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Thread: Operas by Mozart on DVD, blu-ray, and CD

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

    Mozart: Idomeneo on DVD

    I find the performers to be uniformly good, although certainly not the big names of other productions. The singing didn't exactly shine but didn't get in the way either, and the title role by the late Philip Langridge was particularly good. He's got a clear voice and great diction.

    It is the Glynbebourne production of 1983 directed by Trevor Nunn, conducted by Bernard Haitink, and the singers are, in addition to Langridge, Yvonne Kenny, Jerry Hadley, Carol Vaness, and Thomas Hemsley. It's a good traditional staging at Glyndebourne (for a change; they always seem to indulge in modernizations that often hit the mark).

    Here are my impressions that I wrote down as I watched this production (they focus on the opera itself, not the production):


    I'm very impressed so far, in spite of the fact that the pace is a little slow and there is a tendency to drag for too long in some recitatives. I'm in the first scene of the second act, and find it all beautiful, especially the orchestration (no surprise there, it's Mozart, after all), and since the 3rd act is supposedly much better than the first two, it's definitely looking like an A+.

    Highlights so far:

    Godiam la pace, the first chorus of freed Troyans
    Nettuno s'onori, the second chorus - very impressive

    I care less for the rather conventional early love arias and recitatives by Ilia and Idamante. They are beautiful and melodious but no different from hundreds of others.

    I like better the interactions between Idamante and Idomeneo, in Spietatissimi Dei! and Il padre adoratto. Ilia gets a lovely aria as well in Se il padre perdei.

    But then a little later comes the best moment so far, full of pathos and drama, with spectacular orchestration of a rustling sea; it's pure gold: Fuor del mar, by Idomeneo. Bravo, Mozart!

    This is followed by a rather long aria by Idamante, again it drags for too long although it is beautiful. Electra gets her chance at a sweet and plaintif aria that actually sounds better than the ones given previously to Ilia: Idol mio, se ritroso.

    I think I like Electra's character better than Ilia's so far; the latter is a bit annoying and whiny in her guilty trip for loving the enemy while Electra is more of an explosive mixture of love and hatred.

    On to the second scene of Act II.

    Another fabulous chorus, Placido è il mar. I love choruses (one of the reasons I enjoyed Les Troyens so much, with one third of its lines being for chorus), over which Electra takes, with a fine solo, followed by more soothing and peaceful chorus lines.

    Next, a spectacular farewell trio, Pria di partir o Dio!, full of dreadful anticipation. Bravo Mozart again. I'm wildly enjoying this.

    The trio turns suddenly (yep, Mozart's pace is picking up) into a storm, Qual nuovo terrore, great chorus again (thanks, Mozart) and the seamonster comes, very effectively rendered at Glyndebourne by a threatening shadow that slowly covers the whole stage, it's actually scary. Again Idomeneo has a great aria (pretty much every time he opens his mouth gold comes out of it), Eccoti in me, barbaro, followed by more of the gorgeous chorus. A very satisfactory finale for act II.

    I can't wait for act III. The opera is getting better and better.

    Act III opens with the best Ilia aria so far, Zeffiretti lusinghieri, in a melancholic minor. Yes, Ilia is whiny and weepy, but at least, melodiously so.

    Terrific quartet follows - Andrò ramingo e solo. Great moment, again one is in awe of Mozart's skill.

    Arbace's aria that follows is an anticlimax, conventional stuff.

    After a nicely orchestrated recitatif, more chorus (yay!) in the second scene of act III - Oh voto tremendo! - actually the best one so far, shockful of gloomy sorrow.

    And here comes the last scene.

    Act III scene 3 (and last) starts with Idomeneo beautifully pleading to Neptune, once more showing that, doing justice to the fact that he is the title role, not a single note coming out of his mouth is less than gorgeous.

    Mozart then pleases us with another piece of fine string orchestration in a terrific accompagnato between father and son, Padre, mio caro padre! - great, if not for the rather tiresome "goodie two shoes" behavior displayed by Idamante: "yes, Dad, please kill me, I understand you have to do it" - I wish sons these days were that accommodating.

    A bit of melodrama follows when Ilia asks to be killed instead. Conventional stuff again. But then comes the spectacular offstage voice of Neptune, Ha vinto Amore, bone chilling and effective.

    Electra next has two of the best arias of the opera in a row, Oh smania! Oh furie! and D'Oreste, d'Aiace, where she displays all of her scorned rage. Like I said, I like her spunk. If only she could stab her rival or something... This opera is in dire need of a murder.

    I feel that from this point on it's another anticlimax. It's a sort of Disney finale, all is good, they'll be happy forever, etc. Idomeneo has his least impressive aria, Torna la pace al core, and everybody is pretty happy in another chorus piece (this one rather unimpressive), Scenda Amor.

    Although the third act is indeed magnificent as advertised, I feel that the very end is less powerful. Like Rossini said to the librettista of I Puritani, opera seria needs death and mayhem. Happy endings don't do it as effectively.

    So, reluctantly (not exactly Mozart's fault since this was a commissioned work and I suppose the royals wanted the happy end), I guess I'll take away the plus from my expectation of an A+; not for the musical merit, but for the sake of the lesser dramatic impact of the happy feast at the end. Neptune screwed up. He acted as a true deus ex machina by suddenly cancelling the vow and ordering the nice couple to be happy forever. Come on, Neptune, stick to your guns (or tridents) and demand some nice human sacrifice!

    A guilty-ridden infanticide followed by a couple of suicides would have been a much better ending.

    Therefore, musically an A+, but overall, just an A.

  2. #2
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Mozart: Il Re Pastore on DVD

    This is from the M22 series, but there is an alternative on DVD:

    This one above (which I don't know) was actually released one year before the M22 that I'm reviewing today.

    HarpsichordConcert loved the M22, and I'm inclined to agree with him more than with Herkku.

    So, folks, are you in the mood for minimalistic, amateur-looking staging, with young, sexy, attractive singers who obviously are enjoying themselves a lot, and some gorgeous and well played/sung baroque music? You got it.

    What's not to like? Very pretty women singing divinely, with non-distracting staging that allows us to focus on the music and on their good looks and nice acting. A winner in my opinion.

    The trio of eye-candy, yummy female singers is made of:

    The very pretty and expressive Annette Dasch as Aminta (trouser role, the king of the title) - the lesser singer of the three but good enough, the one who was given the responsibility of singing the opera's show stopper, the famous L'Amerò, sarò costante and did very well (not as well, of course, as a Lucia Popp, but she sang this aria better than anything else she did during the opera - must have rehearsed it more). And it is mighty beautiful with the violin legatto.
    The beautiful, classy Marlis Petersen as Elisa, Aminta's love interest - the intermediate singer, with some nice moments (such as in Barbaro! Oh Dio!)
    The sexy brunette Arpiné Rahdjian as Tamiri, a superb singer - one to watch and see how her career develops

    The boys, not bad at all:

    Kresimir Spicer as Alessandro Magno, very good (not a demanding role, though); Andreas Karasiak as Agenore (Tamiri's love interest), decent singing, but he's the weakest link

    So of the 5 singers, 3 are very good, 1 is good, 1 is decent. Not bad at all for such an unknown crew.

    Nice stage directing (by the conductor himself); inventive, making a lot out of a low-budget production, interesting costumes and gesticulation. See, for instance, the beautiful effect that is achieved with a simple prop in the aria Se Tu Di Me Fai Dono, wow! I love this tasteful simplicity.

    The small chamber orchestra (Balthasar Neuman Ensemble) does very well under the baton of Thomas Hendelbrock.

    This is a weird production. It's like your kid's high school show, in a small theater (not even a theater, it's an auditorium in a local university); the scenario is made of some black curtains and some white curtains, with some cardboard figures. Costumes are a mix of contemporary street clothes and some some simple-looking gowns suggesting more ancient times (when not satirical). Props are sheets of paper with the figure of a crown, or of a heart. Then you sit there rolling your eyes and wondering why parents need to attend these things, and the youngsters get on stage *and sing and act and play beautifully!!!!* And you say, whoa, these kids are goood!!! Next thing, you spend a wonderful evening, and watch it all with a smile from the first to the last scene.

