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View Full Version : Miscellaneous Composers w/o their own threads - their operas on CD/DVD/Blu-Ray



Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:26 AM
I watched this today:

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51gYa%2BbsX8L._SL500_AA300_.jpg

Apparently it got universal praise, including from posters here.
I liked it, but just moderately.

First, the opera itself: it is a good one, but in my humble opinion, not the masterpiece it's said to be.
I find that it has OK melody, OK orchestration, OK pace... but it doesn't shine in any of these areas.

Second, the production.
It's pleasant enough, traditional staging, appropriately small orchestra with period instruments.
But I have the impression that it lacks punch, somehow.
The tenor who sings Paolino is too old for the role and his acting is not convincing.
Carolina is good looking but not as lively; the soprano singing her doesn't portray all the turmoil of a young woman in love.
The cast does a good job overall and there are some delightful moments (especially the witty fast dialogues between Geronimo and the Count - both are more convincing actors than the leading couple - and Carolina's hilarious aria about why the count shouldn't marry her, just as good as the Count's similar account of why Elisetta should reject him). Elisetta and Fidalma do an OK job; again, nothing special.

This opera came to existence right after the Mozart era, and premiered in Vienna 2 months after Mozart's passing, so it's hard not to compare, which may explain why I'm a little underwhelmed. I guess what is missing is Mozart's brilliant orchestration.

The libretto has an interesting story that is not too absurd or incredible, but the problem is with the poetry, and again, what is missing is Da Ponte.

Cimarosa is said to be a nice tavern for a stopover in your way from Mozart to Rossini, and I think that the definition is appropriate, judging by this - although I don't know any of his other works.

In summary, a good opera, especially if one manages NOT to compare it to Mozart's operas. I'd rank it a B. The production above in my opinion is a B as well. Enjoyable, worth having, but not one that I'd be going back to very often.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:27 AM
Smetana: The Bartered Bride
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Spectacular lively overture! Wow! Contagious uplifiting choruses. Siegfried Jerusalem is in excellent form with good chemistry with Lucia Popp. There are very funny moments, to the point that the public laughed out loud several times. Lucia Popp seemed a little hoarse and out of breath at first (maybe she was a little sick in this performance) but warmed up and delivered.

There are several Bohemian sounding songs and folk dance. The opera goes in vertiginous pace from recitatif secco to accompagnato to arioso to aria to duet to ensemble in crescendo to chorus and all the way back... you get the idea. The orchestration is wonderful, with wicked rhythm, it always melts very well into what follows. Wow, the structure of this opera is as lively as its music. It's all very eventful, both in the voices and the orchestra.

I found the third act a little uneven. The spoken dialogue during the circus act goes on for a bit too long (although it's funny), breaking up the action, and Marie's (Marenka's) weepy aria also could have been shortened. But then the finale picks up again.

Overall, a very, very enjoyable opera in a good production.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:28 AM
Carlos Gomes: Il Guarany on CD
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Relatively obscure Brazilian composer, his style is very close to Verdi's (who respected him). I have just finished listening to his most known opera Il Guarany, with Placido Domingo (available commercialy on 2 CDs with the libretto in Italian, translated into English, French, and German).
A non-commercial DVD is available from House of Opera.

Here is what I thought:

Beautiful overture (Sinfonia)

Nice start with the chorus of the 'cacciatori.' It does sound like Verdi. Quality without originality, I see.

Wow, this is very beautiful, Cecilia's second aria (after a very brief and tuneful pollaca) is very good, with a very effective choral punctuation. Deh! Riedi... deh riedi!

Antonio's Ave Maria is beautiful too. Salve, possente Vergine.

All these arias turn to ensembles and the effect is impressive.

Now I got to the gorgeous duet Sento una forza indomita. Excellent!

End of first act. Homogeneously good. A+

Act II starts with a scena and a nice Pery aria, Vanto io pur superba cuna, majestic. Wow, this is a really good opera!

It is followed by a rather theatrical scene full of action, then a dramatic duet - Serpe vil. The steady high quality continues. We're getting to a chorus piece now - Udiste? - L'ore è un ente sì giocondo. Verdian again.

What a nice, tuneful waltz-like rondò follows - Senza tetto, senza cuna, Canzone dell'Avventuriere!

Now, Cecilia's ballata, Oh, come è bello il ciel! - C'era una volta un principe. Delicate orchestration with guitar sounds, light, with beautiful opportunities for the soprano to work the musical lines and do some coloratura. Very lyric, very romantic. I like it!

Here, in a Brazilian production (nice soprano!):

http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=GRXK...eature=related (http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=GRXKWWw3B0M&feature=related)

The duet between Cecilia and her assailant Gonzales is very dramatic, with a good dose of pathos.Donna, tu forse l'unica

Some more good theatrical action, and we get to the finale of Act II. Majestic and impressive ensemble, in two parts, the second one start with the attack of the Aimorès and is appropriately solemn with a moment of frozen fear, then everybody jumps to the arms and prepares for the fight. Good Verdian orchestration.

Poor Carlos Gomes, if only Verdi hadn't done it before him! I mean, if only he had Verdi's creativity as well and weren't just a copycat...
Regardless, even if it's a copy, it's a pretty good copy and Act II earns from me another A+.

Act III now. Opens with a ballet - which unfortunately I can't see. But I can look at it on YouTube later.

http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=8L0Q...eature=related (http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=8L0QZ7yyEdQ&feature=related)
http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=aHEt...eature=related (http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=aHEtSDIKTS4&feature=related)

Chorus piece, Aspra, crudel, terribil, pretty good, finishing by a rather effective line, Ferro e fuoco (steel - or rather, iron, and fire).

Next, the chief Aimorè indian sings a bone-chilling aria, it does feel salvage and evocative of the fierce tribe's warring ways (the Aimorès historically were very bellicose indians). He turns more mellow and romantic as he sees the beautiful face of his prisoner and falls in love with her, addressing her more gently. The change in tone is striking. Well done, Gomes!

Then, we get to a big gaffe from the Italian librettists, I don't know why a genuine Brazilian like Carlos Gomes didn't correct it. The Cacico calls Pery 'the desert tiger.' What desert, and what tiger??? LOL, the Rio de Janeiro surroundings at the time in 1560 were a luxurious subtropical forest, no desert in sight for thousands of miles, and tigers were not part of the Brazilian fauna. A metaphor, sure, but how would the chief Aimorè even know about these things to be able to formulate such metaphor??? [laugh]

Another quite dramatic and theatrically rich scene, when the Cacico is calling for Pery to be killed and eaten, Cecilia pleads for him, etc. Pery's line is exquisite and plaintiff, Ah! tu me vedrai morir! (Ah! You'll see me die!).

The theme of the overture comes back briefly to a beautiful effect. The Cacico grants to Pery and Cecilia a moment alone to express their love for each other before Pery is killed.

Then, a duet between the two protagonists, pungent and tearful. Superb! Ebben, che fu - Perché di meste lagrime. A+ quality material.

All right. Pery drinks poison. Why does opera like poison so much?[laugh]

Now a chorus with the Cacico and his tribe. The overture theme comes back in full force while the indians kneel and pray to their gods. The effect is very solemn and the orchestration is very beautiful. The choral piece is gorgeous, followed by a short finale to ACT III when the Portuguese come to the rescue.

Did I mention that it all deserves an A+? LOL

Act IV

Very beautiful orchestration again with elements from the overture (different ones) into which the voices of the coro di avventurieri melt; wavy music, again it starts well.

Another gaffe from the libretto - Pery is alive - what happened to that poison?!? Ah, OK, it is explained later that he got antidotes from forest herbs, how convenient.[eyes]

Beautiful aria for Gonzales, In quest'ora suprema.

Good dramatic scenes continue, there is the baptism scene, this is turning more into theater than music, Act IV seems dramatic enough but less musical so far, they're having to pack too much action into a short span and there is no space for good arias. A pity, it's the first downside so far of his entire opera.

OK, Pery's soaring aria (although short - can't really call it an aria, it's more like a short arioso) when he converts *is* beautiful, so, never mind.Al Dio che in me regenera.

Beautiful display by Cecilia.Che sento? Ed io dividermi

Now, for the Gran scena e terzetto finale ultimo. Spectacular! Don Antonio gets to be a suicide bomber 450 years before they became fashionable[laugh] and it literally ends with a bang, with the overture theme returning for a - er... - bombastic finale. Goosebumps!

A+ all around. Excellent opera. I wonder why in the hell this is not part of the repertoire. Not very demanding, not too long, full of dramatic potential, beautiful orchestration, some outstanding arias, duets, and ensembles... A winner from beginning to the end.

The only way to explain its failure to endure is the fact that it is, note by note, done in the exact style of Giuseppe Verdi, and it was composed by an obscure South American composer.

But while not matching a Don Carlo or Aida in terms of majestic impact, or Il Trovatore which is stylistically closer, if only we got Verdi out of our mind and just listened to this opera, we'd easily see that it is extremely good, and certainly much better than I Lombardi which gets staged fairly often.

Folks, if there is anybody reading this long post about an obscure opera composer's least obscure work, get this one.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:34 AM
Dvorak: The Devil and Kate on DVD
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OK, folks, be warned, this is no Rusalka. The Devil and Kate while enjoyable, funny, light, and pleasant, can only be described as a minor work when compared to Rusalka.
We are far from the melodic explosions of the latter, and other than the nice overture (composed independently from the opera) and the Princess's aria in the third act, there are no major musical fireworks, and the style is declamatory. The orchestration also, in my humble opinion, falls short of what one would expect from Dvorak.

About this production, the DVD is technically very weak. No menus, only stereo sound track, subtitles only in English, no bonus features, the image definition is poor (seems unfocused in various moments), lighting is dark, camera work is mediocre. To make things worse, this production is sung in English, which is a practice I generally don't approve of. It was filmed in 1988, and its oldish look is quite evident.

The staging is almost amateurish with sets that look improvised, but has its charm - the improvised look is probably done in purpose because it does account for some funny moments. Singing is reasonable. Nobody shines, but nobody screws up either. The singers are unknown to me - Anne-Marie Owens in the title role with a rather small voice but she does look the part and is funny although her acting is not great; Joseph Evans as Jirka who is unremarkable; Peter Lightfoot as Marbuel who is not bad; but the two best are Marko Putkanen as Lucifer, and Kristine Ciesinski as The Princess - she is cute and sings well. There is a solo dancer with nice legs, Julie Wong.

The choreography is effective, and generally, singers and dancers seem to enjoy what they are doing and the global result is quite compelling. This is helped by the folkloric numbers from Dvorak's native Bohemia.

The conductor and his orchestra are also unknown to me and not particularly remarkable either - Albert Rosen at the head of the Radio Telefis Eireann Symphony Orchestra.http://operalively.com/forums/images/smilies/confused.gif Wikipedia tells me that it is one the major symphonic orchestras in Europe - really? - and the major orchestra in Ireland. Oh well, I had never heard of these forces.

The production is from the Wexford Festival Opera.

In summary, this doesn't raise above the level of a curiosity, but can ensure a couple of hours of light entertainment if you're renting it or streaming it. It is probably not worth a purchase unless you're the most faithful of Dvorak's fans, but otherwise, it's decent fun.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:36 AM
Vivaldi: Ercole su'l Termodonte on DVD
This is one of the only two Vivaldi operas available on DVD, and the other one has been out of print for years.

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This DVD is from a production of the 2006 Spoleto Festival. It is controversial due to lots of nudity: frontal male nudity, a large variety of boobs (displayed naked or under see-through tops), phallic imagery everywhere, and a scene of attempted rape in which the Amazon warrior bites off her attacker's weenie.http://operalively.com/forums/images/smilies/eek.gif So, not for the prude.

Technically: ups and downs; the stage is too dark, the colors are faded and the image is fuzzy at times. Worst of all, there are sound/image synchrony problems - and it shouldn't be the fault of my equipment since it doesn't happen with other DVDs. But on the other hand, the sound is good with LPCM and surround, the format is widescreen, there are multiple subtitles, and extras (interviews).

Staging: a bit weird with the dark lighting, mirrors, the phalli, but it doesn't get in the way, and the final scenes with the bust of Diana are effective. Costumes are OK for the males, but pretty ugly for the females (although they do have the advantage of the see-through tops!http://operalively.com/forums/images/smilies/wink.gif)

Orchestra and conductor - no complaints. The small period orchestra Il Compasso
Barocco plays well and delicately, with good balance between voice and orchestra, under the competent direction of specialist Alan Curtis.

Acting: could be better but is not horrible. Unfortunately one of the weakest acting links is one of the strongest vocal links: Mary-Ellen Nesi.

Singers: Mostly quite good, with some weaker links. The latter don't commit major annoying errors, it's more a question of lack of expression, pallid ornamentation, small projection, but they don't sink the ship. The stronger links do, at least on occasion, a very, very good job, so the average is favorable.

Good singers:

Zachary Stains as Ercole - athletic boy, featured in frontal nudity, the ladies will probably be pleased (are you reading this, Annie & Natalie?). He does well vocally, without being spectacular, but improves as time goes by, warming up his voice. Overall, he is vocally satisfactory.

Mary-Ellen Nesi as Antiope, and later Diana - I quite like her; beautiful timbre, very expressive. She doesn't look as good as Marina Bartoli though, but totally owns the latter vocally in the scene when they are together (from Onde chiare che sussurrate on, including one of the best arias, Bel piacer de la vendetta).

Randall Scotting as Teseo - pretty good, has more difficult vocal writing for his role than that of the title role, and gets through it honorably.

Filippo Mineccia in the minor role of Telamone - good

Weaker singers:

Laura Cherici as Martesia - generally does well but with some failures

Marina Bartoli as Ippolita - small voice, not very expressive, and her voice falters at times in high notes - but oh boy, does she look great! And what a spectacular pair of boobs!http://operalively.com/forums/images/smilies/wink.gif Her late aria with Teseo Amato ben is quite good, it's just that a better singer would have made it sublime and she doesn't, and her mistakes get more prominent as the opera approaches its end (probably with some vocal fatigue) and it is unfortunate that she is at her most fatigued when she reaches the best aria for her character. But then... wow... those boobs!!!!

Luca Dordolo as Alceste - weak

The opera itself - as long as you don't go in expecting a Handel level of quality, quite enjoyable. Good overture, most arias are beautiful, it's a nice baroque piece. It does stand on its own, there is reasonable pacing, the plot is somewhat interesting. But it is hard not to compare with Handel given the similitude of style and subject matter, and Vivaldi doesn't quite stand up to the comparison, given that Handel in my opinion writes more exciting orchestration, more varied vocal music, and his operas have more thrilling pace and stronger theatricality. In favor of Vivaldi is delicacy, and this piece does have it musically, in spite of the bloody plot - which produces a weird effect in any case, because sometimes we'd like to see more energy and less delicacy, although Vivaldi does have his moments, such as in the late Antiope aria Scenderò, volerò, griderò.

Overall: recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:36 AM
Schubert: Alfonso und Estrella on DVD
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This opera is one of the rare attempts at the genre by Schubert, and its lack of popularity is understandable given the absence of good pace and theatricality, in spite of the rather beautiful music. Historically it is interesting due to Schubert's break away from Singspiel in favor of a written-through opera that has only arias, no spoken dialogue or recitatives. It is a sort of long, long song cycle... unfortunately not as good as Schubert's spectacular real song cycles. Here, one can easily notice that opera is not the most appropriate medium for conveying Schubert's genius, since he doesn't seem to manage particularly well the pitfalls of the genre. Once more, there is proof that being a great composer is not enough to become a great opera composer.

This said, Alfonso und Estrella is enjoyable enough if one just listens to the music - which is good all around and gorgeous at times (well done overture and intermezzi, many interesting arias, good choral music, although I care less for the orchestration which tends to just repeat and underscore the vocal melody) - without paying too much attention to the plot and without feeling too disturbed by a certain monotony.

Technically this is a very decent DVD, with widescreen image with good definition and colors, very good sound with a choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 or DTS surround, excellent sound balance, subtitles in English and German.

The production follows the fad of partially updating the action, and brings it for no apparent reason to the early 20th century. In spite of the silly update, the staging is still effective enough.

Conducting by Harnoncourt is excellent and the half-modern, half-period instruments Chamber Orchestra of Europe does a good job. While acting is uneven, singing is good overall, with all but the tenor singing the role of Alfonso (Endrik Wottrich, the weakest link) being rather terrific. Best is Thomas Hampson as King Froila. Olaf Bär is also excellent as Mauregato. Urba Orgonasova as Estrella sings well but acts poorly and doesn't look the part at all (too old).

In summary, it's an opera that is good musically and weak theatrically, in a technically good DVD featuring good performances from conductor, orchestra and some of the principals, with less than ideal acting/casting and a weak tenor.

So, overall, still recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:37 AM
Landi: Il Sant' Alessio on DVD
Il Sant' Allessio is an early baroque opera by Monteverdi's contemporary Stefano Landi. This is a production from Caen with an all male cast featuring several countertenors, and it's done by Les Arts Florissants and William Christie.

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DVD quality: rather perfect, strong full sound with three track options, five subtitle options, widescreen, beautiful colors under lighting entirely done by candles, bonus feature with William Christie talking about the piece, interesting and well written liner notes.

Staging (by Benjamin Lazar) and costumes: outstanding. Tasteful, elegant scenarios, with luxurious costumes, rich in details. This was apparently all done based on extensive research to reproduce baroque era conditions.

Orchestra and conducting: well, it's Christie and Les Arts Florissants. Enough said, there's barely a need to add that it is fascinating, as usual. Fabulous overture (symphonia), great sounds from the period instruments.

Acting: very measured, again inspired by extensive research with hand movements and posturing done in the early baroque fashion. This opera in between scenes introduces comic characters and these are very lively and colorful, then it resumes the tragedy which is done in this measured faction.

Singing: somewhat uneven. The baritone and bass voices are very good, but the profusion of contraltos gets mixed results, with some sounding beautiful, others not as much (I keep imagining how much better this would have been with castrati as originally intended). But it isn't easy to gather this many contraltos and keep the quality high. I've heard better as far as contralto singing in falsetto or true male sopranos go, but as a whole, what's been accomplished in this production with the option of an all-male cast is impressive. Singers include Philippe Jaroussky (title role - average in my opinion), Max Emanuel Cencic (the wife, better in my opinion), Damien Guillon, Pascal Bertin, and others.

The libretto is interesting, provides enough pathos, and was written by a Giulio Rospigliosi, none less than the person who later became Pope Clement IX. So, we have here a libretto written by a pope!!! The plot reproduces fairly faithfully the life events of Saint Alexis, who renounced the pleasures of flesh and riches by leaving his father's home and his new wife (with whom marriage was never consumated) in peregrination to the Holy Land, and returned 17 years later as a beggar who wasn't recognized by his father, his mother, or his wife, and lived among them for another 17 years without disclosing his true identity, until his death, when he died with a letter to them explaining the whole thing clutched to his hand. The libretto explores not only the notion that his ascetic life was a saintly one, but also the cruelty and selfishness of living 17 years among his loved ones who continued to desperately search for him, without revealing that he was right there. Side by side with realistic plot elements there are also religious elements: the Devil (a bass) tempting him to resume a life of pleasure, and angels (sung by boy sopranos).

This opera has its longueurs, and musically it suffers with the inevitable Monteverdi comparison (or Lully for that matter - Landi is nice, but he is not Monteverdi or Lully), so beware; if you're taking my review as a recommendation (and it is one) make sure that you do like baroque opera, because for the novice it may sound off-putting, and it certainly isn't the best one for an introduction to the genre.

Recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:38 AM
Leonardo Leo: L'Alidoro on DVD
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/516I9VekGnL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

2008(LI) - Antonio Florio - Orchestra Barocca Cappella della Pietà dei Turchini (period instruments)

Opera House: Teatro Municipale Valli di Reggio Emilia

Singers:
Filippo Morace - Giangrazio - excellent
Maria Grazia Schiavo - Faustina - excellent
Maria Ercolano (trouser role) - Luigi/Ascanio (Alidoro) - excellent
Valentina Varriale - Zeza - good+
Gianpiero Ruggeri - Meo - good
Francesca Russo Ermolli - Elisa - good-
Giuseppe de Vittorio - Don Marcello - so, so; clearly the weak link
Nino Bruno - Cicco - silent role

Creative team:
Matteo Ricchetti - video director
Arturo Cirillo - stage director
Massimo Bellando Randone - scenarios
Gianluca Falaschi - costumes

Studio: Dynamic Italy

Technical aspects of this product:
Running time: 165 minutes
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish
Sound: Linear PCM Stereo (excellent balance and clarity); Dolby Digital 5.1
Image: Widescreen Anamorphic 1.78:1 (Good enough colors and definition)
No bonus features

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6c/Leonardo_Leo.jpg (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Leonardo_Leo.jpg)

Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) was a Neapolitan baroque composer (actually, born in a small town - San Vito dei Normanni - that then belonged to the Kingdom of Naples) who studied music at the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchinni, after which the orchestra that plays in this performance is named.

Leo is relatively obscure in the world of opera, and is better known for his sacred music compositions. His claim to fame is the fact that he was the first composer of the Neapolitan school to master modern harmonic counterpoint. Still, he composed a large number of serious and comic operas (42 in total). His serious operas are said to suffer from a coldness and severity of spirit (Demofoonte, Farnace, L'Olimpiade - the latter, not to be confouded with Gallupi's version). His comic operas, on the other hand, have a reputation for a keen sense of humor, and include his most famous one, La Finta Frascatana, (a.k.a. Amor Vuol Sofferenze) as well as a pair of comic operas with libretti in Neapolitan dialect, La 'mpeca Scoperta, and the one that I'm reviewing today, L'Alidoro, which premiered in 1740 and was lost for centuries. It has been recently rediscovered during a cataloguing of art finds, in the Abbey of Montecassino during the early 21st Century. This DVD contains its first staging in modern times.

The libretto is by Gennarantonio Federico. Here is a link to it, with English translation:

http://www.dynamiclassic.it/area_pub...20Libretto.pdf (http://www.dynamiclassic.it/area_pubblica/booklets/CDS588-%20Alidoro%20Libretto.pdf)

The work explores a divided world in which the characters speak and sing in different languages, according to their station: Neapolitan for the servants, and Tuscan for the masters. The masters are erotically attracted to the servants, while the servants are only attracted to their own.

Delightful overture, delicately and beautifully played by the period orchestra.
Surprisingly good singing by this completely unknown, all-Italian, local cast.
Charming period costumes, but with minimalist staging with some anachronisms (iron patio furniture).

http://www.dynamic.it/product_images/33588-2.jpghttp://www.dynamic.it/product_images/33588-1.jpg

The arias and ensembles are very, very pleasant.
Oh boy, this looks very good indeed.

Act 1
1 Sinfonia
2 Le mie voci accogliete - Faustina
3 Da po’ ch’ammore mpietto m’ha feruto - Meo
4 Ssi ncapo ajesso frato - Don Marcello
5 Soperchia moè la collera - Zeza
6 Risolviti ad amarmi - Elisa
7 Luci Belle - Luigi
8 Sei troppo sventurato - Faustina
Act 2
1 Cicco, vogli’i no zumpo - Zeza
2 Talor coverto il cielo - Luigi
3 Fanno amore e gelosia - Faustina
4 Emme signor Giangrazio - Giangrazio
5 Tu davvero te credive - Meo
6 Chesta è la regola - Zeza
7 Destatevi allo sdegno - Elisa
8 Ah no mia bella - Luigi
9 Oh sia jornu o sia notti - Don Marcello
Act 3
1 Ma fia possibil pure - Faustina
2 L’amorosa tortorella - Faustina
3 Quando de’ venti irati - Luigi
4 Via su - Don Marcello
5 Gente, gente, ajuto, ajuto - Zeza
6 Nuje sarrimmo comm’apprimmo - Meo
7 Ora vi come vanno - Giangrazio (recitativo)

OK, folks: this is a WINNER!!!
It's dynamic, witty, funny (in a reserved kind of way, not funny haha, but smart funny), varied, entertaining, masterfully put together.

The multiple intrigues are quite interesting.

A rich man (Gingrazio) has a playboy good-for-nothing son (Don Marcello). He brings from Naples a suitable bride for his son (Faustina) who comes with her sister (Elisa) - apparently they are his nieces; weird, no taboo about marrying inside the family?? He's got a servant (Luigi, who for some misterious reason likes to call himself Ascanio, it's never explained - and is the Alidoro of the title role, meaning Golden Wings). The female inn keeper (Zeza) and the miller (Meo) complete the list of characters, with a silent role for the inn busboy (Cicco).

So Marcello is promised to Faustina, but loves/lusts over Zeza - who is in love with Meo and vice-versa, but neither one will confess it to the other, and Meo keeps suspecting Zeza of willing to drop him for the rich pretender - which she's not about to do, and she keeps whining about the fact that Meo doesn't see her love for him and doesn't give her any attention.

Gingrazio is unhappy because his son is not accepting the rich bride Faustina but rather has his eyes on poor girl Zeza; then he goes to the field to investigate, and falls for Zeza himself, who gets even more desperate at these two rich men, father and son, flirting with her while all she wants is the miller Meo. Meanwhile, the servant Luigi/Ascanio/Alidoro loves Faustina and vice-versa, and is hoping that playboy Marcello will get Zeza and leave Faustina for him. But Faustina's sister Elisa loves Luigi too, and aggressively pursues him, and Faustina is jealous and afraid that Luigi will fall for her sister.

Elisa feels scorned and insists that Gingrazio must fire Luigi, which he is willing to do, and does.

Things heat up. Meo openly suspects Zeza of making love to Gingrazio and under the pressure of complaining out lout about it, confesses his love for Zeza. Gingrazio calls him off on his delusional jealousy, insists that he never did such thing to poor Zeza, who runs away crying.

Faustina goes to battle for Luigi, confronting Elisa on why she wanted Luigi fired. Elisa says she could revert it all, as long as Luigi would agree with loving her.

Faustina goes to Luigi and tells him about it. He says he could fool Elisa into thinking that he loves her. Faustina declares herself very confused, says that when she is with him, she feels that she's losing him and doesn't know what to think.

Gingrazio meets Luigi and tells him he will reinstate him if he can help him. He wants Luigi to get Marcello to marry Faustina the same evening. Gingrazio will "pretend" to be in love with Zeza to chase Marcello away from Zeza and get him to marry Faustina. Gingrazio exits. Luigi says to himself he will never let this happen - in a magnificent, heroic da capo aria!

Marcello goes flirt some more with Zeza who turns him down in no equivocal terms. Still, Meo is jealous and continues to think that she is willing to give herself to one of the two rich gentlemen.

Marcello tries again and Zeza hits him and breaks his shoulder. Now Meo starts to believe that she is not as fickle as he thought. Gingrazio comes in and tries to earn Zeza's love, who rejects him just as strongly, threatening with an iron spike (this is witnessed by Meo who is looking at the scene from behind stuff). She exits.

Gingrazio asks Luigi to get Zeza to comply with his demands. He does the messenger between the two of them, which enrages Meo, who denounces what Luigi is doing and engages in a sword fight with him. People calm them down, get in between, Meo leaves, but Marcello continues the sword fight against Luigi (why??? OK, folks, this is opera).

Zeza goes out looking for Meo and finds him. He says that he saw how she rejected both rich gentlemen and how he is sorry of having doubted her, and they declare their love for each other; embrace. Lovely love scene, lovely music. The silent page dresses like a priest and seems to bless their love.

Meanwhile Luigi has been injured during the sword fight. When Gingrazio goes to tend to his shoulder wound (just a scratch) he sees a birth mark - two golden wings on his shoulder - and realizes that Luigi is his long lost son Alidoro. He and his late wife had lost him while vacationing in a beach town near Genoa. He was found by a Genoese gentleman and given the name Luigi, but he is really Alidoro.

Marcello and Alidoro are introduced to the fact that they are brothers, and stop their fight. Alidoro declares his love for Faustina, and Gingrazio blesses their love and agrees that they should marry. Meo and Zeza say that they're getting married too.

Gingrazio tells Marcello that he should marry Elisa. Both Elisa and Marcello, realizing that they had lost plan A, decide that plan B (getting married to each other) is a good idea. The three couples and the benevolent father rejoice. Curtain.

Pretty good, exciting libretto.

Excellent music, always lively and enticing, with good pace.

On top of it, the production is beautifully staged with tasteful choices, and exquisitely sung, conducted, and played.

A+, highly recommended. Buy it! Buy it! Buy it!

One wonders what else is out there lost in history. This is a true operatic masterpiece. Now I look forward to other works by Leonardo Leo. It is interesting - how can fame be so random? Why is Leonardo Leo so obscure, when this opera, not even considered to be his best, is as good as many of the top operas in the repertory that have endured the test of time? Why was it forgotten??? Maybe it is a question of being on the right place at the right time, and Leonardo Leo seems to have lost the train and didn't make it.

But maybe now, 250 years later, we'll give him his due.

Bravo, Leonardo Leo, as belated as this is.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:38 AM
Schumann: Genoveva on DVD
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2008(LI) - Nicholas Harnoncourt - Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House
Genoveva - Juliane Banse
Golo - Shawn Mathey
Siegfried - Martin Gantner
Margaretha - Cornelia Kallisch
Drago - Alfred Muff

This has been reviewed by HC above.

I'm starting to watch it now, to add my 2 cents.

Good technical quality for this ArtHaus product, with excellent image (good definition, sharp colors, widescreen format); perfect LPCM sound track with the option of Dolby 5.1 and good balance; subtitles in six languages including the original German. Running time is 146 minutes. This production is also available on Blu-ray. No bonus features.

Strikingly beautiful overture, and so far so good in terms of minimalistic staging (often my preferred kind of staging) with a beautiful contrast between the white background and the actors/singers in the front.

However, I'm bracing for the weirdness that is sure to come, according to HC's review. But I may very well give them a pass on this one, thanks to the musical aspects. These seem very good so far, with Harnoncourt delivering his usual phenomenal conducting, very full and impressive sounds from the orchestra, good chorus, and good singing. Schumann's music sounds marvelous.

OK, folks, the staging by Martin Kusej (infamous for extreme productions) *is* weird, but makes some sense. The white box is supposed to be some sort of psychological mind space, and the black regions of the stage are supposed to be what is outside, in reality (the chorus, the peasants, at one point the husband who is elsewhere). When the characters are supposed to exit, instead of leaving they just stay in the periphery of the stage, quiet and mostly without moving - like images ranged into a corner of one's memory. As the situation becomes more and more dire, the white box starts to be tainted with blood and dirt. The servant's faces being dirty while the aristocrats are clean and pure is clear enough as symbolism, and so is the tainting of Genoveva's white gown. If anything, these metaphors are too simple and insistent.

I don't particularly find this libretto weak like many reviews of this opera affirm. It isn't any less credible than that of most operas.

One thing I don't understand in HC's review is when he talks about recitatives and arias. I don't see this division. This is a through-composed opera with reduced melodious vocal lines in rather constant arioso style, similar to Wagner's operatic structure (he was indeed an influence for Schumann's only attempt at opera - Schumann explicitly aimed at mimicking Wagner's style and asked Wagner for advice - by the way, Wagner didn't like his effort very much). Well, Schumann is less skilled than Wagner in accomplishing this frame/structure, and at times slides into more defined melody, and his orchestration although excellent in this work (and actually the high side of this opera), is still not as impressive as Wagner's - which is no shame, matching Wagner is not an easy task even for a talented composer like Schumann. This is what in my humble opinion accounts for the differences, but Wagner's influence I believe *can* be seen in this work and is even quite undeniable.

