And the raw, energy of the musical lines in these sometimes elemental but always stirring works was never allowed to lapse.

These days a new breed of conductor is in charge of opera, one that frowns on interpolations, even when they clearly enhance the dramatic thrust, one that restores or ``opens up'' all the cuts, even when the music is poor or when the momentum of an act or scene will be impaired.

These conductors also favor a dogged fidelity to the printed score over the spirit and intention of the composer - as if merely getting the notes out with the appropriate (and rigid) attention to dynamics, accents, and tempo was the only thing necessary to bring any opera score to life.

What emerges is a listless performance of a vital work. For instance, in the EMI/Angel recording of ``Ernani'' (just recently transferred to three CDs, set number CDCC 47082), conductor Riccardo Muti crosses all the ``t's,'' dots all the ``i's,'' opens all the cuts, bans all interpolations, and turns a fun opera into a dull one. On a practical level, with all those cuts opened, the role of Elvira becomes a marathon of high ``B's'' and ``C's.''

There is an insistent energy to Mr. Muti's brusque reading, but the performance is wanting in majesty and dramatic insight. Pl'acido Domingo lacks the heroic ringing top notes to bring the impassioned title role to life; Renato Bruson has never had the top notes, the robustness of voice, or dynamic musical personality to do justice to the role of Don Carlo; Nicolai Ghiaurov, the Silva, sounds tired and frayed of voice. Verdi's `Attila'


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