    This is a very good surprise and I like it a lot. I give it A- and say it's very much recommended. This is only the third one that I watch from my M22 box, and the one I liked the best so far. I hope I'll continue to enjoy other DVDs from this boxset, but I do understand that there is worse.

    Edit - I typed the above before the very end. The final scene with the wonderful, exquisitely performed ensemble was so good that I'm upgrading this from A- to A, and I'm calling it highly recommended.

  3. #3
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Mozart: Mitridate, Re di Ponto on DVD

    I'm starting this one now, from the Salzburg M22 collection. 2006, live. Les Musicians du Louvre-Grenoble play under the baton of Marc Minkowski. Stage director is Günter Krämer. The title role is sung by Richard Croft. Aspasia is Netta Or. Sifare is Miah Persson. Farnace is Bejun Mehta. Ismene is Ingela Bohlin. Marzio is Colin Lee, and Arbate is Pascal Bertin.

    The DVD is filmed in high definition, widescreen, with DTS 5.1 sound and various subtitles. I got mine from the cheaper set of the M22 box set, without all the technical details and full insert.

    The terrific overture is matched by terrific visuals using mirror tricks just like the Gardiner Les Troyens. From then on, the staging goes downhill a bit, with the small stage looking crowded and amateurish. Costumes are modern (and silly/distracting).

    Miah Persson as usual is simply spectacular in voice, acting, and looks. Netta Or is much less good in all three aspects, but without Miah's standard to be compared to, one might have found her to be OK. Bejun Mehta so far seems to be the weak link (I'm watching the very beginning while I type this - Richard Croft hasn't made his entrance yet) - I've heard better in the countertenor department.

    The orchestra does very well, and sound and image are both of excellent quality. The opera itself is very beautiful, Mozart's first effort at opera seria (at age 14!), and his genius shows already, in rather full expression - this looks like an accomplished work rather than that of a young teenager.

    OK, Richard Croft is in, and he sings *very* well. Impressive! And what a beautiful opening aria for him! Ingela (whom I like a lot) is a very fine Ismene.

    Obviously this product is musically very good. The weird staging takes a bite out of the enjoyment, but even without seeing it all, I can say "highly recommended," thanks to some fine singing actors and actresses, good conductor and orchestra, and well composed opera.

    Edit - Now in the middle of Act II, I have remembered once more the lesson that we can't always judge a soprano at the very beginning of a performance, due to the need to warm up. I'm a lot more pleased with Netta Or now. I continue to think that Mehta is the weakest link, not for being too bad himself, but just because the other principals are better than him.

    Edit 2 - I'm minutes to the end. This is an extraordinary performance, from the musical standpoint. Everybody delivered at the end. The singers who weren't that good at the beginning warmed up and became just perfect. The staging and costumes are ugly and distracting. I was saying that Mehta was the weakest link; no, he did just fine; the weakest link is by far the stage director. I'm thinking, what do these extraordinary singing artists feel when they have to go through something like this? I guess they say to themselves - "regardless of how silly, stupid, incompetent, and full of himself the stage director is, let's just go out there and sing and act as best as we can." This group of extraordinary singers made of this an unforgettable experience - highly recommended, indeed - in spite of the very weak staging. Mozart would have been proud of them. They conveyed the power of this masterpiece - composed by a young teenager - with their voices and their faces only, in spite of the incompetent regie. Bravo!

  4. #4
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro on DVD

    The Salzburg Nozze must be the worst DVD of the entire M22 set. And this is a hard thing to accomplish when you have as Susanna none less than Anna Netrebko.

    First of all, I'm deeply disappointed with the orchestral playing. Again, this is no weak band. It's the freaking Wiener Philharmoniker, dammit! And the conductor is Harnoncourt! So, exquisite reading of the score, right? Wrong!!! This thing is painfully slow and lacking in energy!!! How did these talented musicians manage to play one of the most thrilling overtures in all of opera as if they were playing a funeral march???

    Next, can someone please tell this idiot Claus Guth (stage director) that Le Nozze di Figaro is a comedy, for Pete's sake???? A dead crow in the opening duo? ***?

    The Count dragging Susanna into a closet for a quickie in the middle of the Cinque, Dieci aria??? So, you throw out the window the entire premise of the couple's resistance to the Count's advances which is the backbone of the opera, within the first three minutes? What were you thinking???

    People in wheelchairs on the verge of a heart attack? Where in the hell did you find these images? Not in da Ponte's libretto, I'm sure.

    Singers other than Anna do a rather poor job throughout this whole disaster - and they are otherwise seasoned artists, like Christine Schäffer, Bo Skovhus, and Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (they all look bored - Christine, a little less). But it's just that if you're singing Non più andrai and you have to put up with a slow tempo and you have to smear blood on the face of Cherubino, making of one of the most comic moments in opera something out of a horror movie, you don't really feel like singing well.

    The threesome between Rosina, Susanna, and Cherubino is intriguing (and Anna does a fine job in this scene) but this isn't in the libretto and you just can't make of Susanna a s_lut. This is not what the character is!!!

    Dorothea Röschmann as La Contessa does a little less poorly, because Rosina's role is a bit more tragic so it fits a bit better the concept. Still, it's the slowest Porgi, Amor I've ever heard. I think I'd be able to go to the kitchen, make myself a sandwich, eat it, take a nap, and she wouldn't have finished it by the time I came back.

    And what about this annoying angel that is everywhere? Who needs this? Mozart's and Da Ponte's masterpiece doesn't need improving, and doesn't need another character.

    This kind of thing makes me so mad.

    At least I get to see Anna's beautiful face, skinny and in great form in 2007. But everything else in this ridiculous production is rather offensive. Anna is clearly not having any fun. She must be thinking "what in the hell am I doing here?? Oh, the things one must go through, to make a living!"

    This production with its depressing "psychological drama" take on pathological relationships sucks all the fun out of this otherwise perfect masterpiece. It's the murder of one of the best operas ever written. Stay clear, folks. This is regie stupidity at its worst. This takes the Raspberry Award for worst opera staging I've seen in at least a decade.

  5. #5
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Mozart: Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots on DVD

    This is the first installment of the M22 boxset from the 2006 Salzburg festival, containing Mozart's earliest operatic works. This piece, K. 35, which was composed by him at age 11, is a sacred Singspiel, and it is incomplete. Mozart composed the first part (which is all that is shown here) and the other two parts were composed by other composers, but did not survive. The title stands for The Obligation of the First and Foremost Commandment. It is the Disc 2 of the set (Disc 1 contains the later work - K. 38 - Apollo et Hyacinthus, which I'll be commenting upon at a later time). There is a Making of bonus, and the technical quality of the DVD is excellent with sharp 16:9 image and perfect sound track in LPCM or DTS 5.1. Subtitles are available in five languages.

    Joseph Wallnig conducts the Sinfonieorchester der Universität Mozarteum. Stage director is John Dew.

    Justice is sung by Michiko Watanabe, Mercy by Cordula Schuster, Worldliness by Christiane Karg, Christianity by Bernhard Berchtold, and Christian by Peter Sonn. There are 8 devils who are silent roles.

    This is supposed to have a religious theme but here it is presented as a comedy, which is done successfully.

    Scenarios are very colorful, with huge panels containing the Tables of the Covenant with the Ten Commandments to the sides, and the center background is occupied by a huge naive painting of a medieval town, with plenty of flowers.

    The overture is truly excellent, impressive - remember, by a boy of 11! The orchestra and conductor do a wonderful job.

    The vocal music is sublime, with very beautiful arias, well sung by this team of singers who are all unknown to me. They are helped by the state-of-the-art DTS 5.1 track with gorgeous balance and surround effects.

    This relatively short work (85 minutes of running time) is made of 7 arias and one trio, all of them preceded by recitatives. The libretto by Ignaz Anton Weiser focuses on the conflict between temptation and virtue, with the main character being "a half-hearted but later zealous Christian."

