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Thread: Operas by Verdi on DVD, Blu-ray, and CD

          
   
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  1. #1
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Operas by Verdi on DVD, Blu-ray, and CD

    Il Trovatore (1853), lyric drama in 4 acts, music by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), with an incomplete libretto by Salvatore Cammarano, finished under Verdi's guidance by Leone Emanuele Bardare, after the tragedy El Trovador (1836) by Antonio Garcia Gutiérrez.



    Since this is the next in-Depth opera, I'm watching today a poorly known production from the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, from April 2005, conducted by Carlo Rizzi, with Leo Nucci as Il Conte di Luna, Dimitra Theodossiou as Leonora, Mariana Pentcheva as Azucena, Miroslave Dvorski as Manrico, Andrea Papi as Ferrando, Bernadette Lucarini as Ines, Enrico Cossuta as Ruiz, and Rafaelle Costantini as the old gipsy.

    Stage director Paul Curran. Scenarios and costumes Kevin Knight. Video director Gino Rossi.

    Hardy Classic, 16:9, region zero, subtitles in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese. Sound DTS 2.0, DTS 5.1, and DD 5.1. Running time 130'. Insert with brief essay in Italian, English, and Spanish, nothing else (no synopsis, no track list). No extras.

    --------------

    Sets for the opening scenes are sparse and not particularly compeling, with poor lighting. The first scene with Ferrando singing Di due figli vivea padre beato gives us a funny-looking Andrea Papi whose bass voice doesn't project very well above the loud orchestra. The chorus seems good (which is essential for a successful Trovatore).

    Dimitra Theodossiou delivers a very good Tacea la notte placida and passes the difficult stretches with flying colors - she will certainly be an asset for this DVD. Bernadette Lucarini as Ines is pale in comparison but is vocally adequate without major mistakes, so far.

    Dimitra follows up with impressive and agile coloratura in Di tale amor that matches well the orchestral tempi. She is in good control, and this is a lively orchestra (I like it, if only they'd lower the volume a little).

    Leo Nucci makes his entrance and his baritone voice is a bit fatigued with a vibrato that is getting to be too large and loose. Miroslav Dvorski is a good Manrico, with a tenor voice with beautiful timbre, in spite of lacking potency.

    Acting is not impressive by any of these protagonists. The trio Di geloso amor sprezzato again has the orchestra playing too loud and only Dimitra is able to soar above it.

    *Very* good rendition of the Anvil Chorus Vedi le fosche notturne follows. Like I said, this is a good chorus, and and the fully resonant orchestra impacts on this gorgeous piece the right incisiveness. Movement on stage is well done. This chorus piece due to its overexposure is not that easy to get right, and here, they more than do.

    Unfortunately we can't say the same about Mariana Pentcheva's rendition of Stride la vampa, which is pretty much a disaster, especially in the first half of the aria, when there are glaring pitch errors (she gets a bit better for the second half).

    Condotta ell'era in ceppi is equally poorly sung. Ms. Pentcheva is sinking this production (well, when Caruso said that a successful Trovatore requires the four best singers in the world, we definitely don't have this, here - and shouldn't expect it, in this regional opera house production).

    Leo Nucci does a good job with Il balen del suo sorriso in spite of the fatigued voice; he still partially has what it takes. His Per me ora fatale on the other hand is less good, probably suffering from the strain he had to take on while singing the previous aria - and here, in this fundamental aria, his voice loses volume and he is again overwhelmed by the orchestra and the chorus - a pity.

    Dimitra ends the second act with aplomb. She is really doing very well in this production. The final trio in act II is a success for all three singers. Dimitra lowers her voice a bit and the orchestra finally realizes that they also need to play down the volume, so that we can hear the tenor and the baritone. A good scene.

    Chorus-heavy third act is a good fit for this production which does have a good chorus. Even Ms. Pentcheva is doing a little better.

    Mr. Dvorski does well with Ah si, ben mio coll'essere. Nothing to write home about, but pretty good, with adequate passion and musicality. I hope he's saving something for Di quella pira which is coming.

    OK, not bad, especially the first part, before he gets drowned by the orchestra and the chorus. But not too good either. A so-so pira, these flammes are not scorching hot...

    Ms. Theodossiou again steals the show with her D'amor sull'ali rosee. Very expressive, very passionate, with good breath control, good mastery of the musical line, good acting, and well executed coloraturas. She gets the biggest ovation so far and lots of "bravas." She is clearly several notches above everybody else in this production. We're about to get to my favorite part of Il Trovatore, the one I always wait for with goosebumps: the chorus and duet Miserere. I hope it is good.

    Wow. They nailed it. This one that is one of the most beautiful scenes in all of opera was masterfully done, with a superb Theodossiou, the orchestra and chorus were very good, and even the sparse staging got a little better with a candlelit procession. Mr. Dvorski's voice in off with the orchestra playing softly was very good. This is a very good Miserere, which will turn my verdict into a 'recommended' one.