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Juliane Banse is a good soprano with a powerful, pleasant, well tuned instrument. She is svelte, cute, attractive, although the staging does try to make her less beautiful by giving her strange eyebrows (apparently to make of her face a more suffering one). Her acting is convincing (so is the acting of other principals here, and they also sing very well). She appears naked in one of the scenes, from her back (with one brief lateral view of one of her boobs - nothing that would set off Alma's Boob-O-Meter too strongly). This is the infamous scene of the raw fish being thrown at a naked Genoveva which has puzzled many. Again, I don't think the symbolism is too difficult here. The scene plays as a dream - Siegfried's dream. He is convinced of his wife infidelity and depicts her being humiliated and defiled, ends up imagining himself killing her. This isn't in the libretto but does match the psychological drama, which is what I believe the stage director was trying to depict. This is why the jubilous music at the end is not matched by the ravaged setting, showing that the trauma of the recent events won't go away so easily.

The problem with this staging is the need for homework. It can get quite confusing if people don't know the libretto because it doesn't really follow the libretto to the letter, it aims at rather *expressing* the psychological side of the libretto in rather simple symbolic terms. But it is enough to read a good synopsis to get what is going on.

OK, is this Eurotrash? In a sense, yes. But it does make more sense than most trashy stagings. It's like this German romantic opera is being staged like a Pélleas et Mélisande. I'd say, not bad, as long as the music is good, and it is, in this production (this is similar to what I said of some Handel productions that had weird stagings but exquisite singing, playing, and conducting). I'm more willing to discount these excesses when the music is good.

And in this case it clearly is. There are no weak links whatsoever among the singers. All of them are very impressive. I've already commented upon the leading soprano's multiple assets. Shawn Mattey does a great job. So does Cornelia Kallish. Alfred Muff is excellent. Martin Gantner has the role of the husband, and while he is less dramatically impressive, he sings well.

And I like the opera as well. I think it has been unduly underestimated. This, added to the good technical quality of this product, doesn't deserve any less than a verdict of "recommended."

One regret is the absence of bonus features. An interview with the stage director to explain the concept would have helped.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:39 AM
Dvořák: Rusalka on DVD
I'm watching again this old 1975 Czech movie of the opera, and it is quite good. The initial ballet is very beautiful. The images are very ghostly and atmospheric. The singing is top-notch (interestingly, it is lip-synced to a 1961 studio recording with the orchestra of the Praga National Theater conducted by Chalabala, with Milada Subrtova and Ivo Zidek as principals - which is considered by many to be the best recording of this opera - while the film is from much later. But it works, and it does almost perfectly, with the usual slight lag of sound/lips synchrony that happens in such movies (even in modern ones like the Netrebko/Villazón Bohème). It is quite believable with some beautiful special effects (they use a lot of superposition of images and color/lighting effects that convey the supernatural nature of the story). The fact that they use actors instead of singers (for the most part, since a couple of singers from the 1961 recording also play in the movie) makes everybody look the part (as you can see by the cover picture, Rusalka is acted by a beautiful young woman - not the greatest actress but quite good looking - Katerina Machackova). This is a masterful way to film this fairy tale, given the technical limitations of the time. I'm watching/listening now to the outstanding Song to the Moon, the part that in itself justifies this opera. I continue to recommend it.

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Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:40 AM
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1985 - the conductor is Wolfgang Sawallisch, with the Bayerische Staatsorchester
Stage direction - Jean-Pierre Ponnelle - DVD released in 2007
Donald McIntyre sings the title role
Other singers are Maria de Francesca-Cavazza, Robert Schunk, Hans Gunter Nocker

This is very good, folks. It's my first contact with Hindemith's music and I like it a lot.
If you enjoy modernist music - this is more melodious and accessible than Lulu - you'll like it too.

The interesting plot is based on a short story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Das Fräulein von Scuderi. It's about a goldsmith who is so taken by his own creations that he kills all customers who buy his jewelry, since he doesn't want to part with them.

The staging, costumes, scenarios and props are simply brilliant. Ponnelle has reproduced the atmosphere of a German expressionist movie. This is a gloomy story about a deranged serial killer, and the oppressive, dark, odd scenarios are very appropriate and visually striking.

Singing is very good even though McIntyre seems a bit passed his prime (5 years after the Ring) - his voice seems to lack volume at times - but it could be the bad sound engineering. In any case, he looks the part of the murderous erratic madman and is impressive in all scenes.

Technically the DVD has problems of sound balance and synchrony (atypical for DG), and the image is 1.33:1. Subtitles are provided in several languages, otherwise there are no other extras except for a DG catalog, trailers, and a very short documentary about the Ring - why not include instead a documentary about Cardillac???. It is still very enjoyable, thanks to the formidable staging that makes us forget about the technical flaws.

This opera at least for me is a bit off the beaten path, and exactly what I was looking for, today.

Recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:43 AM
Vicente Martín y Soler: Il burbero di buon cuore on DVD
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OK, folks, I need a thesaurus of superlatives.

How in hell does a masterpiece like this flies under the radar???? Can you believe that this one is a world première? It wasn't ever staged before, although the composer has been dead since 1806!!!
Edit - I've since learned that yes, it was staged before, but not in 200 years.

This is not only one of the best opera buffae ever written, it is also matched by one of the best opera DVDs ever produced.

If I wasn't slightly drunk after consuming some very good cheese with a very good wine I'd trust my own opinion better, but as of now, with the wine talking, I'd even consider this one as the BEST opera buffa DVD I've ever watched. OK, after the wine vapors dissipate, I'll probably downgrade this opinion to the best one within the last year, instead of the best one ever. But, but... it is DARN good! It is!!!

First of all, the libretto is simply phenomenal. OK, you'll believe me a little more once you realize that the author of the libretto is one Lorenzo da Ponte. Yep, him. *The* Lorenzo da Ponte of Don Giovanni, Così fan Tutte, and Le Nozze di Figaro fame.

But then, the composer was entirely unknown to me. One Vicente Martín y Soler.

Oh wow. This guy is good! This opera could have easily been signed by one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and we wouldn't have noticed any difference. Yes, folks, it *is* this good.
Edit - I've since learned that Mozart did contribute to two arias of this work, and quoted one of the of the composer's operas in Don Giovanni.

Then, you couple an outstanding libretto to an outstanding score, and you add to it a phenomenal orchestra and the most exquisite singers I've heard in a while.

Yep, they aren't known. Yep, it's the first time I see any of them with one exception.

And then I ask myself, why in the hell these young men and women and this oldish gentleman are not being booked by the Met, the ROH, La Scala, the Mariinsky and the such?

They are incredible! Sublime! Phenomenal! And their Italian articulation is so good that I understand the whole thing without subtitles.

It's not just that this production has no weak singing link. It goes well beyond that. It's that the production has OUTSTANDING singers in ALL 8 roles (including the smallest of the smallest roles - they are ALL good, believe me!). They are all totally unknown to me except one, and they ALL deliver some of the best singing I've listened to in YEARS. This reassures me. Opera is alive and well if these youngsters can put together such an incredible performance!

AND spectacular acting. AND they all look their parts. All of them.

This opera has it all. Incredible music, great orchestration, beautiful vocal writing: check.
Exciting pace: check
Theatrical flair: check
Quality libretto: more than check
Funny, believable situations: check

Then the production has...
Excellent orchestra, conducting, tempi: check
Phenomenal singers in ALL roles: check
Outstanding acting: check
Looks (both the young, pretty, sexy ones, and the appropriately creepy ones): check
Very good stage direction: check

The DVD has...
Good colors, image definition, good sound track: check

Conclusion: A++

Highly recommended wouldn't be enough.
I'd say this one goes for the top. It's a strong competitor for best opera DVD of the last several years.

Credits:

Live Composite recording over three nights, 14th, 15th, and 16th November 2007, at the Teatro Real de Madrid

It's a co-production Teatro Real de Madrid and Gran Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona
Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid
Conductor/piano - Christophe Rousset
Stage Director - Irina Brook
Video director - Mateo Richetti

Staging is modern, with contemporary costumes

The outstanding team of extremely competent singers, homogeneously good (oh wait, not good, great!) across the board includes:

Elena de La Merced (Angelica) - and she is cute! And with a great body - you can see her on the cover picture
Carlos Chausson (Ferramondo)
Véronique Gens (Madama Lucilla) - the only one I knew from other productions - not as pretty now as when she was younger, but still a charming and attractive lady
Salmir Pirgu (Giocondo)
Cecilia Diaz (Marina)
Juan Francisco Gatell (Valerio)
Luca Pisaroni (Dorval)
Josep Miquel Ramón (Castagna)

Buy it! Buy it! Buy it! - (PS - Schigolch doesn't like it; one of the few occasions I disagree with him - since he is usually right, maybe I'm over-rating this one)

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:45 AM
Salieri: Tarare on DVD
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OK, I'm watching for the first time an opera by Salieri. Of course it is hard not to think of the play Amadeus, later turned into a movie, in spite of the fact that we all know that the murderous jealousy depicted in the play is not historically true, but rather fictional. But how can one not feel curious about the musical quality of Salieri's works, after that fictional account? So, here I go.

This is a production of 1988 at the Schwetzinger Festspiele. The DVD was released in 2005 by ArtHaus Musik, with a running time of 184 minutes. The opera is sung in French, with choice of six languages for subtitles, including French. PCM stereo is the only sound track, but it is good, with good balance. The image is 1.33:1, with poor definition but good colors. Singers are Anna Caleb, Jean-Phillipe Lafont, Howard Crook, Nicolas Rivenq, Eberhard Lorenz. Jean-Claude Malgoire conducts the Deutsche Handel Solisten, in period instruments.

The setting is colorful and peculiar, apparently trying to recreate what was done at the time of Salieri. The singers are very good across the board, and they act well.

The source material is a play by Beaumarchais.

The plot is complex. In a few words, it's a story about a soldier (Tarare) who saves his king, is promoted to General, gets popular, incurs the King's jealousy, and for revenge the king kidnaps Tarare's wife into his harem. She refuses the king and suffers cruelties, the king continues to persecute Tarare, etc., etc. Sounds tragic, no? Actually, it is rather comic.

The opera itself is very pleasant, with several very beautiful moments, good pace and theatricality. This is obviously a good piece. So much for the stereotypes perpetuated by Amadeus.

Recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:47 AM
Dvorak: Rusalka on blu-ray
OK, I have received the "domestic abuse" Rusalka with the gorgeous Kristine Opolais.

Well the music dispenses presentation, it is simply outstanding, one of the most melodious and beautiful operas ever written. So I'll just focus on the staging aspects of this controversial production.

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Live Composite recording without the public, from 20 through 26 October 2006 at the Nationaltheater, Munich

Tomas Hanus conducts the Bayerischen Staatsorchester.
Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Chorus Master Sören Eckhoff
Stage Director Martin Kusej
Video Director Thomas Grimm

Unitel Classica Blu-ray, 1080p, 16:9, PCM stereo, DTS-HD Master 5.1 (the cover says 5.0 but it definitely activated my subwoofer). Crystal-clear image and sound quality, but with balance favoring the singers over the orchestra. Making Of bonus feature, plus trailers of the Valencia Ring, Maria Stuarda, Il Mondo della Luna, and Thielemann Conducts Beethoven.
Running time opera 156 minutes, bonus feature 36 minutes. The documentary is subtitled in English only and spoken in German and English. The opera is sung in Czech and subtitled in English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean. Region code zero (worldwide).
The insert contains a brief essay and a synopsis in three languages, and the track list in Czech with English translation, duration, and characters singing each number.

Cast:

Rusalka - Kristine Opolais (last syllable rhymes with the German -eis, doesn't sound like the French lait)
Prince - Klaus Florian Vogt
Foreign Princess - Nadia Krasteva
Water Goblin - Günther Groissböck
Forester - Ulrich Ress
Kitchen Boy - Tara Erraught
Hunter - John Chest
1st Wood Nymph - Evgeniya Sotnikova
2nd Wood Nymph - Angela Brower
3rd Wood Nymph - Okka von der Damerau

Well, I'm known for being able to accept some rather extreme productions, but I confess that so far this thing seems really distasteful with the Water Goblin raping the water nymphs, including the presence of a young girl, not to forget the way the Water Goblin grabs his own crotch under his pants. I'm not sure if this is what I want to see when I watch opera.

Opolais is absolutely stunning. But this production may be too much to handle. The Water Goblin has violently slapped her just now. Oh boy.

OKaaay... now he has raped Rusalka too, in a semi-explicit manner. Oh boy #2!

Rusalka now sings the Song to the Lamp. Well, it should have been a song to the moon but in her flooded basement there's no moon so she sings to a lamp. Oh boy #3!

But it is impossible not to like this scene, given how well Kristine sings and how incredibly beautiful she is. This is beauty of Anna Netrebko proportions. Now she is rolling around on her wet clothes, and amfortas' jokes about her cleavage are actually coming through (killer legs too).

And she can act. In fact, her acting is outstanding. To paraphrase what I said above about her looks, this is acting of Natalie Dessay proportions.

This woman will soon enough be a major hit all over the world. There's no denying it. Her acting in her first scene with Jezibaba is nothing short of spectacular (the way she tries to walk on high heels for the first time is terrific).

It took me a while to add more comments because this production is certainly growing in quality as the opera goes by, and I'm starting to enjoy it.

OK, just as I was starting to like this, there is more groping of under-aged girls, this time with an uncle molesting his niece. There's lots of blood involved (a deer is being skinned).

More weird shenanigans. The Prince has sex with the Foreign Princess on stage and in full view of a shocked, psychotic Rusalka (this is the most explicit sexual act I've seen in opera since Powder Her Face). Then the ball features men and women alike in female wedding gowns dancing with bloody deer carcasses which they then eat raw. Okaaaayyy... Supposedly this is to symbolize that the humans are predators that destroy the natural world, I assume - but then the natural world isn't any better, given all the sexual abuse that goes on in the watery world. The grotesque scene is completely divorced from the beautiful music.

Kristine Opolais continues to act very well and manages to look alien and crazy and disheveled but still gorgeous. Now she has changed into her wedding gown. The Water Goblin comes back for her. She jumps into the aquarium (cover picture). Poor goldfish. Fortunately I'm told they're fake. They're the only thing fake in that aquarium if you know what I mean, given what we're allowed to glimpse at through Kristine Opolais' wet gown. The Foreign Princess is about to have sex with the Prince on stage again in front of Rusalka but the latter counter-attacks by stepping out of the aquarium and kissing her man. The Prince is in trouble now, under the curse. So is the booby Foreign Princess. Rusalka now looks evil. End of Act II.

Act III opens up with Rusalka lamenting her sort while Jezibaba looks bored and polishes her own nails, slumped on a chair, looking very white-trashy. The nice touch is that the background wall is entirely covered with a life-size wallpaper picture of a lake surrounded by woods (Rusalka's world in the original opera - here reduced to a picture on a wall). During Rusalka's long lamentation scene we are treated to several views of Ms. Opolais' abundant cleavage and huge breasts. It feels a little bit exploitative (a good way to sell tickets and DVDs). Jezibaba threatens Rusalka with a knife (huh... what???) in the scene where she encourages her to kill the prince in order to be saved from the curse (someone in this production team has been watching The Magic Flute since Jezibaba at this point acts like the Queen of the Night). She refuses to kill her man.

Rusalka cuts her own hair with the knife, then cuts a hole in the picture on the wall and walks through it. Jezibaba looks frightened and goes down through the trapdoor to the basement of the opening scene.

The hunter comes up (where is the kitchen boy? Oh, OK, it's the kitchen girl, the one who was being molested before).

They go down the trapdoor as well, looking for Jezibaba. There's the scene where Jezibaba threatens to eat the kitchen boy (here a girl) and says that he's (she's) too skinny. Funny because this girl is very chubby. Whatever.

The Water Goblin stabs and kills the hunter. Was this in the original? I don't remember it being there. Weird. Some people in sort of sewage worker uniforms come with flashlights and drag the corpse away.

Now we're in a room where Rusalka's abused sister nymphs dwell. Well it's not a lake. They use bottled water to spray themselves wet. They are cute and sing very well. Again there is this feeling of divorce between the sordid-looking scene and Dvorak's spectacularly melodious music.

The Water Goglin comes in dragged by a cop, in handcuffs, with a doctor. Presumably his child abuse has been spotted and he's being arrested. The doctor is supposed to check on the abused girls who don't look so happy about being rescued.

Rusalka is there. She looks positively damaged, sort of stunned, silent. The prince comes back for her. She is catatonic, like a patient in a mental institution. Her sisters look just as catatonic now. The prince sings of looking for her "in this forest." For a forest, this room lacks an essential element: trees. I'm starting to agree with Elgarian about these updates.

The scene between Rusalka and the Prince when she gives him the kiss of death is impressive in terms of Kristine's acting *and* singing. She again looks stunning, a little less disheveled with her clean hospital gown and a ponytail. That Russian girl Yuryevna has serious competition now. Kristine's laughing/crying in her last scene when she gets her face smeared with the Prince's blood is probably one of the best acting jobs I've seen in any opera for the last several years. I won't say any longer that it is acting of Natalie Dessay caliber, but rather, that she puts Natalie Dessay to shame. The end (there are no curtain calls, this was recorded with closed doors and no public).

OK, whew. Verdict time.

This isn't for the faint of heart, obviously. They have managed to make a horror movie out of this work defined as a "lyric fairy-tale in three acts." Gone is all the poetry and delicacy of Dvorak's outstanding opera. It's not the same work (this is why I kept saying "the original").

Does it work? It does as long as we don't remind ourselves too often that this is supposed to be Dvorak's opera. As a stage play dealing with abuse and its aftermath of despair, trauma, damaged souls, mental illness, and death, it does absolutely work, in no small measure thanks to the incredible acting abilities of the cast, first and foremost Ms. Opolais' impressive gifts as a stage actress, and second thanks for her almost as brilliant supporting cast. But it works for this reason, not because we get to see bloody deer carcasses. Stage directors need to understand that the psychological approach *can* work without any crude metaphors being pushed down our throats for shock value. And tampering with the original (like having the Water Goblin repeatedly stab and kill the Hunter) is totally unnecessary and silly.

Do I regret my purchase? Hell no. First of all, there is no straight male in the world who will feel bored while watching 156 minutes of eye-candy Kristine Opolais on stage. Sorry for being crass while saying this, but she is so stunningly attractive that there is just no way that someone like me won't enjoy this.

Second, the musical aspects are not bad at all. They do seem to take second place to the staging, a frequent problem in this kind of Regie approach. This is even matched by the sound engineering, because the balance between orchestra and singers definitely favors the latter. Sometimes, like I said, we quite forget that we're watching an opera rather than a stage play with background music. This said, there are no weak links, all cast members sing beautifully and the orchestra, while not shining, doesn't disappoint either.

In retrospect:

Cons:
-Gratuitous, shock-value-laden scenes and tampering with the original
-The music takes second place
-If one wants to make a stage play about rape, incest, sexual abuse, mental illness, etc., maybe it would have been better to pick a less lyric and poetic material. The divorce between music and staging is too apparent

Pros:
-Kristine Opolais
-Kristine Opolais
-Have I mentioned Kristine Opolais? OK, let's move on. Other pros:
-Outstanding acting, of the highest possible quality
-The production does keep one's attention
-Decent musical qualities with correct orchestra and very good singers
-Homogeneous high quality of the cast with absolutely no weak links, not even in the small roles
-Dvorak's opera is so beautiful that those who object to the staging can just turn off the TV monitor or close their eyes and enjoy the sublime music.
-Good Making Of bonus feature with interviews with all artists - it is nice to see Kristine treating us to her luminous smile, since in the two operas I've seen with her, she is always given either bored or crazy tragic acting tasks and I don't recall her really having a relaxed laugh or even a smile during these operas.

Do I recommend it? I can't, really. Like I said, it's not for everyone. But I can say that I have enjoyed it more than not.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:48 AM
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L'Olimpiade, dramma per musica in three acts (a subgenre of opera seria) that premiered in December of 1747.

Music by Baldassare Galuppi
Libretto by Pietro Metastasio

Venice Baroque Orchestra (on period instruments) - conductor Andrea Marcon
Opera company - Teatro La Fenice, in co-production with the Venice Music Festival
Recorded live at the Teatro Malibran, Venice, in October 2006

Stage director Dominique Poulange
Set and costume designer Francesco Zito
Video director Tiziano Mancini

Cast

Mark Tucker (Clistene)
Ruth Rosique (Aristea)
Roberta Invernizzi (Argene)
Romina Basso (Megacle)
Franziska Gottwald (Licida)
Furio Zanasi (Alcandro)
Filippo Adami (Aminta)

This DVD was released by Dynamic in 2008. It is region zero, and has optional subtitles in five languages including original Italian. Sound tracks include LPCM and Dolby Digital 5.1, with Dynamic's proprietary sound effects called ODS (original dynamic surround). Image is 16:9 and both image and sound are impeccable which is often the case with Dynamic releases. They also do package nicely their products, with complete liner notes including essays and synopses in German, English, Italian, and French, and track list with names of arias and characters but unfortunately without the duration. Total running time however is given, and it is 210 minutes.

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This opera is one of many (including by major composers such as Pergolesi, Vivaldi, and Donizetti) set to the same libretto by Metastasio who liked his opera serias to be very structured as a succession of da capo arias with conventional harpsichord and strings fillers in between, not to disturb the poetry. Galuppi actually tried to do more with the orchestral part, which enraged Metastasio.

Still, even though the composer did try to color things a little bit, L'Olimpiade is supposed to be "a vehicle dedicated to the expression of poetry: serene and expansive." It's got a reputation here at TC for being incredibly boring (while Amazon reviewers unanimously grant it 5 stars).

I'm currently at just 25 minutes of this long opera (3 hours and a half) but so far I'm liking it, which apparently doesn't prove much because Elgarian and mamascarlatti have said that the first hour is fine than it turns boring.

Anyway, undeniable qualities are the really nice small period orchestra, good conducting, and very good singing by all principals, no exceptions. It's actually pretty, pretty good singing. Three of the four females (two in trouser roles) are attractive, some more than others (they aren't stunning but they aren't eye sores either). The gentlemen I suppose are are not that hot - so it's a youngish, mostly decent-looking female cast, so-so male cast (but all of them good singers).

Here is the best looking one, Ruth Rosique in the role of Aristea, in this picture a few years older. Well, talking about the current thread on artists' looks, I must say that she does have the nice looks but an even better voice, she is very agile with beautiful coloratura and nice timbre. Her acting is fine too.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_ZnRNwoh9198/SnXbRFTAf_I/AAAAAAAAAFg/Av4F9v90keI/s320/ojos+verdes.jpg

Roberta Invernizzi who sings Argene very well, is not bad either in the matter of looks:

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Then we have Romina Basso in the trouser role of Megacle:

http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQ_YXZnktJT9p1Fppm83hCpvquRAFkHa tWh533uN75VMn8ZXHzg

And finally, Franziska Gottwald gets the other trouser role, Licida:

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The sets are beautiful and elegant (period staging, but sober and discreet, with traces of modernity in the way things are displayed - like in a tasteful Italian museum).

This theater has a small stage, but the relative sparse sets don't make it look too crowded. Still, one regrets the fact that they didn't use the La Fenice itself (just because I always like to look at it - although this small theater is actually appropriate for this 18th century opera, and it is steep in history, since it's the original one (no fire like at its bigger cousin) and is in operation since 1678 (although not continuously - it closed down and reopened a few times) - used to be called Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo.

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OK, 1 hour mark. I continue to like it, what's not to like? Good singing, good-looking singers, beautiful sets, excellent orchestra. Oh wait, you mean there is two and a half hours more? Well, I may get bored later, we'll see.

End of disc 1.

Disc 2 brings Ruth Rosique in a lovely red dress with generous cleavage, so, it scores some points for me. By now it's clear what is wrong with this thing: it's sheer length. The scenario is beautiful but it doesn't change. Things get pretty monotonous.

Excellent singing / playing / conducting continues, so what is needed to make of this a winning DVD? Cuts.

I remember Rienzi, with its 5 hours running time, which got cut to 2 in the available blu-ray, and most people who know the entire uncut opera say it improved (usually fans are outraged at cuts, but not in all cases).

So, short of cuts, here is my solution: the music is beautiful. It doesn't change much but it is beautiful. So I'll just stop paying attention to the convoluted plot (very, very convoluted) and will just use this as background music while I read a book.

No need to further review this.

Verdict - not recommended (too long). Can work as background music. Could be good with cuts.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:48 AM
Cherubini: Medea on DVD
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Tragedia in three acts - Music of Luigi Cherubini
Originally, French libretto by François-Benoît Hoffmann, premiered in 1797 in Paris
This is the Italian version by Carlo Zingarini which only premiered in 1909 in Milan

Recorded live in Turin, on October 5, 2008

Evelino Pidò conducts the Orchestra del Teatro Regio de Torino
Hugo de Ana does stage directing, costumes, and scenarios

Cast:

Anna Caterina Antonacci sings the title role
Giuseppe Filianot is Giasone
Cinzia Forte is Glauce
Sara Mingardo is Neris
Giovanni Battista Parodi is Creonte
Erika Matamoros is the first nurse
Luisa Francesconi is the second nurse

Hardy Classic Video, with Rai Trade
Region code zero
Sound PCM stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1, good quality with perfect balance
Picture format 16:9, good quality (at times so good that it looks like blu-ray)
Subtitles in Italian, English, French, or Spanish
Running time 140 minutes
Liner notes include a brief presentation (one paragraph) and a synopsis in English and Italian. No track list. No extras except for a brief introduction that appears optionally on screen.

Staging is updated to sometime around the 1920's I suppose, given the clothes. The scenario for the first scene is a very realistic-looking beachfront. Cinzia Forte is the first singer and she disappoints, seems a bit wobbly, her voice is not as, well, forte (OK, terrible pun). She doesn't look as good as in earlier performances (still a classy-looking lady). I'm not terribly impressed with Giovanni Parodi. Nor with Giuseppe Filianoti either (weakest link so far).

Second scene opens again to impressive, realistic scenario of a ship crashed ashore. The orchestra plays well with good resonance, energy, and perky tempo. The chorus is OK.

Singing continues to disappoint. I'm hoping that ACA will rescue this thing, which is not an easy task given her illustrious predecessor (Callas). We'll see.

So far what I've liked most is the rather beautiful staging, the image quality, and Cherubini's music well rendered by a good orchestra, because these performers are not that good.

OK, ACA is on, and she is of course very good (and as usual looks great, now with her more mature beauty), although some have complained that she looks more grieving than terrifying and enraged like Callas' Medea. Another common complaint is that the tessitura for this role is a bit higher than the one she is usually more comfortable with (she's a good Carmen) and she struggles a bit with the high notes.

I guess both objections are true. But still, Ms. Antonacci is a very glamorous artist and whether she's ideally cast for the role or not is less important to me, because she still dazzles this fan of hers. My take is, we shouldn't be demanding a Callas, she's dead. What we have here is ACA, and she is great.

ACT I was a little bland. ACT II is starting now, and the drama is supposed to thicken.

Sara Mingardo's Neris is excellent. So now we have two good singing actresses on stage, which improves things a lot. It's a scene with great dramatic impact. This is a good opera!

ACT III - The storm scene that opens it is terrific. Great staging job, and the orchestra did well too, and so did ACA with her superior acting skills. Next, her mad scene is bone chilling, and one of the best I've ever seen in all of opera. Mingardo is just as good in the scene, which they both perform to perfection. I kind of pity the two young actors doing the children because this is all too realistic, they must have felt a bit terrified with this lunatic with crazed eyes singing about killing them. The cynical among us will also appreciate the fact that Antonacci's dress comes more and more undone as the scene goes on, exposing more and more her, cough cough, assets.

Verdict: uneven, but the highs outweigh the lows, so, recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:49 AM
Pfitzner: Palestrina on DVD
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Palestrina, musical legend in three acts, composed between 1912 and 1915, premiered in 1917 in Munich, sung in German
Music and libretto by Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949)

2009(LC) - Simone Young - Bayerisches Staatsorchester
Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper

Stage director Christian Stückl
Stage and costume design Stefan Hageneier

Cast

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, choirmaster of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome - Christopher Ventris
Pope Pius IV - Peter Rose
Giovanni Morone and Gernardo Novagerio, Cardinal legates - Michael Volle and John Daszak
Cardinal Christoph Madruscht, Prince-Bishop of Trent - Roland Bracht
Carlo Borromeo, Roman cardinal - Falk Struckmann
The Cardinal of Lorraine - Steven Humes
Abdisu, the Patriarch of Assyria - Kenneth Robertson
Anton Brus von Müglitz, the Archbishop of Prague - Christian Rieger
Graf Luna, spokesman for the King of Spain - Wolfgang Koch
Theophilus, the Bishop of Imola - Kevin Conners
The Bishop of Budoja - Ulrich Ress
Ighino, Palestrina's 15-year-old son - Christiane Karg
Silla, Palestrina's 17-year-old pupil - Claudia Mahnke
Bischof Ercole Severolus - Master of Cerimonies of the Council of Trent - Christoph Stephinger

Plus, choristers from Santa Maria Maggiore, a few more bishops, a doctor, apparitions, angels, and finally Lukrezia, Palestrina's dead wife - Heike Götzinger.

The story is about a fictionalized episode of Palestrina's struggle to overcome writers block after the death of his wife, and to prevent the Pope from condemning polyphony in church music and reverting to Gregorian Chant at the Council of Trent in the 16th century. Palestrina is asked by Cardinal Borromeo to compose a polyphonic Mass for the Council's appreciation and judgment; initially fails to do so thanks to his block and falls in disgrace, is thrown in jail and threatened with torture (hey, nice way to treat your composers!), but then he delivers; it's a success, he's saved, the Pope and the people are grateful, and polyphony is saved. There's a subplot about his pupil trying to get to Florence to learn the new approaches to art and music.

Technical aspects:

2009 release from EuroArts/Unitel Classica in two DVDs (region zero), running time 197 minutes (opera) with a 9-minute bonus film (Making Of, very good) plus trailers (of rather interesting productions of Lucrezia Borgia, Khovanshchina, Idomeneo, and Chin's Alice in Wonderland, all from Munich, I wouldn't recomment the latter for people with motion sickness since it's filmed in shaky handheld camera style). Format NTSC 16:9 with excellent definition and color. Sound PCM stereo, Dolby 5.0 and DTS 5.0, with good clarity and balance. Optional subtitles in German, English, and French. Excellent liner notes with full credits, full list of chapters with characters and duration, two short essays about the staging, and about the composer and the opera, synopsis in English, German, and French, and production photos. That is, impeccable packaging.

Pfitzner should be the one associated with Nazism, unlike Wagner who died much before the Nazi era, in spite of what the misinformed lay public thinks. Pfitzner *was* closely associated with the Nazi leadership and was profoundly racist. Oh well, let's enjoy the music and forget about the man.