    Christianity's opening aria - Mit jammer muss ich schauen - is a showstopper and it is perfectly performed by Berchtold. Bravo!

    The singers doing Mercy and Justice are equally impressive in the opening scenes.
    The costumes are lots of fun.

    The second aria - Ein ergrimmter Löwe brüllet - is another showstopper, oh wow! It's sung - again, perfectly - by Schuster (Mercy). During it we are treated to very funny scenes featuring a furry monster and a hunter. Hard to know what exactly the staging has to do with the music (the content of the aria touches on man's free will and the need to resist evil) but it *is* funny and entertaining. Oh well, I suppose that the monster represents evil, but the words of the long and complex aria don't entirely match the situation - but it's OK, let's not nitpick.

    The third aria - equally good, darn, this is looking more and more like an extremely pleasant hidden gem! - is Erwache, fauler Knecht - masterfully delivered by Watanabe (Justice) who looks very weird and funny in her outrageous green costume with white wig.

    The background naive paintings keep getting changed scene by scene, they are all visually interesting, and they roll in dragged by the characters themselves - inventive staging.

    Christian, the main character, woke up just now. He is also sung by a gifted singer. It looks like they put together a very talented cast for this charming production. He interacts with Worldliness, with the funniest of them all costumes. Her aria - Hat der Schöpfer dieses Leben - is the least interesting so far, but it is still good. Christiane Karg sings well too, and acts very well.

    Christian's aria - Jener Donnerworte Kraft - is sung to the background of a trombone which is played on stage by a musician dressed like an angel. Following the pattern in this performance, Peter Sonn is a very good interpreter of this beautiful long aria (10 minutes), delivering one of the most delightful musical moments of this work that is full of them.

    Now we are at the point of the sixth aria, Schildre einen Philosophen, by Worldliness. Pretty good, and better than her first one, with some very pleasant coloratura. Karg does a wonderful job and the public shouts Bravo! (should have been brava... hehehe).

    Aria #7 is Manches Übel will zuweilen, by Christianity (who was first dressed as a monk, and now is disguised as a doctor) - he vies for control of Christian's vacillating soul, against Wordliness' efforts to attract him to a life of pleasure. She says she knows a better medicine for him: good food, hunting, drinking, etc., while Christianity advocates for meditation and prayer. Christian says that one doesn't exclude the other. Christianity counter-attacks in a very fine aria that he sings while performing a physical exam on poor Christian. The scene has incredible comic flair and reminds me of the Non più andrai scene in which Figaro is manhandling Cherubino (the scene, not the aria, which is good but not *that* good like Non più andrai - after all, Mozart is still young). He checks his reflexes with a hammer but always a different limb jerks up.

    This being an incomplete work, there is no resolution. The last piece - the trio Lasst mir eurer Gnade Schein - by Christianity, Mercy, and Justice - talks about how all the efforts made so far by all parts considered have failed to decisively bring Christian to one side or the other. Given the line left by the librettist - that Christian was half-hearted but ultimately zealous - I assume that the next two parts that did not survive will bring about the triumph of the religious sentiments over the pleasures of the flesh.

    The trio is beautiful and ends a very rewarding work, presented with the utmost perfection by this talented team of musicians, conductor, singers, and staging artists. I can't imagine how this might be played, sung, and staged any better. Highly recommended.

  6. #6
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Mozart: Apollo et Hyacinthus on DVD

    Same cover, same year, conductor, orchestra, stage director, and technical aspects of the above DVD. This is Disc 1 of the above product; I just decided to watch first the above work because chronologically Mozart composed it before this one. For all I can tell, it looks like the two works were presented the same night, in the same theater, since they are relatively short.

    This is a complete opera in three acts, sung in Latin.

    The libretto is a school drama called Clementia Croesi by Father Rufinus Widl.

    Singers include the same Christiane Karg we have encountered in the above work, here singing the role of Melia. Other than for her, the rest of the cast is different:
    Oebalus is Maximilian Kiener, Hyacinthus is Jekaterina Tretjakova, Apollo is Anja Schlosser, Zephyrus is Astrid Monika Hofer, and a priest is Norbert Steidl.

    Costumes and scenarios are traditional, period-appropriate, very baroque, with period gesticulation (Elgarian will love this).

    The overture is delightful just like the one in Die Schuldigkeit, and the opera opens, after a short recitative, with a choral number that is extremely beautiful and is performed by five of the six singers (excluded the one who sings Apollo - I guess that this small production didn't have a full choir). The Latin words help a lot (such a beautiful language!).

    Like in the first work, costumes are very brightly colored, and are interesting in themselves (I like this costume designer - his name is José-Manuel Vázquez - I hope to see something by him in the future).

    The soprano singing Hyacinthus is terrific! Such a beautiful voice, powerful, perfectly tuned, well phrased and agile, and she is reasonably attractive (I guess, under the heavy baroque make-up I believe a fine-looking woman is hidden). It's her, in green below:

    I'd love to see her again - name is Jekaterina Tretjakova. This is a constant with the M22 series - some productions are weird and subpar, but there are many previously unknown singers who do an excellent job, and one wonders why they don't make it bigger.

    I looked her up, and her schedule stops in June of 2009, after a dozen of relatively minor roles (the two most relevant ones being Musetta and Papagena). I wonder what happened to her. Unfortunately Hyacinthus has only one aria in this opera (he gets killed) so from now on we won't be enjoying Jekaterina, except for a recitative in the third act when his dying self delivers a few lines.

    [Edit - added later - as I suspected, she is extremely beautiful. She gives a short interview as part of the Making of bonus film, and she looks stunning in her regular clothes and regular make-up. I'm very curious to know what has happened to her - did she die? Did she quit opera altogether? It's strange, there is no webpage for her, and a Google search only delivers a few references that stop in 2009.]

    [Edit 2 - OK, she's not dead, good for her! She seems to be a regular at Hamburg State Opera, where she'll be singing in five different productions in the second semester of 2011, including Rigoletto's Gilda]

    Fortunately the other female singers, while not as attractive, sing almost as well. Karg delivers big time in the second act coloratura aria Laetari, iocari.

    A word about the plot: Princess Melia has been promised by her father King Oebalus to the god Apollo in marriage. Zephyrus, supposedly a friend of her brother Hyacinthus, wants her for himself, kills Hyacinthus and blames Apollo for the murder, in the hope of turning off Melia from the idea of marrying the god. His plan initially works, but of course it is not very wise for a mortal to defy a god, since Apollo then changes Zephyrus into a wind (hehehe) and wafts him away. Dying Hyacinthus reveals the name of the real murderer. Apollo discloses that the murderer has been already punished, and Melia then agrees with marrying him. All rejoice.

    Astrid Hofer as Zephyrus is a bit of a weak link - she is good, but she pales a bit when compared to her peers who aren't merely good, but rather, excellent - such as the two above mentioned, and Anja Schlosser as Apollo, fabulous in the second act duet with Melia, Discede, crudele. By the way, in this duet Mozart takes off. This work was so far less musically exciting than the above mentioned Die Schuldigkeit, but this duet that ends act II is a good hint of Mozart's genius, still to be fully expressed in his later years, but well represented here in this intense, dramatic, thrilling interaction.

    Video direction then treats us during the orchestral intermezzo between second and third acts to very close close-ups of the violins with the hands of the musicians in display, including the hands of the conductor. The effect is beautiful.

    Then we have Hyacinthus' death scene - bye, bye, talented and cute Jekaterina! By the way, Maximilian Kiener in the role of Oebalus is another gifted singer, and I guess the ladies here will call him handsome (albeit a bit effeminate so I don't know for what team he bats).

    I looked him up too; former boy soprano and choir singer, then when his voice changed to tenor, he engaged in lieder, and then went on to full operatic training. This seems to have been his first major role, and from this he went on to sing Count Almaviva. Someone to watch as well. His performance in the third act aria Ut navis in aequore luxuriante is nothing short of spectacular and draws long applause from the public.

