• DVD Review: Die Zauberflöte (2003, Covent Garden)

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    Die Zauberflöte

    2003, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

    (Will Hartmann, Dorothea Röschmann, Simon Keenlyside, Diana Damrau, Franz-Joseph Selig, Adrian Thompson; Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, cond. Colin Davis)

    (dir. David McVicar; video dir. Sue Judd)


    Anyone expecting a charming fairy-tale Magic Flute with lavish, colorful scenery will be taken aback by this unconventional production. The fantasy world of this Flute is a dark, mystical one with an almost minimalist aesthetic. Somber, vaguely 18th century set pieces slide almost imperceptibly onto and off of the darkly lit, often misty stage. The characters likewise Read the rest of this entry »

  • DVD Review: Die Zauberflöte (1982, Salzburg)

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    Die Zauberflöte

    1982, Salzburg Festival

    (Peter Schreier, Ileana Cotrubas, Christian Boesch, Edita Gruberova, Martti Talvela, Horst Heistermann; Wiener Staatsopernchor; Wiener Philharmoniker, cond. James Levine)

    (dir. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle; video dir. Brian Large)


    The ever-quirky yet ever-insightful Jean-Pierre Ponnelle presents his Flute very much as an Enlightenment allegory. The costumes are 18th century dress, in Ponnelle’s usual elegantly subdued color scheme. The Queen of the Night and her Ladies, with their extravagant gowns and highly dramatic stage presences, seem to personify the excesses of the Baroque period, while Sarastro Read the rest of this entry »

  • DVD Review: Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1989, Met)

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    Il Barbiere di Siviglia

    1989, Metropolitan Opera

    (Leo Nucci, Kathleen Battle, Rockwell Blake, Enzo Dara, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Loretta di Franco; Metropolitan Opera Chorus; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, cond. Ralf Weikert)

    (dir. John Cox; video dir. Brian Large)


    This all-star Met Barbiere’s defining quality is old-fashioned charm. Its massive revolving set is quintessential eye-candy, complete with palm trees and Moorish architecture to evoke the Sevillian setting, and though the colorful costumes update the action from Beaumarchais’s 18th century to Rossini’s own early 19th, the atmosphere is cozily traditional. The staging is pert, gently witty and funny with no excessive zaniness. Some of the jokes Read the rest of this entry »

  • DVD Review: La Cenerentola (1983, Glyndebourne)

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    La Cenerentola

    1983, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

    (Kathleen Kuhlmann, Laurence Dale, Claudio Desderi, Alberto Rinaldi, Roderick Kennedy, Marta Taddei, Laura Zannini; Glyndebourne Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Donato Renzetti)

    (dir. John Cox; video dir. John Vernon)


    This Cenerentola is charming, but its distinctly fairy-tale atmosphere is slightly un-Rossinian. The fact that the libretto includes no magic seems hardly to matter here. With its two-dimensional, sepia and gold-toned sets that resemble an old-fashioned storybook, the stylized costumes that set the story in the 17th century Cavalier era, the ridiculous putty noses worn by Clorinda and Tisbe, and the puppet show used to depict the Act II thunderstorm, the production’s atmosphere Read the rest of this entry »

  • DVD Review: Die Zauberflöte (1978, Glyndebourne)

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    Die Zauberflöte

    1978, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

     (Leo Goeke, Felicity Lott, Benjamin Luxon, May Sandoz, Thomas Thomaschke, John Fryatt; Glyndebourne Festival Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Bernard Haitink)

    (dir. John Cox; video dir. Dave Heather)


    This 1978 Flute is noteworthy for one chief reason: it served as the debut for the set and costume designs of David Hockney. His enchanting Flute designs have since been seen in various distinguished opera houses, but here, on a small scale in the old Glyndebourne theatre, was where they first appeared. With two-dimensional wing-and-drop scenery in solid, vibrant colors, Hockney presents us with a fantasy vision of ancient Egypt and deftly traces Tamino and Pamina’s journey from chaos to order, contrasting the unruly trees, rocks and stars of the Queen of the Night’s wild realm with the Read the rest of this entry »

  • DVD Review: Hansel and Gretel (1982, Met)

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    Hansel and Gretel

    1982, Metropolitan Opera

    (Frederica von Stade, Judith Blegen, Rosalind Elias, Michael Devlin, Jean Kraft, Diane Kesling, Betsy Norden; Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, cond. Thomas Fulton)

    (dir. Bruce Donnell, after Nathaniel Merrill; video dir. Kirk Browning)


    This Christmas Day “Live from the Met” broadcast is the quintessential example of a sweet, traditional, family-friendly Hansel and Gretel. With its bright green storybook forest and colorful, folksy costumes, its bevy of dancing woodland creatures played by children, its Dream Pantomime of angels in sparkling blue gowns, and its towering gingerbread house studded with jewel-like candy drops, the production’s every moment is skillfully crafted to enchant the audience. Sung in Norman Kelly’s Read the rest of this entry »

  • DVD Review: Rigoletto (1982, Ponnelle film)

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    1982, Unitel Films

    (Ingvar Wixell, Luciano Pavarotti, Edita Gruberova, Ferruccio Furlanetto Victoria Vergara; Wiener Staatsopernchor; Wiener Philharmoniker, cond. Riccardo Chailly)

    (dir. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle)


    This film, shot in various Italian palaces and other Renaissance-flavored locations, was my introduction to Rigoletto. For that reason it will always have a place in my heart, but it’s a controversial film and understandably so. This Rigoletto is very much a melodrama, with little subtlety to its storytelling. Rigoletto’s jester garb is bright red with devil horns on the hat, while Gilda is the epitome of girlish purity, always dressed in white and with flowing blonde hair. The Duke’s Act I “ball” is a grotesque Roman-style orgy full of nonstop laughter, bad table manners and Read the rest of this entry »