    The duet Ai nostri monti ritorneremo between Manrico and Azucena is not bad. The whole prison cell scene is effective, and gets even better when Dimitra walks in. The quartet Prima che d'altri vivere is beautiful and well interpreted.

    The final scene is a bit anticlimactic since it depends on Azucena who isn't well sung in this production.

    Verdict - while this production is uneven, I've seen worse (Annie and Natalie know what I'm talking about, hehehe). Certainly for a regional opera company it is rather decent. There are some very good moments, thanks to a good soprano in the female leading role. We also get an energetic orchestra and a good chorus. Staging is primitive, lighting is dark, the image is not great, and the sound balance favors the orchestra too much. Worse of it all, casting for roles other than Leonora's are not as successful. It's a 3 stars out of 5, and an optional buy, but not terrible. It can be recommended to the Trovatore fanatic thanks to its very successful renditions of the Anvil Chorus and of Miserere, but the casual fan may want to look elsewhere for a better DVD version.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); October 22nd, 2014 at 01:30 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  2. #2
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    La Traviata 'a Paris DVD (PAL)
    Yay, I'm all excited.
    I got my region-free PAL/NTSC DVD player, set it up with HDMI - 1080p, my import from Italy arrived in the mail, and I was able to watch parts of La Traviata a Paris with gorgeous image and sound (upscaling worked properly). The doors of the DVD-buying world are wide open for me!



    Now, I'm *very* impressed with the box. Are you Europeans always this good in terms of DVD packaging and inserts, or is this a special edition or something? There is a gorgeous booklet - it's actually a little book with hardcover, the box is all luxurious and all, looks like a chocolate box.

    Then, the production itself. La Traviata is one of my favorite operas and I own several versions of it. None is this good looking. The settings in Paris and Versailles are spectacular, and this filmed version with *perfect* lip-syncing transports you into the story as if the "real" events were happening before your very eyes.

    Talking about eyes, Eteri Gvazava is eye candy. She is almost as beautiful in this production as Anna Netrebko, and also seems skinnier and more frail, thus is a very credible Violetta; one can really believe that she is highly desired by the male characters, and that she is suffering from tuberculosis.

    That's where the similitude ends, sadly. Anna in her 2005 Salzburg Traviata sings some ten times better than Eteri (who has a rather small voice and doesn't risk some high notes), and José Cura while not as bad is no match for Villazón either - and this, not to talk about other spectacular Violettas of the past. So, the singing in this production is really lacking, and it gets a little annoying due to the fact that everything else is so gorgeous - to the point that one wonders why they didn't select a better soprano and a better tenor, since they were spending that much money with all the other production values.

    About the sound track - the balance between orchestra and voices is not ideal. Sometimes one smothers the other. I only tried the dolby stereo sound, not the DTS or the dolby 5.1, so maybe the other tracks are better (my cheap region-free DVD player does have HDMI to connect to the TV, but has no digital sound output to connect to the receiver so I had to rely on the TV speakers).

    In terms of Zubin Mehta's conducting, it isn't bothersome, but I've seen better.

    Still, in spite of the shortcomings above, I feel that having this Traviata at home will be lots of fun, especially when I want to introduce new people to opera. It is a very well made movie. It's better in terms of image than in terms of sound (technical problems with the stereo track, no brilliant conducting, and less than stellar singing are all much less spectacular than the images), but I'd still recommend this DVD for being so incredibly easy on the eyes.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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  4. #3
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Verdi: I Lombardi


    No competition, only version on DVD. Carreras does well except for some high notes when he tries to match Dimitrova's power and spreads a little. Dimitrova is uneven. Big voice of course, which is her hallmark, but less agile in coloratura. And she doesn't look the part. Staging is traditional and well done.

    Now, for the opera itself:

    What a mess. Sorry, Maestro Verdi, but even this big fan of yours didn't like this one.

    Yes, there are some good moments - La mia letizia infondere in Act II scene 1, Oronte's aria, and the one that just follows this one (I didn't catch the words, I was distracted - I only have the disc from Netflix, without the insert) are both very good tenor arias. But oh boy, I had to go through the rather dreadful Act I and wait a lot for this piece of good stuff.

    Of the multiple choruses, most of them not too good, the one that opens act III, Gerusalem! Gerusalem! is quite impressive. Actually scene 1 of act III is quite good, with the duet between Oronte and Giselda bringing us some rather beautiful moments: (Per dirupi e per foreste, Oh belle, a questa misera.

    Act III scene 3 is good too - very nice violin prelude, and a good trio with Oronte, Giselda, and the Hermit, in two parts, the first one decent (Qui posa il fianco) and the second one really good (Qual voluttà trascorrere) - in my opinion, this is the best moment of the entire opera.