I'm watching it as I type my review. This work has a reputation for longueurs and boring parts alternating with sublime music. We'll see. It opens exactly this way with a lengthy and theatrically unappealing arioso-style dialogue between Silla and Ighino, but with good orchestration, and following a beautiful prélude. So, unevenness will likely be the word. In this production, the dialogue is sung by the two rather unattractive females in trouser roles. Their singing is not bad, though, especially Christiane Karg's. But the length of this scene is clearly exaggerated: not less than 23 minutes until another character interrupts it!http://operalively.com/forums/images/smilies/eek.gif On the other hand, about one third of this scene has very beautiful vocal writing, Ich wusste whol, du würdest also reden (8 minutes long).

Staging is visually very, very striking, with garish colors (sort of fluorescent, even), and rather interesting surrealistic imagery, judging by what I've seen so far and by the production photos. It's in contemporary costumes and furniture, minimalistic, with some visual elements evoking the 16th century. It seems appropriate to the concept of this opera which deals with tradition vs. innovation in art, and includes dream-like, delirium-like sequences.

This opera has a hallmark DG recording on CD with Kubelík conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and a star-studded cast including Nicolai Gedda, Hermann Prey, and Brigitte Fassbaender, so I'm not sure this production will be able to match it musically-wise, but it's up to a good start; the orchestra is sounding beautifully, and singing so far is satisfactory as well (we just got Cardinal Borromeo on stage and Falk Struckmann is not bad either). Christopher Ventris has just started his participation in the title role, and he certainly has a beautiful voice and interprets his role with passion, nuance, and good phrasing of the musical line. It's a demanding role with wide tessitura, and this passage - Die Kunst der Meister vieler hundert Jahre - is musically and dramatically difficult, and he's passing it with flying colors.

Keeping up with the unevenness, this is followed by another overlong (25 minutes!!!) scene with the cardinal talking about the pros and cons of polyphonic music. A few good parts exist during this scene but it could use a pair of scissors. Falk Struckmann's voice seems tired and he is smothered by the orchestra at times. This is compensated by good acting and by the fact that the cardinal is supposed to be an old man anyway.

In terms of musical structure, it's written-through, there are Wagnerian influences, and it is beautiful and complex, but not as good as Wagner's operas or Pfitzner's exact contemporary Richard Strauss' operas. That compelling Wagnerian sea of sounds that involves the listener is missing from the orchestration, and the soaring vocal writing of Richard Strauss is missing from the vocal music. But if one doesn't set the bar *this* high, then it's very enjoyable, especially the parts for the title role which do reach sublime proportions.

The pace is very slow. This is the kind of work that could benefit enormously from a more compact production, like it's been done to Wagner's Rienzi which was released on blu-ray virtually cut in half. While I'm in principle against cuts, there are works here and there that get better, not worse, when judicious cuts are employed. This one is one of those, in my opinion.

Palestrina's dream in the first act when all those apparitions and the ghost of his wife try to overcome his writers block is a *very* effective scene, both musically and theatrically, and also thanks to the interesting staging, clever black-and-white creepy make-up, and costumes in this production. Camera work and video editing are good too. Like I said, it's kind of striking to see this effective scene only coming up 1 hour and 10 minutes into the opera, after two very long-drawn-out scenes. Ventris is excellent all along this scene (it is not as vocally demanding, though - sort of a piece of cake for this excellent Wagnerian tenor who has been Parsifal before). I really *love* the creepy effect of the make-up, when the apparitions smile!

We're getting close to the supposedly chaotic and colorful second act, which shows all the infighting and bickering among different factions during the Council of Trent, and doesn't include the title character at all (he'll only return for the final act - good break for Ventris!), but still with some 17 minutes to go, for a total duration of 1 hour 38 minutes for the first act! Oh! My! God! Someone please tell Mr. Pfitzner that some 45 minutes is the ideal duration for an operatic act.

I shouldn't have complained. The staging for the final parts of the first act turns suddenly spectacular, with incredibly visually appealing effects of bright green, and beautiful vocal music for Palestrina's wife (which is not very well delivered by Heike Götzinger who has a small voice that doesn't project well from behind her huge mask (we can't see her face - there's a cute angel, though, the first attractive female in this production) and above the orchestra and chorus. She totally disappears (well, OK, she is a ghost anyway, I guess dead people don't have all the energy to sing above a chorus and a romantic orchestra involved in loud ominous music).

End of the long Act I which has some very good moments but also some very dull ones - I'd have eliminated some 50 minutes of it. The final scene is impressive with the police coming to arrest Palestrina while his son hides behind a table, saving the manuscript of his Mass which he supposedly composed during his dream/delirious state. Nice.

End of the first DVD, I'll take a break myself. So far the good outweighs the bad, and if one just endures the longueurs, it is a rewarding experience. I expect the next two acts to be theatrically better since they are shorter in duration, should be more dynamic, we'll see. Pause to eat. I'll be back. By the way, I've just watched the Making Of, and it is quite interesting with the appropriate explanations of the staging focus and concept and interviews with the artists (including stage director, conductor, etc.).

I'm back.

Terrific prélude to the second act, really powerful. Again, long scene between cardinals preparing for the Council of Trent. Spectacular singing by John Daszak as Novagerio. Nice staging with good effects achieved with black-and-white colors and make-up. So far, so good.

My admiration for this staging is growing by the minute. There just isn't a better way to stage this work. It is quite impressive what Munich did here. This opera has dozens of characters, requires a huge orchestra, has lots of nontheatrical moments, is darn difficult to stage, and they pull it off with aplomb. Acting is exquisite, a simple facial expression conveys the conflicting sentiments of the Council of Trent, the costumes couldn't be more effective, the striking images are so fascinating that they keep the spectator's attention even during the dull moments. This is a masterful staging. It should figure in teaching environments of theatrical arts, as an example of how to balance Regie concepts with the music and the historical context of the work to almost perfection (OK, there isn't a point in showing one of the cardinals eating an ice-cream cone, but I didn't mind Graf Luna getting there in a stretch limousine - by the way, he looks uncannily like Jack Nicholson! - but other than a glitch or two, this is modern staging of opera, folks, and it is darn good!

Maybe it's not time for a verdict yet (I'm still in the middle of act two), but it is rather clear to me, the way this is going:

Superb, exquisite, spectacular staging, something to be taught in staging classes. This in itself recommends this DVD. Flawless packaging, of the highest technical quality and completeness. Very good singing and acting, a phenomenally successful effort by the Bayerischen Staatsoper. So, regarding what Bayerischen Staatsoper and EuroArts/Unitel Classica did, this *product* couldn't be more highly recommended.

But then, there is the work itself, the opera.

If I recommended this to a novice, it would turn him/her off opera for a lifetime.
This opera is *only* recommended to the seasoned viewer/listener.

It's long, non-theatrical, complex, challenging, and the rewards are there but require lots of patience. Is it a masterpiece? Yes in some senses, but no in others. I think the main problem here is that Pfitzner was his own librettist. He should have associated himself for this project with someone who possessed a sense of theatrical arts, and could trim down this sprawling libretto into half of its length, and say, "maestro, this is all very nice but doesn't work on stage. Save your best bits of music for some main scenes, eliminate others, make of this a compact, fast pacing work, and we'll have an opera for the ages! We'll have an astounding success and will conquer a place in the repertory forever. They way it is right now, only the most sophisticated listeners will enjoy it."

So, all things consider, I'll just say "recommended."

That's about it, and if I don't change my mind during the third act, I'll leave it at this. If I do change my mind, I'll add to this post later.

Edit:

OK, I'll add to it, to increase the praise for the staging.

Terrific prélude to the third act as usual (all three préludes are very good), and the third act is the most dynamic of the three. The way the Pope is presented is very clever. It conveys power and other-worldliness, sort of the presence of the Divine on Earth, singing is a very good match for the scene, colors are sublime, everything works. Musically the orchestration for the third act is the most appealing of the three acts - this act is genuinely beautiful throughout it, and provides a rather nice ending to this uneven work. There is a certain aspect of love for music at the end, when Palestrina son's says "your works will be performed forever" and he says that he doesn't rejoice as much on surface but indirectly indicates by facial expression and all that he feels the joy of music in his heart. It is a touching ending, very beautiful and delicate.

I thought that Act III was finally theatrically effective like acts I and II could not be, and after all is said and done, I must say that I've immensely enjoyed this DVD.

So, OK, I'll change my verdict to "highly recommended" and if some novice approaches this and gets turned off, oh well, said novice doesn't deserve to have access to the joys of opera.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:50 AM
Paisiello: Nina, o sia la pazza per amore on DVD
Nina, o sia la pazza per amore (Nina, or the girl driven mad by love)

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Opera buffa in prose and verse in two acts, 1790 revision, sung in Italian, premiered in first version (one act) on June 25, 1789, and in revised version (two acts) in Naples in the autumn of 1790. A third version with recitatives not authored by Paisiello exists, but the current production goes back to the more authentic second version with spoken dialogue.

Music by Giovanni Paisiello
Libretto by Giuseppe Antonio Carpani, expanded by Giovanni Battista Lorenzi, based on Nicolas Dalayrac's earlier (1786) one-act French opera Nina ou La Folle Par Amour, which set to music an original libretto by Benoît-Joseph Marsollier.

2002(LI) - Adam Fischer - Orchestra of the Opernhaus Zürich
Chorus of the Opernhaus Zürich
Stage direction by Cesare Lievi
Video direction by Thomas Grimm

Cast

Nina - Cecilia Bartoli
Lindoro - Jonas Kaufmann
Il Conte - László Polgár
Susanna - Juliette Galstian
Giorgio - Angelo Veccia
Un pastore - Jonas Kaufmann
Villanelle - Federica Bartoli and Golda Fischer

Technical stuff:

ATTENTION, the NTSC version of this DVD is out of print. It can still be found with outrageous prices above $100 for used copies. My version is an import from Europe in PAL version, which gets shipped to the US with reasonable/average price, but to play it you'll need a PAL compatible, region free DVD player (I do have one, and they can be found very cheap for $60, which is a purchase I have repeatedly recommended because it will free you from a single-country market and will pay for itself given some good prices on imports). As a matter of fact for this particular product just a PAL compatible player will do because it is region zero. It should play on your laptop as well with no problem.

This is an ArtHaus Musik release, with the usual high quality we find in products from this company. The insert has three different and very complete essays - a different essay for each language - in German, English, and French (I can't read the German one), as well as synopsis and biography of the main artists. The track list does contain character names, aria names, and duration.

There is a good extra: a 46-minute documentary called "Giovanni Paisiello - A Forgotten Genius."

Sound format is PCM Stereo and DTS 5.1
Picture format is 16:9, PAL standard
Menu languages are provided in English, German, French, and Spanish, and optional subtitles are provided in the above 4 languages plus original Italian.

Running time is 120 minutes for the opera, and like I said, 46 minutes for the bonus feature, all in region code zero.

Paisiello was a contemporary of Mozart's, who added an aria to another one of Paisiello's operas, the 1974 opera seria Andromeda. It's DV277, composed in 1777 and called Ah, lo previdi.

This version of Nina incorporates Mozart's aria in act 1, when, following the shepherd's canzone, Nina is asked by Susanna to sing something that matches her mood, and Nina sings this aria that talks about Andromeda accusing her rescuer, Perseus, over the death of her lover.

This aria fits well in the plot because Nina sings it addressing her father, whom she holds responsible for the death of her betrothed.

Although this aria was not part of Paisiello's Nina, the insertion recovers the common practice in the 18th century of inserting the so-called "cuckoo arias" in live opera performances, according to the taste of the conductor, the singer, or an important patron.

Another interesting fact about this opera is that it contained one of the earliest mad scenes, which became so popular in subsequent works. It was also one of the first Italian operas to blend elements of opera buffa and opera seria, with its lachrymose heroine that adds some pathos to the comedy (a sort of sentimental comedy). This, added to Paisiello's lasting influence until Rossini's clique started to take over (after some wicked battles between the two sets of fans), makes of this opera a historically important one.

Paisiello's mad scene in Nina is impressive in terms of orchestration. To convey the young woman's confusion of mind, Paisiello uses abruptly interrupted melodies, plaintif winds, unexpected pauses and modulations into minor keys.

An earlier brief review by one of our members (Gaston) mentioned that one doesn't feel that Mozart's aria inserted here is completely out of place regarding the surrounding music, which is an attestation to the fact that while Paisiello was no Mozart, he wasn't too shabby either.

Instead of re-writing the plot, I'll borrow from a very good description by an Amazon.com reviewer called J. Scott Morrison (true name):

"The story is fairly simple. Nina loves Lindoro, but her father, the Count, wants her to marry a wealthy rival. Lindoro and the rival duel, in Nina's presence, and Lindoro is killed. Nina goes mad immediately. All this occurs before the curtain rises. In Act I we meet Nina, who is under the care of her duenna, Susanna, on the grounds of the Count's castle. She is under the illusion that Lindoro is not dead and she awaits his return eagerly. This delusion is fostered by Susanna in order to spare Nina's delicate nerves. The Count is very sad for his daughter and regrets his earlier tyrannical behavior. But Nina doesn't even recognize her father. A shepherd appears, accompanied by a bagpiper, and sings a pastoral air. Nina remarks that he sounds like her beloved Lindoro and is reminded of her cruel fate. She becomes agitated and sings an interpolated rage aria by Mozart, 'Ah, io previdi!'. Susanna prevails upon her to go into the village and bring presents to the peasants. Act II opens with the Count thanking Susanna for taking such good care of Nina when the major domo, Giorgio, arrives breathlessly to announce that Lindoro hadn't died after all, that he has returned in disguise as a shepherd, because although he cannot marry her, he wants to be near his beloved Nina. So it turns out Nina was not wrong to think the shepherd sounded like her dear Lindoro. The Count encounters Lindoro, greets him as a son, accepts him as a prospective son-in-law. Nina enters but takes a while to recognize that the stranger is her long-lost lover. They reunite and a happy finale ensues, but not before--in a clever touch--Lindoro begins acting like the lord of the manor and one gets some sense that all may not live happily ever after. "

This is of course Bartoli's show, and she had a fundamental role in having this revival produced by Zürich. She was the one who had the idea and pushed it through, because she wanted to give Nina's role a try. Some reviewers complain of her over-acting (we know that Ms. Bartoli likes grimaces) but all seem to be unanimous in praising her singing, as well as those of JK and Polgár.

OK, folks, I wrote all of the above based on my pre-performance homework. Now I'll watch the DVD and come back for my own take on the staging, orchestra, and singing.

Full review to follow, see you in about two and a half hours.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:51 AM
OK, folks. First act is over. I want to post this separately, because I want you all to be able to get this post as part of the unread highlights, because I believe it is pretty important that you hear this (not that my reviews are essential, but this product is, and I want you all to get the full information about how good this DVD is).

Technically, we get the usual sharp colors of PAL DVDs, given that the joking acronym for NTSC is "Not Too Sharp Colors." The sound balance is one of the best I've ever seen. We get strong, clear sounds from the singers coming from the center speaker, and an admirably rich and well distributed orchestral track from the other surround speakers, which is helped by my Yamaha receiver's ability to transform the 5.1 sound into 7.1 sound with added concert hall effects, but is almost as good when I push the "direct" button and get the regular 5.1 DTS effects. This is involving, exquisite sound, a true aural pleasure. The only downside is that there is some stage noise and occasionally you can hear the prompter, which always pisses me off - this is a DVD that you shouldn't hear with top level amplifiers and high performance earphones because you'll be likely to get a lot more of the prompter's whispering.

Staging - couldn't be more perfect. It is traditional, tasteful, with no Eurotrash elements, with good use of space, and beautiful and atmospheric effects like the sun coming out of windows and projecting shadows, or the hint of woods outside the windows.

Video direction - again, perfect. The close-ups are extremely clever and done at the right moments. Video edition is top notch.

Orchestra - they are very good and conducting is simply sublime. One does miss the more delicate period instruments which this piece truly asks for, leaving a certain impression of heavy-handed playing that is not the musicians' or the conductor's fault, it's just that they can't get from the modern instruments the kind of sound we got used to, for these earlier operas. Anyway, they still do a superb job.

Acting - no, I didn't notice any wooden acting like other TC members have mentioned. It's just that Nina is given lots of space to display her madness, and the other characters prudently stay away, press themselves against the walls and the background, kind of afraid of getting close to her bubbling and disturbed actions.

Singing - Oh! My! God!

STOP THE PRESS, FOLKS!!! HEAR, HEAR!!!

El Guapo is wonderful, so is Polgár, and Galstian is simply spectacular. Even secondary roles like Veccia's are extraordinary.

But Cecilia's Nina... wow. I can't express as much admiration as she deserves.

I believe that her rendition of Mozart's aria is this gifted artist's finest moment, ever.

JUST HER RENDITION OF AH, LO PREVIDI IS WORTH ANY TROUBLE YOU GUYS MAY GO THROUGH TO GET THIS DVD. I KIND OF UNDERSTAND NOW WHY USED COPIES ARE GOING FOR ONE HUNDRED BUCKS!

It's sublime! Outstanding! Spectacular!

It's simply one of the best operatic DVD moments I've seen in my life. This is the stuff of legends. This is of Maria Callas caliber.

Jonas Kaufmann was sitting there, looking at Cecilia with loving eyes as his character was supposed to show, but one can feel that he was experiencing more emotion than what is asked of his character.

I bet that Jonas was thinking - "Wow, oh boy, am I privileged to witness from a distance of two yards one of the best operatic performances of all times???"

What Ms. Bartoli did is worth of a BUY IT! BUY! BUY IT! double recommendation.

"Highly recommended" is too little for this.

She had me with watery eyes. It's simply extraordinary.

I was thinking of our current gifted singing actresses.

We have Ms. Fleming with a noble and classy career, but she rarely gets to these heights.

We have Ms. Dessay but her voice is not as good as her acting.

We have Ms. Netrebko who combines great looks with great acting and a great voice and should be considered as at least the second best of our time.

But then we have Ms. Bartoli who definitely doesn't look as good as Ms. Fleming, Ms. Netrebko, and even Ms. Dessay when the latter tries harder to get her feminine charm going - but Ms. Bartoli can light up a production like few can.

I'm thinking of her Il Turco in Italia, her Clari, and now her Nina.

What an EXTRAORDINARY artist!

Boobs talk apart, and more limited repertoire apart (she can't venture much farther away than baroque and early romantic), Ms. Bartoli - this Netrebko fan must confess - is arguably the best singer-actress of her generation.

If she had the looks of Ms. Netrebko, Ms. Bartoli would be the dominant figure of late 20th - early 21st century operatic singing/acting.

This is simply spectacular, folks. You gotta see this.

My score is 11 out of 10; essential buy, one of the best operatic DVDs of all times, combining exquisite singers and actors with a good conductor and orchestra, good staging, excellent technical quality, perfect packaging and insert - it is a rather perfect product.

PS - I saw the second act and my admiration didn't drop at all. For fans of Mr. Kaufmann, we get a lot more of him in the second act, and he delivers, flawlessly. While Paisiello's music is not as brilliant as Mozart's and Rossini's, it is more than good enough (we can't set the bar this high, there are plenty of composers who are not as good as these but are still pretty good), and I profoundly enjoyed this opera and this performance. In time: the spoken dialogue works well, it gives the opera a more theatrical aspect.

I had two very satisfactory hours of formidable opera watching. Buy it with no hesitation, folks, whatever the cost.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:54 AM
Franz von Suppé: Boccaccio, or the Prince of Palermo copied from an old TV broadcast
Boccaccio, or the Prince of Palermo
Operetta in three acts, originally sung in German
Music by Franz von Suppé (1819-1895)
Libretto by Camillo Walzel (under the pen name of Friedrich Zell) and Richard Genée, based on the play by Jean-François-Antoine Bayard and three other authors, very loosely based in turn on the Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio
Premiered in Vienna, February 1, 1879

1991(LI) - Frank Bernd Gottschalk - Orchestra, Chorus, and Ballet of the Teatro Comunale di Trieste "G. Verdi" - version sung in Italian

Giovanni Boccacio, a novelist and poet - Armando Ariostini
Pietro, Prince of Palermo - giovanni Guarino
Scalza, a barber - Graziano Polidori
Beatrice, Scalza's daughter - Antonella Bandelli
Lotteringhi, a cooper - Max René Cosotti
Isabella, Lotteringhi's wife - Cosetta Tosetti
Lambertuccio, a grocer - Saverio Bambi
Peronella, Lambertuccio's sister - Francesca Arnone
Fiammetta, Lambertuccio's adopted daugher - Simona Bertini
Leonetto, Boccacio's student friend - Marco Canastra
Checco, a beggar - Enrico Rotoli
Fresco, the cooper's apprentice - Giorgio Amodeo
A vendor - Paolo Rumetz
A stranger - Giovanni Sancin
Chichibio - Riccardo Maranzana
Filippa - Maddalena Lubini

Stage director - Alfred Eschwe
Choreography - Giuliana Barabaschi
Scenarios and costumes - Jurgen Aue
Chorus master - Ine Maisters

Running time, approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes

Set in Florence, 1331

This is a version with no subtitles. I should better get a detailed synopsis to be able to follow it. Here goes, copied from some obscure site in the Internet called Old and Sold. As you'll see, this doesn't exactly come from Decameron which is very briefly mentioned, but rather depicts a fictional episode in Boccaccio's life:

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

Boccaccio, the hero of this tale, is a novelist and poet whose virile pen deals with truth not romance, and who has brought down upon his head the hatred of many of the Florentines, who are portrayed in his novels with really embarrassing fidelity. They vow vengeance upon him and his life, or at least his safety, is in peril. Boccaccio has found time in the midst of his literary labors to fall in love with Fiammetta, the adopted daughter of Lambertuccio, the grocer. He, as well as Lambertuccio, is unaware of the fact that the girl is the daughter of the Duke of Tuscany, who for political reasons has had her brought up in this humble fashion. Her father has destined her for a fitting marriage and he sends to Florence at this time, Pietro, Prince of Palmero, to claim as his wife, Fiammetta, who has been betrothed to him in infancy. Pietro is acting in accordance with the wishes of his father and not because he desires to assume marital ties, for, as ,he himself confesses, he is far too fond of wine and flirting to care to take on himself the role of husband.

Upon his arrival in the city, he joins in several adventures with the students and meets Boccaccio, for whom he has had, for some time, a profound admiration. He fancies that by his adventures he may gain such experience that he, too, may write of life as Boccaccio does. But his literary ardor is somewhat cooled when, on account of a resemblance which he bears to Boccaccio, he is seized by Florentine citizens who have figured unpleasantly in the novels of " the miserable scribbler " and given a sound drubbing.

Boccaccio, who has learned that Fiammetta is to marry, succeeds in stealing interviews with her in the disguises of a beggar and a simpleton, and finds that his love is returned. Meantime Pietro's adventures go on merrily. He is introduced to Isabella, the wife of the drunken cooper, Lotteringhi, and proceeds to fall in love with her, for the students represent that she is the cooper's niece. On one occasion, when Lotteringhi returns before he is expected, the lady hides her princely lover in a barrel and when he is discovered, glibly explains his presence by saying that he had purchased the barrel and had gone in to examine it.

To be brief, after much flirting and serenading, Pietro accomplishes the business for which he has set out and meets Fiammetta whose foster-father is overcome with awe to learn her true identity.
In the last act, Fiammetta is found at the ducal palace in Palmero, about to be solemnly betrothed to Pietro. Boccaccio, for whom the Prince has a profound liking, comes as a guest to the festivities. He knows well that his love is reciprocated, and he has Pietro's own admission that he feels only indifference for Fiammetta, so he decides to help fate to a more gallant role. He is asked to arrange a play for the evening and, in the impromptu affair he illustrates the situation with such fidelity and shows up the follies of Pietro so vividly, that the young man who looks it over previous to its performance decides not to have it played and instead surrenders the hand of Fiammetta to the one who truly loves her. Fiammetta is better pleased to wed a professor of the University of Florence, for such Boccaccio is now made, than to be Princess of Palmero and the happy Boccaccio promises that it shall be quite the last of his literary practical jokes.

The opera is full of genuine comedy which is generously furnished by the superstitious Lambertuccio, who sees dreadful signs and portents in every occurrence; by Checco the beggar and by Peronella, the elderly sister of Lambertuccio, who is engaged in hunting a rich husband.

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

I did find a pdf that contains the images of the Italian libretto, but in several attempts, the download freezes in the middle and I just get the first few pages [edit] I got the pages from act II on, but the middle pages before that are a blank:

http://musicologia.unipv.it/collezio...f/ghisi036.pdf (http://musicologia.unipv.it/collezionidigitali/ghisi/pdf/ghisi036.pdf)

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

Image from this bootleg DVD is very poor, filmed from the audience with a single camera that does zoom in as needed. Sound however is reasonably clear.

The text in Italian during the spoken dialogues is easy to understand for those who speak Italian, thanks to the good articulation of the all-Italian cast. The lyrics of the arias are harder to get, but one should be able to follow the story quite well with the above synopsis as a helper.

Staging is traditional, with period costumes. Scenarios are simple and reproduce street scenes in Florence. Orchestral tempi are lively and they seem to play well - not brilliant but they don't disappoint.

This regional opera company with unknown singers does very well in this production. Singing is of very decent quality across the board in spite of the very numerous cast. Nothing spectacular overall, but nothing dreadful either like sometimes we hear from these small Italian houses. They also have a good sense of comic acting and make good use of the rather large stage (again, unlike we often see in Italian regional companies that tend to perform in tiny stages). The whole thing is quite pleasant in terms of stage movement and singing. Strange is the fact that the original used a trouser role for the title character, but here we're given a high-sounding baritone, who sings well. Simona Bertini is quite cute except that her profile is less comely thanks to a long nose. She sings OK, with a sweet voice and nice timbre, but she doesn't project very well.

The operetta itself, von Suppé's most successful one, is OK, but not something I'd go out of my way to see again. There are some nice numbers, like among others, an aria when Boccaccio explains his source materials (I couldn't catch its first line), the student's song (Assieme all'amante), Leonetto's serenade for Peronella (Mio dolce amor), the Lotteringhi song with his guild (Mia moglie sempre grida), a waltz trio with Fiammetta, Isabella, and Peronella (O gentil momento, scritto amato), which is given again in the finale of act II - this waltz, I must say, does not have the verve of those by J. Strauss II - Lambertuccio's song Per scansare del prence l'ira, and finally the most famous piece, the duet between Boccaccio and Fiammetta (Mia Bella Fiorentina) - a good number. The orchestration is a bit more heavy-handed than one would expect for an operetta, but does liven up as the piece goes on.

I found an YouTube of the same performance, with the Boccacio-Fiametta duet:



http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8fgvePKLnwM


It's an interesting work for fans of the subgenre, but not essential, IMHO, and not as good as Lehár's and J. Strauss II's operettas.

Kudos however to this regional Italian opera company; they did quite well in this production, in many regards (lively, well acted, good dynamic use of space, well sung even in minor roles in spite of the large number of characters, decent budget costumes, good comedic sense - scenarios could have been better). They actually in my opinion made this work feel better than it is - or at least, they explored well its possibilities. This was not an amateurish performance at all.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:56 AM
Carlos Gomes: Fosca on DVD
This poorly known composer outside of Italy and his native Brazil is actually quite good.
His best known opera is Il Guarany, which Verdi liked and I have reviewed elsewhere.

Gomes studied in Milan and was a contemporary of Verdi's. While his operas are good, they aren't very original - they pretty much follow the existing style of the time.

This is a broadcast recorded from Brazilian TV, with an introduction that details Gomes' life and career, narrated in Portuguese, with no subtitles. Running total time with the introductory mini-documentary and credits is 154 minutes so the opera is probably some 2 hours and 20 minutes.

The production is from November 1997, live from the Sofia National Opera, with Brazilian cultural and financial backing - as part of a project to produce and record all operas by Carlos Gomes. The title role gets Gail Gilmore, an American singer.

Fosca, opera seria in four acts, sung in Italian, premiered at La Scala on February 16, 1873; revised version (described as melodramma) premiered also at La Scala on February 7, 1878.
Music by Antonio Carlos Gomes
Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, based on Luigi Capranica's 1869 novel La Festa delle Marie
Brazilian conductor Luiz Fernando Malheiro is at the helm of the Orchestra of the Sofia National Opera
Stage direction Plamen Kartaloff
Scenarios and costumes Salvatore Russo

Fosca, Gajolo's sister - Gail Gilmore
Paolo, a venetian prisoner of Gajolo's - Roumen Doykov
Gajolo, leader of a band of pirates - Svetozar Ranguelov
Delia, betrothed to Paolo - Krassimira Stoyanova
Cambro, a Venetian deserter, Gajolo's servant - Niko Issakov
The Doge of Venice - Stoil Gueorguiev
Michele Giota, a Venetian senator, Paolo's father - Peter Bakardzhiev
Pirates, citizens of Venice

Production director Rosana Caramaschi
Overall direction Cleber Papa (I don't know what they mean by this)

The opera tanked in its premiere, but after Gomes revised it, it was fairly successful, but now it is rarely given outside of Brazil.

Synopsis:

Place: Istria and Venice, 10th century

Act I - Gajolo is planning to kidnap women who are participating of the Feast of the Marys (a sort of multi-bride wedding feast) in Venice, for ransom. The band learns that the rich father of one of their existing male prisoners, Paolo, is offering to pay ransom for his son's return. Fosca who is in love with Paolo wants to double-cross his father and keep both the money and her beloved. The pirates however balk at this dishonorable idea (hehehe, operatic pirates have honor). They leave. Fosca brings Paolo out of his cell and declares her love for him. He is not interested and tells her that he loves his fiancée Delia. Paolo's father shows up with Gajolo, pays up the ransom, and leaves with Paolo. Fosca promises to marry Cambro if he abducts Delia for her.

Act II - Paolo and Delia are about to marry although she is jealous and suspicious that he may love Fosca who nurtured him back to health when he was wounded by his captors. He reassures her. Cambro, disguised as a Turkish merchant, wants to sell jewelry to Delia in other to be alone with her and kidnap her, but she declines. Paolo and Delia leave each other to prepare for the wedding. Fosca also shows up in disguise and enters the church where the Feast of the Marys was supposed to happen, where she learns from Cambro that Paolo indeed loves Delia (duh!). She is enraged and invoke demons. Gajolo is surprised to find his sister there. When the processional comes in, Fosca attacks Paolo, but is stopped by the pirates, who then kidnap Delia and capture Paolo again - double dipping? However a group of Venetian nobles capture Gajolo.

Act III - Paolo is back to his cell in the pirate's headquarters. Delia begs Fosca to free him and offers to die in his place or become Fosca's slave. Fosca is moved, and decides that she won't carry on her vendetta. Instead, she vouches for freeing Gajolo, and fulfilling her promise to Cambro that she'll marry him (nice girl, after all).

Act IV - The Doge sets Gajolo free and tells him to go free Paolo, with the condition that if his sister has killed Paolo, Gajolo will be pursued again to the end of Earth if necessary. Oh well, meanwhile in the pirate's lair almost nice girl Fosca turns evil again, produces Delia and tells Paolo that she'll kill him unless Delia drinks poison. Delia wants to do it but Gajolo arrives and orders the pirates to free Paolo. He discloses the fact that Cambro tried to kill him in Venice (why?) and he had to kill Cambro. He tells them about the Doge's threat, and says that Paolo and Delia must be returned to Venice otherwise Gajolo himself will end up dead. Fosca begs for forgiveness, Paolo and Delia promise to pray for her, they depart, Fosca drinks the poison herself, and as she dies the pirates rage about how the Venetians got the upper hand.

