In the annuals of music history Joan Sutherland's name will always be inextricably linked with the tragic heroine of Donizetti's dark romantic opera. It was the role which catapulted her to international stardom in 1959 and remained the perfect showcase for her remarkable vocal agility and acting ability throughout her career.
Recorded live at the Sydney Opera house this Australian Opera Production of Puccini's masterpiece was staged by the makers of the film 'Strictly Ballroom' with music under the direction of Julian Smith.
Carlo Rizzi conducts Verdi's Il Trovatore with the assistance of the Royal Opera House Orchestra.
The James Levine cycle of Wagners Der Ring des Nibelungen is humane and emotionally powerful rather than monumental or spiritual; Levine is more interested in finding our sympathy for the characters than inspiring pity or terror. These are very traditional productions in which you see a rock where you need to see a rock, a dragon where the libretto says a dragon (the Metropolitan Opera has never been a place for experiment). What Levine and the Met can and do offer is excellent orchestral playing and some of the best singers in these roles in the world. Siegfried Jerusalem is boyish and naive and touching as Siegfried, and he is also surprisingly good as the detached mischievous Loge of Das Rheingold. James Morris is uniformly impressive as Wotan and makes the character evolve from the young ruthless god of the first opera to the tired old god of Siegfried, who seeks nothing more than his own necessary defeat and death. As Brunnhilde, Hildegard Behrens makes a convincing shift from goddess to woman, from callousness to tenderness and on to vindictiveness and self-sacrificing wisdom. Overall, this is an attractive Ring cycle, well-cast and beautifully played; others have greater strengths in some areas, but Levine is reliable across the board. On the DVD: Der Ring des Nibelungen has all four operas, which are also available individually, contained in a single box. All the DVDs come with a photo gallery of the Metropolitan Opera productions and with menus and subtitles in German, French, English, Spanish and Chinese. Its a little disappointing, though, that they are presented in American NTSC format, not European PAL, and the picture ratio is standard TV 4:3. On the plus side, they all have an excellent clear acoustic in the three audio options: PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. --Roz Kaveney
A performance of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra which tells the story of the struggle for power in 14th Century Genoa. Claudio Abbado conducts.
La Boheme - Recorded live at the Teatro degli Arcimboldi Milan February 2003 - Staged by the Teatro all Scala.
This 1986 production of Madama Butterfly strives, with its Japanese director and designer, for authenticity in the Japanese setting, yet is somehow entirely Italian at the same time. Yasuko Hayashi's Cio-Cio-San is surprisingly tough, rejecting the arguments of her uncle and the marriage broker with more anger than usual, and her suicide is as much a moral statement of integrity as a sentimental gesture. Accordingly, Dvorsky's sexually magnetic Pinkerton is even less sympathetic--you can see what she sees in him, but he is arrogant and a user, except when he is being lyrical--and Zancanaro's Sharpless, the consul who expedites Pinkerton's betrayal of his wife but develops his own compassion for her, is all the more complex and interesting. The production has real charm as well as authenticity on its side; the staging of the love duet is impressive in its use of shadow and delicate light. Maazel's interpretation has a forceful energy that the recording impressively conveys. --Roz KaveneyOn the DVD: The DVD has scene selection, and subtitles in German, French and English; the menu adds Spanish.
Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen is a real charmer of an opera, a tale that shows the natural world the composer had loved from childhood in its true colours: miraculous, beautiful, mysterious but also cruel. The inspiration came from a series of illustrated stories published in a Czech newspaper. The Vixen of the title is captured by a forester and taken home as a plaything for his children. She is soon thrown out of the house and has to make her own way in the world, encountering lust, stupidity, pride, love and ultimately death. This 1995 performance was taken from the Chatelet Theatre in Paris. Visually, Nicholas Hytner's production is a triumph, the animals wonderfully wittily wrought (the mosquito with its syringe for a nose, the mangey old dog, distasteful in baggy Y-fronts, the hideous, goggle-eyed frog). And it's also brilliantly cast: Eva Jenis's Vixen is funny, sexy, endearing and youthful enough in voice and figure to convince. Thomas Allen is a veteran of the role of the Forester, a huge presence and singing in impeccable Czech. In fact, there's not a weak performance here, and that goes for the dancers and instrumentalists as well as the singers. And at the helm, who better than Sir Charles Mackerras, arguably the greatest living interpreter of Janacek's music? This is in essence a grown-up fairy tale, ravishingly done and extremely highly recommended. On the DVD: The Cunning Little Vixen is presented on disc in vividly remastered PCM stereo, with 16:9 picture format that does full justice to the alluringly colourful designs. The disc is encoded for regions 2 and 5, and the menu and subtitle languages are English, German, French and Spanish. The useful booklet gives coherent background information and synopsis as well as full casting details. There's also a substantial (23-minute) trailer of other offerings from Arthaus Musik. --Harriet Smith
Tancredi was the work on which Rossini's reputation as a composer of tragic operas rested, just as L'Italiana in Algeri ("The Italian Girl in Algiers") had been his first comic masterpiece. Inevitably, given the opera seria conventions within which he was working, it can seem terribly static nowadays--this is a work whose stage action consists almost exclusively of entrances and exits, and of characters emoting in various combinations--but when the emotions are as powerful as those here it hardly matters. The breeches part of Tancredi is one of Rossini's most powerfully lyrical: Bernadette Manca de Nisa is especially moving in the famous aria "Di Tanti Palpiti". The heroine Amenaide, wrongfully accused of treason, has the most to do emotionally, and Maria Raul is suitably touching, collapsing decorously to the floor as a way of conveying extremes of shame or incredulous hurt. Ildebrando D'Arcangelo does what he can with the stiff villain, Orbazzano. In some ways, the star of the performance is Raul Giménez in the unpromising role of Amenaide's much-deceived father Argirio, combining authority with pain and making both highly musical. Throughout, Gianluigi Gelmetti's intelligent conducting of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra makes the delicate sides of the scoring matter most:he has learned from original instrument performances how to bring out the plangency of Rossini's woodwind writing.On the DVD: The DVD has no additional features except for subitles in Italian, French, German, English and Spanish and menus in French, Spanish, German and English. The sound is presented perfectly adequately but unexcitingly in PCMstereo and the picture ratio is 4:3. --Roz Kaveney
Opera in three acts.Recorded live at the Semperoper Dresden 2-3 June 2000.
Benjamin Britten's dour masterpiece Peter Grimes has been well-served in video recordings, yet this stark, intense production may become the top choice for most viewers. One of its major attractions is outstanding camerawork, under the direction of Barrie Gavin, powerfully reinforcing the shifting moods created by the music. The photography is notable in frequent close-ups, particularly those that focus on the ravaged, vulnerable and intensely expressive face of Philip Langridge in the title role. His interpretation is strikingly different from that of his chief video rival, Jon Vickers, who presents a more burly characterisation. The ambiguities in the role of Grimes make it possible to emphasise either strength or vulnerability in this story of an alienated fisherman, who stands virtually alone against a small (and small-minded society), vast forces of nature and a run of bad luck. His young apprentice has died (possibly because of his neglect or brutality); he is legally acquitted but found guilty by his neighbours and forbidden to take another boy as apprentice. He ignores that warning, the second boy dies accidentally, and he commits suicide under intense public pressure. Langridge gives a striking account of the role's psychological depth and complexity, aided by a well-chosen and directed cast. James Atherton conducts expertly. The chorus and orchestra are first-class, and the famous sea interludes, which have found a secure place in the concert repertoire, are visually enhanced by views of the ocean and shoreline. --Joe McLellan
The last and most subtle of Richard Strauss's operas, Capriccio gets a finely nuanced interpretation in this San Francisco Opera production. A generally excellent cast is highlighted not only by the radiant presence of Kiri Te Kanawa but by the deceptively robust performance of Tatiana Troyanos in her last operatic appearance before her untimely death from cancer. The composer described Capriccio as a "conversation piece for music in one act", and he put much effort into not only the music but the words, on which he collaborated with conductor Clemens Krauss. Krauss's verbal input was particularly appropriate in this work, because the real subject (symbolised by a conventional love triangle) is the competition (and alliance) between words and music in opera, a subject naturally close to the composer-librettist's heart. The conversation runs through the whole opera in various forms. It begins immediately after the curtain goes up, with a quarrel between the poet Olivier (Simon Keenlyside) and the composer Flamand (David Kuebler) over the respective merits of their arts. They are rivals for the hand of the widowed Countess Madeleine (Te Kanawa); she is to choose between them (i.e., between poetry and music) but she is still undecided as the final curtain descends. The intervening two hours are rich in artistic shop talk and backstage situations that will enchant sophisticated opera-lovers, as well as the love interest for the rest of us. David Runnicles conducts with a sure sense of Straussian style; and Mauro Pagano's 18th-century set creates the right atmosphere. Keenlyside and Kuebler are eloquent and believable, Te Kanawa sweet, regal and ambiguous. Hakan Hagegard and Victor Braun give particularly vivid performances in supporting roles. --Joe McLellan
Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme and Il tabarro, Ruggiero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci and Gaetano Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, performed by The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by James Levine.