    Act IV sc 1 has some interesting moments: the opening chorus is quite celestial, followed by some beautiful arias Oh! Di sembianze eteree, and the one by Oronte's ghost (I didn't catch the words in this one either) and Non fu sogno!, a nice coloratura piece for Giselda.

    This is pretty much the last of the really good parts, since from this point on, the last two scenes (2 and 3) are rather conventional and so-so, with more mediocre choruses and ensembles that are quite unremarkable (maybe with the exception of the last one in sc 2, Guerra! Guerra! which is a little better. Un breve instante, the trio in the last scene, is not bad, but not extraordinary either. Then, there is the final chorus, quite sugary. Curtain.

    Anyway, there are too many choruses in this opera; and this, I'm saying in spite of the fact that I love choruses - by comparison, Berlioz's Les Troyens has even more choruses, but the difference is that they are *all* good, while here and atypically of him, Verdi isn't at his best in the matter of choruses, and the demanding La Scala audience even boos a couple of weak ones.

    Overall, a minor early Verdi, with a rather confusing (one of the best Oronte arias comes *after* he dies, LOL), boring and weak libretto; and even musically, the good parts above only save this opera from earning a C in my personal scoring system, but aren't enough to raise it above a B-.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  5. #4
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Verdi: Ernani on DVD
    I'm watching this as I type.



    I have seen another a version with Pavarotti and Mitchell not so long ago - now it comes back to mind sharply, and I remember how much I had enjoyed the vocal performance of a young Pavarotti at the peak of his mastery of his beautiful voice.

    So, no surprise regarding the opera itself - a good example of a rather bad libretto set to pretty good music - but I'm curious to see how Domingo and Freni do.

    Traditional production from La Scala, with their usual lighting problems (often too dark), and the sound balance is terrible, not to forget the huge, intrusive subtitles. Technically speaking, not a good DVD. The staging is unattractive, with ugly costumes and some weird props (like the shiny silver columns).

    OK, Domingo is on, and no, he doesn't sound as good as the young Pavarotti. But on the other hand, Mirella Freni looks adorable and sings just as lovely. She rescues this otherwise weak DVD.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  6. #5
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Verdi: I Vespri Siciliani on DVD
    I'm currently watching I Vespri Siciliani in a La Scala production with Cheryl Studer as Elena and Chris Merritt as Arrigo.



    So far so good, I've seen the first two acts.

    Some of the positives: this DVD has a gorgeous PCM uncompressed sound track that sounds really deep and rich. One has the impression of being there, listening to the orchestra in person. This is made even better by Riccardo Muti's extremely energetic performance (unlike his usual self), and believe me friends, the sounds that come out of the La Scala orchestra are unusually good. Negatives: no surround sound, no wide screen, subtitles only in English, no bonus features. Therefore, a technically outdated DVD, but who cares, since the sound is really tops? After all, we're here for the music, right?

    Second, the singing is fantastic. Chris Merritt is a great Arrigo, full of passion and volume with crystalline diction; one would think he is an Italian-born lyric tenor. While I've never particularly liked Cheryl Studer's voice (it's a matter of timbre, I don't find hers to be beautiful), she is technically flawless on this DVD and doesn't miss a single note.

    The staging weirdly "updates" the action from the 13th to the 19th century with Napoleonic costumes. This is something I'll never understand. You either do a traditional staging, or an updated one to current times. Why on Earth would a stage director want to "update" something to a few centuries ahead, but still, in the remote past? What exactly is the advantage of having Napoleonic costumes???

    The opera itself: it's Verdi in his patriotic mood, and it is majestic, full of chorus numbers. No big fireworks in terms of arias, but some pretty good ensembles and chorus music. It's very enjoyable, but not one of his masterpieces. I'd grade it a B. With one exception: the overture is A++, one of Verdi's best.

    I'd grade this DVD a B as well, because as much as Cheryl Studer is technically perfect, she doesn't look the part. Lately I've grown used to not having to use my imagination to overcome a plain-looking soprano's physical appearance when someone sings of her extraordinary beauty. In this age of the Netrebkos and Perssons and Leonards and De Nieses, as shallow as this may seem, I don't enjoy as much a DVD with a plain-looking soprano.

    Sure, when it's someone like Montserrat Caballé, you can disregard her looks. But Cheryl Studer isn't *that* good a singer that I'd forgive her for not being pretty.

    Oh, God, I sound like a Chauvinist pig. Maybe I am one!

    Anyway, still three more acts to go - the third act ballet in this performance is supposed to be gorgeous, with top level dancers; I shall see.

    I may edit this post to add some other impressions after I see the whole thing.

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    This is a top-singing studded production. And I can't stop feeling amazed by the gorgeous, deep sound track. I'm listening to this with my headphones, and the uncompressed PCM track is something!

    The ballet is still ahead... as long as the ballerinas are good looking, I'm sure I wont mind it.