The beautiful overture with emphasis on strings starts melodious and delicate and turns intense, with drums and brass, then becomes mild again with winds and strings, and ends majestic. I quite like it, although it is a bit lengthy and unfocused.

The maestro seems to know well his material and gets energetic playing from his forces.

Impressive first scene with period costumes and quite elaborate scenarios with fake marble columns and all, and with the pirates pulling in a huge golden ship. However the scenarios still manage to look cheap and visually unappealing.

Oh wow, as the choral music starts I see that there *are* subtitles after all, and they are in Portuguese. This certainly will make it easier for me to follow. I knew that my Portuguese would come in handy some day, for my operatic pursuits.http://operalively.com/forums/images/smilies/biggrin.gif

Gajolo's first line sounds like Otello's Esultate! This is very Verdian, and I can see why they say that Gomes operas are nice, but not original.

Mr. Ranguelov sings impressively enough, makes a good baddy with a potent bass voice.
Ms. Gilmore on the other hand is uneven with some shaky high notes, and may very well sink this thing. Her acting is stiff. She is not attractive.
Cambro is well sung by chubby Mr. Issakov, also a nice baddy with a fairly beautiful baritone voice.
Paolo gets a rather ridiculous-looking chubby tenor. His voice is good, though - Mr. Doykov. I see that looks-wise, we'll need good doses of suspension of disbelief. I hope that Delia looks the part, we'll see.

There is a fairly interesting duo with Fosca and Paolo, but it's quite conventional. The vocal writing tends to be melodramatic in the bad sense, and made of lots of yelling, nothing subtle. The finale to act I is a little more melodic.

So far I don't like this opera. The overture was the least bad part, but this is definitely not as good as the other two I know from Mr. Gomes - Il Guarany and Salvator Rosa. But we'll see, I've been known for changing my opinion in the middle of a performance.

Act II starts, and indeed Ms. Stoyanova looks her Delia part, is fairly attractive and doesn't sing poorly. The duo between her and Paolo is the most melodious vocal part so far - it gets a bit belcanto-ish, so this is getting better. The orchestration for this scene is beautiful.

----

OK, I got completely derailed, defending Anna Netrebko from a comment that she is "a joke" and stopped paying attention. The opera became background music (which doesn't bode well for its force and impact). By now I'm half an hour from the end, and I don't feel like rewinding this, since I'm not liking it very much.

Maybe it's the weak leading soprano, the unconvincing looks, or the inferior acting with tacky-looking scenarios. Theatrically it's not that good either, with this thing of Paolo is captured, Paolo is free, Paolo is captured again, Paolo is free again. Messy, over-the-top, and melodramatic. Maybe a better production would do more justice to this work. But it is uncreative, not very melodious with lots of loud yelling, and the redeeming qualities are few and in-between (mostly, the orchestral parts which are nice - and in this performance, some nice male voice singing). A disappointment, since I liked a lot more this composer's other two efforts that I know.

Not recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:57 AM
Carlos Gomes: Lo Ischiavo on DVD
Lo Schiavo, opera séria in four acts, premiered in Rio de Janeiro on September 27, 1889
Music by Antonio Carlos Gomes
Libretto (in Italian) by Rodolfo Paravicini, after a play by Alfredo Taunay.

This is my fourth Carlos Gomes opera, and I won't be posting a full review, for the good reason that I don't have a full version of it.

I got a Brazilian TV show about the opera, half the opera (or rather, less than half). This is a production from TVE (Televisão Educativa, the Brazilian equivalent to our PBS). There is no indication of the year of production.

The way they proceed is this: they film all the recitative parts on location, with silent actors, while a voice-over narrator describes the action. They go over large chunks of the opera like this, and then stop for the highlights - the best vocal numbers - and sing them fully, with rather good local operatic singers (it's all done by Brazilian TV, with artists from the opera house in the state of Paraná, in co-production with Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's elite opera company). The voice-over is quite poetic, and the young cast is good-looking. But obviously it's all very abridged.

Voice-overs are narrated in Portuguese, and the arias and duos (and the one trio at the end) are sung in Italian, with subtitles in Portuguese.

I can't form a full opinion because of course this method eliminates any possible longueurs so it may be the case that any shortcomings are being hidden by the way this is being shown. By jumping directly to the best numbers, one gets the impression that it is all very beautiful.

The bootleg has appallingly bad image, almost unwatchable. The sound is a bit hissy and interrupted by distortions - another reason why it'd be difficult to properly rate this - but is a lot better than the image. I'd rate the image as a 1/5 and the sound as a 2.5/5.

However abridged or not, I must say that the fragments they show are indeed quite beautiful, a lot more vocally enticing than what I heard in Fosca reviewed above. The orchestration seems more adventurous as well, incorporating some folk music.

Most likely this improved originality is because rather than trying to tackle an Italian subject like in Fosca or Salvatore Rosa, here Carlos Gomes is setting to music something of his own culture and geographically set to his native Brazil in the 16th century, instead of Venice like in Fosca. This is also the formula that he used to considerable success in his masterpiece Il Guarany (about Brazilian indians).

Nice short and sweet overture, which plays over shots of the beautiful Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro while the credits roll. The plot here has to do with a love story between Américo the son of a white farmer - Count Rodrigo - and a young black slave girl Ilára. Rich woman Countess de Boissy who also wants the young man tries do seduce him, but he refuses her for the love of the young slave, to his father's despair. Another slave - Iberê - who also loves the girl - is jealous and tries to stab Ilára, but recovers his wits in time and doesn't do it. He is actually an escaped slave who has started a community of other free, ex-slave warriors. He is the chief there, and plots an attack on the farm. However he is depressed over the fact that the girl doesn't love him but rather loves the white son of his enemy, and by being despondent and not up to the task of commanding them, he loses his warriors' respect for him. Then there is a nice instrumental part called Prélude to Dawn. It recovers sounds of nature in the orchestra and we're miles away from Gomes' conventional orchestration in Fosca. This is matched in this TV show to images of the Brazilian Pantanal region and other nature shots. Sunlight comes up to reveal that the warriors have attacked during the night and have captured Américo. He is taken to the presence of Iberê. They argue, while Ilára tries to mediate and begs for mercy. Iberê is convinced and allows the two lovers to embrace each other, promises to set them free. However the other warriors are not happy with this outcome. Iberê encourages the two youngsters to flee and remains to confront his own warriors. He removes his insignias of chief, and kills himself in front of his horrified warriors, over lamenting horns. Quite beautiful, and very theatrically sound.

I just looked up the CD on Amazon.com, and while last year I saw it there but didn't buy it because it was too expensive (collectors price, like $100 and up), now it shows as unavailable. So, I guess I won't be listening to this opera complete for quite some time.

It does seem interesting, though. I hope someone re-releases this, eventually, or maybe I'll get lucky and will come across some used copy.

The Wikipedia page for this opera is very short, but does say that locally it is considered to be Gomes' best opera (while Il Guarany is more internationally recognized, having received a recording with Plácido Domingo, and Salvator Rosa was one of Caruso's favorites). I'm not sure how reliable this is - I mean, the part about this one being considered his best - given that the Wikipedia page seems clueless, since they give the wrong synopsis by saying that Ilára was forced to marry Iberê (no such thing in the opera unless it was in one of the omitted parts).

OK, this performance has ended. It was done by the Orquestra Sinfónica do Paraná, under the direction of maestro Alceo Bocellino. The chorus is the Coral Sinfónico do Paraná. Antonio Lotti, tenor, is Américo; Bruce Mack (in spite of the name, he sounds Brazilian in terms of accent while singing in Italian), baritone, is Iberê, and Ivonete Rigot-Mulley, soprano, is Ilára. Viviane Farias, soprano (very cute), is the Countess de Boissy. The voice-over narrator is prestigious Brazilian cinema and TV actor Milton Gonçalves. Director Sonia Garcia.

Running time of this abridged version, one hour and seven minutes.

Like I said, I'll be looking forward to an opportunity to listen to the whole thing, if it's not too expensive. Then I'll be able to say if it is recommended or not, but given what I heard today, chances are that it is recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:58 AM
Both operas are available complete on YouTube:

[Link to videos deleted by Admin - videos no longer available]

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:59 AM
Manuel de Falla: El Retablo de Maese Pedro on DVD
El Retablo de Maese Pedro
Puppet-opera in one act, premiered in 1923 in Seville, Spain, sung in Spanish.
Music by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)
Libretto: Chapter 26, second part of Manuel de Cervante's Don Quixote, adapted by Manuel de Falla

I feel I can't write up a coherent review, I'm too stunned.
This work is O-U-T-S-T-A-N-D-I-N-G!!!!

This is so pleasurable, so lyrical, so interesting, so pretty darn GOOD that anything I may say here pales by comparison to this lively, enjoyable, formidable, melodic, enticing piece.

Running time - 27 minutes of pure magic. 27 minutes of bliss.

Singing characters are Don Quixote (bass), Maese Pedro (Master Peter), tenor, and Trujamán, the boy, treble or boy soprano. Non-singing characters include Sancho Pancha, the innkeeper, a student, and a page.

Plot, etc., I won't even comment upon. It's all good, trust me. Look it up on Wikipedia. It's that part of Don Quixote when the title character watches a puppet show and then destroys the whole thing. But the plot is hardly important (one can read Cervante's formidable work instead), but here, in terms of operatic pleasure, it's the delightful music that matters. The only downside is that we want more of the same after only 27 minutes.

After watching this, my comment is, VIVA ESPAÑA!!!!

Orchestra, conductor, and all artists do a formidable job; no weak links, everything clicks.

This spectacular short opera comes on this DVD with two more pieces of Spanish classical music, packaged in a product called "Nights in the Gardens of Spain." (1.33:1 pretty good image, LPCM and DTS sound of perfect clarity and balance, no subtitles - wow, big no-no!! - I was able to manage, I do speak Spanish, but oh my God, DECCA, why???; no extras).

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41n9FpgfbyL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

The Montreal Symphony Orchestra, conductor Charles Dutoit
Don Quixote - Justino Diaz
Master Peter - Joan Cabero
The Boy - Xavier Cabero

This is a formidable DVD produced by DECCA, the BBC, and the Canadian Broadcast Company and Radio-Canada, released in 2007 (obviously the recording is a lot older, but funny enough, we never get the information, I don't know when these pieces were played/recorded).

On top of this incredibly beautiful short opera, we're treated to two other marvelous pieces, for a total running time of 82 minutes.

Alicia de Larrocha, pianist, performs Nights in the Gardens of Spain, by Manuel de Falla, with beautiful images of The Alhambra alternating with shots of this old lady with arthritic hands who can still play the piano with energy and verve.

Pepe Romero plays beautifully his acoustic guitar with the same orchestra and conductor, performing Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez.

And get this, folks: we're treated to not only shots of the city of Aranjuez and its beautiful palace, but also to footage of Rodrigo himself and his wife, very very old, still in love with each other in very moving scenes, and we get to know from Pepe Romero (after what he heard from Rodrigo himself) that the Concierto de Aranjuez has its familiar shift in mood from first to second movement because the first movement intends to tell us about Rodrigo's and his wife's honeymoon in Aranjuez, while the melancholic, superb second movement was composed in the middle of a crisis, when Rodrigo's wife miscarried their first child and almost died herself. Pepe explains how Rodrigo composed the second movement to express his sorrow for the loss of his son, and his dread and fear that his beloved wife would die as well. Then we have the gorgeous finale to signal that she survived, and that life was still good and they should be able to recover and go on. That, they did, as expressed by these gorgeous images of these two senior people who still hold each others' hands and look at each other with admiration and love and gratitude.

I was almost in tears...

Even though I've seen better performances of the Concierto de Aranjuez (Narciso Yepes comes to mind), this is a phenomenal DVD.

Highly recommended.

Buy it! Buy it! Buy it!

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:59 AM
Salieri: Falstaff, osia le tre burle on DVD
There are three successful operas with the theme of Shakespeare's comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor, among a dozen that weren't as enduring.

The best known is of course Verdi's, second comes Otto Nicolai's, and this one by Salieri got several revivals recently after a fairly successful first run followed by centuries of neglect (still better than the other dozen which were often retired after one performance - by prestigious composers no less, such as Ambroise Thomas, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Adolphe Adam, and Saverio Mercadante.

At some future point I'll be reviewing Nicolai's, which I just got in the mail today.

Salieri's is notable for a streamlined plot. Unlike other versions, there are no young lovers Fenton and Anne. Mrs. Page becomes Mrs. Slender. His librettist did add a scene that is not in Shakespeare, in which Mrs. Ford disguises herself as a German lady. This opera is closer to opera buffa traditions than to Shakespeare. Some say that Salieri when composing this one was clearly influenced by Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro which was successfully being given exactly at the time of composition.

Falstaff, osia le tre burle (Falstaff, or the three tricks) - 1799 (premiered in Vienna)
Dramma giocoso in two acts, sung in Italian
Music by Antonio Salieri (1750-1825)
Libretto by Carlo Prospero Defranceschi, after Shakespeare

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1995(LI) - Arnold Östmann - Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra
Choir of the Theater im Pfalzbau Ludwigshafen
Filmed at the Schwetzinger Festspiele

Stage director - Michael Hampe
Sets and costumes - Carlo Tommasi

Sir John Falstaff - John Del Carlo
Mrs. Ford - Thereza Ringholz
Mr. Ford - Richard Croft
Bardolfo - Carlos Feller
Mr. Slender - Jake Gardner
Mrs. Slender - Delores Ziegler
Betty - Darla Brooks

DVD release by ArtHaus Musik in 2000
NTSC, all regions, Picture format 1.33:1
Sound track PCM stereo only
Subtitles in English and Japanese only
Running time 144 minutes

This DVD has good, sharp image and clear sound.

I love John del Carlo and he starts very well in the first scene - and continues to steal the show, although one problem is that he doesn't really look as ridiculous as other Falstaffs. Singing from other principals seems more than adequate - I'd actually say that this is a rather good cast, with homogenously good singing from the males, and OK+ singing from the females (who could use a bit of more agility and ornamentation). Acting is good overall, and funny in certain parts. The orchestra however is underwhelming. Sometimes the singers run ahead of it.
Period staging. Scenarios are sparse and not particularly accomplished.

Interesting... I found a review of this opera authored by Salieri himself!

Here, I'll paste it:

-----------

This is my opinion on the music of my opera: Act I
The Sinfonia (Overture) is certainly one which conveys clearly the subject if compared to other works; in fact it could be said that the subject stems from the Sinfonia. The first scene depicts a grand private party, in the home of wealthy merchants. After the opening compliments of good luck, the husband and wife say ‘Now I think it is time for more dancing, and there’s plenty more eating and drinking’. This second verse is meant to convey the idea that the party has already been dancing, and so I thought of writing a Sinfonia as a collection of several dances: the public appreciated the effect and applauded it.
The Introduction ‘Viva il commune amico’ is varied and lively, and although it is quite long for the quantity of things it contains, it arouses interest in the work, especially if Falstaff is dressed in character and acts his part well. As we shall see, the good effect of the whole opera depends on this.
The aria ‘Vendetta, sì vendetta’ …. makes a good effect when sung by a mezzo-soprano with a clear, strong, and energetic voice.
The quartet ‘Oh quanto vogliam ridere’ depends entirely on the scene, and requires much comic action, well-acted.
The aria ‘Oh die Männer kenn ich schon’ couldn’t fail to be appreciated for the way it was sung and acted. The music is very suitable for this type of joke.
The aria ‘Nell’impero di Cupido’ has more merit than the music of the preceding one, and has an excellent effect.
The finale ‘Bricconcella, alfin t’ho colta’ is interesting at the beginning, but could appear slightly too long and verbose by the end; but if the scene is well-acted, its length isn’t felt. The end, from the words ‘Così va’, is an excellent piece of music, and makes a scene in itself.
Act II
The fugato Trio ‘Prima ancor che Mastro venga’ is a piece which always wins applause if performed with fire.
The aria ‘Reca in amor la gelosia’ has a metre not often used in music… the public would probably have been indifferent to it if it hadn’t been for the echo. I had this idea after the first rehearsals, and it seemed natural as the setting is a wood at night. The Echo attracted much attention and approbation for the aria.
The finale ‘Siete già qui’ is all action, and the music is simply an accompaniment.


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


So, yes, we can hear Mozart's influence... but Salieri is not as good a melodist, and tends to repeat over and over his melodic formulae, such as the recurring descent from F down to G in the key of E flat. Curiously, Mozart adopted the same descent for Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, in her first aria, Ah chi mi dice mai. Mozart did it in order to impact upon Elvira a sort of stiff and old-fashioned character, knowing that his listeners would recognize Salieri's device, and confirming that Mozart thought of Salieri as old-fashioned.

The recitativo secco over the harpsichord is not as sparkling as in Mozart's operas and gets to be too long at times. But then, we must appreciate Salieri on his own terms, and stop comparing him to Mozart. Who can withstand a comparison with Mozart, anyway? So let's not be unfair to poor Salieri. Of course, it can't be compared with Verdi's Falstaff either, thanks to the latter's completely different musical structure, and to Boito's excellent libretto.

However if we don't get too caught up on the comparisons, we'll realize that the above shortcomings are not terrible. This is still a pleasant work, funny, with good pace, and the performances on this DVD by the singers/actors are very good. One could use a better orchestra, though.

It's not a masterpiece, but it's not bad either. I'll say "Recommended" - although the other opera by Salieri that I know, Tarare, is superior. I got Europa Riconosciuta in my UWP so soon I'll have 3 Salieri's under my belt.

Schigolch
January 2nd, 2012, 09:28 AM
As verismo Opera goes, few pieces are more in style than I Gioielli della Madonna, by German-Italian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari.


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The opera premiered in Berlin, in 1911, in a German language version by the title of Der Schmuck der Madonna. The Italian premiere was in 1953, with Wolf-Ferrari already dead.

Nevertheless, in the original Italian version (Wolf-Ferrari was inspired by a real story, at the end of the 19th century, in Naples), the opera was hailed as a success in the US, first in Chicago, sung by great stars like Rosa Raisa or Claudia Muzio, and then also in New York, sung by Maria Jeritza.




http://www.grattacielo.org/img/Jewels/Maliella2.jpg
Rosa Raisa in the role of Maliella


A beautiful afternoon in Naples, the town is holding its annual festival dedicated to 'la Madonna'. Maliella (soprano) leave in a rush the home of her stepmother, Carmela (mezzo), to watch the procession. His stepbrother, Gennaro (tenor), desperately in love with the young Maliella, works in his forge. Maliella was adopted by Carmela, after a promise to the Madonna when Gennaro was very ill, and about to die.

Maliella is being wooed by a young 'camorrista', Rafaele (baritone) that declares himself ready to steal the jewels from the cloak of the Madonna, just to humor the girl. Gennaro, angrily, advised Maliella to stay apart from the criminal guy.

As anyone can predict, Maliella ignores Gennaro, and when Rafale sings a serenade beside her window, she agrees to meet him. The frenzied Gennaro enters the church, and steals the jewels from the cloak of the Madonna. He presents this trophy to her sister, that mistook him from Rafaele, and consent to make love.

In the meanwhile, Rafaele explains to his fellow 'camorristi' that he doesn't love Maliella, and he is only interested in taking her virginity. When the girl arrives, crying and explaining how she bedded Gennaro by mistake, Rafale despises her. Maliella reveals the jewels of the Madonna and the "camorristi", stunned by the sacrilege, just go away. Maliella, in desperation, commits suicide by drowning in the sea, and Gennaro, asking for the Madonna's forgiveness, stabs himself in the heart.

It's a gruesome plot, but the music is quite good.

Soave_Fanciulla
January 2nd, 2012, 06:39 PM
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If anyone wants a way into zarzuela, this is it - soaring and catchy melodies with a real Spanish flavour; luscious orchestration; passionate dialogue making the most of the eloquent language; romantic intrigues; political upheavals and the defense of liberty; a minimalist but brilliantly inventive set; beautiful costumes in shades of cream, white and black; lovely choreography; a gorgeous feisty heroine; and a handsome Plácido Domingo singing music that is literally in his blood (his mother sang Luisa Fernanda over 1000 times).

Highly recommended.

Soave_Fanciulla
January 2nd, 2012, 06:43 PM
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This starts off as a perfectly good if rather predictable opera. The production is updated from ancient times to the 1920s (why?) and is set quite recognisably in Greece; the set being dominated by a shipwreck on the beach. Glauce (Patricia Ciofi) has a picnic, sings of her concerns about her impending nuptials with Jason, (Giuseppe Filianoti) who has traded in his previous wife for a younger model (plus ça change...). Jason and Glauce sing of their love. All very pleasant if a little dull.

Then Medea the rejected wife hoves into sight. My gosh then it takes off, and this is due to the electrifying performance of Anna Caterina Antonacci as she endures banishment from the city and rejection by the rather slimy Jason. As she gradually works her way up to from heartbreak to terrible retribution and infanticide, Antonacci is with Medea every step of the way, tragic emotions revealed in her beautiful face, eloquent acting and fantastic singing. It's a tour de force. Recommended.

Schigolch
January 2nd, 2012, 07:56 PM
If anyone wants a way into zarzuela, this is it - soaring and catchy melodies with a real Spanish flavour; luscious orchestration; passionate dialogue making the most of the eloquent language; romantic intrigues; political upheavals and the defense of liberty; a minimalist but brilliantly inventive set; beautiful costumes in shades of cream, white and black; lovely choreography; a gorgeous feisty heroine; and a handsome Plácido Domingo singing music that is literally in his blood (his mother sang Luisa Fernanda over 1000 times).

Highly recommended.

Just to point out that chronologically speaking this is the first Domingo's venture into baritone territory, as he always sung the tenor, Javier, but in this production from Teatro Real, he is the baritone, Vidal.

On a personal note, my grandfather and my grandmother attended the world premiere of this zarzuela, back in 1932. :)

Schigolch
January 2nd, 2012, 08:02 PM
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WIN-SHI Richard Van Allan
CHIN-FEN Tito Gobbi
HU-TSIN Clifford Grant
AH-JOE Joan Sutherland
L`INDOVINO Ian Caley
WIN-SAN Ryland Davies
HUA-QUI Huguette Tourangeau
National Philharmonic Orchestra
RICHARD BONYNGE

This is an opera that was received very well in London and New York, at the beginning of the 20th century, but fell out of favor after the First World War, and since then had been restaged just occasionally. I was able to attend one performance in Frankfurt Opera a couple of years ago, in a double bill with Puccini's Le Villi.

However, there is a quite good recording. The story is set in San Francisco's Chinatown, in 1900, among Chinese immigrants. It involves a kidnapping, two murders and a woman turned crazy in just about one hour. The orchestration is quite interesting (it's almost magical the way the listener is inmersed in this end of century Chinatown, in just a few bars of music), as well as the vocal lines, though the role of the soprano is short enough, and we can not really enjoy Ms. Sutherland's singing a lot of time.

Sutherland / Ah-Joe's aria (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swwbgp4ejbs)

Graciela de Gyldenfeldt / Ferito! L'hanno ferito! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_W7s0D3grLw)

Overall: B, recommended for all Opera lovers.

Soave_Fanciulla
January 2nd, 2012, 08:06 PM
Just to point out that chronologically speaking this is the first Domingo's venture into baritone territory, as he always sung the tenor, Javier, but in this production from Teatro Real, he is the baritone, Vidal.

Of course, I should have mentioned that, I have Domingo as Javier in my CD of this, and to be honest, I find a "real" baritone is more satisfying in the role of Vidal.


On a personal note, my grandfather and my grandmother attended the world premiere of this zarzuela, back in 1932. :)

That is SO cool.

Soave_Fanciulla
January 2nd, 2012, 08:11 PM
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Wow, this really is good (I was familiar with it on CD but watching it is something else). This is the most believable and fully-fleshed set of characters I have ever come across in an opera, and you soon get to really care about what happens to them. I loved the feeling of a close-knit community united against whatever the world can throw at them, be it hurricanes or the long arm of the white man's law.

Willard White is just magnificent as Porgy, dignified and handsome and with great presence. He is well matched in his beautiful expressive Bess. Gregg Baker as Crown exudes sexuality and you could see why Bess is torn between the two, loving kindness on one hand and a kind of raw animal magnetism on the other.

So why isn't it staged more often: apart from the difficulties (surely lessening) of assembling an all-black cast, Wiki mentions there is some controversy about the portrayal of black society by a white man (the drugs, gambling and murder aspects).

On the other hand when you consider the amount of murder, rape, incest, abductions, executions, blackmail and general skullduggery in operas about white people, I think the good folks of Catfish Row get off pretty lightly and come over as a sympathetic kindly lot.

Schigolch
January 3rd, 2012, 07:51 PM
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/86/Antonio_Smareglia_by_Maderni_circa_1880.jpg

Antonio Smareglia was born in Pola, currently in Croatia, in 1854. He attended the Milan Conservatory and was able to write and get performed several operas during his lifetime. The most succesful was Nozze Istriane, premiered in Trieste, 1895, with great singers like Gemma Bellincioni and Roberto Stagno, and then performed in Weimar, Prague, Dresden, Vienna, Munich, Milan,...

http://www.nuovolitorale.org/images/smareglia_cd.jpg

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The plot, with a libretto by Luigi Illica, is about two young villagers, Marussa and Lorenzo, that are in love. However, Marussa is the love interest of a richer man, Nicola, that convinces Menico, Marussa's father, to give him the permission to marriage her daughter. Menico, a man of means, tricks Marussa into believing that Lorenzo is cheating on her, and soon starts to prepare the wedding.

However, Marussa is advised she had been deceived, and asks Nicola to give her back her freedom. Nicola flatly refuses, and is attacked by Lorenzo. After a fight, Lorenzo is stabbed by Nicola and dies in Marussa's arms.

In about 100 minutes, we get a very nice verismo opera, that holds our interest from beginning to end.

Antonio Smareglia - Le Nozze Istriane - Interludes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_SSpxxOMAg)

Antonio Smareglia - Le Nozze Istriane - End of First Act (http://www.goear.com/listen/b537ef9/ASNI-Aud)

Overall: B-, recommended for verismo Opera lovers.

Schigolch
January 3rd, 2012, 08:10 PM
Italian Belcanto opera goes further than Bellini, Rossini or Donizetti.

One of the 'hidden' composers of the period is Carlo Coccia. He was succesful both in Opera buffa (Clotilde and Arrighetto are available) and Opera seria. In this last vein, perhaps his more interesting effort was Caterina di Guisa.

Curiously, he was also an accomplished singer, and was usually the cover of the tenor role for many of the performances of his operas.

http://www.opera-rara.com/media/ProdPics/1606.jpg

This is an opera with beautiful moments, that will most probably be very well liked by belcanto aficionados.

Si m'uccide ed il sangue versato (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjmBJHfYxsw)

Overall: B, recommended for Belcanto Opera lovers.

Schigolch
January 3rd, 2012, 08:22 PM
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In 1647, the opera Orfeo, by Italian composer Luigi Rossi, was staged in Paris. It was a success, but the political circumstances in France (soon the revolt known as the Fronde broke out, and Rossi's patron, Cardinal Mazarin, was forced to flee Paris) prevented any possible further assignment for Rossi, that returned to Italy, to a job as organist in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, in Rome.

For many years, the score was lost, but once recovered and identified as the missing work from Luigi Rossi, was staged at La Scala, in 1982 and 1985.

During the composition of the piece, Rossi's wife, Costanza, died and this contributed to dye the opera with a marvelous melancholy. It is really a veritable masterpiece, one of the most beautiful works from the 17th century to have reached us.

Back in 1992, William Christie orchestrated the delightful melodies of Luigi Rossi and decided to record the opera, in the fantastic CD above. Especially the duets between Orfeo and Euridice are simply great, and the rendition is a very good one by Agnes Mellon and Monique Zanetti.

Here below, one aria ("Lasciate Averno") from the CD:

Lasciate Averno - Orfeo - Luigi Rossi (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ngu9zgl1Byk)

Overall: A, recommended for all Opera lovers

Schigolch
January 3rd, 2012, 08:34 PM
http://www.gbopera.it/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/cristina.jpg

Bellini and Romani feud bitterly over Beatrice di Tenda. One of the reasons was the poet wanted Bellini to put in music Cristina, Regina di Svezia, instead.

This was never to happen, but the young Italian composer Jacopo Foroni did wrote an opera in the subject, almost twenty years later. Freshly arrived in Sweden, he premiered his Cristina in Stockholm. It was something of a success, and the piece was also staged in Italy, but it was soon forgotten until this recording from an all Swedish cast.

It's a nice work, though it won't stun anyone.

Overall: C, recommended for lovers of rarities.

Schigolch
January 3rd, 2012, 08:40 PM
Sonzogno's Publishing House was established in Milan, by Edoardo Sonzogno, in 1874. A few years later, in 1883, it arranged a competition for one-act operas, with a prize of 2,000 lires plus the staging of the winner. This competition was famous because the jury rejected Le Villi, by Puccini.

In 1888 there was a second competition. In this case, with a prize of 3,000 lires, there were more than 70 contenders. The winner, of course, was Pietro Mascagni with Cavalleria Rusticana. However, there was another composer that won a special mention by the jury. He was no other than the young (21 years old) Umberto Giordano. The piece presented, Marina, was not even performed, but Sonzogno encouraged Giordano to write a new opera, and in this way Mala Vita was born.



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This is an opera in Three Acts, taking some 75 minutes. The libretto is by Nicola Daspuro, and the opera takes place in Naples, in the year 1810. Vito Amante (tenor), is bedding Amalia (mezzo), married to Annetiello (baritone). Vito suffers from tuberculosis and he swore to marry the first prostitute he meets in the street so he can get cured.

Sooner said than done, appears Cristina (soprano), a worker in the neighborhood's brothel, that agrees to marry Vito. However, Annetiello, a regular customer of the bordello, when he particularly favours Cristina, is not happy with the idea. Also, Amalia disapproves and she goes as far as to menace Cristina with a knife.

With this sad state of affairs, Vito informs Cristina during the festivity of the Piedrigrotta that he takes back his marriage's offer. Cristina deplores her bad luck but, resigned, returns to the bawdyhouse.

There is some nice music involved, but we would need some more action, both in the score and in the libretto, with a few stabbing between Vito and Annetiello sorely missing.

The only recording of this opera comes from some performances conducted by Angelo Cavallaro, in December, 2002, at the Teatro Giordano, in Foggia, the native city of Umberto Giordano.

We can see the score here (http://www.archive.org/stream/malavitamelodram00gior)

and listen to the duet at the final of the Second Act:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTEM2RfWG4w


Overall: C, recommended only for lovers of Italian verismo.

Schigolch
January 3rd, 2012, 08:42 PM
http://cdn.priceprobe.net/i/1781777.96684c9e373a4cd3f7.68642290

This is the story of a survivor, a simple man that uses absurd and humour to pass through the brutality and horror of a war that has been imposed on him. The Good Soldier Schweik, is one of the outstanding figures of central European 20th century literature. It was created by Jaroslav Hašek in 1923, and the American composer Robert Kurka wrote his opera just before his death, in 1957.