    The number before last in this opera is Natus cadit, atque Deus, a very beautiful lamentation (again, Mozart at his young best) by Oebalus and Melia, grieving the death of Hyacinthus and hoping that Apollo will return - which he does, to end the opera with a trio, Tandem post turbida fulmina in which he turns the dead Hyacinthus into a flower.

    This fine period performance of an early Mozart work of very good quality (not as big fireworks as we'll see later, of course, but this work could have perfectly been the best one of some other composer if it didn't suffer by comparison with Mozart's phenomenal masterpieces) nicely supplements this excellent DVD, given that its companion is the exquisite Die Schuldigkeit described above.

    These two works put together and both staged, played, and sung extremely well, make of this DVD an obligatory buy. Those who don't want to purchase the much more expensive and uneven full M22 boxset should at least get this isolated DVD.

    I repeat, highly recommended. It gets the "buy it! buy it! buy it!" seal of quality.

  7. #7
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Mozart: Bastien und Bastienne & Der Schauspieldirektor on DVD

    My exploration of my M22 boxset continues, with the second DVD, which contains two Singspiels combined, Bastien und Bastienne - K. 50, a simple pastoral work, and Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario), in spite of the fact that the latter was written 18 years later (K. 486).

    2006(LI) - Elisabeth Fuchs - Junge Philharmonie Salzburg
    Co-production with the Salzburg Marionette Theatre
    Stage director Thomas Reichert

    Frank, the impresario - Alfred Kleinheinz
    Buff, his assitant, and Colas in B&B - Radu Cojocariu
    Monsieur Vogelsang, and Bastien in B&B - Bernhard Berchtold (we have already encountered him in the preceding disc of the M22 series, where he did a wonderful job as Christianity)
    Mademoiselle Silberklang / Bastienne 1 - Evmorfia Metaxaki
    Madame Herz / Bastienne 2 - Aleksandra Zamojska

    Technical quality is the same as that of the entire series - that is, very good, with sharp 16:9 image, LPCM and DTS 5.1 with excellent balance, subtitles, bonuses (very interesting Making Of film, plus trailers and catalogue).

    All singers are exquisite, especially Bernhard Berchtold and Aleksandra Zamojska who are a notch above the others.

    Orchestral playing is less superlative as the one in the previous DVD, but is good enough.

    Musically both works are very pleasant and beautiful, with our good Mozart delivering as usual. B&B could be called a little boring, but for the pastoral setting, it is appropriately soothing and nice. It is a delicate and simple work, with a calm beauty.

    Der Schauspieldirektor is a lot more energetic and contains the best moment of the DVD: the outstanding trio Ich bin die erste Sängerin. The final chorus, Jeder Künstler streb nach Ehre, is also very appealing.

    The adapted dialogue is very funny in several moments, and draws genuine laughter from the audience (and from me - this is one of the funniest opera productions I've ever seen).

    By now you must be all aware (from Herkku's review and from the cover picture) that these two works are presented by marionettes (with the human singers performing from the sides of the theater, next to the orchestra).

    I must say that this idea is enchanting and charming. The Salzburg Marionette Theater is a very talented troupe, and the movements of the puppets are not only very finely executed but also extremely funny. I loved it.

    While musically these two works are less notable than Mozart's first two operatic works that I have described above, it is another very good DVD, which I will also call "highly recommended."

  8. #8
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Mozart: La Finta Semplice on DVD

    Continuing with the M22 boxset, the third installment is Mozart's first opera buffa, composed at age 12, La Finta Semplice (The Pretended Simpleton; K. 51).

    Technically speaking the DVD is just as good as the two ones reviewed above, I won't repeat the technical aspects, they're the same.

    What we have here amounts to an abridged concert performance. There are no scenarios, just four inclined white platforms that the singers use sometimes to climb up to a higher plane. Almost all the recitative is done away with, and in order for the events to make sense, there is a narrator who tells the story in between the arias - in German! Poor choice, in my opinion. They should either have staged the whole thing with the recitatives, or at least narrated in Italian, because this bilingual production in my opinion takes away some of the beauty of this work - not to forget that a Regie's idea of a theatrical text doesn't even start to match the beauty of Mozart's recitatives.

    Regarding the quality of the opera itself, while this early work is unsophisticated with a very traditional baroque structure (some da capo arias, a parade of arias without much variation), the arias themselves are *very* beautiful - we're back to the lyric quality seen in Mozart's first two operatic works I've commented upon in an earlier post.

    Costumes are nonexistent as well - just simple, plain, white clothes - except for the narrator's yellow jogging suit. Some red pieces make an entrance towards the end, supposedly to symbolize the triumph of love over coldness and misogyny. Another downside of the costumes is that they are not flattering, they add to these beautiful ladies' hips.

    Musically this production is *very* good. We are again in the company of a fine orchestra, unlike the second installment. The Camerata Salzburg plays exceedingly well, under Michael Hofstetter.

    The young singers are again superlative. It's truly impressive how this 2006 festival was able to cast such exceptional - and rather unknown - singers.

    Malin Hartelius in the title role of Rosina, the woman who pretends to be a simpleton, is probably the most impressive singer, and she looks good too - a classy, elegant beauty.

    Younger and prettier Silvia Moi is the servant Ninetta, a soubrette role (but she sings a lot better than most soubrettes). She is also a good singer with a clear, pinging voice. Such a beautiful face! We are treated to a scene in which her lover takes out her shirt and she is left with a red bra, which, while not revealing, adds a lot of spice to the scene. I think she is one of the best looking sopranos in the business, check it out:

    Plain-looking Marina Comparato sings Giacinta, and while not gifted in the matter of looks, she has a nice voice.

    The boys are just as good, all four of them - bass Josef Wagner as Don Cassandro, tenor Matthias Klink (slightly less good than his peers) as Don Polidoro, and the two best, Jeremy Ovenden, a powerful tenor in the role of Fracasso, and baritone Miljenko Turk as Simone - a young Croatian who should be headed to a successful career.

    The actress who does the narration is quite good in her acting, but she doesn't sing. Her name is Marianne Hamre. Finally, there is a silent role, a woman who behaves like a shadow of Rosina, and stays two yards behind her, mimicking her gesticulation, credited as Dark Rosina - a weird addition to this staging done by the Regie and not in Mozart's original, supposedly meant to reflect Rosina's moods. The actress in this role is Anna Tenta. She is cute and appears completely naked in one of the scenes. The effect is not titillating (in spite of the fact that her body is just fine), but rather odd, as she keeps her face down and is partially covered by a Lady Godiva kind of long wig that goes all the way to the floor - which makes her look like one of those ghosts from Japanese horror movies. The particular aria during which this happens is very beautiful, when Rosina feels vulnerable (thus the nudity) and afraid of being hurt by love. It's called Amoretti, che ascosi qui sieti, and is one of the best moments in this opera. Hartelius' singing of this aria is enough to justify a verdict of at least "recommended" for this DVD.

    By the way, acting by all principals is just as good as their singing and delivers some genuinely funny moments that make one laugh out loud, like for example the late scene in act II between Rosina and Cassandro, Me ne vo' prender spasso, when she teases him and he doesn't know how to react.

    The duel scene in act II is very well done with projections on the white surfaces making up the weapons. Very funny as well, and with nice vocal music - Mozart is clearly evolving already, at age 12. The same can be said of the Act II finale, T'ho detto, buffone.

    This is a very fine opera by a young Mozart. The production has its downsides with the decision of doing away with most recitatives, and the quasi-concert format. However the cast is spectacular both in acting, singing, and looks, and the orchestra and conductor are superlative. I'll often give a pass to excessive Regietheater when the production is musically good, and this is the case here.

    I'll still say "highly recommended" although I'd have loved to see the same cast in a fully staged performance, with the recitatives included.

  9. #9
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Mozart: Ascanio in Alba on DVD

    This is K. 111, an early pastoral Opera by a youthful Mozart, setting to music an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Parini.