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    This was absolutely spectacular! It's not every day that we see major dancing stars performing an opera ballet! Carla Fracci was phenomenal, with such delicate, light, precise movements! This was extremely elegant, and Verdi's music for ballet in this opera is a choreographer's dream! Bravo maestro, and brava, Ms. Fracci!!!

    Not only the overture for this opera is A++, but it's ballet music is A++ as well. Sure, it breaks down the action, what opera ballet doesn't? This opera was made for the French stage, so, the ballet was mandatory. But here, instead of the conventional Meyerbeer sugary and uninteresting stuff, you have a master at the top of his powers, and Verdi surely delivers!

    Great ballet, and this is being said by someone who loathes ballets in operas.

    Long opera. A bit tiresome. I'll stop here.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  7. #6
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Verdi: Atilla on DVD
    This is a traditional staging at the Arena di Verona, with mediocre singers (Veriano Luchetti as Foresto is rather bad; Silvano Carroli as Ezio is better; Evgeny Nesterenko in the title role is very shaky and uneven, he makes one long for Ramey), and a so-so orchestra conducted by Nello Santi. There is a cute soprano in the role of Odabella (Maria Chiara, with reasonable voice but weak acting), and of course the Arena di Verona is a magic place, but that's about all that goes for this otherwise outdated DVD filmed live in 1985. Well, at least it's cheap (used copies go for $11). Part of the incredibly bad acting is that when Odabella pierces Attila with her sword, Maria Chiara only managed to pretend to pierce him pretty much around his leg, which didn't stop him from dying immediately, in what is mocked as the fastest operatic death in the repertory, LOL. The opera itself is no sublime masterpiece but it delivers enough fun (early Verdi in his patriotic mode with some nice choral parts and a handful of good numbers).



    Here is a picture of Maria Chiara, who in her prime might be a candidate for a low rank lovely soprano:

    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  8. #7
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Verdi: Stiffelio on DVD


    I'll start by talking about the opera itself.

    Stiffelio is not a masterpiece but has its moments. Shortcomings include the overture, the libretto, the pace, and a certain heaviness combined with loudness that are both factors that decrease its lyricism. Strengths include some powerful scenes with psychological depth, beautiful arias for the lower registers of the male voice, some beautiful choral music, and improved orchestration in the last scene. As for the subject matter, I'd say that is both a shortcoming and a strength. Allow me to explain the above one by one.

    First, the overture. It is the weirdest thing. It starts beautifully during its first third and actually at this early point delivers some of the most enjoyable music in the opera, and seems to progress to an end. But then it restarts, more formulaic this time, and again seems to end. Then it restarts again and becomes even more formulaic and bombastic, finally ending at 9 and a half minutes. It could be significantly shortened, and furthermore, it seems completely disconnected from the opera. It is lively and over-joyous, especially in its first third, for such a somber opera. Verdi would have been more successful if he had picked the ominous organ music from the last scene and presented some elements of it in his overture. As it is, this is one of the strangest Verdi overtures, since the maestro often went through special pains to make sure that his overtures connected with his operas and were custom made fore each specific one, which doesn't seem to be the case for the Stiffelio overture. I'd like to know more about this perceived incongruence from learned musicians, so I hope someone will comment on this for me.

    The libretto by Piave is poetically weak, cliched, monotonous, and repetitious. This directly affects the pace, for nothing much happens. The opera goes through a number of back-and-forth moments on the issue of Lina's unfaithfulness - Stiffelio asks himself 'is she faithful? Is she unfaithful?' (while this is so obvious to everybody else that one wonders why in the hell he's still uncertain). Her father oscillates between disgracing her and covering up for her. She oscillates between confessing or not. This all goes on for too long. At the very end and after much grief, Stiffelio suddenly forgives her, curtain. The one thing that happens - the death of Raffaele, killed by Lina's father Stankar - takes place off-stage, which is weird because there was an earlier duel between Stankar and Raffaelo, and like Bellini used to say, opera seria needs a good murder on stage to succeed - a missed opportunity to do just that then and there, in front of the spectators.

    Oh boy, is this opera loud! And it's not the good kind of loud as in majestic Aida, but rather, a loudness that takes away the psychological delicacy of the situations, thus what I said about heaviness - something that Verdi would learn later to avoid, with the piano piano scenes in Don Carlo and Otello, for instance, or in La Traviata's Forse lui sequence.

    The good parts: the duel scene followed by Stiffelio's intervention is a good opportunity for running the gamut of psychological depth, with displays of anger, jealousy, surprise with denial (Ah no, è impossibile - one of the best tenor arias), despair, and restraint. Father-daughter interactions also provide good moments, a hallmark in Verdi's operas (the early loss of his baby daughter imprinted on him this uncanny skill to depict father-daughter relationships).