The opera was premiered at the NYCO, in 1958, with the orchestration completed by Hershey Kay. We can hear traces of German opera of the 1920s and also a little Stravinsky in the multicoloured score, that runs at a frantic pace, but with a really good performance by the orchestra and the singers of this Chicago production, in the year 2001.

We can hear the opera suite:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHq2ozkqhY4


Overall: C+, recommended for lovers of 20th century Opera.

Schigolch
January 4th, 2012, 01:54 PM
]I think we are all familiar with the "Entartete Musik" concept, a kind of label applied by the Nazi Government in Germany to music made by Jews or political adversaries. In English the concept is translated as "Degenerate Music".

Jewish composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Franz Schreker, Walter Braunfels, Erich Korngold or Kurt Weill, among others, watched helplessly while his music was banished by the Government. But also 'Arian' composers such as Paul Hindemith or Alban Berg were similarly damaged.

Fortunately, the Nazi party was not able to reach his final target, and the music of those and other great musicians from the period is now firmly into the standard repertoire.

However, not all composers in Germany were opposed to the Nazi Government. Max von Schillings was a declared anti-Semite and started to bully Jewish artists during his tenure as President of the Prussian Academy of the Arts. He laid off Arnold Schönberg and ordered Franz Schreker into early retirement, being the main cause behind the stroke that a few weeks later killed Schreker.

Von Schillings's opera Mona Lisa, completed in 1915 during the First World War, became one of the most-performed operas in Germany. It is a mixture of wagnerian, straussian and verismo sounds, with a weak libretto, but still worth at least one hearing. However, all revivals have ultimately failed to impress either public or critics.

Overall: C, recommended for the curious listener, only.

Schigolch
January 6th, 2012, 10:31 PM
http://i26.lulzimg.com/c99813.jpg

Motezuma - Vito Priante
Mitrena - Mary-Ellen Nesi
Teutile - Laura Cherici
Fernando Cortés - Franziska Gottwald
Ramiro - Theodora Baka

Teatro Comunale, Ferrara
Conductor and Orchestra: Alan Curtis / Il Complesso Barocco
Stage Director
Stefano Vizioli


This is a Vivaldi opera that was lost after his death, and only found already into the 21st century, sleeping in a library, in Berlin.

The music is quite lively, purely Venetian. And the work by Curtis and his ensemble as good as could be expected, though not terribly imaginative. The period staging is also nice, as the costumes, but then again nothing to be excited about.

The vocal cast is the weakest part, perhaps too many females, a little bit monotonous. The only really interesting voice for me was Mary-Ellen Nesi as Mitrena.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEC1C2b4w2c

Overall: C, recommended for Vivaldi lovers, only.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 30th, 2012, 02:00 AM
I'll be reviewing shortly (after *weeks* without having time to explore operas that are new to me) this DVD of Carl Nielsen's Maskarade.

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Here is the link to the Amazon.com page:

http://www.amazon.com/Royal-Danish-Opera-Nielsens-Maskarade/dp/B000Y1BR02/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1327887624&sr=1-1

Maskarade, comic opera in 3 acts, premiered on November 11, 1906
Music by Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
Libretto by Vilhelm Anderson, after the 1724 classical comedy of the same name by Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754)

Michael Schonwandt conducts the Royal Danish Orchestra, with Kaare Hansen as the master for the Royal Danish Opera Choir, in 2006

Stage directors Kasper Bech Holten and Morgan Alling
Set and costumes Marie í Dali

Cast:

Jeronimus - Stephen Milling
Magdelone - Susanne Resmark
Leander - Niels Jorgen Riis
Henrik - Johan Reuter
Arv - Ole Hedegaard
Leonard - Poul Elming
Leonora - Gisella Stille
Pernille - Hanne Fischer
En vaegter (a nightwatchman) - Sten Byriel
Maskarademester (the master of the Masquerade) - Anders Jakobsson
En magister (a tutor) - Jakob Bloch Jespersen

The DVD was released in Feb 2008 by Da Capo.
Sung in Danish, with subtitles in English, German, and Danish
Menus in English
Bonus Material - an excellent introduction with the conductor, and a Making Of documentary
Running time (opera) 138 minutes
Sound - Stereo, Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1 - the sound is a bit in the stereo track I'm using on a headphone, not to disturb the other people in my household at this hour. Maybe the surround tracks are better. Note - One of the amazon.com reviewers says that the sound in the surround tracks is just as bad - so yes, there is definitely a sound problem with this DVD. It does sound like a mono recording with no depth whatsoever.
Region zero (all)
Format NTSC, 16:9 widescreen - good color, but too dark and with exaggerated contrast, requiring tweaking of the TV settings.

The insert contains some of the best notes I've ever seen, with a true in-depth essay that includes a preface, genesis of the opera, description of the premiere, performances in Denmark and abroad, printed editions, revisions and cuts, synopsis, and detailed descriptions of the careers of the cast members and crew.

This 18-page essay is repeated in German and Danish.

This impressive essay comes in addition to the introduction by the conductor, which is *really* insightful and interesting, including explanations about the mores and context at the time of composition, the importance of this opera for the Danish, musical aspects, philosophical considerations about the characters and the plot, etc.

Unfortunately, with all this perfection of documentation, they didn't think of printing a chapter list, the only flaw in this otherwise impressive package. The chapter list with names of the arias and characters does exist on the DVD, though, so this is just a matter of convenience.

The plot is simple - two young people meet at a masked ball and fall in love with each other, exchanging vows of marriage and rings. The next day the young man is dismayed to learn that his father has arranged his marriage to his neighbor's daughter. The neighbor however complains that his daughter doesn't want to marry the young man because she fell in love with some guy at a masked ball. In the third act of course we learn that the boy and the girl are the same young people from the ball, to everybody's relief and happy ending.

However, much is made of how metaphorical it is, in terms of the pursuit of individual freedom, societal oppression, class relations (the valet Henrik is a sort of Figaro figure), etc.

The staging is updated to modern times and is very inventive. It's clearly an update that works.

Much has been said about the video direction, which is apparently annoying in the fact that they interrupt the visual action several times to film the musicians instead of the stage. We'll see.

All right, I'll pause and watch it, then I'll complete this review.

First impressions: yes, the video direction is *incredibly* annoying. It switches to the orchestra every ten seconds! It is done so often that one gets dizzy.

Rather good vocal writing, very melodic, and the first two singers are quite good in voice and acting (Leander and Henrik) - this sounds like fun, if only I can survive this visual instability of the frequent cuts between stage and orchestra - who the hell had this idea??? The credits don't specifically mention video direction - they do mention DVD Producers as Thorleif Hoppe and Niels Severin - two names to avoid... and editor Kim Rasmussen. It's gotta be the culprit.

I said ten seconds? In several stretches they switch between the orchestra and the stage every 3 seconds! No kidding! Oh! My! God!

There are some advantages to this - it is entertaining to see that the conductor mouths the libretto at all times (supposedly he learned it by heart since age 11), and the focus on the instrumentalists does help with highlighting some of the lively aspects of Nielsen's music - the problem, obviously, is that it is done way too often and too fast - a reviewer complained of a headache at the end of the show, and I can see it actually happening with the need for the eyes to adapt from the bright colors and lights on the stage to the dark pit every 3 to 10 seconds, constantly, for more than two hours! How can a video director be *this* stupid???

Also, the technical aspects of image and sound being bad in this DVD, the eyes are constantly assaulted by ultra-bright images of the lights that illuminate the score for the musicians. I'm *already* getting a headache, and I'm half through the first act. Dammit!

High singing quality continues, with the next two characters entering the stage - the mother, Magdelone, and the father, Jeronimus, well sung by a remarkable bass-baritone. Nice staging touches, when the ancestors on wall pictures suddenly start to move and sing, Harry Potter style.

The sets with the various rooms in the house come sliding right to left and left to right as the action changes between rooms, and they are quite well done.

Leonard, the neighbor, doesn't have a good voice (strident, annoying timbre) but the singer at least is a quite good comic actor.

A lively, Rossinian-like quintet ends first act. This opera itself is lots of fun and we get here a very talented cast both in acting and singing, and stage direction is excellent.

If only we had a better video director... not to forget better technical aspects in terms of light balance and sound depth...

There is an instrumental prelude to the second act, quite delicate, evoking the peaceful sleep of the characters that opens the act. Then the nightwatchman makes his entrance on roller-skates, and again the singer is simply excellent. These Danish singers certainly know what they're doing. The singer playing Arv the handyman is only correct, though, and his acting is less good than the others' - he's the only artist who seems forced and uncomfortable in acting.

The scene with Arv confessing his sins is a bit overlong and stops the dramatic flow of the main plot. I don't much understand why it is there. It does allow Mr. Nielsen to show some modernism in his score which reminds me of R. Strauss at times, and it all turns interesting again when we get two a male chorus then a female chorus.

Next we finally see for the first time the young woman at the center of the plot, Leonora, and her maid Pernille - respectively the love interests of Leander and Henrik. Both ladies - soprano and mezzo - are convincing actresses, and the soprano sings divinely, confirming the good musical values of this production. Pernille doesn't project as well as Leonora and is less good a singer but she is a cute flirtatious lady.

Beautiful love duet ensues, very lyrical, with wonderful staging effects of a starry sky. Oh boy, this is a good production of a good opera.

The otherwise excellent bass-baritone playing Jeronimus does lose his pace and he falls behind the orchestra in the first true musical failure in this performance, in his scene with Arv when they both wave flags. Excellent singer playing the nightwatchman comes back to end second act. Rather zany and wild act. I like it.

Third act opens with operetta-like music (this thing musically seems to me like a cross between Die Fledermaus, Ariadne auf Naxos, and La Vie Parisienne, if such a thing is possible) - supposedly we should get a ballet but will get instead a circus act with acrobats. I'll tell you what: the effect is thrilling. What an excellent staging!

By now I have a constant smile on my face and I'm minding less the orchestra/stage switches, so enchanting this production is.

Henrik is confronted by three brides he's dumped, in front of his new love interest Pernille - funny scene.

It is true that musically this opera lacks a certain structural organization. The score migrates from inventive and lively to conventional and back, and oscillates between romanticism and modernism. It's still lots of fun.

Great comic scene with Magdelone, Leonard, and Jeronimus. She is such a good actress!

Act III is supposed to depict the Masquerade as a dream machine, where everybody acts out their inner wishes. It works, although it can get confusing, theatrically speaking. The Dance of the Cockerels happens mid-act, and it is a famous concert piece, here, like I said, played as a circus scene instead of a ballet, to great effect. The Master of the Masquerade is another remarkable singer and actor.

By now I'm already inclined to issue a verdict even before the end.

This is a highly recommended DVD in spite of its technical and editing flaws, because it (poorly) preserves an excellent staging with great acting and singing, of a very enjoyable opera, under a conductor who is passionate about this piece (and there is very good documentation and nice bonus features).

It does work as a demonstration of how a DVD can't really capture the live opera house experience. I'd have killed to attend this production in person. The crew that produced this DVD did everything they could to ruin this outstanding performance, but it was such a good one, that they weren't able to ruin it, thus my highly recommended label.

A drunk Jeronimus goes down to the pit and interacts with the public. He drags a member of the audience to the stage. The whole scene is zany like an Offenbach ensemble.

Tramtrara-Tramtrara... the ominous Maskerademester comes to remind everybody of humanity's flawed and mortal nature... and how dawn brings about reality after this night of revery. The characters down masks while the lyrics show that they're unmasking themselves - a clever symbolic device.

The mistaken identity plot is undone, all rejoice, and we get a wonderful finale (again, this is just like Offenbach). The public joins in, clapping hands. Curtain.

A+ (yes, even with the flaws, it's still A+)

HarpsichordConcerto
February 7th, 2012, 11:20 PM
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Louis Spohr (1784-1859), Faust (1851 revised version). Spohr is not a well known composer of opera, better known for his instrumental works, and currently enjoying a revival after a near complete neglect of his works. Faust was first performed in 1813 as a two act German Singspiel, and later revised in 1851 as a three act grand opera with recitatives for Covent Garden. Then, it vanished until 1931, and then in modern times appeared in 1993 as recorded here. Chor der Oper Bielefeld & Bielefelder Philharmoniker, Geoffrey Moull (CPO label).

The story deals with the German classic legend of Faust. Basically, he makes a pact with the devil to win a new woman he desires from her fiancé. He fights a duel with the fiancé and manages to kill the fiancé, while the woman he was originally in love with, dies of grief. He then ends up in hell.

Spohr's early Romantic German/Austrian contemporaries were not that strong a "team" when it came to opera. Beethoven wrote one, Schumann wrote one, Schubert wrote a few that are not well known, likewise with Mendelssohn, while Brahms wrote none. Carl Maria von Weber wrote several that are reasonably well known today, and that was mainly it before mid-Romantic Wagner. So it's something of a fascination to me when a composer of fine intrumental forms wrote an opera, and who was generally quite successful during his professional career. You won't walk away remembering tunes from it, nor would you feel the music exhibited strong characterisation anywhere near the masters to reveal what the characters felt as the story unfolded. But if you are fascinated by what early Romantic opera from a German hand could do, then have a listen. Fans of Spohr should not hesitate.

HarpsichordConcerto
February 8th, 2012, 12:18 AM
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704), Arminio, Drama Musicale in three acts (1691-1692).

This is Biber's only extant opera and is also the earliest extant Salzburg opera. You might know Biber's music from his instrumental works and sacred/religious works, where he is certainly well known to early music lovers there. If you enjoy his music and have an interest in early music, then you might like this three hour long piece. This piece, as the sleeve notes suggested, could be described more as a chamber opera. Indeed, the size of the band used for the recording was a small one, using one instrument per part (strings for example were two violins, one viola, one viola da gamba, one cello, one bass). The singers offered an intimate expression of the arias and recitatives, just like any chamber cantata music from early music group performances you might be familiar with, unlike a grand opera house one might expect even in later Baroque periods from say a Handel opera. (Speaking of whom, Handel also set an opera with the same title). The only singer I recognised immediately was Babara Schlick (who sang Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio under Rene Jacobs).

A nice one to add to your collection if you are a lover of that type of genre.

Salzburger Hofmusik (on period instruments), CPO label, 3 CDs, about 195 mins long.

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HarpsichordConcerto
March 31st, 2012, 10:54 AM
Vicent Martín i Soler (1754-1806), L'arbore di Diana (1787).
Dramma giocoso in two acts (i.e. consider it as a buffa for us modern day laymen), libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte.

Laura Alkin (Diana), Michael Maniaci (Amore), Ainhoa Gramendia (Britomarte / Genio 1), Marisa Martins (Clizia / Genio 2), Jossie Perez (Cloe / Genio 3), Charles Workman (Silvio), Steve Davislim (Endimione) & Marco Vinco (Doristo), Harry Bicket (conductor) & Francisco Negrín (director), 2009.

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According to Lorenzo da Ponte, he wrote three libretti concurrently: Mozart's Don Giovanni, Salieri's Tarar and Martín i Soler's Diana, which was the first one completed. It appears Martín i Soler was quite a successful composer, more so than Mozart. And da Ponte also stated that Diana was the best of the three operas completed. So how did L'arbore di Diana stack up? Well, I think it was a harmless bit of fun coming from the final two decades of the 18th century. The music and production as recorded here conveyed the opera effectively as a buffa. The avant-garde production had its silly moments throughout, with male-soprano Michael Maniaci dressed up in ridiculous looking customs fit for drag. This was a typical modern avant-garde production that gave us the usual dose of silliness in costumes and a mainly empty stage. Though I thought the singers and the orchestra (under Harry Bicket, who is normally associated with period instrument performances) did justice to the music. There were some fine ensemble pieces that could be thought of as straight-to-the point style of galant in idiom, without the harmonic richness of Mozart (or even Johann Christian Bach for that matter). Many pieces might at first sound deceptively Mozartian, but that's about where it ended as far as similarities on first hearing might seem. Overall, it was a light and enjoyable opera which carried through relatively quickly (about 140 mins long), but it was not a piece that I would return in any number of revisits as I would with Don Giovanni (though to be fair, it was an unjust comparison, only that it shared the same librettist all at once).

HarpsichordConcerto
April 7th, 2012, 05:39 AM
Does anyone here have an opinion of this version of Fidelio under Zubin Mehta? It seems to have consistently received mixed reviews.

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Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
April 7th, 2012, 12:11 PM
I don't know it, but I usually think that *anything*, really just about *anything* that has in its cast this amazing lady Waltraud Meier is worth having, just for her sake.

Schigolch
April 7th, 2012, 02:46 PM
I was present on this Valencia's Fidelio, that was the first opera staged in the new Opera House (Les Arts), some five years ago.

No wonder the reviews were mixed, (I have not watched the DVD) because the performance was also irregular, at the best. Some good singing from Meier and Salminen, but perhaps the weakest ever showing by the normally very good Valencia orchestra (well, it was the first time they played together for a live audience, so it was understandable to some extent). If you are a big Fidelio fan, then it could be interesting, if not, better to give this recording a miss.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
April 19th, 2012, 02:58 AM
I'm looking at this thread after a while (I have been busy with the journalistic part) and it has some misplaced posts, which I'll move to the right threads.
St. Francois and Doktor Faust belong in the Modern and Contemporary Operas on DVD/BR/CD thread.
Adriana Lecouvreur belongs in the Italian Romantic *and Verismo* Operas on DVD/BR/CD thread.
Please, my friends, let's remain organized.
This thread is for operas by composers who aren't otherwise represented elsewhere.
If a composer has a better place in another thread, that's where these reviews should be.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 2nd, 2012, 03:17 AM
Ercole Amante, opera in a prologue and five acts (1662)
Music by Francesco Cavalli
Libretto by Francesco Buti, after Sophocles' The Trachiniae and the ninth book of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

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Conductor: Bolton, Ivor
Orchestra: Concerto Koln
Chorus: Netherlands Opera Chorus
Chorus Master: Brown, Tim
Sung in Italian

A Page: Mead, Tim
Bellezza: Brummelstroete, Wilke
Cinzia: Zomer, Johannette
Deianira: Panzarella, Anna Maria
Ercole: Pisaroni, Luca
Giunone: Bonitatibus, Anna
Illo: Ovenden, Jeremy
Iole: Cangemi, Veronica
Licco: Miller, Marlin
Mercurio: Tucker, Mark
Nettuno: Chiummo, Umberto
Pasitea: Zomer, Johannette
Spirit of Bussiride: Mead, Tim
Spirit of Clerica: Zomer, Johannette
Spirit of Eutyro: Chiummo, Umberto
Spirit of Laomendonte: Tucker, Mark
Tevere: Chiummo, Umberto
Venere: Brummelstroete, Wilke

Producer: Elzendoorn, Karin
Set/Stage Designer: Steinberg, Paul
Costume Designer: Hoffman, Constance
Lighting Designer: Silverman, Adam
Choreographer: Lunn, Jonathan
Stage Director: Alden, David
Television Director: Vermeiren, Misjel

Date of Production: Jan 20, 2009
Venue: Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam
Runing Time: 04:17
BBC/Opus Arte release on Blu-ray (also available on DVD), February 2010, region A/1
Subtiles in Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Sound DTS-HD MA 5.1, PCM 5.1 - perfect sound
Image 1.78:1, 1080i - perfect image

Commissioned to celebrate the marriage of the Sun King, Louis XIV, and Marie Therese of Spain, the original production of Monteverdi's pupil Cavalli's Ercole Amante took two years to complete and, at the time, was the grandest show ever performed in Europe.

This is the De Nederlandse Opera contemporary and surreal production of this baroque opera, with Concerto Koln under baroque specialist Ivor Bolton.

Bonus features:

- Illustrated synopsis.
- Cast gallery.
- Behind the scenes with Johanette Zomer.
- Behind the scenes with Luca Pisaroni.
- The making of Ercole Amante.

It won't take long to review this one, folks.
It's great baroque fun.
All baroque lovers must have this.
Lush sound, crystalline image, imaginative and colorful staging (fun and entertaining costumes and scenery), great conducting and playing, and exquisite singing, especially by Bonitatibus and Pisaroni - both at the most perfect possible vocal performances of their roles - but withouth any weak links either among the other singers - for example, Panzarella does very well, Veronica Cangemi sings/acts well and looks good. And so on and so forth. This is Glyndebourne's Giulio Cesare-grade. Yes, it is this good! A++ - well, I mean, if you like baroque, because it is long!

The one downside is that it is expensive, since with all these extras and it being a long opera, it comes on two blu-ray discs.
$45 at Amazon.com [clicky (http://www.amazon.com/Cavalli-Ercole-Blu-ray-Luca-Pisaroni/dp/B0030BK8XU/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1335926596&sr=1-2)], but it is worth it.

HarpsichordConcerto
May 3rd, 2012, 09:03 PM
It won't take long to review this one, folks.
It's great baroque fun.
All baroque lovers must have this.
Lush sound, crystalline image, imaginative and colorful staging (fun and entertaining costumes and scenery), great conducting and playing, and exquisite singing, especially by Bonitatibus and Pisaroni - both at the most perfect possible vocal performances of their roles - but withouth any weak links either among the other singers - for example, Panzarella does very well, Veronica Cangemi sings/acts well and looks good. And so on and so forth. This is Glyndebourne's Giulio Cesare-grade. Yes, it is this good! A++ - well, I mean, if you like baroque, because it is long!



Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for review. I'm been holding out on this one because the staging looks off-puting to me. Might give it a second thought.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 3rd, 2012, 10:54 PM
Yes, the staging is weird, but fun, and the musical values are great.

Schigolch
May 22nd, 2012, 12:57 PM
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Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Gomes is not very popular now (outside of Brazil), but he was quite succesful in his days. Just look as some singers that recorded his work: Caruso, de Lucía, Merli, Gigli, Destinn, Muzio,...

Perhaps his most famous opera is Il Guarany, but this Salvator Rosa, with a libretto by Aida's writer Antonio Ghislanzoni, is also interesting. It was premiered in 1874, and shows the powerful influence of Verdi, with a similar dramatic approach, nice melodies and the standard distribution of roles for soprano, tenor, baritone, bass,.. even with a trouser role for soprano à la Oscar, the young Gennariello.

Perhaps the best moments of the score are the overture and the aria for the bass, "Di sposo, di padre". But the most popular tune is Gennariello's canzonetta, "Mia piccirella", that we can hear in the voice of a young Claudia Muzio, recorded in 1920:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zoh03vx9akQ

This recording, from the Martina Franca Festival, is nice, with a solid conducting by Mauricio Benini. The soloists: Francesco Ellero d'Artegna (Arcos), Francesca Scaini (Isabella), Gianfranco Cappellucci (Masaniello), Sofiya Salovey (Gennariello) and Mauro Pagano (Rosa), are not individually memorable, but the team effort is fine.

Overall: B, good opportunity to be more familiar with Gomes's operatic work.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 22nd, 2012, 04:46 PM
Yes, I reviewed three operas by Gomes earlier in this thread, and I have this one too, in a different version:


The Dorset Opera Orchestra & Chorus
Patrick Shelley, conductor Fernando del Valle, tenor
Andrea Baker, mezzo
Michael Glucksman, baritone
Christopher Lemmings, tenor
Michail Milanov, tenor
David Curry, tenor
Lisa Livingstone, soprano
Jurgen Frantz, bass
Martin King, bass
Caroline Dowd-Higgins, soprano

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41BG3A5S9KL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

It's a good opera.

HarpsichordConcerto
May 28th, 2012, 03:55 AM
Anyone viewed this version of Der Zwerg (The Dwarf) by Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942)? It also comes with Victor Ullman's (1898-1944) Der zerbrochene Krug (The Broken Jug) . Both composers' music I know nothing about.

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Dark_Angel
July 2nd, 2012, 02:12 AM
Delibes Lakme..........Opera Australia

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A worthy new Lakme which surpasses the 1976 Sutherland overall.

Emma Matthews unknown to me previously does an outstanding job here singing the showcase arias with great skill and acting the part quite well, very impressive singing. Sutherland looked too old for the lakme part and acting is generic by contrast, not much romantic chemistry developed. I think that new Lakme's maid Malika is actually her sister Dominica Matthews (they look like sisters at curtain bows) and sing the "flower duet" very beautifully. The male singers are OK but nothing outstanding (same comment applies to Sutherland version)

The new production is very rich and colorful with dazzling costumes finely detailed, the act 2 market place really comes alive and captures the exotic qualities of Indian location. The older Sutherland has dance sequences cut from new version, most notably opening act 2 in market place which I will miss but expensive today to hire professional dance group in addition to singers. Otherwise the new production is much preferable with great sharp picture quality DVD (also blu ray) rich colors and better sound.....although new conductor does not surpass orchestral work of Richard Bonynge (Sutherland's husband)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EzQTTDyBr8&feature=player_detailpage

Did view the "extras" section on DVD where director gives us some little inside scoops, notice the hand movements during Lakme's Bell Song above, used a professional mime coach to employ extra visual hand/body movements to help tell the story of the song, hmmmm......

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HarpsichordConcerto
July 28th, 2012, 11:23 AM
Isaac Albéniz, Merlin

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David Wilson-Johnson (Merlin), Stuart Skelton (Arthur), Eva Marton (Morgan Le Fey), Carol Vaness (Nivian, Madrid Symphony Orchestra & Choir, José de Eusebio; 2004

World premiere recording of a reconstructed original that was never performed, and the first of the King Arthur trilogy but the second and final instalment never took any shape because the composer died. The obvious influence was Wagner's The Ring cycle, and Albéniz's music in Merlin had much Wagnerian influence. The music was a continuous stretch, such as that you might be familiar with from Wagner's operas, and the Albéniz orchestration from voice and piano parts (that was apparently how he drafted Merlin) was quite capable and the result was a decent score that I enjoyed. The staging was essentially modern, as were the costumes, but occasionally reverted to more or less period style, at least in spirit. The major deficiency was probably the libretto, which was composed in English by Albéniz's wealthy English lady patron (who also completed the libretto for the next two instalments), but she was probably no great opera librettist because the plot was very slow moving, rather descriptive than dramatic.

The "best" part was the price: I paid about US$12 including postage for it, new.

Schigolch
July 28th, 2012, 12:15 PM
I was part of the audience at Teatro Real.

There is also a CD, with Domingo singing King Arthur:

http://www.todoperaweb.com.ar/img/MERLIN.gif

Soave_Fanciulla
July 28th, 2012, 08:12 PM
Isaac Albéniz, Merlin

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51TwRM44JgL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

David Wilson-Johnson (Merlin), Stuart Skelton (Arthur), Eva Marton (Morgan Le Fey), Carol Vaness (Nivian, Madrid Symphony Orchestra & Choir, José de Eusebio; 2004

World premiere recording of a reconstructed original that was never performed, and the first of the King Arthur trilogy but the second and final instalment never took any shape because the composer died. The obvious influence was Wagner's The Ring cycle, and Albéniz's music in Merlin had much Wagnerian influence. The music was a continuous stretch, such as that you might be familiar with from Wagner's operas, and the Albéniz orchestration from voice and piano parts (that was apparently how he drafted Merlin) was quite capable and the result was a decent score that I enjoyed. The staging was essentially modern, as were the costumes, but occasionally reverted to more or less period style, at least in spirit. The major deficiency was probably the libretto, which was composed in English by Albéniz's wealthy English lady patron (who also completed the libretto for the next two instalments), but she was probably no great opera librettist because the plot was very slow moving, rather descriptive than dramatic.

The "best" part was the price: I paid about US$12 including postage for it, new.

Still in my UWP after 2 years!!! aaargh. Must watch soon.

HarpsichordConcerto
August 1st, 2012, 10:27 AM
Siegfried Wagner, Der Kobold

Any good?

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HarpsichordConcerto
August 3rd, 2012, 07:51 PM
Domenico Mazzocchi (1592-1662), La Catena d'Adone, pastoral opera (1626). This was an early opera, a generation after Monteverdi's but where one can already hear the beginnings of the recitative-aria format. (Note that Monteverdi's later surviving operas were probably from the early 1640s).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_catena_d%27Adone

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HarpsichordConcerto
August 16th, 2012, 11:27 AM
Carl Orff (1895-1992), Gisei - Das Opfer (1913), premiered almost a century later, January 2010.

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I gave this DVD premiere recording and production a try, of a work composed by Orff when he was eighteen years old. The work was never staged until almost a century later, partly because the composer effectively disowned it. Orff appeared deeply fascinated by Japanese culture enough for him to compose his first opera based on a Japanese village story. The libretto was by Orff himself based on the village story translated into German.

That was the background. Anyhow, the production itself was adequate enough for a very slow moving plot, with traditional-looking Japanese costumes, and stage materials and nice use of suitable stage colours, creating a traditional-looking, Japanese feel production. That was probably the best part of this production. The music lacked operatic characterisation, and it probably tried to sound a little Japanese here and there. Nothing particularly striking and it was more like a musical drama that had "orchestral accompaniment" (despite its very generous use of many types of instruments that was quite unusual for an opera of its time). The voice parts were not terribly striking either, and it sounded rather static throughout. Maybe the eighteen year old Orff still had a long way to go.

I paid about US$30 to try it out. I don't think it was money well spent.

HarpsichordConcerto
August 30th, 2012, 10:59 AM
Nicholas Maw (1935-2009), Sophie's Choice (2002)

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Angelika Kirchschlager (Sophie), Dale Duesing (Narrator), Rod Gilfry (Nathan), Gordon Gietz (Stingo), Adrian Clarke (Librarian), Frances McCafferty (Yetta Zimmerman), Stafford Dean (Zbigniew Bieganski), Stephanie Friede (Wanda), Abigail Browne (Eva), Billy Clerkin (Jan), Gillian Knight (Old woman on train), Neil Gillespie (Young man on train), Jorma Silvasti (Rudolph Franz Höss), Alan Opie (Doctor), Darren Jeffery (Bartender), Quentin Hayes (Larry Landau), Royal Opera Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Simon Rattle (conductor) & Trevor Nunn (stage director), December 2002.

Another one of my deep discount purchase recently for about US$15 including freight. This double CD set from Opus Arte was the premiere of British composer Nicholas Maw's opera, Sophie's Choice. The opera was based on William Styron's novel from 1979 of the same title as the opera.

Long story short; the opera/novel, a semi (or maybe full) autobiographical account of a writer getting involved with a married woman by the name of Sophie, who was a survivor of German concentration camp from WWII, ended the opera seeing both her and her husband tragically dead.

Musically, the score sounded more or less tonal but as if accompanying the singers and unfolding plot on a rather thin sounding layer. Dramatically reasonable intense, and capable of sustaining the moods for well over three and a half hours long (think Giulio Cesare in Egitto length), the opera's music was reasonably engaging on a dramatic level. I heard, or I think I heard, Benjamin Britten-sounding orchestral effects, but more on a tonal level, if that makes sense!

Staging was practically authentic as far as the time periods were concerned (there were several moments of going back and forth in time, from WWII to and from the first decade or two following). The singing and orchestra under Simon Rattle were probably the best part of this production. None of the singers irked me and I thought they all did their part and even looked the part.

For the price I paid, I'm pleased. I last checked at the website, and it appears to be back on full price.

HarpsichordConcerto
September 1st, 2012, 09:08 AM
Bo Holten (born 1948), The Visit of the Royal Physician (2009)

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Johan Reuter (Johann Friedrich Struensee), Gert Henning-Jensen (King Christian VII), Elisabeth Jansson (Queen Caroline Mathilde), Sten Byriel (Ove Høegh-Guldberg), Djina Mai-Mai (Bootee-Caterine) & Gitta-Maria Sjøberg (Queen Dowager Juliane Marie), Royal Danish Opera Choir & Royal Danish Orchestra, Bo Holten the composer himself. 154 minutes (opera).

