Under the baton of James Levine, Gotterdammerung ("The Twilight of the Gods") has a narrative drive that reminds us that, of all the individual operas in Wagner's Ring cycle, this is the one most about human emotions and the one in which its heroes are pulled into a world where they are most vulnerable to them. Siegfried Jerusalem as Siegfried and Hildegard Behrens as Brunnhilde never, in a sense, stand a chance: they are innocents who allow themselves to be manipulated not merely by the villainous Hagen, but by the ordinary venality of Gunther and his sister Gutrune, who goes along with a dirty little scheme to get what she wants, and is destroyed by it. As the tempter figure Hagen, Matti Salminen dominates the stage whenever he is on it; he is one of those basses whose voice and scowl seem to come from somewhere deeper than his large boots: rarely have the summoning of the vassals, or the oath of vengeance he, Gunther and Brunnhilde swear against Siegfried seemed so utterly his triumph. Jerusalem is almost perfect as Siegfried in spite of the gravelly quality of his heroic tenor: he has a glorious innocence even when the character is tricked into desecrating his true love; Hildegard Behrens is magnificent as Brunnhilde, both in her anger at Siegfried's apparent betrayal of her and in her redemptive understanding of how she has to atone for his death. Other Gotterdammerungs may be more monumental, but few make you care so passionately. On the DVD: Gotterdammerung comes with menus and subtitles in German, French, English, Spanish and Chinese and with a picture gallery of the production. Awkwardly it is presented in (American) NTSC format, not PAL, and with a visual aspect of standard TV 4:3. More impressive is the choice of PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1; the sound is admirably clear and well-balanced. --Roz Kaveney
Beethoven's lone opera Fidelio had a troubled gestation, as its no fewer than four overtures suggest. The finished product, while obviously a work of genius, exposes its patchwork qualities even in the best of productions. Luckily, the 1991 staging by the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, is so lucid and intelligent that the opera--a forceful plea for freedom, even in the most severely dictatorial regimes--comes across as both a forceful drama and a thought-provoking "message".Stage director Adolf Dresen, together with set designer Margit Bardy and lighting designer Erich Falk, presents the characters (which on paper have a tendency to remain "types") as fully human, their interactions made understandable and plausible not only by Beethoven's humanising music but also the realistic period settings. Video director Derek Bailey has succeeded admirably at getting this across for the home viewer as well. Musically, this Fidelio is a whirlwind, with conductor Christoph von Dohnányi leading the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and the Royal Opera Chorus in an energetic but never too-fast performance (by the way, they perform the fourth overture); and the singers are top-notch vocally and dramatically. Soprano Gabriela Benacková makes an arresting, emotionally complex Leonore, and Josef Protschka as her imprisoned husband, Florestan, brings down the house with his impassioned aria at the beginning of Act II. --Kevin Filipski, Amazon.com
Strauss: Die Fledermaus (2 Discs)
A religious mystery opera. A magnificent doomsday vision. A full length nightmare. This DVD production of Rued Langgaard's allegorical opera Antikrist witnesses the spectacular Danish co-production by the Royal Danish Opera and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation from 2002. No pains are spared as the composer's revelation unfolds with its intriguing allegorical characters and its powerful statement about the moral decay of modernity.