    The opera opens with a superb aria for bass voice, Oh Santo Libro. Good arias for the baritone voice are numerous, the best one being Lina, pensai che un angelo.

    We get treated to good choral music, another Verdi hallmark, especially in Non Punirmi Signor, part of the very effective final scene. The orchestration, which starts pallid, gains in strength as the opera advances, and by the last act the music becomes more ominous and solemn, especially during the beautiful organ parts.

    Finally, a little comment on the subject matter: while the topic is not very appealing and we don't get to care much for this protestant minister whose wife is unfaithful - and this was not very well received in Catholic Italy, encouraging Verdi to rework the ending adding another act and implementing a revision significant enough (including a change in time) to rename the work Aroldo - there is also merit in the fact that this opera seemed to start the movement towards more realistic topics, resulting in Verdi moving away from mythology and royalty towards the common men and women - a trend that would result in the choice of subject for La Traviata and would ultimately influence the Verismo composers.

    In summary, this is enjoyable enough for early Verdi but not one of his best, not even when we consider only the early period (I'd prefer Macbeth and Luisa Miller). But given the strengths named above, it's not unworthy of consideration, and is good enough to justify it being part of the collection of a thorough Verdi fan.

    ------------

    Now, the DVD. It captures live a production from Covent Garden in 1993 sung in Italian, with the ROH orchestra and chorus conducted by Edward Downes, and sang by José Carreras (then 47 years old) as Stiffelio, Catherine Malfitano (then 45) as Lina, Gregory Yurisich as Stankar, Gwynne Howell as Jorg, Robin Leggate as Raffaele, Lynton Atkinson as Federico, and Adele Paxton as Dorotea. It is directed by Brian Large.

    Technically speaking, it is deficient just like most Kultur releases: 1.33:1 format, no choice of sound track, no subtitles in original Italian language, only subtitles in English that can't be turned off, no insert (just a list of chapters), no extras or menus. The image is decent. The sound has ups and downs: we can discern too much incidental noise (score pages being turned during the overture, cough, stage floor creaking, etc.) and volume varies with microphone placement (particularly noticeable during the duel scene). On the other hand, the sound is still full and resonant, and somehow its unpolished nature gives the impression that we are at the opera house.

    Now, the production. Staging is traditional, appropriate, and non-intrusive. Scenery is simple but tasteful. Scenes are separated by black and white panels that work well, and furniture and costumes are sober and fine. No Regie shenanigans.

    Conducting and orchestra do a decent job, and often seem more lively than the acting and singing.

    Acting is a mixed bag. Catherine Malfitano does a very good job, refraining most of the time from her usual weird facial expressions, thus managing to be convincing (but she doesn't look as pretty as when she was younger). Gregory Yurisich is also very good. José Carreras is his usual self: a better singer than an actor. Robin Legatte is a very, very bad actor. The others are unremarkable.

    Finally, the singing. The best singer in the mix is by far the baritone, Gregory Yurisich, who doesn't miss a beat, has an impressive voice, and delivers it with dramatic intensity and good phrasing. Just as good is the bass, Gwynne Howell, but unfortunately he doesn't have many lines other than opening the opera with a gorgeous aria - he only comes back for not much more than short recitatives. Again, Robin Legatte is just as weak as a singer as he is as an actor, and is clear the outlyer in this otherwise fine cast. The brief singing lines for Federico allow Lynton Atkinson to show promise, and Dorotea is such a minor character that I don't even remember Adele Paxton's singing.

    Now, the two principals. Catherine Malfitano has a difficult night in this live recording. She starts a little hoarse, and even though she gets rid of it pretty fast after she warms up, during the entire first act she seems to lack volume. She does improve significantly in the second and third act, and overall she pulls it off and delivers a fine performance.

    José Carreras is clearly past his prime. His voice had darkened by 1993 (five years after the leukemia) and he visibly struggles both with the high and the low ends of his register. He is often too loud, not subtle, and his high notes are strained. We don't see his lyric sumptuousness of earlier recordings (such as my Don Carlo DVD with him conducted by Karajan in 1986, two years before the leukemia). Still, in the middle of his range he remains capable of singing beautifully, and the vocal writing here does keep most of his lines in the middle so the overall result is more than decent. The thing with his performance here is that he is his own rival. Because we know how good he used to be, we feel the difference and notice the problems. But if we didn't have his own self at his peak to compare, we'd say that what he does in this Stiffelio is still remarkable.

    Verdict: recommended.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  9. #8
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Verdi: I Due Foscari on DVD


    2000(LI) - Nello Santi - Orchestra del Teatro di San Carlo (Naples)
    Leo Nucci (Francesco Foscari), Vincenzo La Scola (Jacopo Foscari), Alexandrina Pendatchanska (Lucrezia Contarini)
    Run time 114 minutes
    Image 1.78:1, excellent color and definition
    Sound PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, or DTS 5.1; full, clear, good balance, but there's a bit of ambiance noise.
    Subtitles in several languages, extras include trailers of other TDK releases

    It's a gorgeous, beautiful theater, and we're treated to views of its exterior and interior during the opening credits.