Stylised semi-historical account of Christian VII of Denmark (1749-1808), his royal wife Queen Caroline Mathilde (1751-1775), and their royal physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee (1737-1772). Yes folks, this was a modern opera premiered only three years ago about a Danish king over two centuries ago, in more or less stylised form.

Long story short; the young king, more or less partly insane, married his young queen after becoming king following the death of his father. Matters however, eventually led their royal physician, Struensee to become the de facto ruler of Denmark and the new lover of Queen Caroline, much to the disgust of the royal establishment. Eventually, the empress Dowager, Christian's mother seizes power and orders Christian to sign an arrest warrant sending Struensee to be beheaded, and Caroline Mathilde sentenced to exile.

This was one of those interesting contemporary operas depicting a historical account with the main singers on stage dressed up in superficially traditional 18th century costumes backed by a modern, avant-garde stage. The music was a mixture of styles, exchanging between more or less tonal with "other" modern dramatic styles often using thin orchestral textures, with the composer himself writing a set of notes explaining for this usage of mixed styles to convey the story. The singers were generally capable but I thought there were little in the music to develop the characters despite plenty of potential considering the amount of historical events involving them; from coronation of a king to signing the exile of his queen, mixed with a bit of insanity regarding the king, for example. The few moments when the music sounded like it was gaining some tonal momentum, it would break off into another direction. So overall, a very mixed set of sounds and operatic experience.

I paid about US$23 including freight from a sale, which I thought was reasonable though I would not have bothered with it had it not been on sale.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
September 1st, 2012, 11:57 AM
Nicholas Maw (1935-2009), Sophie's Choice (2002)
This double CD set from Opus Arte

You mean DVD, I suppose.

Schigolch
September 4th, 2012, 12:46 PM
http://img823.imageshack.us/img823/3420/tetezi.jpg

Die Tote Stadt - Erich Wolfgang Korngold
1983 Berlin
Deutsche Oper

Paul: James King
Marie/Marietta: Karan Armstrong
Frank: William Murray
Brigitta: Margit Neubauer
Fritz: Lenus Carlson
Stage Director: Götz Friedrich
Conductor: Heinrich Hollreiser

James King, almost sixty years old, was already not in the best vocal condition for singing Paul. However, he was able to offer us a surprising portrait of a crepuscular man, a much more mature Paul that was intended in the opera. His voice was still potent enough to challenge Korngold's orchestration, but his performance was not really first class, always pushed to the limit, and close to suffocation.

Karan Armstrong, was the stage director's wife, and she performed magnificently... as an actress. Her Marietta, like her Lulu, won't be remembered by Armstrong's refined singing.

The first scene of the opera, with Frank and Brigitta, is reasonably well sung, and with a beautiful visual effect, while the heavy drapes are being gradually opened, and light is entering, furtive, into Paul's "Kirche des Gewesenen". The weakest part is the Second Act, with a rather watered-down Pierrot.

The staging, except for the well-worn suggestion of Paul's suicide at the end, is reasonably good, with a charming scenery. The conducting is too energetic at times, it seems they are playing a Military march, instead of a Post-Romantic opera.

Overall: B-



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtCJcjAJZRg

HarpsichordConcerto
September 4th, 2012, 09:29 PM
http://img823.imageshack.us/img823/3420/tetezi.jpg



Looks traditional, which I like. Was it more engaging than this version picture below? It is my only version of this fine opera.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51p6Ff0-4CL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

Schigolch
September 4th, 2012, 09:34 PM
The staging was more engaging, indeed.

You can watch the whole production in youtube, with English subtitles:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7uS14eVX90

HarpsichordConcerto
September 6th, 2012, 10:33 AM
Poul Ruders (born 1949), Selma Jezková (2007) opera based on Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark. Sung in English.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41dYOIwI%2BZL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

Ylva Kihlberg (Selma), Palle Knudsen (Bill), Hanne Fischer (Kathy), Guido Paevatalu (Norman/Guard 2), Gert Henning-Jensen (District Attorney/Guard 1) & Carl Philip Levin (Gene), The Royal Danish Opera & The Royal Danish Orchestra, Michael Schønwandt.

The story was a rather tragic one. A struggling mother and son both suffering an eye condition, financially precarious and through a fatal accident involving a third party, the innocent mother ended up being sentenced to death by hanging, with the son witnessing the hanging. Yes, an emotional story indeed. But did the music support and develop that further? In my humble opinion, no it did not, and not even close. It was a short opera, lasting about 70 plus minutes. The music meandered through very thin orchestral accompaniment sounds, to vague and brief moments of tonal suspension before returning to soundscpes that superficially painted the plot, rather than characterised it. The irony was that the sleeve notes/booklet by the composer himself read that emotion was pivotal to all this. With such a conviction by the composer himself, and the rather emotional plot involved, it seemed this libretto was wasted by the weak music. The composer probably had a long way yet to go to master composing opera when working on this. Mediocre stuff.

Glad I bought it on sale to try it out for about US$23 including freight but not full price.

Schigolch
September 6th, 2012, 10:42 AM
I agree the score is rather weak. For a more interesting opera by Poul Ruders, try The Handmaid's Tale.

HarpsichordConcerto
September 22nd, 2012, 08:42 AM
Offenbach, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, opéra bouffe

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/5122nqhAABL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

Dame Felicity Lott (La Grande Duchesse), Sandrine Piau (Wanda), Yann Beuron (Fritz), Franck Leguérinel (Le Baron Puck), Eric Huchet (Le Prince Paul), François Le Roux (Le Général Boum), Boris Grappe (Le Baron Grog), Alain Gabriel (Népomuc), Maryline Fallot (Iza), Blandine Staskiewicz (Olga), Jennifer Tani (Charlotte), Aurélia Legay (Amélie) & Christophe Grapperon (Le Notaire); Chœur et Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, 2004.

I don't listen to a great deal of Offenbach operattas but many that I have listened to were fine entertainment at that instance. This production was a very nice one with lots of funny moments, traditional staging in spirit, capable singing and Minkwoski appeared to bring it all out nicely with Chœur et Musiciens du Louvre. Nothing really to spot to fault.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
September 22nd, 2012, 09:59 AM
Offenbach, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, opéra bouffe

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/5122nqhAABL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

Dame Felicity Lott (La Grande Duchesse), Sandrine Piau (Wanda), Yann Beuron (Fritz), Franck Leguérinel (Le Baron Puck), Eric Huchet (Le Prince Paul), François Le Roux (Le Général Boum), Boris Grappe (Le Baron Grog), Alain Gabriel (Népomuc), Maryline Fallot (Iza), Blandine Staskiewicz (Olga), Jennifer Tani (Charlotte), Aurélia Legay (Amélie) & Christophe Grapperon (Le Notaire); Chœur et Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, 2004.

I don't listen to a great deal of Offenbach operattas but many that I have listened to were fine entertainment at that instance. This production was a very nice one with lots of funny moments, traditional staging in spirit, capable singing and Minkwoski appeared to bring it all out nicely with Chœur et Musiciens du Louvre. Nothing really to spot to fault.

Offenbach has his own thread, HC

Vesteralen
November 6th, 2012, 11:58 AM
1263

I'm sorry if this one's already been reviewed here. I didn't see it.

My first impressions of this DVD were not good. First of all, to my experienced (but untrained) ears, the orchestra seemed very third-rate. The opening chorus starts out (and stays rather long) in almost total darkness. I know it was for effect, but I do like to see the people who are singing.

But, things changed when the soloists came on. I thought all three principals had unusually beautiful voices. Roberto Scandiuzzi in particular was amazing. What a powerful but clear bass. And Veronique Mercier had a bell-like tone that was a lovely. Gian Luca Pasolini was an appealing tenor vocally as well. Appearance-wise, he didn't quite fit the role of the young Leander (he seemed old enough to be Hero's grandfather). But, I know you opera people ignore all that. ;)

The sets and costumes were extremely simple (low-budget?), with the women especially clothed in what seemed basically wrap-around sheets. I have to confess, to my embarrassment and against my better nature, to Cobeaning through a good bit of the peformance. :)

The music, by the way, was beautiful.

Schigolch
November 6th, 2012, 12:10 PM
It was reviewed, yes:

http://operalively.com/forums/showthread.php/332-Italian-Romantic-Opera-and-Verismo-on-DVD-Blu-ray-and-CD/page2?p=7501&highlight=leandro#post7501

But this is not a problem, we can get as many reviews of the same recording as members are willing to share them with all of us. They are always welcome!. :)

Vesteralen
November 6th, 2012, 01:06 PM
It was reviewed, yes:

http://operalively.com/forums/showthread.php/332-Italian-Romantic-Opera-and-Verismo-on-DVD-Blu-ray-and-CD/page2?p=7501&highlight=leandro#post7501

But this is not a problem, we can get as many reviews of the same recording as members are willing to share them with all of us. They are always welcome!. :)

Thanks. It's interesting to compare the reactions of a vetreran like yourself to an opera newbie like me. I couldn't see the faults in the singing, probably because I haven't heard enough with which to compare it. :)

(Another thing I noticed about this DVD - the audience response seemed pretty tepid compared to other operas I seen. I know these things are hard to gauge because of the recording levels sometimes, but it was just very noticeable to me.)

HarpsichordConcerto
November 12th, 2012, 08:10 AM
Paul Hindemith, Cardillac (1926)

1285

Munich production, 1985; DVD, 88 minutes (opera).

An interesting opera, based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann dealing with the popularity and death of an artist, both loved and killed by the same group of people. It appears the composer was dealing with this question when he composed this opera - will the same people who loved your work also be the same who might end up killing you?

I liked the semi-modern staging that was more representative and recognisable than extreme avant-garde; mind you, this was a 1985 production perhaps without the extreme wild cards we now see. It could easily have been a traditional staging given the story but the overall staging of the production was effective.

The singing was alright and nothing felt like it dragged on despite episodes of relatively thin orchestral accompaniment. But I thought if you could handle Prokofiev's operas and ballets or Janacek's, but not the 12-tone approaches of Berg, then this short opera of eighty-eight minutes or so could be palatable. Hindemith was none of those big names but for this was, I made no regret in the cheap purchase. I picked this up new for about US$13 including freight, and only just realised the DVD appears to be deleted. I probably would not have purchased it otherwise if it was not for the deep discount sale.

HarpsichordConcerto
November 18th, 2012, 12:10 AM
Giacomo Meyerbeer, L'Africaine (original French version)

1309 1310

Shirley Verrett, Plácido Domingo, Ruth Ann Swenson & Justino Díaz, Chorus, Ballet and Orchestra of the San Francisco Opera, Maurizio Arena, stage direction by Lotfi Mansouri; San Francisco Opera, 1988. Over over 180 minutes duration.

I picked up on sale this collection of three operas featuring Domingo, for about US$33 including freight (pictured above with the purple cover). Meyerbeer's L'Africaine was what I listened to first.

- Singing generally excellent, with Shirely Verett and Domingo hard to fault. Intimacy between voice and characters quite apparent.
- A generally excellent traditional stage production. Nothing out of place. Minor quibble could be lighting probably a little on the dark side.
- It appears L'Africaine was one of Meyerbeer's finest, although I am not familiar with Meyerbeer's operas, this one was enjoyable from start to finish. Very decent score.
- I am not aware of another version on DVD/Blu-ray available, so no competition from a strong offering here.

Schigolch
November 18th, 2012, 01:33 PM
Vasco da Gama was a very good role for Domingo, especially in the 1970s, when he sang the opera several times with Montserrat Caballe. It was while singing L'Africaine at Barcelona's Liceu, in 1977, that both singers have a serious disagreement, that affected their professional partnership.

Vesteralen
December 31st, 2012, 05:05 PM
Schumann: Genoveva on DVD[INDENT]http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51We8OPANUL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

2008(LI) - Nicholas Harnoncourt - Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House
Genoveva - Juliane Banse
Golo - Shawn Mathey
Siegfried - Martin Gantner
Margaretha - Cornelia Kallisch
Drago - Alfred Muff



I don't object to minimalist staging per se, but as a Schumann-freak I found it disappointing here. This is the only available DVD peformance of this work and I would have liked (at most) to see this as a bizarre alternate peformance, not as the only one in the catalogue.

I was not as impressed as Alma with the orchestra. The overture to Genoveva has always been on my top ten list of orchestral pieces and the horns, in particular, flubbed their big moments.

I was interested to see the reactions on Amazon to this DVD. For the most part, people either loved it or hated it. Most reviews were either five stars or one star. No surprise then that the average rating was three.

Vesteralen
January 12th, 2013, 12:34 PM
1483

Maybe not the absolute greatest voices throughout the entire cast top to bottom, but very, very watchable with great acting. This is one I would buy.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
February 16th, 2013, 02:11 PM
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51mUFPnn56L._SL500_AA300_.jpg

I listened to this yesterday. The singers, orchestra, and conductor all do a good job. The opera is beautiful. The only problem is, it's an unashamed copy of Wagner's music, so, one might want to listen to the original instead.

Dark_Angel
February 16th, 2013, 02:42 PM
1483

Maybe not the absolute greatest voices throughout the entire cast top to bottom, but very, very watchable with great acting. This is one I would buy.

That is my favorite Merry Widow DVD, classy production with very good sound and picture quality.
One of my very favorite operetta songs "vilja" gets repeated plays whenever I watch Merry Widow, so beautiful and heartfelt......

Itullian
February 19th, 2013, 10:07 PM
you guys want a good Freischutz?
this one has always been my favorite.
now reissued, it's a steal.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00A44KEKS/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=APZB0IDP1EYQW

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
August 24th, 2013, 11:10 PM
Giuseppe Scarlatti - Dove è Amore è Gelosia (1768), on blu-ray disc
(Where there is love, there is jealousy)

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61RlQF72YgL._SY300_.jpg

Intermezzo Giocoso a cuatro voce, in two parts, sung in Italian
Music by Giuseppe Scarlatti (1718?-1777)
Libretto by Marco Coltellini
Premiered in Cescy Krumlov (in the same theater used in this production, on July 24, 1768 (Wikipedia wrongly quotes this premiere as in Vienna - that was a revival, two years later)

Baroque Theatre, Krumlov Czastle, Cescy Krumlov, Czech Republic
Schwarzenberg Court Orchestra conducted by Vojtech Spurny (also harpsichord)
Recorded live, in full period costumes including the musicians, and candlelit, in a preserved / restored Baroque small theater
Stage Director Ondrej Havelka
Costumes Jana Zboriloa

Marquise Clarice: Lenka Macikova
Count Orazio: Ales Briscein
Vespetta: Katerina Knezikova
Patrizio: Jaroslav Brezina

Opus Arte blu-ray disc filmed in HD, released in 2013, all regions, catalog number OA BD7120 D
Sound tracks LPCM 2.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English, French, German, Japanese, and Korean optional subtitles
Extra Features: documentary "A Jewel of the Baroque: The story of the Baroque Theatre in Cesky Krumlov" and Cast Gallery
Insert: A detailed synopsis, a brief essay about the circumstances of composition of the opera and about the composer's and the librettist's lives - absolutely nothing about the music itself, and a brief essay about the theater, in English, French, and German. Nothing else (curiously, not even the librettist's name is given in the credits although it exists in the essay), no list of arias and characters, no duration of each number - something unusual for an Opus Arte product.

Running time, opera 88 minutes, bonus 55 minutes

----------

This short opera buffa by the other Scarlatti was commissioned by Joseph Adam of Schwarzenberg, Duke of Krumlov (Kromau), a beautiful town 106 miles south of Prague, for the occasion of his son and heir Jan Nepomuk's wedding to Maria Eleonora, Countess Oettingen-Wallerstein. The nobleman renovated his theater for the festivities, and involved his entire entourage in the project. The prince's second-born daughter Maria Theresia sang the role of Marquise Clarice. Scarlatti's second wife Antonia Lefebvre sang the role of the chambermaid Vespetta; the role of Count Orazio was taken by a local count, one of the Salburg brothers (either Rudolf or Christian), while the role of Patrizio was sung by the librettist himself. In all likelihood, Scarlatti conducted.

It is very neat to revive this pleasant opera buffa at the very same theater, exactly when decades-long works ended to make of it a perfectly restored building, including period machinery and lighting, with even the conductor and the members of the period orchestra downing white wigs and period costumes. It can't get any more authentic than this.

The composer was the prince's family's music teacher, and was the nephew of his more famous uncle Domenico Scarlatti. Giuseppe counted Gluck as one of his close friends, and the latter's comic opera Le Cadi dupé was given the night before as part of the same wedding ceremonies. He wrote 30 operas, of which only this one and another one by the same librettist - Armida - seem to have survived. No performances of his operas occurred after 1773. By the way, the librettist did collaborate with Mozart; he wrote the libretto for his La Finta Semplice.

Technically speaking this product is a bit deficient. Given the low intensity of candlelit lighting, the image is grainier than usual for a blu-ray disc. The sound, surprisingly, presents some failures in some scenes (unless it's my equipment, but it hasn't been known for misbehaving), but generally has good clarity and balance. The image freezes at times in changes of layers and is generally saccadic when the camera moves too fast.

The theater is very beautiful, and so is the period scenery, made of painted trompe-l'oeil panels. The filming of the opera is curious, with some backstage or underground business being shown, but unlike when this is done to death in other productions, here it's not intrusive, but rather entertaining, since part of the fun is watching the inner workings of the world's only fully restored Baroque theater (yes, I know about the one in Sweden, but this one is more complete thanks to its machinery). This is taken to the somewhat extreme of a voice-over reading an original letter by the commissioner of the work, the Prince of Schwarzenberg himself, *during* the overture. Again, even though it seems like heresy, the effect is kind of neat. Stage direction is lively with good blocking. Conductor and orchestra do a perfectly decent job.

The two female singers are very attractive and are both good actresses and good singers. Regarding the males, while Mr. Briscein's acting is less accomplished than Mr. Brezina's, both sing well (the latter, also a bit better in his singing, but it's not like the former doesn't do a good job).

The opera itself doesn't reach any peaks of high music, but it is pleasant enough. It relies a lot on lively duets and ensembles with a good dose of ornamentation, and these are actually rather compelling, not only musically, but also thanks to a clever libretto that has some witty dialogues, in spite of the rather cliché situations that it addresses (you know, the females trying to expose their mates and vice-versa - two couples, one belongs to the nobility, the other one is made of servants, there are disguises en travesti and mistaken identities and the such; you've seen this before, by a much more gifted pair, one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and one Lorenzo da Ponte). Still, it's very enjoyable. It's a miniature work, with only four characters, but it has a refreshing simplicity. The maestro makes a point that one of this piece's arias did inspire Mozart 18 years later when he was composing one of the Cherubino arias. OK, Maestro, but this is no Mozart. Still, like I said, it's enjoyable and pleasant.

The documentary is interesting. First of all, the town is gorgeous, and its architecture and landscape are shown in beautiful images. Second, the restoration works for the theater are well documented, and we see the extreme care that was taken for this production - they even followed old recipes on how to make honey wax candles that would last for 3-4 hours, and went as far as engaging a local honey bee farm. Wow! The conductor doesn't use a baton, but rolled up sheet music tied with a ribbon, in Baroque tradition. Superb! They even took the trouble of interviewing the *current* Prince of Schwarzenberg - yes, the lineage has lived on.

So, what we have here is a minor work by a minor composer (something in the range of B-) that has received A+ treatment with perfect authenticity in a beautiful theater, performed by a talented cast and conducted/played by good musicians, and they all did a work of love. The product itself has some ups and downs both in terms of technical side and documentation, so, we end up with an overall score that falls right in the middle between B+ and A-, and the opera is no masterpiece but is a recommended divertissement. The documentary itself, however, is enough to prop this product up into "A" territory, "highly recommended." It's one of the best "making of" bonus features available in opera video recordings. For those really interested in the mechanics of a Baroque theater and who will appreciate the care this team took to provide authenticity, then this blu-ray disc is indispensable.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
November 11th, 2013, 04:48 PM
La Didonne on blu-ray disc

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51COSZO5SfL._SY300_.jpg

La Didonne, opera in a prologue and three acts, sung in Italian (January 24, 1641 - Teatro San Cassiano, Venice)
Music by Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676)
Libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello after Virgil's Aeneid

Théâtre de Caen, October 16, 2011
Orchestra - Les Arts Florissants, conducted by William Christie
Stage Director - Clément Hervieu-Léger
Set Designer - Éric Ruf
Costumes - Caroline de Vivaise
Lighting - Bertrand Couderc
Video Director - Olivier Simonnet

Cast

Didone - Anna Bonitatibus
Enea - Kresimir Spicer
Iarba - Xavier Sabata
Ecuba - Maria Streijffert
Cassandra - Katherine Watson
Anna, Fortuna - Mariana Rewerski
Venere, Iride - Claire Debono
Ascanio, Amore - terry Wey
Anchise - Victor Torres
Corebo, Eolo - Valerio Contaldo
Ilioneo, Mercurio - Mathias Vidal
Acate, Sicheo - Joseph Cornwell
Sinon Greco, Giove - Francisco Javier Borda

Opus Arte 2012 release on blu-ray disc, all regions, of a 2011 co-production of CLC Productions, Théâtre de Caen, Les Arts Florissants, and the Selz Foundation

16:9 1080i HD image, LPCM 24-bit stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks with a running time of 176 minutes. No extras other than a cast gallery. The insert only contains credits, three production pictures, and a three-page essay in English, French, and German. Subtitles are in English, French, and German. It is regretful that unlike other Opus Arte products, this one doesn't contain a list of numbers with characters and durations (at least the blu-ray has a list of characters for each scene in its navigation menu), and not even a full synopsis is given. The absence of subtitles in original Italian language is a grave shortcoming, and rather inexplicable for an Opus Arte disc.

----------

In this relaxed holiday Monday, I'm trying to catch up with a few of the discs that are sitting on my large unwatched pile. I started earlier today with the disappointing Cyrano de Bergerac DVD with Roberto Alagna, which I reviewed on the Verismo thread and did not recommend to other buyers.

This product is obviously in a totally different category. I'm typing this still only 23 minutes into it, and it is already rather apparent that I'm in for a treat. First of all, the sparse orchestration with basso continuo, kept simple in purpose according to the included essay in order to highlight the strong emotions of the story by focusing on the melodious vocal lines, is of an exquisite beauty as opposed to my first adventure today (of course, I'm comparing apples and oranges, going from Verismo to Baroque, but still). One can't expect any less from William Christie and Les Arts Florissants than perfection, and they again don't fail to deliver it.

Both singing and acting are of the secure and well executed kind with great technique by most artists involved, which is another hallmark of maestro Christie's performances, given that he is picking here from his own orchard, the 'Jardin des Voix' biennial workshop where he coaches young singers on the art of singing Baroque music. This, coupled with some confirmed veterans, and with the outstanding musicians in his formidable HIP ensemble, then favored by impeccable sound engineering rendered in high definition audio tracks, delivers an aural experience that is very pleasing to the ears.

Of the six singers who have entered the stage so far, not a single one has failed to produce anything less than great vocal performances, and I hope that this will continue. The staging also looks promising, with visually interesting sets lit in cold blue lights. Costumes are contemporary.

As you all know, I love the subject matter, and it is interesting to contrast this piece with those by Purcell and Berlioz. Well, Cavalli and his librettist are not at a big disadvantage here, generally speaking (of course I do prefer Berlioz's masterpiece). They do a fine job, adding another compelling version to this beloved story. The librettist, by the way, is the same one who collaborated with Monteverdi in L'Incoronazione di Poppea, and the prolific composer Cavalli - with 40 operas to his name, 27 of which have survived - easily demonstrates how well he absorbed the lessons of the master himself (he was one of Monteverdi's students, and learned to sing and to play the organ under his teacher's guidance).

Our Aeneas here is outstanding - I had never heard Kresimir Spicer before, and oh boy, is he good! He hails from Croatia and did all of his training in the Netherlands. His resumé which I looked up out of curiosity is rather impressive with some notable performances of Baroque roles in many prestigious European houses and festivals with leading conductors, but there is no mention of any work this side of the pond - sometimes the Europeans are really lucky and we don't get to see in America some very gifted singers. I hope one of our houses wakes up to him.

Correction - I actually have heard him before but had no recollection: he is in the role of Alessandro Magno in Il Re Pastore on the Salzburg's M22 DVD (I reviewed him at the time as "very good although the role is not demanding" - I guess now he proved his chops a bit more, in a much more difficult role. He is also in William Christie's DVD of Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria.

Ms. Bonitatibus in the title role delivers one of her best performances to date, and like I said, the youthful and good-looking cast of comprimarios only add to the quality of this effort.

Now I'm 1 hour and 5 minutes into the disc, and continue to enjoy it wildly. I'm quite sure it won't deserve any less than a "highly recommended" A grade, which only doesn't get to A+ because of Opus Arte's silly decision of not including original language subtitles, a synopsis, and a list of tracks/numbers/characters/singers, with no bonus features other than a cast gallery. Anytime you get a luminary like maestro William Christie, it is a wasted opportunity when you don't include an interview with him talking about the work (especially when it is an important revival of an ancient opera), and I don't understand why Opus Arte didn't go all the way to make of this a truly outstanding product when everything else is so good. Well, the staging does have the cliché Regie touch with a dead animal and some blood, which for its gratuitousness (don't these directors by now understand that this kind of thing looks more ridiculous than daring, these days?) also contributes to withdrawing the + from the A. This does generate a curious moment, when Ms. Bonitatibus is embraced by maestro Christie at the end during curtain calls, and has to be very careful not to smear him with fake blood. "Sorry, maestro, you know, these Regie types, right?" :o - I can imagine her whispering this to him.

PS - Another curiosity here is that this thing has a happy ending. Didone does not commit suicide unlike in Virgil, Berlioz, and Purcell - but ends up marrying Iarba. :laugh3:

Well, to be fair, this plot twist does give the opportunity for a nice emotional scene and beautiful love duet between Didone and Iarba at the end.

OK, finished, and the good expectations were thoroughly met throughout the three hours, and I do confirm the A rating.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
November 17th, 2013, 06:23 AM
Les Aventures du Roi Pausole on CD

http://static.qobuz.com/images/jaquettes/5029/5029365915229_230.jpg

Les Aventures du Roi Pausole, opérette in three acts (1930), sung in French
Music by Arthur Honegger (1892-1955)
Libretto by Albert Willemette, based on the 1901 novel of the same title by Pierre Louÿs

Niew Ensemble conducted by Ed Spanjaard
Recorded in studio in December 2008, based on a stage production by Opera Trionfo.
CD released by the label Brilliant Classics in 2010. Sound quality for this product is very good.

This opérette has the interesting distinction of being the operatic work with the most sex I've ever seen. Sex is the topic of most dialogues, and there is even a threesome. It is pleasant and fun but not extraordinary. It would be paradise for Regie. The plot revolves around the king of the title role, who has 365 wives, one for each night of the year. While he is a libertine, he tries to keep his daughter Aline la Blanche pure - and she is bored and would rather be, cough cough, less pure. Then, she elopes, and tries to engage in some sexual discovery. Another character is Diane la Houppe, one of the 365 queens who is supposed to be the chosen one that night, and she is horny and very irritated with the fact that the king is not paying much attention to her, given that he is worried about his daughter's elopement. Several other characters (an eunuch, a page, a ballet dancer, a milkmaid, etc) engage in various degrees of debauchery.

This CD from a small Dutch company features rather unknown soloists. The main ones are Mattijs van de Woerd in the title role, Ambroz Bajec Lapjne as Taxis the Eunuch, Simone Riksman as Aline la Blanche, Gabio Trümpy as the page Giglio, and Rea Kost-Fueter as the ballet dancer Mirabelle (I mean, the character itself in the libretto is a dancer; it's not that the artist portraying her only dances; she sings). I listened to it while driving on the road so I couldn't identify one by one the voices of the characters (there are many others), therefore won't be commenting specifically on each singer's skills. In general, I thought that the cast was excellent, with nice singing across the board. The orchestra performs very well.

The insert contains the composer's biography in English (one page - he was French, born in Le Havre, and had a strong relationship with Switzerland where he did his musical studies), a very detailed synopsis in ten pages, in English, and the full libretto, but in French only (I suppose that's why they included such a detailed synopsis in English). Track list with names of the various arias/duets/etc and durations are provided but without characters' names. Credits, a head shot of the composer, and several production pictures in black-and-white are included. Artistic biographies of the singers and of the conductor are provided.

There is no doubt that this product itself (technically speaking and in terms of documentation) and the singing/playing are top notch. The only problem with recommending this, is that the opérette itself is just OK; pleasant but nothing to write home about. So, a B- work, in an A package. I'd call it a B grade CD, overall: nice to listen to it once, but no essential purchase. This thing on stage or on DVD (preferably in some risqué production) could be lots of fun.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 25th, 2013, 11:37 PM
Pergolesi: Adriano in Siria on blu-ray disc

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Adriano in Siria, opera seria in three acts, sung in Italian, premiered on October 25, 1734, Teatro San Bartolomeo in Naples
This product includes the comic intermezzzo Livietta e Tracollo, by the same composer

Adriano in Siria
Music by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Libretto by Pietro Metastasio
Conductor: Ottavio Dantone
Ensemble: Accademia Bizantina

Adriano: Comparato, Marina
Aquilio Tribuno: Lombardi Mazzulli, Francesca
Emirena: Cirillo, Lucia
Farnaspe: Dell'Oste, Annamaria
Osroa: Ferrari, Stefano
Sabina: Heaston, Nicole

Set/Stage Designer: Memba del Olmo, Zulima
Costume Designer: Toffolutti, Patricia
Lighting Designer: Garcia, Ignacio
Lighting Designer: Gobbi, Fabrizio
Stage Director: Garcia, Ignacio

Livietta e Tracollo (1734 as well, presented simultaneously with the above opera at the premiere)

Music by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Libretto by Tommaso Mariani

Same conductor, ensemble, crew

Livietta: Bacelli, Monica
Tracollo: Lepore, Carlo

Recorded live on 12/6/2010 at Teatro Comunale Pergolesi, Jesi; Opus Arte and Unitel Classica release in 2011 + Fondazione Pergolesi Spontini. Runtime 3 h 23' - crisp image on 1081i HD; sound tracks LPCM 2.0 and DTS-HD 5.1 with excellent balance; extras include a cast gallery and an interview with the conductor (12'). Subtitles in Italian, English, French, German, and Spanish. All regions.
Available on Amazon for approximately $35 [clicky (http://www.amazon.com/Adriano-Siria-Blu-ray-Pergolesi/dp/B005UOK9HA/)]

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Pergolesi's premature death from tuberculosis at age 26 robbed us of one of the finest opera composers of all time. His works are relatively obscure (with the exception of La Serva Padrona, and of course, outside of the operatic field, his Stabat Mater) but are being revived by his foundation in his native Jesi, and the plan is to release them all on DVD. This product (DVD and Blu-ray by OpusArte) is part of this effort - even more so, because it was done in the year of the composer's tercentenary of birth, and it is simply delightful.

