Handel wrote his Italian opera Rodelinda at the height of his musical powers and it is considered to be one of his greatest with music of astonishing power and beauty. This highly praised production filmed in 1998 was the first ever staging of a Handel opera by the Glyndebourne Festival Opera. Jean-Marie Villegier's stylish production sets Handel's tale of royal exile and fidelity in the silent movie era. Starring Anna Caterina Antonacci in a glamorous portrayal of Rodelinda an
Wolfgang Wagner's arrestingly beautiful production filmed live at Bayreuth in 1981 and directed by Brian Large features a stellar cast led by Eva Randova Bernd Weikl and Siegfried Jerusalem.
The English National Opera has always had an attractively light touch in Handel; this classic production, designed by Nicholas Hytner (director of The Madness of King George and The Crucible), manages to preserve both the work's occasional passion and its undercutting of that passion into urbane absurdity. Anne Murray's Xerxes is a tyrant in love, who learns the hard way that he can neither play with, nor command, his subjects' affections; her forthright declamatory singing, not least in the famous "Larghetto", conveys both the petulance and the final grandeur of a man undergoing a sentimental education. Valerie Masterson and Christopher Hudson, as the principal pair of lovers, combine perfect singing with an attractive romantic ardour; Hudson in particular makes clear just how heroic a counter-tenor can sound, listened to without preconceptions. In the soubrette role of Atalanta, Lesley Garrett is a cute trouble-maker. Sir Charles Mackerras' conducting gives each of the genre arias of which the work consists both an appropriate intensity of emotion and an overall charm. The English libretto is by Hytner. The recording is decent PCM stereo and the picture, originally produced for TV broadcast, is in 4:3 ratio. --Roz Kaveney
Opera is an inherently theatrical medium that does not lend itself readily to the realism of film treatment. The shining exception is Puccini's Tosca, an action-packed melodrama that unfolds in three taut and gripping acts, like the meatiest of Hollywood films noir. And unlike most operas, these three acts are set in three very specific Roman locales. Thus this 1976 film takes place in the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle (Act 1), the Palazzo Farnese (Act 2) and the Castel Sant'Angelo (Act 3). The evocative settings, however, would be mere window-dressing if the cast wasn't just right; fortunately here Placido Domingo is at his virile peak in the heroic tenor role of Cavaradossi; Raina Kabaivanska is a sultry, vocally beautiful Tosca; while a more infamous and domineering Scarpia than that of Sherrill Milnes can hardly be imagined. Bruno Bartoletti and the New Philharmonia Orchestra give lustily dramatic support. Here the music and vocals are pre-recorded and the singers mime to the playback. Occasionally the result is a little unnatural, but overall the cast are good enough actors to bring off the conceit even in the close-ups. It all pays off triumphantly with the gripping realism of the rooftop finale, the one place where film can improve on stage. With the authenticity of the settings assured and such distinguished leads singing so well, this is an almost ideal filmed Tosca. On the DVD: Tosca on disc is presented in 4:3 ratio with a choice of Dolby 5.1 or LPCM Stereo. The picture is adequate but a little flat (possibly because the format is NTSC not PAL) and the same can be said for the sound, which does what it should but is never revelatory. Subtitles are provided in the main European languages and Chinese. --Mark Walker
Rossini's opera recorded live in Houston in November 1995. Bruno Campanella conducts the Houston Symphony Orchestra and the Houston Grand Opera Chorus.
Strauss's opera 'Ariadne Auf Naxos' performed by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Artists include: Jessye Norman Kathleen Battle Tatania Troyanos and James King. Conducted by James Levine.
It takes a certain amount of forethought if Das Rheingold is to be more than a series of special effects scenes, though moments like the appearance of the giants through the mist or Alberich's transformations need to be as thrilling as they are here. As always in his Wagner, and perhaps especially in this very traditional 1990 Metropolitan Opera production of the Ring cycle, James Levine keeps to the forefront the underlying humanity of Wagner's gods and monsters. In the first scene, for example, he brings out the thoughtless, callous frivolity of the Rhine maidens as they precipitate the events of the four operas by taunting the gnome Alberich: it helps that they swirl around, green and gold, in a convincing representation of the bottom of the Rhine, but the emotions are the point. Ekkehaard Wlaschiha is a convincingly menacing Alberich partly because Levine brings out his vulnerability as well as his evil temper. James Morris is splendid as the younger less care-worn Wotan and Siegfried Jerusalem as Loge enjoys the sarcasm of his cynical commentary on Wotan's aspirations. The smaller parts have luxury casting: Matti Salminen as Fafner and Christa Ludwig as Fricka, for example. On the DVD: Das Rheingold comes with a photo gallery of the Metropolitan Opera production and with menus and subtitles in German, French, English, Spanish and Chinese. Disappointingly though it is presented in American NTSC format with standard TV 4:3 visual ratio. But it does have an excellent clear acoustic in all three of its audio options: PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. --Roz Kaveney
Benjamin Britten's enchanting opera adapted from Shakespeare's most English play is just the thing for a summer evening at Glyndebourne. In Peter Hall's magical and highly-acclaimed production for Glyndebourne Festival Opera filmed in 1981 the wood literally comes alive a perfetc setting for the mystical world of lovers fairies and rustics. The gorgeous and imaginative sets costume and lighting designs are by John Bury. Ileana Cotrubas is a majestic Tytiana James Bowman is a
A performance of Handel's Guilio Cesare. Richard Hickox conducts the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra. Recorded live at the Sydney Opera House in June 1994.