    Traditional staging with gloomy (but stylish and beautiful) sets, appropriate to the mood of this rather somber opera.

    Acting is of the park-and-bark kind.

    I don't like Pendatchanska's voice at all, its timbre is not beautiful, and her vibrato is wide, unpleasant, too insistent. She is generally too loud and shrieky throughout the opera. She is not good-looking either. I think she pretty much ruins this production. Vincenzo La Scola is nothing to write home about, either, but not as bad as Pendatchanska. Leo Nucci, on the other hand, delivers an impressive performance, portraying accurately the tired old Doge, and saves this DVD, especially when annoying Pendatchanska is not on stage.

    The orchestra seems to do well under Nello Santi, a Verdi specialist, but there are cuts that are hard to justify since even when complete, this is not a long opera. The cuts are such that parts of the plot are hard to understand if one doesn't read a synopsis of the complete story.

    The chorus performs impressively, and the box under sliding panels from which they sing is ingenuous.

    The opera itself is very far from being among my Verdi favorites. The Maestro himself didn't like it very much, with good reason in my opinion. Its pace is faulty, its subject matter is not compelling, its too bleak, nothing really happens except loss, grief, despair. The music has its moments but most of the time is rather unremarkable.

    I'd only recommend this DVD to Leo Nucci's fans. The unpleasant soprano makes of it a product that I won't be watching again. I don't understand some Amazon.com customers; many have praised her performance. I guess they have no clue about what constitutes a good soprano.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); November 29th, 2014 at 03:50 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  10. #9
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Verdi: Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio on DVD


    This is Verdi's very first opera, premiered when he was barely 26.
    It is still composed in the Bel Canto style, with clear separation between arias and recitatives. It reminds me of Donizetti's serious operas.

    One can sense Verdi's genius already in the beautiful overture, and the beautiful opening with a chorus. Then it becomes a lot more conventional. It is obviously not one of his best works, but I find it good enough, with some beautiful moments - especially strong are the finales for each of the two acts.

    The plot is a bit over-the-top. Oberto's daughter Leonora has been seduced and abandoned by Riccardo, who is about to marry Cuniza. Oberto and Leonora go to Cuniza and tell her about her fiancé's infidelity. She confronts Riccardo who insults Leonora, prompting Oberto to defy him for a duel. Cuniza however is able to persuade Riccardo that he actually does love Leonora and should marry her. He agrees. Therefore there is no more need for a duel. However Oberto can't control his desire for revenge and insists on dueling Riccardo, in spite of Leonora's, Riccardo's, and Cuniza's pleas that all is well and marriage will restore Leonora's honor. Oberto goes ahead with his duel plans anyway, then Riccardo kills him. Leonora is mortified, which prompts Riccardo to exile himself and leave his fortune to Leonora. She refuses, performs a mad scene, and kills herself. Curtain. OK, this is opera, folks, but this libretto does stretch the necessary suspension of disbelief.

    The product is an Opus Arte DVD, competently done as usual. Definition of the 16:9 image is very good however the lighting is very dark. Sound tracks are excellent and well balanced, provided in linear PCM stereo or DTS 5.1. Optional subtitles are provided in five languages including original Italian. Extras include an illustrated synopsis, a cast gallery, and interviews with the conductor and the stage director. The insert includes a track list with characters and duration of each track, and an essay on the opera and its context.

    This is a live composite recording over two evenings, in January of 2007.
    Yves Abel conducts the Orquesta Sinfónica del Principade de Asturias, and the Chorus of Ópera de Bilbao. Orchestra/conductor and chorus do a good job.

    Singers include Ildar Abdrazakov in the title role - an adequate bass that sings well but is not spectacular (something that is generally true for the other singers as well). Evelyn Herlitzius is Leonora, Carlo Ventre is Riccardo, Marianne Cornetti is Cuniza, and Nuria Loranzo is in the minor role of Imelda, Cuniza's confident (and is the only good looking one of the the three females). Singing improves in the second act and is quite good in the final scene. Acting is not particularly convincing. No eye candy either - the mezzo singing Cuniza is particularly unconvincing in the matter of looks, too old for the role.

    Staging is by Ignacio García, in traditional costumes and setting, and is neither imaginative, nor visually appealing, in addition to being too dark.

    I wouldn't recommend this one except to Verdi fans who want to be complete in terms of owning his operas on visual media, since this product is the only DVD alternative. It's not bad, but it is not thrilling either, so it is not an obligatory purchase.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  11. #10
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Verdi: Otello on DVD


    I'm really disappointed in this production. I don't even feel like posting a full review. I was expecting a lot more of Vickers, Freni, and Glossop, as well as of Karajan, and even the Berliner Philharmoniker.