This glorious 1995 production of Wagner's festival opera highlights the central debate about the artist, his inspiration and the academic rules that have to be worked with, or around, by setting it not in the Middle Ages so much as in a high-Victorian world of frock coats and cravats. Wolfgang Brendel's impressive performance as Hans Sachs has both the authority of the great poet trying to make everyone understand the virtues of good sense and a middle way, as well as the emotional appeal of a man whose decision to make Eva's choice between him and Walther is for once a real struggle: Brendel plays him as a man young enough to be a credible rival to the young minstrel-knight. Gosta Windbergh in turn brings real passion not only to the "Prize Song" itself but to the whole opera, not least to the aristocratic/bohemian distrust of the bourgeois world of the master singer for which Sachs ends up rebuking him. Schulte's performance as Beckmesser conveys the meanness and pettiness without buying wholly into the viciousness with which Wagner humiliates his comic villain and through him all of his own enemies. Conductor de Burgos manages to keep the massive scale of this longest of comic operas human and humane--this never becomes a sinisterly intense or vast performance. --Roz KaveneyOn the DVD: This two-disc set comes equipped with scene selection and subtitles in German, French and English, as well as menus in those languages and Spanish. --Roz Kaveney
A performance of Prokofiev's opera 'The Fiery Angel' which centres on a girl possessed by a spirit. Conducted by Valery Gergiev.
Various Composers: La Scala Collection - 11 Operas
A performance of Mozart's 'Cosi Fan Tutte' performed by the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists. Conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.
If there are doubts still lingering about the Royal Opera House's artistic renaissance after its mid-1990s doldrum years, David McVicar's gritty and sexy production of Rigoletto should blow them all away. One of the principal reasons is McVicar's decision to emphasise the tyrannical nature of the Duke (beautifully sung by Marcelo Alvarez), and the appalling social injustice that springs from a corrupt leader: his court is a place of physical and sexual abuse (graphically, but by no means gratuitously, depicted). This violence throws the dual nature of Rigoletto into relief, making his toadyism seem all the worse and his vengefulness all the more sympathetic. The singing and acting are first rate, with Paolo Gavanelli's energetic, insect-like Rigoletto worthy even to stand against Anthony Sher's Richard III. Christine Schafer has a gorgeous voice, an intelligent sense of phrasing, and plays Gilda as a frail, morbid creature whose ultimate self-sacrifice is as much an act of neurotic despair as of love. The production is also a visual and orchestral success. Michael Vale's set is a masterpiece of economy--both the Duke's palace and Rigoletto's home are surrounded by broken objects, wire fencing and gloomy shadows--and Edward Downes draws some stunning playing from the Royal Opera Orchestra. This is undoubtedly the best Rigoletto committed to DVD thus far. On the DVD Rigoletto comes with an entertaining 17-minute BBC biography of the composer, "Verdi Through the Looking Glass", presented by conductor Charles Hazlewood, as well as an illustrated synopsis of the opera, and a revealing 10-minute interview with the director. There are subtitles in English, French, German, Dutch and Spanish.--Warwick Thomson
William Christie and Les Arts Florissants propel this exuberant production of Jean-Phillipe Rameau's second opera to great heights. Andrei Serban's extravagant highly baroque staging presents the four exotic love stories vibrantly. In Le Turc Genereux Osman sets free his captive Emilie whom he loves so that she may be reunited with her former lover Valere; Les Incas De Perou is all about the rivalry of the Inca Huascar and the Spaniard Don Carlos both in pursuit of Princess Phani; Les Fleurs offers a Persian love intrigue as the Sultana Fatime tries to detect whether her husband Tacmas has his eye on the lovely Atalide; and Les Sauvages takes us to North America where a Spaniard and a Frenchman compete for the love of Zima daughter of a native chief who prefers one of her own people.
Waltraud Meier is the stuff of which great Isoldes are made--a passionate actress who sings her heart out at every point and yet somehow keeps something in reserve from the narration and curse of the first act for the love duet of the second and the "Liebestod" of the third. Her Tristan, Jon Fredric West, is more or less her equal--he is particularly impressive in the mad death agony of the third act; his Tristan is an ordinary hero who becomes something larger. Among the other principals, Kurt Moll's Mark stands out in its eloquent heart-break, not so much a cuckold as a man who wants everything to work out right; Weikl's Kurwenal and Lipovsek's Brangane are, credibly, ordinary people caught up in great tragedy. Mehta's account of the score is solid and professional--he gets nothing wrong and everything right in a performance which survives occasionally perversely innovative staging to touch greatness. On the DVD: The DVD includes subtitles in French, German, English and Dutch. --Roz Kaveney
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