What we have here is Italian Baroque opera at its best. Not only Adriano in Siria is truly excellent with a level of quality only achieved by the likes of Handel, the intermezzo is just as good, and this production had the excellent idea of presenting the evening just like it happened in Naples during the composer's life time: Act I, then comic intermezzo part I, Act II, comic intermezzo part II, Act III.

So, we get the serious, stratospheric emotions of historical characters such as emperors and princes in da capo style (these are *very* beautiful arias), punctuated by commoners who interact with the public and perform comedy from the apron of the stage.

This is a brilliant performance. The historically informed ensemble plays very beautiful sounds in this small theater (although the conductor complains of the acoustics in his featurette interview), and the cast is phenomenal. These singers, all unknown to me as is often the case in small regional Italian houses, are simply great. Particularly Lucia Cirillo almost drags one to tears in her solo with the birdcage towards the end of Act I. While Annamaria Dell'Oste is a bit less convincing in her trouser role of Farnaspe (one can imagine how the premiere went much better, since none other than Caffarelli created the role), but she does have her moments, and she does well in another solo accompanied by an on-stage oboe, and in a long da capo aria in second act. Vrtually everybody else performs to high standards (maybe a notch below for Nicole Heaston who seems less comfortable with this piece than the otherwise all-Italian cast), including the two artists who interpret the comic roles in the intermezzo (they are great!).

Warning: this HIP ensemble has a very incisive, on-your-face, staccato-rich playing style. I loved it, but some people may be turned off by it. I thought it made of the usual monotony of Baroque opera a very lively experience - but the intensity of it all can get a bit tiresome. Once more: I'm very impressed with mezzo Lucia Cirillo. What a singer! Check out her website [here (http://www.luciacirillo.com/)].

The modest means of this theater lead to such minimalistic sets that the production feels more semi-staged than staged (basically, just a row of ruined columns, and costumes are simple - but the simplicity doesn't take away from the pleasure of watching these gifted singers perform their art.

Both works are extremely enjoyable and it is a sheer pleasure to see them done so well.

This must be one of the best operatic recordings in visual media of the last few years, and it is A++, highly recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
February 18th, 2015, 01:09 AM
Elena on DVD

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Elena, dramma per musica in a prologue and three acts, sung in Italian, premiered at Teatro San Cassiano, Venice, 26 December 1659
Music by Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676)
Libretto by Nicolò Minato, based on a scenario by Giovanni Faustini

New production of the Académie Européene de Musique du Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, in co-production with Marseille-Provence 2013, European Capital of Culture, with support of the operas of Lille, Montpellier, Angers-Nantes, and Rennes, and the Foundation Calouste Gulbenkian of Lisbon

Orchestra: Capella Mediterranea (a period ensemble)
Conductor: Leonardo García Alarcón (also playing the harpsichord)

Stage Director: Jean-Yves Ruf
Sets: Laure Pichat
Costumes: Claudia Jenatsch
Lighting: Christian Dubet
Make-up and wigs: Cécile Kretschmar
Video Director: Corentin Leconte

Performing edition of the score by Leonardo García Alarcón, based on the critical edition by Kristin Kane

Cast

Elena, and Venere: Emöke Baráth
Menelao: Valer Barna-Sabadaus
Teseo: Fernando Guimarães
Ippolita, and Pallade: Solenn' Lavanant Linke
Peritoo: Rodrigo Ferreira
Iro: Emiliano Gonzalez Toro
Menesteo, and La Pace: Anna Reinhold
Tindaro, and Nettuno: Scott Conner
Erginda, and Giunone, and Castore: Mariana Flores
Eurite, and La Verita: Majdouline Zerari
Diomede, and Creonte: Brendan Tuohy
Euripilo, and La Discordia, and Polluce: Christopher Lowrey
Antiloco: Job Tomé

Subsets of the above singers also appear as Chorus of Hunters, Chorus of Argonauts and Slaves, and Chorus of Gods and Goddesses

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Recorded live in Aix-en-Provence in July 2013
Released on 2 DVDs by Ricercar in August 2014
Runtime 177 minutes. All regions. NTSC. Aspect ratio 1.78:1. Optional subtitles in English and French only.
There is no choice of sound tracks and no mention of what kind of sound protocol is employed. Judging by the rendition on my home theater, it seems like it is a 5.1 track.

The documentation is exceptional, of rare quality. The discs are packaged inside a 60-page hardcover booklet. It contains numerous color illustrations of costume sketches, credits, list of acts and scenes with characters and durations, a brief introductory paragraph by Ellen Rosand, Chair of the Study Group on Seventeenth-Century Venetian Opera of the International Musicological Society, followed by a full page about the rediscovery of this piece, by Bernard Foccroulle, director of the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence. Then we have a high-quality, 3-and-a-half-page essay by Alain Perroux, Artistic Adviser and Dramaturg to the festival.

This is followed by a full interview (4 pages) with Leonardo García Alarcón, the conductor, which is very interesting and informative about the musical aspects of the piece. Another 4-page interview is next, with the stage director (I love it when inserts do address the directorial concept). A 2-page synopsis completes the outstanding documentation, which is then repeated in French and German.

Pay attention, video recording companies! That's how it's done!

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Let me give you all the bottom line already: this is absolutely a MUST BUY for all lovers of Baroque opera! It is simply delightful!

Do not expect a polished product like what we get from William Christie and Les Arts Florissants. If that's your expectation, you'll be disappointed, because this is rather a student performance with young singers from the Académie Européene de Musique, and it looks and feels a bit (or a lot) on the amateur side.

However, rarely we see a production with this level of energy, enthusiasm, and passion. Yes, the sets are not attractive, the costumes are messy and at times downright ugly, there isn't much blocking or even any visible effect of professional stage direction, but somehow the result is still highly entertaining.

This is due to three factors:

1. There was a great amount of reseach and musical scholarship put together by Leonardo García Alarcón, the festival artistic direction, and the Cappella Mediterranea, which rendered Cavalli's vivacious score with verve and precision.

2. The youthfull ardor and eagerness of the cast. While uneven in singing quality (some of the artists are very promising; others are a bit rough on the edges), these youngsters were able to put together a very compelling performance.

3. The piece itself has a lot of merit and is a very good find for a worthy rediscovery, as it is theatrical, funny, charming, captivating, and musically enticing.

Elena, of course, is one of the multiple operatic versions of my very favorite story, that of Helen of Troy. This light approach is more akin to the irreverence of Offenbach's La Belle Hélène than to the solemn and melodious treatments of the legend such as Gluck's sublime Paride ed Elena, and of course we are miles away from epic masterpieces such as Berlioz's Les Troyens. Here we are rather game for a fun ride, with the usual comedic depiction of lust, jealousy, mad love, disguises, and mistaken identities.

This cute Cavalli piece was forgotten for 350 years, until it was rediscovered ten years ago by René Jacobs, who ended up abandoning the project of reviving it. Leonardo García Alarcon took it up, and got it done, thankfully, because it definitely does have staying power.

I won't do my usual score sheet with grades for each element of the show, because like I said this is rather a student performance and strictly speaking, grades would suffer (in terms of sets, costumes, lighting, etc.) but it hardly matters, given the overall result which is highly enjoyable.

Don't expect countertenor quality of the likes of Philippe Jaroussky, but Valer Barna-Sabadus does a rather good job, with sufficient color and delicacy, as well as engrossing acting (and he is a handsome young man who looks the part).

Now, Hungarian soprano Emöke Baráth is simply phenomenal. She is surely one of the most attractive young singers I've seen in the last several years (the cover picture is not flattering - she is way more beautiful and sexier than that!). Wow! I'm in love! What an incredibly bewitching and glamorous young lady! And she can sing! Her voice is full, well modulated, and resonant, with very pleasant timbre. She is one to be watched.

Many other singers do well - Scott Conner is impressive, Anna Reinhold is convincing in her acting, and Solenn' Lavanant Linke has a good voice, just like Emiliano Gonzales Toro - while others are more generic, such as Majdouline Zerari (she has a couple of striking pitch control failures) and Rodrigo Ferreira. Anna Reinhold is also good-looking, but not as vocally impressive as Emöke Baráth.

Technically speaking these two DVDs are not good. Image is blurry and more of the VHS quality than the HD one. Sound balance is poor. While the singers can be heard loud and clear, the orchestra is muted. This is not entirely bad because Cavalli's vocal writing is actually more interesting than his orchestration, but still, sound engineering here is not of the sophisticated kind. There is clearly a gap in quality in terms of packaging/booklet (like I said, one of the best in years) and the image/sound on the DVDs. Video direction is also not ideal with too manu close-ups (I don't really care for this much detail of the dental works these singers have received from their dentists). It is also regrettable that subtitles in original language (Italian) were not included, for a better appreciation of the libretto - and like I said, there is no choice of sound track.

Again, these shortcomings do not bring down this product. One just needs to have a degree of tolerance for the amateur-like aspects, because overall this is great!

Highly recommended for lovers of Baroque opera!

Me, I'm likely to buy from now on anything that has Emöke Baráth in it! I hope she comes at some point to this side of the pond, for an interview! :love8:

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Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 5th, 2015, 04:07 AM
L'Arlesiana, dramma lirico in tre atti, sung in Italian, on blu-ray disc
Music by Francesco Cilea (1866-1950)
Libretto by Leopoldo Marenco, based on the play L'Arlesienne (1872) by Alphonse Daudet
Premiered on 27 November 1897 at the Teatro Lirico di Milano in four acts, revised to three acts in 1898. The present product includes the latter version, but also incorporates to it the aria "Una Mattina" from the original four-act version.

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Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana conducted by Francesco Cilluffo
Coro Lirico Marchigiano V. Bellini; chorus master Carlo Morganti
Production by the Fondazione Pergolesi Spontini, in co-production with the Oxford Festival, recorded/filmed live at the Teatro G. B. Pergolesi in Jesi, Italy, in September of 2013.
Stage director Rosetta Cucchi
Light designer Martin McLachlan
Set designer Sarah Bacon
Costume designer Claudia Pernigotti
Video director Tiziano Mancini

Cast

Rosa Mamai - Annunziata Vestri
Federico - Dmitry Golovnin
Vivetta - Mariangela Sicilia
Baldassarre - Stefano Antonucci
Metifio - Christian Saitta
L'Innocente - Ricardo Angelo Strano
Extras - Orla Shine, Roberto Lori

Released on blu-ray disc by Dynamic on July 31, 2015
All regions, PCM stereo 2.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Image 1080i60. Notes and synopsis in Italian and English. Subtitles in Italian, English, German, French, Japanese, and Korean. Runtime 105 minutes. No extras.

The insert contains a list of musical numbers with their singing characters (but no duration times), credits, an in-depth 4-page, unusually good essay that includes a half-page by the director explaining the concept, and a 2-page synopsis - this is all in Italian and repeated in English translation. There are five color production pictures.

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L'Arlesiana's claim to fame is based on the extraordinary tenor aria "È la solita storia del pastore" a.k.a. Il Lamento di Federico, one of Caruso's favorites, and a persistent recital piece. This first modern video recording of the full opera is welcome, since the music is very good and there is enough merit in this Verismo piece to warrant its full staging, beyond its famous fragment. Hopefully, with L'Arlesiana getting more exposure, it will find a place closer to Cilea's much better known piece, Adriana Lecouvreur.

Unlike what happens in most Italian regional opera houses that tend to spouse a traditionalist approach, here we get a rather concept-driven staging, with a number of symbolic elements making an appearance.

Sets and costumes are realistic and dark, rendering very well the oppressive atmosphere of this opera that deals with obsessions, pathological relationships, and insanity.

Stefano Antonucci is a remarkably good Baldassarre, and Rosa Mammai, the deranged mother, is sung very effectively by an excellent Annunziata Vestri. Unfortunately Federico is not as well taken care of, with Dmitry Golovnin's tenor instrument being a bit thin. He is otherwise not bad at all and his acting in the famous aria is impressive, but one would like to have someone like Jonas Kaufmann in this role for a meatier rendition.

Mariangela Sicilia is OK as Vivetta.

Overall, this is a good, recommended product with an A- grade.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
April 15th, 2016, 11:03 PM
Leonardo Vinci's Artaserse on DVD
Artaserse, dramma per musica in three acts, sung in Italian
Music by Leonardo Vinci
Libretto by Metastasio
Premiered on February 4, 1730 at the Teatro delle Dame in Rome, Italy

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Concerto Köln conducted by Diego Fasolis
A production of Opéra National de Lorraine, filmed live in Lorraine, France, on November 10, 2012
Stage director Silviu Purcarete
Sets, costumes and lighting by Helmut Stürmer (lighting also by Jerry Skelton)
Choreography and Baroque gestures by Nathalie van Parys
Wigs by Cécile Kretschmar
Produced by Louise Narboni
Video capture by Ozanog, Mezzo, Opéra National de Lorraine, and Parnassus Art Productions in partnership with Mirabelle TV - Alsace 20

Cast

Artaserse - Philippe Jaroussky
Arbace - Franco Fagioli
Mandane - Max Emanuel Cencic
Semira - Valer Barna-Sabadus
Megabise - Yuriy Mynenko
Artabano - Juan Sancho

An Erato 2014 DVD release

Running time 201 minutes. 2 DVDs 9, NTSC color 16:9, sound PCM 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles in English, French, German, an Italian. Region zero, worldwide. No extras. The booklet contains 10 color production pictures, credits, and shame! No list of musical numbers and characters!! No essays!! The only text is the synopsis in French, English, and German.

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Vinci was the first composer who set to music Metastasio's extremely successful text about the Persian kings, which was made into no fewer than 80 operas! So, this is the original Artaserse. How good is it? Not that great. There is A LOT of recitative, with the rare aria here and there. It is very verbose with not that much music. The arias that do exist are not as spectacular as the ones written by Handel or Vivaldi in similar works. As far as Baroque goes, there are plenty of other operas that are better than Vinci's Artaserse. I mean, it's not that it is bad. It's just that it is not in the same league with Handel.

This opera faded into obscurity after Vinci's death, and this is the first modern revival of it. Faithfully to how it was initially staged with castrati in a time when women were not allowed on the operatic stage, this Lorraine production uses an all-male cast, with five countertenors taking on the castrati roles.

So we get three hours and twenty minutes of long, long recitatives, and some arias.

Still, the plot is kind of interesting. It's not for nothing that it got set to music 80 times. And then, while Vinci's music is not as compelling as Handel's or Vivaldi's, it gets highlighted by the EXCELLENT singers who populate this production, and the very good HIP orchestra Concert Köln.

Add to this a very beautiful and compelling staging with interesting sets and costumes (lots of feathers and big wigs), and good acting across the board, and you have a winner (as long as you like Baroque music, and love the countertenor voice).

Well, I happen to really, really love the countertenor voice, and there are five of them in this production, together with one tenor.

All six singers are simply excellent. They are all accomplished singers and actors. We get the VERY BEST male singer in activity in my opinion, the fabulous Philippe Jaroussky in the title role. The beauty of his voice is uncanny, and here he puts together one of his best performances ever. Oh boy, this is such a display of precise technique! Talk about pitch control! There isn't a single note out of place. Everything is sustained with the same pitch for as long as it needs to be sustained, and all transitions are just perfect. Philippe is out of this world!

So, OK, Jaroussky is still the best. He is brilliant. When he sings, one can immediately feel the stratospheric quality. But his colleagues on this DVD are not that far behind, surprisingly. Often when Jaroussky is singing in other shows there is a painful difference between him and his counterparts, but this time, it's great singing all along. The one tenor, Juan Sancho, also does a great job as Artabano. Pay attention to what he does around 20' into the second DVD! Whoa! That's some fine tenor singing!

I really love Valer Barna-Sabadus who not only has a divine voice, but interprets Semira so convincingly that one forgets that he is a male. Franco Fagioli does justice to Natalie's praise - he is truly phenomenal! But really, there is no need to single out anybody. They all sing with A++ ratings. OK, I *will* single out someone. Jaroussky deserves an A+++ rating, which doesn't exist in my system, but hey, the VERY BEST singer in the world should have a special rating category for him, right? I'd give to Anna Netrebko the same rating - the best female singer (she definitely got that rank after her Macbeth at the Met), rated as highly as the best male singer. Composers, please write an opera that will ask for the two protagonists to be Netrebko and Jaroussky!

Ok, enough dreaming. Back to this show. The lighting, sets and costumes are great! Rather simple sets, the same ones for the entire opera, but still, they manage to be visually pleasing, in this rather original production, in the fact that they show on stage the backbone of the show. Make-up artists walk by, stuff gets set up under our gaze, we see the conductor a few times, the stagehands, and then singers walk around and sing/act the piece. Lighting adds incredibly beautiful hues to the staging, and it is arguably the best one I've seen in the last few years, with winners such as a long, neon-like blueshih/greenish scene that was very successful.

Even though the opera itself isn't among the best Baroque works out there, this production, this orchestra, and especially this cast are absolutely first rate. They make Vinci's music sound better than it is.

The 5.1 track is good (the PCM one is even better, with great clarity), image is good - the one blunder is the lack of a list with musical numbers, characters, and duration. I hate when it happens. Is it too much to ask for? No extras, either. It's a bare-bones product, and this superb show deserves better. I mean, just the synopsis in the booklet???

Overall, A++, very, very highly recommended, rather perfect (the lack of a list of musical numbers won't decrease the score given that everything else is so good), especially if you like Baroque, and even more, if you love the countertenor voice like I do. This is very, very, very fine singing, acting, playing, and staging. Wow! Not to forget, camera work is truly beautiful. It is sober, poised, and smart, with a great sense of when to do close-ups, when to slowly move the view to another character, and how to compose the shots with nice framing.

And so, who are these folks at Opéra National de Lorraine? I had never even heard of them before. It is really impressive that a small French local opera house can do such a spectacular, world-class show!

This is one of the very best opera DVDs I've ever seen in my life, with every element, from staging to playing to singing to acting to sets to costumes, very close to absolute perfection. And to think that it got forgotten for almost two years in a drawer! I bought it, tossed it there, and only today got it out of its plastic wrap.

Soave_Fanciulla
April 16th, 2016, 01:49 AM
I'm so glad you liked it, and that you also singled out my favourite counter-tenor for praise - Valer Sabadus. I just adore his voice!

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 25th, 2016, 12:39 AM
Il Flaminio on blu-ray disc

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Il Flaminio, commedia per musica in three acts, sung in Italian (with some words in Neapolitan)
Premiered at the Teatro Nuovo di Napoli, Naples, Italy, in 1735
Music by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)
Libretto by Gennarantonio Federico

This recording uses the critical edition by Francesco Degrada (Edizioni Fondazione Pergolese Spontini)

Recorded live at the Teatro Valeria Moriconi in Jesi, Italy, in 2010, in a production by the Fondazione Pergolese Spontini

Accademia Bizantina conducted by Ottavio Dantone
Stage director and lighting designer - Michal Znaniecki
Set designer - Benito Leonori
Costume designer - Klaudia Konnieczny
Video director - Tiziano Mancini

Cast

Polidoro - Juan Francisco Gatelli
Flaminio (Giulio) - Laura Polverelli
Giustina - Marina de Liso
Agata - Sonya Yoncheva
Ferdinando - Serena Malfi
Checca - Laura Cherici
Vastiano - Vito Priante

A 2012 ArtHaus Musik / Unitel Classica release on a dual-layer blu-ray disc 1080i full HD, region worldwide, subtitles in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, and Korean. Running time 183 minutes. Sound formats PCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The booklet contains two color pictures and six black-and-white production pictures, credits, list of musical numbers with characters and duration, and a 2-and-a-half-page essay (short but informative) in English, French, and German. No synopsis.

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This is my sixth contact with operas by Pergolesi. I confess that the only one I had liked so far was Adriano in Siria. Not even La Serva Padrona reallly tickled my fancy. Lo Frato 'nnamorato, Livietta e Tracollo, and La Salustia didn't get me highly excited either. So, I wasn't expecting much from this piece, including because our dear Natalie had already mentioned a bit of boredom, and our tastes usually overlap.

Oh well, maybe boredom will still settle in since so far I've only seen one third of this long, 3-hour work.

But so far, so good. This one seems a lot more compelling than most Pergolesi pieces.

This product on blu-ray is helped by some extraordinary assets. First of all, I've rarely heard such good sound! I'm listening to the PCM Stereo track on earphones, and it is just incredibly beautiful and resonant. I feel like I'm right there in the opera house. The track has perfect balance between orchestra and singers, and the sound engineers were able to capture everything so well probably also because of the small Teatro Valeria Moriconi with sets that use abundant wood. No, seriously, this is such a treat! Image is very sharp and colorful too. Video direction is good, with close-ups and full stage views that are nice at rendering well the production (including a close view of Sonya's wiggling toes, LOL).

Second, the sets are very, very clever. It's the simplest thing: ropes, leaves, wood, and extensions of the stage to the sides, using the balconies. The sets are tall and have openings up there where sometimes characters are perched. And it all works! Lighting design is also of the best possible kind, from the first scene that explodes in green color, and with many other beautiful effects. The orchestra is on stage but is kept mostly dark, in a niche behind the singers. Blocking is good too - at times the singers mingle walk down the aisle, they show up on the balconies, and so forth. Costumes and props work well (updated vaguely to mid-20th century).

Third, oh my God, these are really, really, really good singers. Wow! They can act too, and they look their parts. Seven singers, each one better than the next. Perfect. All seven have great articulation and phrasing (they even make the recits very musical with a lot of italianitá). Their voices are deep, full, and beautiful. Their technique is precise. Most of them are regional singers (well, Serena Malfi has had some good international appearances, including Covent Garden and the Met). The only one who is very well known is Sonya Yoncheva, and oh boy, does she look beautiful and sexy in this! Six years ago she wasn't a star yet, so her name is not even on the cover. I'm not her biggest fan but I did like her a lot on this bu-ray disc. By the way pay attentiion to the wiggling toes, because it's when she steals the show with a gorgeous aria that she sings exceedingly well, "Da rio funesto turbine." It's track 22, and thing of beauty (1h 43' mark). She is also great in track 31, "Ad annientarmi."

Finally, the Accademia Bizantina is out of this world. What a great sound they make! Ottavio Dantone keep things rolling with good vitality and pace.

In summary, this is very well produced and performed, with uncanny professionalism.

I'm at the half mark and not bored at all. Much the opposite, I have a constant smile on my face and I'm really enjoying this ride!

It's hard to fault a single element in this product. It is sort of weird that there is no synopsis, and it's a pitty that no bonus feature is given: I'd like to listen to what the creative team has to say about this excellent show. But that's about it. Everything else is rather maximum score.

So, with no doubt, this is an A++, highly recommended disc.

-----------

PS - Now I finally understand why audiences in Europe are crazy about Sonya Yoncheva. She never really convinced me much... because I've always seen her at the cavernous, 4,000-seat Met, and wasn't impressed with her rather small voice. Here in a very small theater (and in Europe they are usually small) she shines as a first-rank star. By now I've watched three times in a row her great track 22 that I mentioned above. What a performance! Fantastic agility, pitch control, phrasing, and a lot of charm (she couldn't be any sexier in this scene).

Not to be missed is what I'd call The Meow Aria, hilarious. "Quanno voi vi arrosseggiate" - Track 24, 1h 54' mark. :laugh3: Pay attention and you'll see that the conductor is meowing as well, which makes the singers laugh at the end. Nice!

Another funny detail: at one point Agata is pouting, has the back to the other singers, up there in the balcony, and they are calling her "Agata! Agata!" Since she continues to ignore them, the whole orchestra then shouts "Agata!" :laugh4:

More surprises, the puppet theater on tracks 27 and 28 (shown with picture-in-picture), super nice. This is around the 2h 15' mark.

Even the curtain calls are original and interesting.

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Bravo, Fondazione Pergolesi Spontini. This is how one plays, sings, and stages Baroque opera! :curtain_call:

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 27th, 2016, 06:45 PM
Il prigionier superbo and La serva padrona on blu-ray disc

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51K7XuVRd8L._SX342_.jpg

La Fede, Ernelinda, ovvero Il Prigionier Superbo, dramma per musica in three acts, sung in Italian
Premiered at Teatro San Bartolomeon in Naples, Italy, on 5 September 1733
Music by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)
Libretto by Gennarantonio Federico, based on an earlier libretto by Silvani for Gasparini's opera, La fede tradita e vendicata

A production of the Fondazione Pergolesi Spontini at the Teatro G. B. Pergolesi in Jesi, Italy, 2009, using the critical edition by Claudio Toscani

Accademia Barocca de I Virtuosi Italiani conducted by Corrado Rovaris
Stage Director and Set Designer Henning Brockhaus
Costume Designer Giancarlo Colis
Lighting Designers Henning Brockhaus and Fabrizio Gobbi
Marionettes by Teatro Pirata

Cast

Sostrate - Antonio Lozano
Rosmene - Marina Rodríguez Cusí
Metalce - Marina de Liso
Ericlea - Ruth Rosique
Viridate - Marina Comparato
Micisda - Giacinta Nicotra

A 2012 ArtHaus Musik / Unitel Classica release on 50 GB dual layer blu-ray disc, region worldwide, sound formats PCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, resolution 1080i full HD, running time 177 minutes, subtitles in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, and Korean. Booklet with credits, 2 color pictures, 4 black-and-white pictures, credits, musical numbers with duration and characters, a VERY good 4-page essay by Bianca de Mario repeated in English, French, and German, no synopsis, no extras (except for trailers).

This product also comes with the comic intermezzo La Serva Padrona, reviewed separately.

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In one of the best essays to ever accompany an opera blu-ray disc, the author wonders why such a masterpiece (in her opinon) like Il Prigionier Superbo fell into oblivion while its intermezzo La Serva Padrona went on to continuous success.

The answer is simple: in spite of Ms. de Mario's best efforts to present this work as a masterpiece, it is no such thing. Il Prigioner Superbo is a rather conventional, run-of-the-mill Baroque opera that in spite of some upsides, fails to make a compelling musical argument. It is actually not for lack of theatricality: this piece is one of the rare cases in Baroque opera in which the plot is actually more interesting than the music. The libretto is not bad. There are striking moments - such as the heroine having to choose between saving the life of her father or that of her lover (she decides for the former) - and the Nordic story is unusual. The last act is a bit rushed - one would think "oh wait, is it over already?"

Anyway, the libretto is an asset rather than hindrance, however Pergolesi here fails to develop the imaginative and melodious music that he wrote for Il Flaminio (see my review of it, above). Sure, there are isolated arias that are fine. I'd highlight for example "Un'aura di speranza" and the very good "Del mio valore al lampo" which although very nice, both pale in comparison to the superb, extremely beautiful, goosebumping "Ombre mute, oscuri orrori" which in itself makes it worth buying a copy of this opera, and is one of those arias I'd listen to over and over.

Still, the whole thing can't shake off a monotonous, boring sameness.

Then, there is the issue of this production, its concept, and its stage direction. The overall idea is not bad: it recovers the aftermath of the earthquake in Naples, which in real life did delay the premiere of this opera. I like the sets. Now, where the production falls flat on its face is in the idea of doubling the number of "people" on stage by providing to each character a life-size puppet. So, here it is how it is done: all singers are dressed in contemporary, formal gala attire (party gowns, tuxedos which are by the way not that well designed and are rather unflattering to the otherwise shapely ladies who sing this piece) and then each has a doppelganger who is a puppet dressed in period costumes and reflecting the character's stance (the king with his royal crown and attire, etc.). A couple of figures in black gowns/masks are needed to operate each puppet.

So the end result, Mr. Stage Director, is *too many darn people/puppets on stage!* It gets to be distracting and unfocused, with awful blocking. While a character sings, the camera needs to go back and forth between the singer and the puppet. Meanwhile all the contemporary-looking singers keep boozing and boozing all the time. They carry bottles of liquor and champagne around and drink constantly from the bottles. Erm... why?

While the puppets are visually nice and the the whole atmosphere with the bluish lighting is kind of pleasant (not to forget that some of these lady singers display some hot cleavage :pig:), the overall effect is just too darn busy and distracting, taking away from the music.

Opera stage directors (modesty be damned and I'll allow myself to be arrogant) should consult with people like me and others here on Opera Lively for this kind of thing. :listening_headphone We could easily tell these people what works and what doesn't.

The same organization did Il Flaminio in a way that worked incredibly well, and this time they did Il Prigionier Superbo in a way that didn't work at all. Opera is a difficult medium. There must be balance between all aspects (singing, orchestra, sets, costumes, acting, concept, etc.) and the good productions are the ones that achieve this equilibrium. Put too much emphasis on only one aspect as clever as you think it will be, and the result is that you ruin the whole thing.

So, what about the musical aspects of the performance? Well, again, while it's nice to see that now there are Italian HIP ensembles (which wasn't the case some ten to fifteen years ago), they are not all equally good. Unfortunately the musicians in I Virtuosi Italiani are definitely not as fabulous as the ones in Accademia Bizantina. This performance never takes off, and is rather subdued. Some people find the Accademia Bizantina to be a bit over-the-top in their aggressive, rhythmic approach to Italian Baroque, but I much prefer their liveliness to the sleepy style of I Virtuosi Italiani.

Singing: I'd say that most likely these singers share my opinions above, because they don't seem to be having a lot of fun, unlike the superb cast of seven outstanding artists who performed in Il Flaminio, including the one that overlaps (Marina de Liso is in both productions). So, they are all correct. There is no failure to be noticed. They do a good job, execute all notes with good pitch control, and have beautiful and pleasant voices. What is lacking is enthusiasm.

Marina de Liso does sing very well, while hindered by her awful Goth costume and wig (well, the story does touch on the Goth invasion of Norway). She is particularly good in the difficult "Trema il cor, s'oscura il ciglio" which is forceful and has a wide range.

Sound does capture the orchestra too strongly, smothering the singers, otherwise production values and technical aspects are good.

Cons include too busy a staging and lackluster musical performance of a not-so-good opera. Pros include a good essay in the booklet, and some nice arias.

Overall, B-, not recommended.

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In the same product, La Serva Padrona, intermezzo in two parts, sung in Italian
(Same premiere, same composer, same librettist)
Critical edition by Francesco Degrada - same technical aspects of the blu-ray disc

Same producers, orchestra and conductor, and same stage director
Set designer Benito Leonori
Costume designer Giancarlo Colis
Lighting designer Alessandro Carletti

Cast

Serpina - Alessandra Marianelli
Uberto - Carlo Lepore
Vespone (silent role) - Jean Méningue

OK, no more busy staging with puppets, what a relief! The sets are updated to a circus with relatively contemporary (30's-50's) props and costumes (including vintage Gilera motorcycles). They look nice and pleasant, and overall the feeling is much improved from the previous piece.

Carlo Lepore is an excellent singer. Alessandra Marianelli is *super cute.* She is on the cover, in a picture that actually doesn't do her justice. She is prettier and sexier than that. Her voice however is not that great - rather small and under-powered although musically accurate. She compensates with very good acting and *lots* of charm (I'm in love! :love8:).

In terms of eye candy we also get a very beautiful brunette ballerina who dances on stage to accompany Serpina here and there. Vespone, the silent role, is rendered by an Arlecchino kind of character who follows Uberto around - he is not intrusive and adds comic touches.