    I think there was stock acting. Scenarios and film direction don't match Zefirelli's.

    The Otello and Iago pair is unconvincing in Vickers and Glossop - the former is melodramatic, the latter not scary and evil enough.

    Singing is of course good, but the poor acting keeps bothering me. Freni did better than the males.

    I don't understand the praise for this version. I thought it lacked energy, engagement, commitment.

    One of my very favorite operas was performed in a bland, meh kind of way.

    It's gotta be something wrong with me since this gathers such generalized praise.

    But I didn't like it.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  12. #11
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Verdi: La Forza del Destino on DVD


    I won't post a full review of this one (1978, Teatro alla Scala), I'm getting tired after a full day of opera.

    Running time 192', region zero, picture format 4:3 NTSC, subtitles in Italian, English, French, and Spanish.

    Suffice to say that it is a formidable musical performance with Caballé in her prime and Carreras pre-leukemia, good orchestra, good conductor (Carlo Rizzi). The singing is just exquisite and since the sound track is very decent (PCM mono, but also DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1), it is precious to have as a historical document a DVD of Caballé with good sound and in her prime (her recordings tend to be either with poor technical quality, or if with good quality, after her voice decline). This in itself justifies the purchase of this product. Very young Carreras sings beautifully as well.

    The staging however is dark, unappealing, and the acting is of the park and bark modality.

    So, it's a DVD to listen to rather than to watch, but the quality of the singers is such that one cannot refrain from recommending this one.

    Edit - I'm finishing this now, and I must confess that my preference for visual media often limits my operatic pleasure because it's been a long time since I've listened to singing this good (which is more commonly found in hallmark audio recordings). Montserrat Caballe is an angel. Oh! My! God! It's quite incredible, and since Carreras is not far behind and the supporting cast is equally good, this is really superlative singing. I'm also reminded of how good this Verdi opera is, with the recurrent instrumental leitmotif. Superb!

    I'm changing my verdict to "highly recommended" - poor staging/acting or not.

    Edit 2 - Annie has reminded me of an interesting aspect: how acutely conscious of the changes in operatic staging/singing we get when we watch something like this from 1978 in terms of what we expect from stage directors and singers. These days, this opera would have been staged with modern techniques, good lighting, and visually striking scenarios, with good actors as singers, but someone like Montserrat Caballé might not make it due to her looks. Although, you know, one should probably say that she wouldn't make it if her voice wasn't so extraordinary because even today a plain looking obese woman which such a spectacular voice might still make it, but she'd at least have a lot more trouble imposing herself.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  13. #12
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Verdi; Macbeth on DVD


    So I'm watching another version of one of my very favorite Verdi operas, one I think is slightly under-rated as not as great as the wonders that came after it, but I like it just fine.

    This is Glyndebourne, therefore should be good. I'm saying it before watching it, and I stand behind what I'm saying. Have I ever seen an opera staged at Glyndebourne that wasn't done at least correctly? I don't think so.

    I'd say that Glyndebourne is the most consistent opera festival / opera house of all time, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra is also under-rated - it isn't the most brilliant of all forces, but it *never* disappoints. Glyndebourne/LPO = guaranteed quality.

    ArtHaus Musik product (another indication of quality) with very good sound balance and clarity although the only choice is PCM stereo. The sound is so good that you don't believe it is old and stereo only. Optional subtitles in English, German, French, and Spanish. No Italian, though. Running time 126 minutes.

    This is an old staging. 1972, live. So, no wonder the image is not the greatest. Format is 1.33:1. Lighting and scenarios are appropriately dark and atmospheric. Image is not as sharp as we're used to in modern times, but is OK.

    John Pritchard leads the LPO with aplomb. The musical aspects are very satisfactory.

    Acting is not very dynamic. You know, when you watch a staging from 1972 you need to understand what people wanted and presented, those days. For 1972, the acting is OK.

    Nice spooky witches, the way I like them.

    Josephine Barstow is Lady Macbeth - shrill, not my favorite Lady Macbeth in the least. Doesn't look good either. I'm afraid she'll sink this thing.

    Kostas Paskalis is Macbeth. Stiff acting, good singing.

    A young James Morris is Banquo. Good.

    Keith Erwen is MacDuff. Good.

    Oh well. I think Barstow *will* ruin this thing for me. Maybe I spoke too soon when I praised every and all Glyndebourne stagings.

    I'll reserve judgment for now, watch some more, and will be back with a more consistent verdict.

    ----

    OK, final verdict: recommended, with redeeming qualities, but not highly recommended due to a weak Lady Macbeth.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  14. #13
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Verdi: Giovanna d'Arco on DVD, recorded from TV
    I saw this on TV Parma, live from the Teatro Regio di Parma, during the Verdi Festival of 2008 (October 7, 2008). Bruno Bartoletti conducts the theater's local orchestra.