    This DVD from the M22 collection shares with the others in the boxset the strong technical qualities of good image and DTS sound; I won't add any more comments on the technical side.

    Adam Fisher conducts in 2006 the Orchester des Nationaltheaters Mannheim.

    Iris Kupke is Venus, Sonia Prina is Ascanio, Marie-Belle Sandis is Silvia, Diana Damrau is Fauno, Charles Reid is Aceste, Christian Banzhaf is Voyager 1, and Katharina Vötter is Voyager 2 (these "voyagers" are the narrators, see below).

    The Chor des Nationaltheaters Mannheim is terrific, as is the orchestra. Singing, as in all other discs of this series I've watched so far, is excellent across the board.

    Again, the stage director (David Hermann) adopts the annoying concept of substituting spoken German narration for Mozart's recitativo accompagnato. We get two narrators, one male and one female. I didn't like this solution before, and I continue to dislike it here.

    More Regie stupidities are present in the predilection for epileptic seizures this staging seems to have. Chorus members, actors, narrator often engage in seizure-like movements, when they're not behaving like zombies or Frankensteins, sometimes under stroboscopic lights (I guess they want to induce seizures in the audience as well). Why do these idiotic stage directors think that such shenanigans are cool? It's a mystery. I can't fathom who advises these folks or applauds them when they do such things. I have impulses of slapping them silly and making them write 200 times on a blackboard: "I am dumb and I do dumb stagings."

    The poor chorus members are very much abused by the stage director. Some sort of chorus singers union should file a law suit. They have to wear silly mustaches, carry around pots of fern (why?), engage in - what else? - seizures, while trying to sing sublimely (they do manage the latter).

    If you can get past the silly and annoying staging plus the narrators interrupting the beautiful music all the time to describe the action in a language different from the original one adopted by the libretto, then you may enjoy the musical aspects of this piece. You get a very good orchestra expertly conducted, a very good chorus, and very good singers singing beautiful arias.

    Diana Damrau looks impossibly cute as Fauno, and steals the show in her aria Se il labbro più non dice, which she sings while she is pushed around on a swing. It's her on the cover picture, but the picture doesn't do her justice. She looks cuter on the DVD. Unfortunately, Diana sings only twice, it's a small role. When she comes back for her second aria (which she sings just as well) it's exactly the same set-up with the swing. I guess the director ran out of more "clever" ideas to make it different, but one is thankful that he didn't make Diana have a seizure. She does give to the narrator a pair of 3D glasses at the end of the aria. Oh wow, bravo, Mr. Hermann, this was *really* artistic, 3D glasses, how clever! There are some geometric figures on the floor drawn on green and red so supposedly if the audience wears 3D glasses as well they'll be treated to some squares and rectangles in 3D. This certainly makes Mozart's music much better, right, Mr. Hermann? Oh boy... By the way, don't be fooled by the cover picture - Diana's two scenes are the *only* moments in this production when the visuals are not utterly ridiculous. Everything else goes downhill from that.

    Contralto Sonia Prina in the title role does very well in vocal terms - if only she didn't have to engage in jerky movements all the time like a half-finished Frankenstein...

    The costumes seem to be aiming for some sort of contest to pick the most ridiculous and silly looking garments, and they do a good job at that.

    The tenor singing Aceste has a very beautiful soaring voice, but the poor guy has to wear a fur jacket. His character is a priest. One wonders why in the hell a priest downs a fur jacket. Whatever.

    Marie-Belle Sandis in the role of Silvia is half-decent-looking (on the low side of that half, but with that important characteristic in Alma's appreciation: nice boobs. - OK, if the stage director can be silly, why can't I?). Her voice is very beautiful. Again, I'm impressed with how this festival was able to book scores of excellent but unknown singers.

    So here is the bottom line. Some imbecile named David Hermann thought - "I'll look very clever if I stage this opera with ridiculous costumes that have nothing to do with the libretto, and add to the mix lots of seizures and robotic jerking - it will be certainly received as high art. The bad part is that there's this annoying music by this old timer Wolfgang, so let me throw in a couple of narrators to interrupt it at all times so that the public doesn't get distracted by the silly music and pays attention instead to my clever high art."

    The only thing that saves Mr. Hermann's production from being one of the worst fiascoes of all times is a group of stubbornly talented singers and musicians who in spite of all the abuse can still render beautifully Wolfgang's excellent arias, choral music, and terrific overture.

    Not recommended, unless you rip off the sound track, edit out the narrators' voices, and just listen to the singers and the orchestra. Since this would be too much work, just get a CD of this opera instead; there are six or seven options in the market, and you'll be spared all the silliness.

    Edit - at the very end in the final trio both the tenor and the soprano show some vocal strain, so I'm bringing down a notch my enthusiasm for the singing. The contralto continues to do well until the end. Hey, but on the other hand, the stage director treats us to gym mats and the narrators keep walking around, tripping on them and falling, how clever. This certainly makes up for any vocal strain, you know, people tripping and falling, that's funny, right? No? Yeah, I didn't think so either. What a mess of a staging.

    In the Making Of bonus feature, the stage director and the set/costume designer Christof Hetzer who should share the blame for this mess, say that they were given "the freedom to change the work." You mean, to ruin the work, right? Why in the hell did you think that Mozart's work needed changing???

    I'm also very disappointed in Mr. Fischer. As a seasoned conductor, he should show more respect for Mozart's work. He says in his interview that the way the stage director changed the piece, it helped because then Mozart's recitatives didn't sound silly. Really, Mr. Fischer? Because I think they weren't silly to start with, but your underlings made it so. Talk about denial! As the musical director, sir, it was your responsibility to preserve the musical integrity of this production, and you failed to do so.

    One last thing: dressed in her regular womanly clothes and with her womanly hair showing during the interviews of the bonus feature, contralto Sonia Prina is very cute.

    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); November 9th, 2012 at 01:38 AM.

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

    Continuing my exploration of my M22 boxset, I'm now tackling this oratorio, K. 118, performed in concert by conductor Christoph Poppen and the Münchener Kammerorchester in 2006, with the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor. Jeremy Ovenden sings Ozìa, Marijana Mijanovic is Giuditta, Julia Kleiter is Amital, Granz-Josef Selig is Achier, and Cabri and Carmi, by respectively Irena Bespalovaite (very cute) and Jennifer Johnston.

    Technical quality is excellent as usual for this boxset. Running time is 63:47 for part I and 65:30 for part II.

    And this is where the problem resides. I can't say that this concert is able to keep one's attention for 2 hours and 10 minutes. Of all the sublime Mozart music I've been exposed to so far by this boxset, Betulia Liberata is certainly the least exciting piece. The fact that it is an oratorio that is not staged here adds to the relative boredom. The plot does have some theatrical qualities (there is a beheading!), so maybe an attempt to stage it would have produced a more attention-keeping result. Listening to it, you know, it is Mozart, so it's not like the music is not beautiful, and it is very well performed by conductor, orchestra, and singers. But I tend to just close my eyes and sit back while listening to the soothing and delicate melodies (then I feel a bit sleepy), or to listen to it as relaxing background music, but I'm not really feeling like following the libretto.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); November 9th, 2012 at 01:39 AM.

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

    This is another one of the M22 boxset, containing K. 135, Mozart's opera seria composed at age 16.

    2006 (LI) - Tomas Netopil - Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice
    Coro del Teatro La Fenice
    Stage director - Jürgen Flimm
    Stage design - Christian Bussmann

    Lucio Silla - Roberto Saccà
    Giunia - Annick Massis
    Cecilio - Monica Bacelli
    Lucio Cinna - Veronica Cangemi
    Celia - Julia Kleiter
    Aufidio - Stefano Ferrari.
    Plus, five dancers

    Technical quality - similar to other DVDs in this boxset, see previous reviews. As usual, there is a good Making Of documentary as a bonus feature.

