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

          
   
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  1. #91
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Il Flaminio on blu-ray disc



    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.

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

    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. 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!"

    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.

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

    Bravo, Fondazione Pergolesi Spontini. This is how one plays, sings, and stages Baroque opera!
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); June 10th, 2017 at 02:29 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  2. #92
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Il prigionier superbo and La serva padrona on blu-ray disc



    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.

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

    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 ), 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. 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.

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

    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! ).

    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-

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

    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.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); May 27th, 2016 at 07:47 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  3. #93
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Europa Riconosciuta on DVD



    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.


    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.


    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.


    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):



    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:

    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); January 7th, 2018 at 04:50 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  4. #94
    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    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.

  5. #95
    Senior Member Top Contributor Member Florestan's Avatar
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    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:




    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    Il Flaminio on blu-ray disc



    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.

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

    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. 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!"

    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.

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

    Bravo, Fondazione Pergolesi Spontini. This is how one plays, sings, and stages Baroque opera!
    Since that night at the Polka, I don't understand you, Sheriff.
    --Ashby, La Fanciulla del West

  6. #96
    Senior Member Top Contributor Member Florestan's Avatar
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    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:




    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    I watched this today:



    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.
    Since that night at the Polka, I don't understand you, Sheriff.
    --Ashby, La Fanciulla del West

  7. #97
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Das Labyrinth on Blu-ray Disc



    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)
    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)

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

    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.

    ----------

    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.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); January 10th, 2018 at 04:43 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  8. Likes Ann Lander (sospiro), MAuer liked this post
  9. #98
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Florestan View Post
    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:
    Indeed, super nice. Sonya is so good and pretty here too!
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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  11. #99
    Senior Member Top Contributor Member Florestan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    Indeed, super nice. Sonya is so good and pretty here too!
    Here is another fine Serpina:
    Since that night at the Polka, I don't understand you, Sheriff.
    --Ashby, La Fanciulla del West

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