Alban Berg's second and last opera Lulu is one of the monuments of modernism, constructed around serial technique and containing scenes conceived of as Sonata-form, Suite and so on. The bliss of Andrew Davis's conducting in this classic Glyndebourne production is that we forget all of this--Davis doesn't gloss over the music's intellectual content, but that's not what we think about as we watch and listen. Part of the production's strength is the prodigious performance by Christine Schafer as Lulu--for once we believe in the character's sexual energy and power; and Schafer makes her real enough as a person that we largely forget the work's intrinsic misogyny. The rest of the cast are admirable too: Norman Bailey brings something perversely sweet to the disreputable painter Schigolch; Kathryn Harries makes the dying words of Lulu's lesbian lover Geschwitz one of the work's lyric high points; David Kuebler is equally powerful as Alwa. The final duet between Lulu and her destroyer Jack the Ripper is one of Wolfgang Schone's great moments, but he is equally good as Dr Schon, the man Lulu marries and kills. This is a performance of energy and beauty, matched by a simple but effective production. On the DVD Lulu on disc is presented in disappointingly in NTSC format with a 4:3 picture ratio. Fortunately, the Dolby 2.0 digital sound is ideal for the fine detail of this complex score and these nuanced performances. There are subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese. --Roz Kaveney
Bellini's Norma, first performed in 1831, is one of the most glittering jewels in the bel canto repertoire, placing huge vocal demands on the soprano in the title role. The druid priestess who falls prey to human frail ties before redeeming her grace in the flames of the sacrificial fire must also be played with a high degree of dramatic truth. In the 20th century, two singers scaled new heights in combining these requirements: Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. Sutherland's great achievement, preserved in this 1978 recording of Opera Australia's production at Sidney Opera House, was to render Norma a very human being, unravelling her complex reactions to the events which bring her personal world tumbling down around her. Using Bellini's deceptively simple melodies to tender effect, she reveals the essential purity of many of his greatest arias, not least "Casta diva": an equally valid alternative to Callas' pyrotechnics. Ronald Stevens as Norma's errant Roman lover Pollione and Margreta Elkins as Adalgisa, the unwitting agent of the priestess's ultimate downfall, strike vocal sparks in their duets with Sutherland. But this is essentially a treasurable record of one of the all-time great divas in a role that brought her some of her finest notices, with her husband and long-time collaborator Richard Bonynge in the conductor's box. On the DVD: In all respects, this is a solid offering with few frills. The only extra is an Arthaus trailer. The 4:3 picture format and PCM stereo-sound quality are adequate media for a theatrical performance which is very much of its time: crudely-edited plot explanations separate the acts and there is the imposition of some rather naff stills of the ill-fated lovers on flickering flames to suggest the pyre. But Sutherland's performance triumphs over all. --Piers Ford
Libretto by J.H. Vernoy de Saint-Georges / Jean F.A. Bayard Comical Opera in two acts recorded at the Teatro alla Scala MilanOrchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla ScalaConducted by Donato Renzetti
Eurydice is married to Orpheus but has started an affair with a local shepherd called Aristaeus. However Aristaeus is really Pluto in disguise and he becomes so besotted with Eurydice that he lures her to a field where she is bitten by a snake. He then reveals his true identity and whisks her away to Hades so they can be together. Orpheus now a free man is happy about this new situation until his mother insists he rescues Eurydice from Hades. Meanwhile King Of The Gods Jupiter ha
From the master animators that brought the three time Emmy Award-winning 'Shakespeare the Animated Tales' to the screen comes 'Operavox'. Through stunning cell and stop frame animation to oils and elaborate puppetry this exhilarating series vividly renders some of the world's most beloved operatic compositions bringing them to life as never before creating a unique accessibility to traditional opera. Skillfully translated from the full-length works the half hour adaptations of 'C
Ballet in Two ActsIn 1942 Sergey Prokofiev was commissioned by Sergey Eisenstein to write music for his film Ivan the Terrible. The score caught the attention of highly acclaimed choreographer Yuri Grigorovich who set out to make the material and music into a self-contained ballet. But it took until the 1970s for the idea of this ambitious project to be put into action with the help of Mikhail I. Tchulaki director of the Bolshoi who composed a ballet score for the new production on the basis of Eisenstein's musical film material. The score of Ivan the Terrible is a collage of no less than 377 fragments of the original film score but also of other works by Prokofiev.
Recorded at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera 1973.