    This is a co-production between the Salzburg festival and La Fenice. It is visually appealing with young pretty singers and a very large stage that includes multiple anachronistic environments blending the old and the new in a quite successful way. Lighting is beautiful, and the whole is helped by skilful video direction that captures very well the action, migrating nicely from large panoramic shots to close-ups of the singers.

    The attractive female singers do a wonderful job, especially Julia Kleiter with her pure and delicate lyric coloratura with pleasant timbre, not to forget her pretty face.

    Her counterparts in trouser roles perform satisfactorily the difficult coloraturas.

    Annick Massis has a more mature beauty and a good agile voice as well.

    Acting is excellent across the board, with these ladies controlling very convincingly their facial expressions, in heartfelt incarnations of their roles. The boxset continues to excel in the matter of singing, even though some of the stagings are questionable.

    Roberto Saccà (title role) is definitely less impressive than the females both in singing (lacking power and projection) and in acting, but he does nothing wrong except for letting the orchestra drown him. The other tenor who performs the small role of Aufidio actually seems to hold more promise.

    The musicians in the orchestra play well but I'd have liked a more energetic conductor; it all sounds a bit subdued and slowish at times.

    The opera itself is very good. Mozart here is still young, but already even more successful than in his earlier efforts I have already commented upon.

    This is a good DVD, although somehow it fails to shine too brightly. It's hard to say what exactly doesn't quite soar up high. Maybe it's the stage that is too large (this seems to have been performed in an outdoor stadium of some sort) which dilutes things a little bit, making the singers be a bit too far from the public with the much closer orchestra tending to overwhelm them a little. Maybe it's the conductor who seems kind of bland. Maybe it's the absence of baritones and basses (not this production's fault, obviously). So, it's very good, but we don't quite find that "wow" factor in this production, which makes me call it "recommended" rather than "highly recommended."
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); January 5th, 2018 at 12:24 AM.

  12. #12
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Based on Mozart: Abendempfindung (a pasticcio of works) on DVD

    This is not an opera but rather a stage play with modern ballet and music. The work was created by Joachim Schlömer and Bettina Auer, based on letters written by Mozart, with incidental music consisting of 18 short pieces or fragments composed by Mozart (mostly not operatic music, but rather string quartets, serenades, songs - like the famous one of the work's title which is sung twice - rondos, adagios for glass harmonica, canons, etc., and three opera arias that Mozart composed to insert in operas by other composers (Martín y Soler's Il Burbero di buon cuore, Mortellari's Arsace, and the German version of Paisiello's Il Barbiere di Siviglia).

    The work is performed by a singer (Ann Murray), an actress (Marianne Hamre), and a dancer (Graham Smith). Words are spoken in German by the actress and in English by the dancer. The vocal music is of course performed by the singer, who also acts extensively (and well).

    Running time is 81:12. This is part of the M22 boxset and shares with the other installments the excellent technical qualities of high def image and DTS sound track that I have already mentioned in previous reviews. A short Making Of documentary exists as a bonus.

    Music is provided by an outstanding HIP chamber orchestra, the Camerata Salzburg, conducted by equally excellent Michael Hofstetter.

    Stage direction is by Joachim Schlömer (also responsible for the choreography, together with the dancer himself), who made of this the second part of a trilogy that includes as part I the 2006 Salzburg Festival staging of La Finta Semplice, and as part III a staging of Mozart's two incomplete operas, Lo Sposo Deluso and L'Oca del Cairo.

    Part III which gets the subtitle Rex Tremendus is included in the same DVD with the cover depicted above, if one purchases this as an independent product rather than part of the M22 boxset. What you see on the cover is Marianne Hamme and her magnified digital reflection (one of the clever imagery tricks).

    The trilogy was given the title Irrfahrten, which as far as I know means something like "wanderings."

    This second part of the trilogy intends to talk about the inner life a person, who is simultaneously represented by the three artists (singer, actress, dancer) - and also by the Chor der Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele - all three artists and chorus members are dressed in similar clothes of the same color. The person - a talented artist whose gender is not clear (it is all of course based on those letters that Mozart wrote when he was dissatisfied with his life in Salzburg, but it is mostly acted by the two women) - stands at a turning point in his/her life as he/she reaches middle age, and finds herself/himself frustrated by his/her dependence on others and lack of freedom/self-determination. He/she hopes for a radical break to force a change of direction. Money is metaphorically used as not being the answer, and he/she contemplates suicide with a handgun.

    The staging uses abundantly digital imagery and mirrors, and at one point the actress swims in a swimming pool. There are trap doors, large projection screens, lighting that turns bluish and bright in alternation with dark shadows, several times.

    Ann Murray is an aging soprano and she is helped by a microphone taped to her cheek. She can still sing beautifully, though, and puts together a touching performance. The actress and the dancer are pretty good too.

    I found this work rather interesting. Unity is achieved by the lyrics of the songs and arias which pretty much depict the states of mind that the play is trying to convey. The incidental music by Mozart is often delightful (and very well performed by the orchestra), and the visuals are rather intriguing with the use of varied scenic resources. It is a suave and meditative play, and the tree artists on stage are very good at their respective arts. Of course it doesn't have the coherence and character development of a full opera and at times it seems static in terms of story line, but its relatively short running time prevents it from becoming boring, thanks not only to Mozart's beautiful music, but also to the visuals provided by the staging.

    While it is not something that one would be very eager to see again, it does make for an entertaining hour and a half. Recommended.

  13. #13
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Mozart: Lo Sposo Deluso, and L'Oca del Cairo (two incomplete operas) on DVD

    This DVD shares with the one reviewed above the same cover (the 2 discs are included in the same package if purchased separately from the M22 boxset) and the same orchestra/conductor/stage director team, see above for their names.

    This was the world première of these two opera fragments, recorded live at the 2006 Salzburg Festival.

    Lo Sposo Deluso (K. 430) is an opera buffa that only partially survived. The author of the libretto is not known.

    The DVD opens with a song by Mozart that is not part of the opera, Io ti lascio, sung by a very cute young soprano. Then we get to the stimulating overture, about 5 minutes. All that has survived follows - a quartet, two arias, and a trio, plus some recitative, for a running time of about 23 minutes including the overture (so, only some 18 minutes of this opera have survived).

    The plot is about an aging bridesgroom - Bocconio (sung by Josef Wagner who is not old) who excitedly awaits the arrival from Rome of a bride he has never met (Eugenia, sung by Marisa Martins). His misogynist friend Pulcherio (Mathias Klink), his vain niece Bettina (beautiful Silvia Moi - see her pictures above in post #130) and courageous Tuscan officer Don Asdrubale (Jeremy Ovenden) make fun of him. The bride arrives and is annoyed that Bocconio did not properly welcome her. She meets Pulcherio who takes an interest in her, and Don Asdrubale who turns out to be one of her former lovers. Total chaos reigns.

    During the overture (and during other parts) we are "treated" to modern ballet which is not particularly successful with a choreography that seems rather disconnected from the music (at least one of the dancers, Anna Tenta - is very cute - this seems to happen to women called Anna). The scenarios are a sort of industrial setting, with the orchestra on stage on the left side, and a glass room on the right side with yellow lighting and baroque furniture, from where a singer (the same Ann Murray above) with a mike sings a few lines, and a fortepiano player (Wolfgang Götz) is there too. They perform at the end of the fragment another song by Mozart, An die Hoffnung, K. 390.

    Video direction is annoying, with too many close-ups that make us miss some of the action. Acting is over-the-top slapstick comedy, rather silly and with little to do with the plot (for example, one character keeps repeatedly stabbing another one with a fake knife). Costumes are modern, ridiculous, and shining. The ubiquitous Marianne Hammer (she is in all three segments of this "trilogy") does narration in Germany - a device that profoundly irritates me like I've mentioned before. What's wrong with this M22 boxset and the German narration? Gee!!!

    Singing is top notch and very energetic. Once more, we have a very young and attractive cast with pretty young ladies and handsome young gentlemen. Marisa Martins is cute and a very good singer/actress, and Silvia Moi is good looking too.

