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Music Review: All of Verdi in 1 big box

Verdi: The Complete Works (75-CD boxed set) Decca.

From the ever-popular “Aida” to the obscure “Alzira,” all 28 of Giuseppe Verdi’s operas have been repackaged in a boxed set to commemorate the great Italian composer’s 200th birthday — along with his other compositions: the “Requiem,” songs, choral works, even a string quartet and capriccio for bassoon and orchestra.

This exhaustive collection of 75 CDs comes from Decca, which has drawn on the catalogs of Philips, Deutsche Grammophon and EMI. The suggested retail price of $200 makes it a bargain at less than $3 per CD.

The great conductors of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s are represented, from Herbert von Karajan to James Levine, from Georg Solti to Riccardo Muti. The casts are mostly exemplary, with generous contributions from the “three tenors” — Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras (seven operas each) and Luciano Pavarotti (three). The soprano lineup includes Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballe and Katia Ricciarelli. However, because she was an RCA recording artist, the indispensable Leontyne Price is missing. Instead, as the Leonoras in “La Forza del Destino” and “Il Trovatore” — two of Price’s greatest roles — we get Rosalind Plowright, a fine British soprano but no match for Price’s sultry allure.

Even experienced opera fans may take delight in discovering the Rossinian jollity of Verdi’s second opera, “Un giorno di regno,” from 1840, his only comedy until his sublime final masterpiece, “Falstaff,” written in 1893. It’s also intriguing to hear how he adapted “I lombardi” from 1843 into a different work, “Jerusalem,” four years later, and how the 1850 “Stiffelio” became “Aroldo” in 1857. The set includes two complete versions of “Don Carlo,” one in French and one in Italian, as well as the original and extensively revised “Forza.”

Among the gems here is a classic “La Traviata” from 1976, starring soprano Ileana Cotrubas, Domingo and baritone Sherrill Milnes, conducted by Carlos Kleiber. Also, a marvelous “Simon Boccanegra” from a year later, with soprano Mirella Freni, Carreras, baritone Piero Cappuccilli and bass Nicolai Ghiaurov, conducted by Claudio Abbado.

Two booklets are included with cast lists, plot summaries and some background on each opera. But space constraints prevented inclusion of full librettos, which is a drawback for the serious listener.

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