Again, one easily understands why La Serva Padrona endured while Il Prigionier Superbo didn't. The former is way better than the latter. This production/performance is superior to the previous version I had, from the Teatro Massimo Bellini di Catania. Recommended, A-

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So, since these two pieces come together on the same disc, is this a good buy? I think it is. Not great, but good, with an enjoyable Serva Padrona and some beautiful musical numbers in Il Prigionier Superbo in spite of the latter's flawed staging. Available on Amazon for $28.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
June 10th, 2017, 02:46 PM
Europa Riconosciuta on DVD

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71DDCr6MfzL._SY445_.jpg

Dramma per musica in due atti, sung in Italian
Music by Antonio Salieri (1750-1825)
Libretto by Mattia Verazi
Revised by Eric Hull (Teatro alla Scala Foundation)
Premiered at Nuovo Regio Ducal Teatro di Milano in Milan, Italy, in August 1778.

Recorded at Teatro alla Scala on December 7, 2004 - New production, opening the season after the theater was closed for renovations (the opening scenes show celebrities coming in including Sophia Loren).

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala conducted by Riccardo Muti, Bruno Casoni chorus master
Oboe concertante Francesco Di Rosa; basso continuo by James Vaughan (cembalo) and Simone Groppo (cello)
New production by Luca Ronconi with sets and costumes by Pier Luigi Pizzi
Choreographer Heinz Spörtli
Directed for TV (RAI) by Pierre Cavassilas

Cast

Europa - Diana Damrau
Semele - Désirée Rancatore
Asterio - Genia Kühmeier
Isséo - Daniela Barcellona
Egisto - Giuseppe Sabbatini
Picciolo (non-singing role) - Alessandro Ruggiero
Dancers - Alessandra Ferri and Roberto Bolle + Corpo di Ballo del Teatro alla Scala, directed by Frédéric Olivieri

Insert - eight color production pictures, no track list, long synopsis (two full pages in small print) repeated in Italian, English, French, and German. Nothing else. Running time 133 minutes, color, NTSC, 16:9, sound tracks PCM 2.0 or DD 5.1; subtitles in Italian, English, French, and German. Region free. Released by Warner Classics / Erato / Teatro all Scala / RAI Trade in 2016. Originally produced for broadcast on Rai Tre, 2004.

Available on Amazon for $15.47 (Prime).

Pretty impressive overture. Kühmeier opens the singing and does a superb job with the first aria, beautiful timbre, powerful voice. The always excellent Damrau follows. Giuseppe Sabattini is also in the first scene and is fine.

We get soldiers dressed in black leather/armor (sort of Batman like without the cape) and black motorcycle helmets, with oversized, plastic-looking swords. Not one of the most successful visuals by Pizzi (disappointing for his standards).

The next singer to make an entrance is Ms. Rancatore - apparently this is a very good, homogeneous cast, given that she performs well too, although she could use some agility in her coloratura.

Muti evidently is great and gets lots of sonority from the orchestra. The chorus is exquisite. Musically even though I'm only 15' into this performance, I can tell that we are facing a good product.

At the 23' mark on the DVD, Egisto (Sabbatini) treats us to sublime dynamic variations, singing very well in low volume.

Pizzi's visuals come back to his usual beautiful pieces when an army of red-clad soldiers on wooden horses enter the stage. Barcellona has her first aria, and does not disappoint. Minimalist sets are made of flights of stairs on both sides of the stage.

Salieri's music is beautiful if we think of one specific fragment but the problem is that it tends to repeat and lack imagination so as similar pieces go on and on, the score overstays its welcome. He seems to do better when he writes for the orchestra and the chorus, but the vocal lines for the singers are kind of bland.

The chorus seats immobile under the stage in two rows, and anytime they are singing, the musical value of the piece jumps sharply up.

But then, other boring, recitative parts follow, and they could use some cuts.

What comes next is a great scene - the quintet when Europa is recognized (the chorus also jumps in). This was the best part so far. Then silver mirrors are dropped down and a long ballet ensues. Again, Salieri's instrumental music is not bad. The sets on the sides reproduce a theater or opera house in trompe-l'oeil, and they are kind of ugly. Pizzi should have left just the background mirrors on stage, sticking with the minimalist look.

Oh boy, this ballet is looooong; about 20 minutes, so the first act is about 40 minutes of opera and 20 of ballet. It's danced classic style and I already don't like classical ballet that much (give me modern ballet any day), so it's a pain, and I'm about to skip ahead but the status bar says it's about to end, so, OK, I'll soldier on.

Like I said, the music is beautiful. Salieri could have more success composing for ballet and for chorus, rather than opera.

Act II starting now.

Sabbatini delivers another great show in his act II opening, with a forceful and difficult aria. I actually think that these two less known singers, Sabbatini and Kühmeier, are stealing the show against their more famous counterparts Damrau and Barcellona.

Sabbatini is particularly good. He had his US debut in 1992 at Chicago Lyric where he returned many times, and he sung in 2001 at the Met (leading male role in Manon - wrongly listed on Wikipedia as NYCO but it was the Met). Apparently he was based at La Scala and performed often in Vienna as well. He won some impressive prizes. Great singer - I didn't know him (or don't remember him). He stopped singing in 2010 and turned his carrer to conduting.

http://jcarreras.homestead.com/files/Sabbatini1ScalaEuropa.jpg
Giuseppe Sabbatini

Above, the picture is exactly from this performance of Europa Riconosciuta - you can see the Batman-like costume. He has lots of CD recordings to his name, and three other opera DVDs (Luisa Miller, L'Elisir d'Amore, and Roberto Devereux) - plus a Macbeth DVD as the conductor.

Kühmeier, also unknown to me up to today, is quite impressive too, and she is still in activity (currently in Dresden at the Semperoper as Micaëla; sang the same role at the Bavarian State Opera in January 2017). Apparently she last sang at the Met in Arabella in 2014.

http://www.geniakuehmeier.com/142%20Kopie.jpg
Genia Kühmeier

Don't read me wrong, Daniela and Diana did very well too; it's just that I'm impressed with these singers who were not known to me before (by the way Rancatore also has a beautiful voice - all five singers did a superb job in this production).

I must have seen Rancatore somewhere because she has no fewer than 11 opera DVDs and has been around as well, including in the US (San Fran). Latest, Violetta at the Royal Danish Opera (2016). I changed my mind - she doesn't lack agility, she was just not warmed up yet, because at the end of the opera she delivers a spectacular coloratura aria.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a1/Desiree_Rancatore.jpg/170px-Desiree_Rancatore.jpg
Désirée Rancatore

By now I'm in the middle of act II and I'm getting tired of the repetitious nature of Salieri's vocal writing.

Oh no they killed Egisto, so gone is the best singer in the production, LOL.

Pizzi's sets get to be very beautiful towards the end of the opera with a black block of stairs and mirrors again on the background.

The last scene is a nice quartet with the chorus on stage and it is worth repeat listening.

The exigent La Scala public strongly rewarded these excellent singers with extremely enthusiastic applause at the end, like I haven't seen in this theater, ever! La Scala patrons know what good singing is, and when all five singing roles in an opera are so superbly staffed, they do respond accordingly.

This is a well-sung show, with great singers and chorus, and the orchestra under Muti is beautiful, so musically it is quite good; the opera itself has lots of ups and downs and suffers from longueurs, monotony, and pacing problems, but does have several beautiful moments (the quintet in first act, the choral pieces, the final quartet, some arias).

Overall it is recommended. The bottom line is that these very good artists made of a somewhat mediocre opera, something more compelling than it deserves. With the bargain price and some very nice singing, it's a good buy, but it is something to be watched only once in its entirety (one might want to replay the quintet in act I, the first tenor aria in Act II, the final quartet, the soprano coloratura aria before the final quartet, and some of the choral numbers from time to time - a pity that there is no written chapter list to make this easier - but the DVD does have a chapter feature and we learn for example that the superb quintet is track # 15 and is called "Qual silenzio!" - I just heard it again, such a pleasure!). The first tenor aria in Act II is track #2 - "Vantar di salda fede" - it starts at 2'55" after some introduction (time resets to zero at the beginning of act II).

There are clips of this production on YouTube.

The scene I visually liked with the black block of stairs is there (Rancatore does some nice coloratura):


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEs7Bk0R1RA

While I couldn't immediately find a clip from Europa Riconosciuta on YouTube featuring only Genia Kühmeier (we do get her in ensemble pieces), we do get a sample of her stupendous voice as Pamina in the Salzburg 2006 production of The Magic Flute:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DBlB4789SE

MAuer
June 11th, 2017, 11:19 AM
I was familiar with Kühmeier from Sir Simon Rattle's CD recording of Carmen; I think she and JK are the best of the four principals.

Florestan
June 12th, 2017, 04:31 PM
Well I am quite pleased that I have this one ordered. Ordered it on a whim and then stumbled across your review. Now considering your comments on La Serva Padrona and Sonia Yoncheva,


Not even La Serva Padrona reallly tickled my fancy.
...
The only one who is very well known is Sonya Yoncheva, and oh boy, does she look beautiful and sexy in this!

I think you will like this La Serva Padrona production:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsUeywPFEgQ&t=1219s




Il Flaminio on blu-ray disc

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Il Flaminio, commedia per musica in three acts, sung in Italian (with some words in Neapolitan)
Premiered at the Teatro Nuovo di Napoli, Naples, Italy, in 1735
Music by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)
Libretto by Gennarantonio Federico

This recording uses the critical edition by Francesco Degrada (Edizioni Fondazione Pergolese Spontini)

Recorded live at the Teatro Valeria Moriconi in Jesi, Italy, in 2010, in a production by the Fondazione Pergolese Spontini

Accademia Bizantina conducted by Ottavio Dantone
Stage director and lighting designer - Michal Znaniecki
Set designer - Benito Leonori
Costume designer - Klaudia Konnieczny
Video director - Tiziano Mancini

Cast

Polidoro - Juan Francisco Gatelli
Flaminio (Giulio) - Laura Polverelli
Giustina - Marina de Liso
Agata - Sonya Yoncheva
Ferdinando - Serena Malfi
Checca - Laura Cherici
Vastiano - Vito Priante

A 2012 ArtHaus Musik / Unitel Classica release on a dual-layer blu-ray disc 1080i full HD, region worldwide, subtitles in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, and Korean. Running time 183 minutes. Sound formats PCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The booklet contains two color pictures and six black-and-white production pictures, credits, list of musical numbers with characters and duration, and a 2-and-a-half-page essay (short but informative) in English, French, and German. No synopsis.

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This is my sixth contact with operas by Pergolesi. I confess that the only one I had liked so far was Adriano in Siria. Not even La Serva Padrona reallly tickled my fancy. Lo Frato 'nnamorato, Livietta e Tracollo, and La Salustia didn't get me highly excited either. So, I wasn't expecting much from this piece, including because our dear Natalie had already mentioned a bit of boredom, and our tastes usually overlap.

Oh well, maybe boredom will still settle in since so far I've only seen one third of this long, 3-hour work.

But so far, so good. This one seems a lot more compelling than most Pergolesi pieces.

This product on blu-ray is helped by some extraordinary assets. First of all, I've rarely heard such good sound! I'm listening to the PCM Stereo track on earphones, and it is just incredibly beautiful and resonant. I feel like I'm right there in the opera house. The track has perfect balance between orchestra and singers, and the sound engineers were able to capture everything so well probably also because of the small Teatro Valeria Moriconi with sets that use abundant wood. No, seriously, this is such a treat! Image is very sharp and colorful too. Video direction is good, with close-ups and full stage views that are nice at rendering well the production (including a close view of Sonya's wiggling toes, LOL).

Second, the sets are very, very clever. It's the simplest thing: ropes, leaves, wood, and extensions of the stage to the sides, using the balconies. The sets are tall and have openings up there where sometimes characters are perched. And it all works! Lighting design is also of the best possible kind, from the first scene that explodes in green color, and with many other beautiful effects. The orchestra is on stage but is kept mostly dark, in a niche behind the singers. Blocking is good too - at times the singers mingle walk down the aisle, they show up on the balconies, and so forth. Costumes and props work well (updated vaguely to mid-20th century).

Third, oh my God, these are really, really, really good singers. Wow! They can act too, and they look their parts. Seven singers, each one better than the next. Perfect. All seven have great articulation and phrasing (they even make the recits very musical with a lot of italianitá). Their voices are deep, full, and beautiful. Their technique is precise. Most of them are regional singers (well, Serena Malfi has had some good international appearances, including Covent Garden and the Met). The only one who is very well known is Sonya Yoncheva, and oh boy, does she look beautiful and sexy in this! Six years ago she wasn't a star yet, so her name is not even on the cover. I'm not her biggest fan but I did like her a lot on this bu-ray disc. By the way pay attentiion to the wiggling toes, because it's when she steals the show with a gorgeous aria that she sings exceedingly well, "Da rio funesto turbine." It's track 22, and thing of beauty (1h 43' mark). She is also great in track 31, "Ad annientarmi."

Finally, the Accademia Bizantina is out of this world. What a great sound they make! Ottavio Dantone keep things rolling with good vitality and pace.

In summary, this is very well produced and performed, with uncanny professionalism.

I'm at the half mark and not bored at all. Much the opposite, I have a constant smile on my face and I'm really enjoying this ride!

It's hard to fault a single element in this product. It is sort of weird that there is no synopsis, and it's a pitty that no bonus feature is given: I'd like to listen to what the creative team has to say about this excellent show. But that's about it. Everything else is rather maximum score.

So, with no doubt, this is an A++, highly recommended disc.

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PS - Now I finally understand why audiences in Europe are crazy about Sonya Yoncheva. She never really convinced me much... because I've always seen her at the cavernous, 4,000-seat Met, and wasn't impressed with her rather small voice. Here in a very small theater (and in Europe they are usually small) she shines as a first-rank star. By now I've watched three times in a row her great track 22 that I mentioned above. What a performance! Fantastic agility, pitch control, phrasing, and a lot of charm (she couldn't be any sexier in this scene).

Not to be missed is what I'd call The Meow Aria, hilarious. "Quanno voi vi arrosseggiate" - Track 24, 1h 54' mark. :laugh3: Pay attention and you'll see that the conductor is meowing as well, which makes the singers laugh at the end. Nice!

Another funny detail: at one point Agata is pouting, has the back to the other singers, up there in the balcony, and they are calling her "Agata! Agata!" Since she continues to ignore them, the whole orchestra then shouts "Agata!" :laugh4:

More surprises, the puppet theater on tracks 27 and 28 (shown with picture-in-picture), super nice. This is around the 2h 15' mark.

Even the curtain calls are original and interesting.

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Bravo, Fondazione Pergolesi Spontini. This is how one plays, sings, and stages Baroque opera! :curtain_call:

Florestan
June 12th, 2017, 04:34 PM
Regarding your review below, I watched a different one and while the opera can drag on a bit, all the singers and their acting were quite good and quite engaging to me:
https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/61c%2B4Gxi%2BSL._SY445_.jpg




I watched this today:

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51gYa%2BbsX8L._SL500_AA300_.jpg

Apparently it got universal praise, including from posters here.
I liked it, but just moderately.

First, the opera itself: it is a good one, but in my humble opinion, not the masterpiece it's said to be.
I find that it has OK melody, OK orchestration, OK pace... but it doesn't shine in any of these areas.

Second, the production.
It's pleasant enough, traditional staging, appropriately small orchestra with period instruments.
But I have the impression that it lacks punch, somehow.
The tenor who sings Paolino is too old for the role and his acting is not convincing.
Carolina is good looking but not as lively; the soprano singing her doesn't portray all the turmoil of a young woman in love.
The cast does a good job overall and there are some delightful moments (especially the witty fast dialogues between Geronimo and the Count - both are more convincing actors than the leading couple - and Carolina's hilarious aria about why the count shouldn't marry her, just as good as the Count's similar account of why Elisetta should reject him). Elisetta and Fidalma do an OK job; again, nothing special.

This opera came to existence right after the Mozart era, and premiered in Vienna 2 months after Mozart's passing, so it's hard not to compare, which may explain why I'm a little underwhelmed. I guess what is missing is Mozart's brilliant orchestration.

The libretto has an interesting story that is not too absurd or incredible, but the problem is with the poetry, and again, what is missing is Da Ponte.

Cimarosa is said to be a nice tavern for a stopover in your way from Mozart to Rossini, and I think that the definition is appropriate, judging by this - although I don't know any of his other works.

In summary, a good opera, especially if one manages NOT to compare it to Mozart's operas. I'd rank it a B. The production above in my opinion is a B as well. Enjoyable, worth having, but not one that I'd be going back to very often.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 7th, 2018, 05:16 PM
Das Labyrinth on Blu-ray Disc

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Das Labyrinth, oder Der Kampf mit den Elementen, a.k.a. Der Zauberflöte sweyter Theil (The Magic Flute Part Two)
The Labyrinth, or The Struggle with the Elements, "a grand heroic-comic opera in two acts" (the work is actually a Singspiel), sung and spoken in German

Music by Peter von Winter (1754-1825)
Libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder (Mozart's librettist for The Magic Flute)
Premiered at the Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna on 12 June 1798

This is a Salzburg Festival production, filmed live at the Residenzhof, Salzburg, Austria, in the Summer of 2012

Mozarteumorchester Salzburg, conducted by Ivor Bolton
Salzburger Bachchor / Salzburg Festspiele und Theater Kinderchor, chorus masters Alois Glassner and Wolfgang Götz
Fortepiano and Glockenspiel played by Jeffrey Smith
Right of stage for those interested in producing this opera, belongs to Manfred App (www.papageno-music.com (http://www.papageno-music.com))
Scored adapted by Ivor Bolton
The spoken text is abridged (the original opera lasted about one hour longer)

Stage Director Alexandra Liedtke
Set Designer Raimund Orfeo Voigt
Costume Designers Susanne Bisovsky and Elisabeth Binder-Neururer
Choreographer Ismael Ivo

Video Direction for the Blu-ray / DVD: Peter Schönhoffer, a production of Unitel Classica in co-production with the Salzburg Festival and ZDF / 3sat

Blu-ray disc (also available on DVD) released in April 2013 by ArtHaus Musik / Unitel Classica. 1080i Full HD 16:9 imgage, sound tracks PCM Stereo or DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, all regions, subtitles in German (original language), English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Korean. Running time 158 minutes, no bonuses. Blu-ray disc 25GB single layer. The insert contains credits, a list of musical numbers with characters and duration, a very good 3-page essay, a very detalied 4-page synopsis, all repeated in English, French, and German. Two color production pictures and three black-and-white.

Cast

Sarastro - Christof Fischesser
Queen of the Night - Julia Novikova
Pamina - Malin Hartelius
Tamino - Michael Schade
Papageno - Thomsas Tatzl
Papagena - Regula Mühlemann
Papageno's father - Anton Scharinger
Papageno's mother - Ute Gfrerer
The Ladies of the Queen - Nina Mernsteiner (Venus), Christina Daletska (Cupido), and Monika Bohinec (page)
Monostatos - Klaus Kuttler
Tipheus - Clemens Unterreiner
Sithos - Philippe Sly
(Plus, 12 other small roles I won't name)

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We can't approach this expecting that Peter von Winter will be like Mozart. There is only one Mozart. But this score is not bad. It does try to be inspired by Mozart and recovers musical references to The Magic Flute, but it also tries to adopt some of Beethoven's grandiose style, and it is considered by musicologists to provide an interesting view on the evolution that German/Austrian music was having from Mozart to, later, Weber and Wagner.

This production in Salzburg was marred by the choice of venue, an open-air courtyard with bad acoustics and no theatrical hardware, so it detracted a lot from Schikaneder's grandiose theatrical plans and multiple scene changes. Still, the costumes are really interesting, and they did keep it lively.

One big problem is Julia Novikova. She is an attractive lady who is pleasant to look at as the Queen of the Night (we learn that the character's given name is Luna), but she is a disaster for the coloratura parts. I mean, a full-blown disaster, as bad as I've ever heard. She is definitely not a coloratura soprano, and it shows. I'd call it a profound miscast, which is weird given that Salzburg is a high-quality festival that usually casts very well. Her coloratura parts are so badly managed that one has the impulse of quitting and turning off the player. I can't start to understand why the Salzburg public applauded her after she murdered her first aria (at least, it wasn't enthusiastic applause).

Another controversial point that got harshly criticized in the media at the time, was the use of singers and actors on blackface to convey the black/moor characters. I guess this is not considered to be a racist no-no in Europe, but it wouldn't fly well in the United States.

Papagena is staffed by a pretty young woman who sings well. Her Papageno is a handsome young man who sings less well but is quite decent.

Sarastro is manned by a good singer for the most part, but not without some pitch control issues, going off-key at times. Still, he is one of the better ones of the bunch. Our Pamina is a better singer than the one doing her mother (which is no big compliment) but she struggles with the high notes (and sorry for the unfair jab, but she could use a good teeth whitening appointment with her dentist). Her tessitura seems inappropriate for the role. What's wrong with the Salzburg casting director, this time??? But when very high notes are not asked of her, she does well. Unfortunately for her, many of her lines do go to the upper part of the register.

Tamino is long in the tooth. It's very hard to try to think of the role as a young man, when sung by this mature singer. I don't particularly like his voice and technique, either.

A segment of this staging would profoundly shock American audiences, when one of the Ladies of the Queen goes under Pamina's skirt and seems to masturbate her, while she issues orgasmic coloratura. Even for Europe, it's very risqué.

Both our Papageno and his Papagena when they are on stage make us forget a bit the miscasting in other roles. They look their parts and listening to them is pleasant. The three ladies are not bad either.

The orchestra is very good, so is the conductor, and the chorus is superb. On this note (pun intended) I'll have a break (I have something else to do now) and will continue watching this show later.

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Resuming. It is nice, meeting the entire Papageno family, complete with mother, father, and siblings: one of the good parts.

I continue to deplore the utterly inadequate setting - why oh why they revived this forgotten but rather interesting opera, in a place that has no theatrical resources at all? Why not use any of the other venues in the festival and stage it properly? The interior courtyard of a building or front patio or whatever that is? Really, Salzburg? According to contemporary reviews I looked up, apparently the people who attended were dismayed at how hard it was to hear the singers, given the horrible acoustics. It's been said that for the blu-ray disc the sound engineers performed some miracles and actually the spectators who watch this on TV with a surround sound system got much better sound than the audience that was there in person.

And I guess we all got used to the modern way of casting, in this day and age of HD video: in most productions these days singers do look the parts they sing. Having a middle-aged fat singer as Tamino is just so incredibly distracting! Fortunately for any semblance of reality, our Pamina is not young either so they don't look too mismatched. And I wish our Queen of the Night, you know, could sing.

Previously I said Pamina was a better singer than her mother (no big compliment there) but now I'm not even so sure. She seems to be getting worse as the opera progresses, and in a scene I just saw, she sang just as poorly as the Queen of the Night.

These theatrical, casting, and vocal problems are rapidly making of this, something unwatchable. I'm about to quit. And I have barely passed the mid-point.

Chorus and smaller roles are generally better at singing than many of the main roles.

End of the first act.

The sets get a little better because night is falling, so they actually can use a bit of theatrical lighting and the wall of lights that is the main element of these sets, looks better now in a darker environment. Act II opens with a choral number and the Papagenos again, so that's nice because musically and in terms of realistic looks, these are the best.

The libretto early in the second act has a couple of rather racist lines.

Ups and downs continue. We get a very nice scene with Papageno and the three ladies but this is unfortunately followed by a long aria for Pamina where she says how she'll remain faithful to her husband, and the singer assassinates it. Maybe she is getting tired, because she is singing worse and worse. One wonders how this would have sound, you know, with a good singer.

The final parts are chorus-rich which is a plus in this production, but the plot which was already far-fetched, takes a turn for the worse, when uncharacteristically, Sarastro sponsors a duel to the death between Pamino and his rival Thipheus. Benevolent and wise Sarastro would never have endorsed this, much less proposed it. Well, Pamino kills his rival; gets the girl again; all rejoice; the end.

The Salzburg public applauded tepidly, and they are right about it.

So what's the verdict?

As long as we don't try to compare the score to Mozart's, it is fine. The plot is much less tight than The Magic Flute's, probably because Mozart was not there to tie it all up with his gorgeous music and his sense of pace and theatricality, so erratic Schikaneder ran wild. But all things considered, it isn't a bad opera (or rather, a bad Singspiel), and it deserved a better staging than this one that Salzburg put together.

I'm still puzzled. What were they thinking? Did they find that it was cute to stage this work as an amateur company or student production would do? "Oh, let's just do this thing in a courtyard where nobody will be able to hear the singers and there will be no way to do much of scene change and all, haha, so funny, it will be a blast!" Sorry, Salzburg officials, but it's not cute, and it's not funny. It's just mediocre and the work suffers from it.

Then, what the hell was up with the casting? I can imagine the casting director saying:

"Hm... the role of the Queen of the Night requires high coloratura as usual, and a very agile voice. OK, I know what we'll do: we'll bring in a singer who can't do any coloratura even if her life depends on it, and whose agility is thick as a brick. That will be cool."

"Hm... the role of Pamina has a really high tessitura. OK, I know what we'll do: we'll bring in a singer incapable of producing high notes, whose timbre turns unpleasant in the upper register. That will be perfect!"

"Hm... the role of Tamino depicts an impetuous young hero. OK, I know what we'll do: we'll bring in a fat older singer with faulty vocal technique and no acting skills. That will be so entertaining!"

So, the excellent services of this fabulous orchestra, this great conductor, and this exquisite chorus, were wasted in this production.

If Aix-en-Provence had staged this, with their impeccable professionalism instead of this amateur travesty, we'd have had something way more compelling.

As it stands, it is not recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 10th, 2018, 05:04 AM
Well I am quite pleased that I have this one ordered. Ordered it on a whim and then stumbled across your review. Now considering your comments on La Serva Padrona and Sonia Yoncheva,



I think you will like this La Serva Padrona production:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsUeywPFEgQ&t=1219s
Indeed, super nice. Sonya is so good and pretty here too!

Florestan
January 10th, 2018, 06:13 AM
Indeed, super nice. Sonya is so good and pretty here too!

Here is another fine Serpina:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lt1f1C6OGJE

MAuer
January 20th, 2019, 12:49 PM
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Léonore, ou l’amour conjugal
Opera in two acts by Pierre Gaveaux (1798)
Libretto by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly

Conductor: Ryan Brown
Orchestra and Chorus of Opera Lafayette, Washington, D.C.
Cast:
Kimy McLaren: Léonore
Jean-Michel Richer: Florestan
Tomislav Lavoie: Roc
Dominique Côté: Pizare
Pascale Beaudin: Marceline
Keven Geddes: Jacquino
Alexandre Sylvestre: Don Fernand

Stage director: Oriol Tomas
Set and costume designer: Laurence Mongeau
Lighting designer: Julie Basse
Sound engineer: Antonino D’Urzo
Video director: Jason Starr
Executive producers: David C. Frederick, Sophia Lynn, Nizam Kettaneh, and Ishtar Méjanès

Filmed in February, 2017, at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater, John Jay College, New York

Gaveaux’s Léonore is written in the opéra comique style, with spoken dialogue rather than recitatives. And a great deal of dialogue there is, with many scenes just spoken here that Paer and then Beethoven set to music. The work opens with Marceline’s aria, followed by the duet with Jacquino and a version of Roc’s “Gold Aria” that Paer omits but Beethoven retains. However, there’s no counterpart to the Rocco-Leonore-Marzelline trio in Fidelio and Leonora (only a bit of dialogue) and no aria for Pizare, which here is entirely a spoken role. Of course, Léonore has her big aria, there’s the Prisoners’ Chorus (something not included in Paer’s Leonora), and a counterpart to the Marzelline-Leonore duet heard in the 1805 original version of Fidelio. The second act proceeds as expected until Pizare arrives to kill Florestan. The big dramatic scene with Leonore’s intervention that is so electrifying in Fidelio and is not without impact in Paer’s opera is here delivered entirely in dialogue. Don’t know why Gaveaux chose not to set it to music, but leaving it as spoken text really robs the scene of dramatic and emotional power. From there on, things pretty much follow the action in Leonora and the Fidelio Urfassung, though Gaveaux wisely does omit the part in Leonora when that silly twit Marcellina enters Florestano’s dungeon with little more in mind than extracting additional avowals of love from “Fedele.” The opera concludes with the usual tribute to Léonore’s bravery, but here again Gaveaux’s treatment lacks the power of Paer’s, to say nothing of Beethoven’s.

Still, Gaveaux’s music is appealing, occasionally sounding rather like Mozart, and the Opera Lafayette cast does it full justice. Kimy McLaren is a wonderful heroine with an attractive lyric soprano and plenty of dramatic engagement, looking convincingly boyish in her guise as Fidelio. Jean-Michel Richer makes a convincing suffering prisoner and displays a pleasing lyric tenor. There is an agreeable secondary couple in Pascale Beaudin’s vivacious Marceline and Keven Geddes’ Jacquino (like Beethoven, Gaveaux wrote the part for a tenor), who do act like a pair of teenagers and whose voices are appropriately a bit lighter than those of McLaren and Richer. Despite her protests of maidenly reserve, the jailer’s daughter in this version seems to show as much enthusiasm as Papageno at the prospect of producing offspring. Bass Tomislav Lavoie captures Roc’s rough edges (more pronounced here than in Leonora or Fidelio) along with his fundamental decency; my only quibble is that he hardly looks old enough to be this Marceline’s father. Dominique Côté, a baritone who originally trained as an actor, is a thoroughly vicious Pizare who practically explodes with fury and frustration when he hears the trumpet announcing Don Fernand’s arrival, while Alexandre Sylvestre’s noble-sounding bass-baritone is well-suited to the upright minister. Wisely, all of the soloists engaged for this production are natives of Quebec for whom the extensive French dialogue poses no difficulties – at least as far as I can tell, given that I don’t speak French! :laugh4: Kudos are also due conductor Ryan Brown and his Opera Lafayette forces, who perform well and are clearly committed to this work.

Laurence Mongeau designed the sets and costumes for Oriol Tomas’ production. The former are abstract, consisting primarily of large (probably around 10’ high) wooden frames that can be pivoted and function at times as doorways. Above them is a still larger frame from which long, thin wires are stretched top to bottom at an oblique angle. (Prison bars, perhaps?) There are also a few props, such as the chains Léonore is toting at her first appearance, the laundry Marceline is supposed to be ironing and folding, a huge rock that Léonore and Roc haul out of the dungeon cistern, etc. Costumes suggest the late 19th century. On the whole, this video is interesting from a historical perspective, and Gaveaux’s opera is enjoyable, even if it doesn’t have the dramatic force of Fidelio or even Paer’s Leonora.

As a side note, it’s rather appropriate that Léonore was revived by a company called Opera Lafayette, as there are some indications – admittedly circumstantial – that the two protagonists are based on the Marquise and Marquis de Lafayette and the time of his imprisonment at the fortress of Olmütz, Austria.

Florestan
January 23rd, 2020, 05:19 AM
Paisiello: Nina, o sia la pazza per amore on DVD[INDENT]Nina, o sia la pazza per amore (Nina, or the girl driven mad by love)

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51qUC9QQiLL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

I have it and it is definitely an awesome performance. Love when Cecilia starts eating the flowers! Cecilia got the acting mad part down so good I actually got scared at one point. The woman who was keeping track of disturbed Nina almost ran into the stairway, stopped herself at the last split second and didn't miss a note. Buy this for Cecilia. Buy it for Jonas. Buy it for all the other singers too!