    Giovanna is Svetla Vassileva. Carlo VII is Evan Bowers. Giacomo is Renato Bruson. Delil is Luigi Petroni. Talbot is Maurizio Lo Piccolo. Subtitles are in Italian only. Mediocre image, sound is better but has a light hiss at first, then stabilizes.

    Giovanna d'Arco is a dramma lirico in a prologue and three acts, music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Temistocle Solera, sung in Italian, based on Schiller's play Die Jungfrau von Orleans.

    It's Verdi's seventh opera, and premiered at La Scala February 15, 1845. It's set in 1429 in Domrémy, Rheims, and near Rouen, France. It is considered by many to be Verdi's least successful opera, with conventional music and theatricality problems.

    The performance opens with the Italian anthem, and then the somewhat anemic, militaristic style overture plays. This gets us to a fairly beautiful chorus - we know how Verdi is good at this.

    Staging by Gabriele Lavia with scenarios by Alessandro Camera is traditional, with period costumes, rather elaborate and elegant. In the initial scenes it's all in red, then turns all blue, etc. It is beautiful, sober, and very effective with numerous successful effects of light and shadow, interesting costumes, strange creatures, atmospheric settings. It is the strongest part of this production.

    Evan Bowers as Carlo VII, king of France, is a generic tenor and his acting is not very 'royal.' Vassileva is clearly overwhelmed, and her voice is not dramatic enough for the musically demanding role of Giovanna. It's a poor casting choice. Since she doesn't have what it takes, she becomes strident, especially in Act II. Funny enough, she does look attractive, which again is not the point when portraying the Maid of Orléans who should be a bit boyish and ferocious, not exactly the most feminine character in history.



    Here she's got short hair and looks even more lovely.

    Bruson as Giacomo has an unpleasant wobble and is nasal. On the other hand he is a good actor with impressive dramatic range, and gets to compensate this way for his aging voice, to the point that he gets applause from the public in spite of less than ideal singing.

    Bruno Bartoletti does an excellent job with precise tempo and energy. The chorus does well.

    So this is a weird production: it is visually very pleasing, and features a leading lady who has a very attractive face. There is a good conductor, good stage direction, and some good acting.

    The problem is the singing! How can I recommend an opera production in which mostly everything else clicks, but the singing sinks the ship? We'd rather have the leading lady lip-sync to someone else's voice, since she's really good looking. As it is, however, with her voice struggling through the wrong tessitura, it's rather unbearable.

    Not recommended.

    A word about the opera itself. Yes, it's not among the best Verdi operas but it isn't terrible. It's still Verdi. A minor Verdi but a Verdi nevertheless, so I don't think it is as bad as its reputation. Had it been composed by some more junior composer, people would probably find it to be a decent effort. It's because we know that Il Maestro could do so much better that this one pales in comparison. But then, I love Verdi, others who aren't as fond of him may disagree.

    I think the problems are more related to the libretto than to the music. It loses pace, it gets too long, there's all this business of Giovanna won, no, she lost, she's in jail and is headed to the stake, no, she won again, she's dead, no, she came back to life, no, she's dead again, no, she's ascending to Heaven. Whew! Just kill the wench already!

    And yes, the orchestration gets to be a bit monotonous, but maybe Il Maestro was equally bored with the libretto.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); September 20th, 2012 at 03:26 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  15. #14
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    A well-sung version of this rousing early Verdi opera. Samuel Ramey is outstanding in the title role, and Cheryl Studer does pretty well as Odabella, if a little unconvincing as a warrior maiden. The sets and costumes are luscious but the staging is utterly stultifying, in fact the most exciting thing about it is Ramey's bare chest; otherwise it's all park and bark. But there's not a lot of choice in DVDs of this opera so I'd still recommend it.
    Natalie

  16. #15
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    Macbeth



    I don't know any really good version of Macbeth. This one has the excellent Shirley Verrett, the adequate if slightly constipated looking Leo Nucci, a couple of actors synching to Sam Ramey and Verriano Lucchetti, some atmospheric Belgian dungeons, marshes, caves and some severely creepy feral wolf-children witches. The problem is partly Verdi's - the music for the witches is so relentlessly up-beat and jolly that you'd really want them in sugar-hued cocktail dresses to match, whereas blue-tinted monkey-women crawling around the rocks and cannibalising rotting corpses don't really fit...

    Actually I had more fun watching the accompanying "making-of" doco, with the chain-smoking Francophone director alternately snarling about missing cellphones and the method-acting bit-part thespian playing Macduff, and the next minute coaxing Shirley Verrett (who just managed to keep a straight face) into tugging on Nucci's sword as though she is pleasuring him sexually.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); September 20th, 2012 at 03:28 AM. Reason: there was no editing, I just opened this by mistake
    Natalie

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