    Watching this, one profoundly laments that this opera hasn't survived whole, because it does seem musically very, very appealing. The complete thing might have been among Mozart's best. Sometimes old scores that have been lost get rediscovered laying low somewhere. I hope one day a lost copy of the entire Lo Sposo Deluso finds the light of day. I'd love to see the full opera.

    I did not like this production. The mediocre ballet keeps interfering with the action, the slapstick elements are gratuitous and silly, and I have already vented about the dreadful German narration. Musically the orchestral playing, conducting, and singing are rather perfect, and the beautiful Marisa Martins provides rather impressive eye candy (her picture below - I had seen her before as Doralice in Dario Fo's staging of Rossini's La Gazzetta), but even these pleasant components don't save the staging.

    Not recommended.

    Next, we have L'Oca del Cairo - a drama giocoso, K. 422, with libretto by Giovanni Battista Varesco - of which more music has survived (but not the overture). We have about 40 minutes of it. 4 arias, 2 duets, a trio, a quartet, and a 12-minute finale.

    Same team, of course (one performance follows the other, with no pause), with all five singers who performed the first fragment, and two new ones (Malin Hartelius in double roles, as Auretta and Celidora; and Miljenko Turk as Don Pippo). New characters for the first five singers go like this: Jeremy Ovenden gets Biondello, Mathias Klink gets Calandrino, Marisa Martins gets Lavina (one can't see her beauty as well as in the first fragment, given that they have her wear a disheveled blonde wig and heavy make-up), Josef Wagner is Chichibio, and Silvia Moi is Auretta in the finale - while, remember, Malin Hartelius was Auretta before - complicated, no?

    Unfortunately the intrusive mediocre ballet continues as well - but, briefly.

    To continue the pattern of young pretty people with nice voices, Malin Hartelius is a fine looking woman too, with nice legs and a pretty face.

    The plot goes like this: Don Pippo plans to marry Lavina, the companion of his daughter Celidora. As they did not go along with the plan, he had them incarcerated in a tower. Auretta and Chichibio are servants who engage in a dialogue about their contrasting views on love and fidelity. They then talk about helping the two girls marry the men they are in love with (Celidora's sweetheart Biondello, and Lavina's beloved Calandrino). The lovers meet in secret and consider different strategies to escape Don Pippo's designs, but the latter surprises them with his guards. That's all that has survived.

    The characters of Auretta and Chichibio are similar to Suzanna and Figaro. Again, one wonders what we've missed; it's another one that could have occupied a major spot in Mozart's operatic offerings, had it survived whole.

    Well, we get Marianne Hammer to irritate us a little more with her German narration - by now I'm sick and tired of her. She is a good actress but was given a very regretful role in this trilogy.

    Pretty much what I said about the staging of Lo Sposo Deluso applies as well to L'Oca del Cairo. You know, pretty people, eye candy, excellent singers/conductor/orchestra, exciting Mozart music; but silly, annoying staging.

    It works a little better for L'Oca del Cairo though, in part because there is more surviving music so the characters get a bit of a better chance of getting developed. The singers/actors seem to be having more fun and there are less slapstick shenanigans when the opera is being performed - but they keep interrupting it with things like a quotation of La Finta Semplice to remind the public of what roles they had performed in the earlier part of the trilogy. In spite of these idiocies, it goes relatively well, and the absence of the mediocre ballet for the most part also helps this fragment.

    So, and given that there is no visual media competition for L'Oca del Cairo, I guess I won't say "not recommended." But I wouldn't say "recommended" either. I guess it's recommended for Mozart buffs, but others may want to pass.

    OK, last, this DVD contains a Part II that is another pasticcio of various works and fragments by Mozart. It opens with God is our refuge and strenght (K. 20, 1 minute). Then there is a "musical landscape" of 20 minutes duration, made of 12 fragments, with the same incompetent dancers that have annoyed us enough already, appearing under spotlights on the dark stage. The song Abendempfindung is performed for the third time. There is an Allegro Moderato from one of his symphonies, and it all ends with 4 short pieces from his Requiem.

    Supposedly, in the words of one of the creators (Bettina Auer), this pasticcio that ends the trilogy is intended as "bodies and fragments [that] combine for a contemplative journey; the true liberation from the process explored in the first two parts of the trilogy is dissolution into nothing." Okaaayyy...

    Musically, it's very disconnected and uneven. Choreographically, it sucks. "What remains," she continues, "is a regained stage of innocence and the pure sounds of the Requiem." Whatever, Ms. Auer. I liked it a lot more in the second part, because it is more minimalistic (only 3 artists) and at the same time more imaginative (digital imagery), and with more musical unity. This last segment seems unnecessary.

    Again, in the "musical landscape" part there is a profound divorce between the serene and sorrowful sounds of Mozart's fragments and the spastic, epileptic choreography - which becomes painfully apparent when the orchestra pauses but the dancers continue to jerk around.

    Modern ballet doesn't get good just by throwing on stage a bunch of people engaging in various contortions to the sound of completely unrelated music. The choreographer should talk to someone from a company like Béjart Ballet Lausanne to learn how to set classical music to modern dance.

    When the long and unappealing "musical landscape" ends, Ann Murray again does a fine job with her third rendition of Abendempfindung (what a beautiful song!), and we get a thankful break from the dancers. Her solitary performance with just a fortepiano accompaniment under the spotlight is one of the most haunting moments of these two DVDs, and she gets a well deserved round of wild applause.

    Lights off. Musicians reposition themselves on stage, there is a sort of party in the yellow glass room for all the singers that have participated. People toast with beer bottles. They pull a curtain and we only see their shadows, and a handwritten sign - "party - beer - wine."

    The orchestra is performing (excellently) Symphony in A major, K. Ahn. 220, I. Allegro moderato.

    Then the Requiem starts with the chorus high on platforms and bluish light behind them. VERY beautiful. The light in the glass room goes off. Mozart's spectacular sounds fill the stage.

    I'll tell you what. This *ends* so beautifully that when I think of the average - staging of Lo Sposo Deluso not recommended, staging of L'Oca del Cairo recommended for Mozart buffs only, and Part II starting poorly with the mediocre ballet but ending with striking beauty therefore recommended...

    I'll have to say that this DVD is recommended, after all. Barely, but it is.

    And considering that I have reviewed the two physical discs of this package separately, and gave to the first disc a "recommended" verdict (see post #144), then it tilts the final score of the entire product even more towards the worthy side.

    So, yes, you guys can buy this, if you want. It's worth it. Not the most essential purchase, but good enough.

  14. #14
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Mozart: Zaide + Czernowin: Adama on DVD

    This is the last M22 DVD that I'll be reviewing for a while, since it completes my journey through all 22 operatic works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. There are a few DVDs left in the boxset that I haven't seen, but they contain works that I know very well already so they aren't my priorities right now, I'll watch them at a later time.

    This product contains Mozart's incomplete Singspiel Zaide, K. 344, performed side by side (in alternation) with contemporary (21st century) opera Adama by living Israeli female composer Chaya Czernowin. Her work was commissioned by the 2006 Salzburg Festival specifically to be merged with Mozart's Singspiel.

    The Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg is conducted by Ivor Bolton for the Mozart part, and the Österreichisches Ensemble für Neue Musik is conducted by Johannes Kalitzke for the Czernowin part, with electronic music provided by Experimentalstudio für akustiche Kunst e.V., based in Freiburg. Stage director is Claus Guth, scenarios and costumes are designed by Christian Schmidt, and video director is Andreas Morell.


    For Zaide, Mojca Erdmann sings the title role, Topi Lehtipuu is Gomatz, Johan Reuter is allazim, John Mark Ainsley is Sultan Soliman, and Renato Girolami is Osmin.

    For Adama, Noa Frenkel is the Woman, Yaron windmüller is the Man, Andreas Fischer is the Father, Paul Lorenger is the Dancer, and Bernd Grawert is the Actor.

    Technical aspects - similar to all M22 DVDs, see above.

    I wonder where the Salzburg Festival finds their endless supply of pretty young things who sing well. We get another couple of those, female and male, in the persons of Mojca Erdman in the title role, and her love interest Topi Lehtipuu.