A performance of the Verdi opera 'Simon Boccanegra'. Conducted by James Levine.
Il Trovatore, Verdi's 1853 maelstrom of passion, infanticide, double-crossing and revenge, would be a mightily gamy affair if it didn't contain some of his finest arias, a cracker of a tenor's role and one of opera's most powerfully-written characters in the old gypsy woman, Azucena. Although Joan Sutherland, who plays the self-sacrificing lady-in-waiting Leonora in this 1983 Australia Opera production at Sydney Opera House, is the headline star, in truth the supreme assets of this recording are mezzo-soprano Lauris Elms' Azucena, a beautifully sung performance of haunted, wild-eyed sadness; and Sydney Nolan's wonderfully infernal sets, all purple and burnt ochre with suggestions of distorted faces. Sutherland came late to a part which allowed her to sing up a storm without taxing her rather stolid acting style. Her husband and musical director Richard Bonynge gives her the space to unleash some of Verdi's most fluidly opulent melodies--"D'amor sull'ali rosee" is a case in point--whose beauty is often at odds with the underlying horrors of the tale, based on a rather dodgy Spanish melodrama by Gutierrez. Sutherland has strong support from tenor Kenneth Collins as the doomed Manrico and Jonathan Summers as the vengeful Count. On the DVD: Il Trovatore on disc offers the inevitable shortcomings of a filmed for television performance: to the detriment of Nolan's designs (and the hard-pressed make-up team), the lighting doesn't translate well to video. Presented in 4:3 picture format, the quality is frequently murky. The PCM Stereo soundtrack also has its flat and fuzzy moments, particularly during chorus scenes ("Vedi! Le fosche notturne spoglie") when the orchestra drowns out the singing. But on the whole Sutherland et al sound great.--Piers Ford
Like most of his later operas, Richard Strauss' Arabella ends with a meltingly lovely duet. But then criticising Strauss for composing melodically enduring operas is as pointless as lambasting Vermeer for painting only exquisite interior scenes. Those who say Strauss never improved on Rosenkavalier may be right but when such beguiling sounds kept coming from his music for the next 30 years of his life, there shouldn't be any quibbles. Arabella is, in a nutshell, the story of a woman who cannot make up her mind about a suitor. Taped at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1994 under the baton of conductor Christian Thielemann, this production features Kiri Te Kanawa in the title role; her acting is mediocre but vocally she never forces anything and at least sounds like the perfect Arabella. Wolfgang Brendel does well with Mandryka, who finally ends up with Arabella and Marie McLaughlin makes a sympathetic younger sister to the heroine as Zdenka. Otto Schenk's production is sturdily conservative, the video transfer is acceptable if unspectacular and the sound mix is CD-quality. --Kevin Filipski, Amazon.com
A performance of Prokofiev's opera 'The Fiery Angel' which centres on a girl possessed by a spirit. Conducted by Valery Gergiev.
Originally broadcast live by the BBC from the Royal Opera House on New Year's Eve 1990, this production of Die Fledermaus, Johann Strauss' masterpiece of comic operetta, was a truly historic occasion, marking the retirement from the stage of one of the greatest sopranos of the 20th century, Dame Joan Sutherland. Sung in English, in a version by John Mortimer, conducted by Sutherland's husband Richard Bonynge and directed for television by Humphrey Burton, this is an exceptional translation from stage to screen. The story, an elaborate farce with elements of satirical comedy set around a lavish masked ball in 19th-century Vienna comes to life through outstanding performances by a large, vivacious cast, including Judith Howarth, Nancy Gustason and Jochen Kowalski as Prince Orlofsky. Gorgeously designed, wonderfully costumed and enthusiastically played as it is, attention inevitably centres on the "special recital" by the "surprise guests": Sutherland herself, Marilyn Horne and Luciano Pavarotti. No finer, more exhilarating and touching a farewell could have been imagined. After the curtain there is a short, on-stage tribute to Sutherland by Jeremy Isaacs, bringing to a close a glorious, unforgettable evening of music-making for which the word "glittering" might have been invented. --Gary S. Dalkin On the DVD: By presenting the production on two discs the picture quality is maximised, and, by the standards of live-filmed opera, is very good indeed. The discs are presented with PCM stereo sound and a 4:3 TV ratio image. There are options for French and German subtitles, but unless trailers for two further Arthaus DVDs count, there are no extras. The booklet is well documented, though lacking the libretto. --Gary S. Dalkin
Opera-oratorio in two acts. Poem after Sophocles by Jean Cocteau.
Various Composers: La Scala Collection - 11 Operas
The English National Opera Orchestra provide sumptuous musical accompaniment to this moving interpretation of 'The Rape Of Lucretia'. The story evokes strong passionate themes as one would expect from a thrilling combination of opera and Greek tragedy. Anthony Rolfe Johnson Jean Rigby Russell Smythe and Kathryn Harries infuse the lead roles with just the right amount of tension and passion making this a fascinating spectacle for the enthralled audience present and now for viewers at home as well.
A performance of Mozart's 'Cosi Fan Tutte' performed by the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists. Conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.
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