Mozart - Il Barbiere Di Siviglia (Bartoli Kuebler)
La cambiale di matrimonio was staged for the first time at the San Mos theatre in Venice on 3rd November 1810 to fill in a void left by another composer's desertion. The success of this opera earned the then eighteen-year-old Rossini the commission of an opera buffa for Bologna's Teatro del Corso. Created by Luigi Squarzina and revived by Giovanno Scandella with scenes and costumes by Giovanni Agostinacci this Pesaro production features two well-established singers Dsire Rancatore and Saimir Pirgu who are joined by three promising young singers whose voices have blossomed in Pesaro in recent years: Fabio Maria Capitanucci Enrico Maria Marabelli and Mira Gortsevskaya. Umberto Benedetti Michelangeli conducts the Orchestra Haydn di Bolzano e Trento.
Nabucco was Verdi's first real success and its nationalistic theme of yearning for freedom made it highly popular in an Italy of 1842 under Austrian rule. The great chorus of the exiled Hebrews 'Va pensiero' has become one of the best-loved of operatic melodies and made Verdi the voice of the Italian people. This performance was recorded in Verona in 1981 where the huge open-air Roman Arena provides a magnificent setting for this vast and spectacular opera. The great baritone Renat
A production of the Saint-Saens opera performed by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Conducted by the esteemed James Levine.
A performance of Rossini's 'Guglielmo Tell'. Sung in Italian with subtitles.
A production of Strauss' opera 'Der Rosenkavalier' performed at the Saltzburg Festival in 1984. Includes the Vienna State Opera Choir the Philharmonic Orchestra with singers Wilma Lipp Anna Tomowa-Sintow and Agnes Baltsa. Conducted by Herbert Von Karajan.
Charlie And Lola is a fun-filled and imaginative animated series for young children. It focuses on the relationship between brother and sister Charlie and Lola and tells the story of how they handle the little issues that they as young children encounter everyday.
Giordano: Fedora (Gavazzeni / Freni / Giordano / Umberto)
Johann Strauss II's wonderfully convoluted and ingenious Viennese farce Die Fledermaus is a masterpiece of operetta. The tale spins waltz-like around the philandering Von Eisenstein (Thomas Allen), his wife Rosalinde (Pamela Armstrong), who is tempted by singing teacher Alfred (Par Lindskog), and Adele (Lyubov Petrova), Rosalinde's maid. Following Shakespeare's romantic comedy template there is much mistaken identity, confusion of purpose and cross-dressing, with the events unfolding around an increasingly drunken masked ball and the morning after in the local jail. The champagne-fuelled entertainment carries various satiric undertones, but this adaptation by director Stephen Lawless and Daniel Dooner emphasises colour, wit and flamboyance, always ensuring the jokes work well for a modern audience. The production requires acting as strong as the excellent singing, and Thomas Allen delivers a subtly layered interpretation of Eisenstein, while Pamela Armstrong's Rosalinde offers a winning study in smouldering sensuality, well contrasted with Lyubov Petrova's more directly sexual Adele. The revolving set mirrors the swirling Strauss dances and the elegant design is a perfect match for the boldly extrovert costumes. If this Glyndebourne 2003 production doesn't match Dame Joan Sutherland's retirement performance at the Royal Opera House in 1977 for historic value, it is easily as much fun and the production values are second to none. On the DVD: Die Fledermaus is presented on a two-disc edition with Acts 1 and 2 on the first disc and Act 3 and 37 minutes of extras on the second DVD. The 16:9 anamorphically enhanced image is as strong and detailed as BBC live digital video recording can be and the sound is offered in excellent stereo, as well as superb 5.1 DTS, which places the listener in the acoustic equivalent of the best seat in the house. The extras begin with 20 minutes of short but worthwhile interviews with Pamela Armstrong, Thomas Allen, Hakan Hagegard, conductor Vladimir Jurowski and director Stephen Lawless. There is a five-minute feature on the history of the waltz and a four-minute humorous interlude in which Udo Samel explores the pleasures of champagne in his character as the gaoler Frosch. More substantial if less entertaining is Return of the Architect (8 min), a look at the design and construction of the modern Glyndebourne opera house. The set is completed with routine photo and costume galleries and a nicely produced booklet illustrated with good quality colour photographs. Optional subtitles are available in Dutch, English, French, German and Spanish. --Gary S Dalkin
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