    Her voice is angelical. She is rather cute.

    The young guy is very handsome as well. He's been seen around more often than her.

    The staging is clever. One of the bands is seen in the back of the stage through huge doors, while the other one occupies the pit. When the Adama parts kick in, we get screen projections on the walls of the scenario. They are turned off when the Zaide parts are on.

    Windows, doors, furniture are over-sized so that the singers/actors look like dolls (or, another way to see it, the huge size of everything makes the humans look lost and oppressed). Someone walks around wearing a huge doll head (see cover picture above).

    I'm typing this as I watch it, and it is pretty clear from the beginning that this is not for everybody. It takes someone who likes contemporary music to enjoy this. I do, so, I'm indeed enjoying it, but I can understand why others may be entirely turned off by this staging which can't get any more avant-garde than this. I've seen Czernowin's other opera, Pnima... ins innere, and I confess that I didn't like that one (it is too monotonous with its endless boy/old man situation punctuated by random sounds - but this one seems to be more coherent and transparent in its intent and concept).

    Mozart's arias are very beautiful (what else is new?) and as far as I'm concerned, the alternation between the melodious diatonic music by Mozart and Czernowin's bizarre electronic sounds and shrieking strings with fragmented vocalise is certainly intriguing and impacts on the blend a sort of dream-like (or rather, nightmare-like) character that augments the psychological elements of both works.

    The actors/singers doing the Mozart piece interact with the ones doing the Czernowin piece in interesting ways. For example, in the transition between chapter 10 (an Adama piece) and chapter 11 (a Zaide piece), Mr. Lehtipuu slowly approaches Ms. Frenkel (from the other cast) and almost kisses her, but then the orchestra restarts playing Mozart, he seems startled and adopts a listening stance, and with Mozart's music becoming insistent, he seems to suddenly remember that he is from the other cast, gets away from Ms. Frenkel, and restarts singing Mozart and interacting with Ms. Erdman. Neat.

    The themes of the two works blend well too. Adama (Earth in Hebrew) is about the impossible love between a Jewish (Israeli) woman and an Arab (Palestinian) man. The two characters try to communicate in various ways but employ different languages (Hebrew, Arab) and try their best to encounter each other, without being fully able to bridge their different worlds. Screen images of Israel and the Palestinian territories illustrate the barriers between them.

    Zaide is also about oppression and attempts to get away from it, since it addresses the plea of a woman who has been captured by a sultan, and falls in love with one of his slaves. The couple tries to escape the harem, like the Man and the Woman in Adama try to escape their political realities. Zaide's love for Gomatz is as forbidden as The Woman's love for The Man. The similar situations are underlined by parts in which members of one cast mimic the gestures of members of the other cast.

    I guess the silent doll signifies the human fragility when toyed around by more powerful forces. Like the composer says when interviewed for the Making Of documentary, "it's so hard to be an individual in a world that is so fractured."

    I like the concept of commissioning a 21st century piece to merge with Mozart on the occasion of his 250th anniversary. It shows a continuity, a survival of this art form, how two radically different styles can be equally relevant to depict the human condition.

    First act is ending, and so far I think this DVD is very satisfactory. On to act II which apparently contains some appalling scenes of torture.

    Very impressive first scene when the Sultan is day-dreaming of punishing Zaide, very effective and violent scene with the woman-figure plastic doll hanging. This is good theater, folks. Symbolism continues with one of the doll-headed man manipulating one of the actors, inserting his hand under the actor's arms. Lots of blood. This is not for the faint of heart.

    The Adama piece turns violent too, with the Father figure moving to order the beating of the two lovers from opposing sides of the political/religious conflict - using - what else? - stones. Very powerful and impressive scene punctuated by loud percussion.

    By now, I have decided that I profoundly like this staging, and both works. It hasn't finished yet, I may add something else later, but the verdict for me is clearly "highly recommended" although I'd say that it is so for folks like Some_Guy and St.Lukes, not for folks like Gualtier.

    Traditionalists, steer clear from this one. Modernists, enjoy.


    It looks like I've enjoyed this ride a lot more than other people here, such as Herkku and DA. The latter has sold his boxset. I wouldn't sell mine. I believe that there are several DVDs worth watching here, and while there are some striking failures (e.g. the Nozze fiasco), the average is certainly favorable, and the high singing standard is a definite plus. You know, in the worst case scenario, one can always turn the TV monitor off and enjoy the spectacular singing by a large number of talented young singers.

  15. #15
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Mozart: Don Giovanni on DVD

    I said I wouldn't be reviewing M22 DVDs for a while, but actually, like I said to DA, once I saw all the ones that contained operas that I didn't know, I had to check out the Don Giovanni given its reputation for, cough cough, abundant display of various feminine assets.

    But no, I didn't like it. I won't be posting a formal review, but I have two problems with this production.

    One, the singing and acting. It's not good when a Don Giovanni production has better singing and acting in roles such as Don Ottavio (Piotr Beczala), Masetto (Luca Pisaroni) and Leporello (Ildebrando d'Arcangelo) than in roles such as the Don (Thomas Hampson, atypically for him, seemingly unfocused, indifferent, not trying hard enough), Zerlina (a shrill Isabel Bayrakdarian who lacks the delicacy and flirtatiousness of some of her predecessors - the weakest link), Donna Anna (an insecure Christine Schäffer who appeared miscast or seemed to have failed to rehearse the role long enough, which surprised me because I expected so much more of this artist - she was kind of outmatched, fading away, unlike her fierce self), and Donna Elvira (Melanie Diller who did OK but failed in some coloraturas).

    Two, the staging. I think that like the Le Nozze fiasco during the same festival, the staging, although visually appealing and conceptually interesting, sucked the fun out of the mild/buffo parts of this opera. No, the scantly clad women didn't disturb me (although these scenes are anything but sexy) but the insistence in depicting violence against women with half-naked models sporting bloody noses and even a scene depicting a child as a potential victim of the Don's statutory rape certainly made of this otherwise outstanding opera something less pleasant. And then, there is the dreadful changed ending - one DEFINITELY doesn't need to tamper with an opera when this opera is authored by two geniuses like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte. Come on, don't try to "fix" Don Giovanni, for Pete's sake! This is not some minor opera, Mr. Kusej! This is freaking DON GIOVANNI, dammit!!! Show some respect for two artists who are MUCH MORE TALENTED than you are, Mr. Kusej!

    Yes, this kind of thing makes me mad (like the pregnant Brünnhilde in Copenhagen).
    I didn't dislike Mr. Kusej's Rusalka. It's not like I mind these concept-rich updates. But I definitely don't like changed endings. It is so pretentious! In his interview in the Making Of documentary, he said that he "questioned" the recitative in the first scene and "because he is a man of theater" he decided to change certain aspects. Who are you, Mr. Kusej, to "question" what da Ponte wrote and Mozart set to music? Have you, self-appointed big man of theater, ever done anything so lasting as this major beloved masterpiece that has enchanted audiences for almost 250 years? Cut yourself to your real size, Mr. Kusej, and leave Mozart's and da Ponte's sublime opera alone!! If the authors had wanted Leporello to murder Don Giovanni, they would have made it so. It's not up to you, Mr. Kusej! So, no more dragging of the Don to Hell by the Commendatore's statue, huh? Bravo, Mr. Kusej, you've just ruined one of the most powerful endings in all of opera. There's a reason why Don Giovanni is so enduring, dumb Mr. Kusej, and the ending is part of it. How dare you? God, I'm so angry, I had to come here the next day and add some more to my anti-Kusej rant!

    It's not like this production doesn't have redeeming qualities. The singing and acting in the supporting roles was a nice surprise. The Wiener Philharmoniker under Harding as expected does a superb job. Certain parts of the staging were very interesting both visually and artistically (I liked the ingenious round stage, the lighting, etc.). But with the two major problems above, I can't recommend this production, regardless of these redeeming qualities.

    Not recommended.

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