• 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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    Rigoletto

    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 »

  • DVD Review: Madama Butterfly (1986, La Scala)

      1 Bravos & Boos (Comments)

    Madama Butterfly

    1986, Teatro alla Scala, Milan

    (Yasuko Hayashi, Peter Dvorsky, Hak-Nam Kim, Giorgio Zancanaro, Ernesto Gavazzi; Choro del Teatro alla Scala; Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, cond. Lorin Maazel)

    (dir. Keita Asari; video dir. Derek Bailey)

     

    This visually lovely Butterfly has the most thoroughly Eastern atmosphere of any on DVD. The set, consisting only of a simplified Japanese house, a Zen-style garden of stone, and a backdrop of sky studded with a flock of shimmering butterflies, is a picture of austere, watercolor-like beauty. Keita Asari’s staging is filled with authentic Japanese detail and infused with the flavor of kabuki theatre. Black-clad “invisible” stagehands move the shoji back and forth, the Flower Duet consists of Butterfly and Suzuki scattering Read the rest of this entry »

  • CD Review: La Cenerentola (1988, Marriner)

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    La Cenerentola

    1988, Philips/Decca

    (Agnes Baltsa, Francisco Araiza, Ruggero Raimondi, Simone Alaimo, John del Carlo, Carol Malone, Felicity Palmer; Ambrosian Opera Chorus; Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, cond. Neville Marriner)

     

    This ever-popular recording is a true gem of the La Cenerentola discography. Under the direction of Sir Neville Marriner, the St. Martin in the Fields orchestra offers a performance full of charm, style and sensitivity. With pacing that alternates between lively and gentle, unhurried recitatives that allow for maximum emotional expression, and an excellent balance between joyful exuberance and thoughtful, delicate phrasing, Marriner’s reading of the score perfectly captures both of the two sides Read the rest of this entry »

  • DVD Review: Turandot (1987, Met)

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    Turandot

    1987, Metropolitan Opera

    (Eva Marton, Plácido Domingo, Leona Mitchell, Paul Plishka; Metropolitan Opera Chorus; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, cond. James Levine)

    (dir. Franco Zeffirelli; video dir. Kirk Browning)

     

    This Turandot was one of the first filmed opera performances I ever saw and is still the closest to a definitive Turandot that I’ve ever seen. Franco Zeffirelli’s magnificent scenery, some of the grandest in the Met’s repertoire, and the sumptuous costumes of Dada Saligeri and Anna Anni create a stunningly lavish vision of mythical China, a perfect match for the grandeur of Puccini’s score. The massive glittering throne room in which the Riddle Scene and the opera’s finale take place is a sight Read the rest of this entry »

  • CD Review: Die Zauberflöte (1955, Fricsay)

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    Die Zauberflöte

    1955, Deutsche Grammophon

    (Ernst Häfliger, Maria Stader, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Rita Streich, Josef Greindl, Martin Vantin; RIAS Kammerchor; RIAS Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, cond. Ferenc Fricsay)

     

    This ‘50s Flute is a bit less well known than others, but it still has its fare share of devotees. To this day the Salzburg Marionette Theatre uses it as the “soundtrack” for its Flute performances. While I wouldn’t call it outstanding, it’s still a fine way to enjoy the opera, with a solid cast and an orchestra led with superior skill by Ferenc Fricsay. His interpretation avoids the Romantic weight that his contemporaries tended to favor and makes the opera into a lively experience with Read the rest of this entry »

  • DVD Review: Don Giovanni (1954, Salzburg Festival)

      2 Bravos & Boos (Comments)

    Don Giovanni

    1954, Salzburg Festival

    (Cesare Siepi, Otto Edelmann, Elisabeth Grümmer, Anton Dermota, Lisa della Casa, Erna Berger, Walter Berry, Deszö Ernster; Wiener Staatsopernchor; Wiener Philharmoniker, cond. Wilhelm Furtwängler)

    (dir. Herbert Graf; film dir. Paul Czinner)

     

    This Don Giovanni was filmed in Salzburg’s open-air Felsenreitschule theatre as part of director Paul Czinner’s movement to preserve renowned theatre performances for posterity. Performed on an elegant unit set (convincing as either a town square or a courtyard) with Herbert Graf’s intelligent staging and a cast of vintage Viennese gold, in mono sound, this production is a quintessential Giovanni of its time and place. The costumes are traditional 1600s garb, German accents abound with constant ‘qvi’s and ‘qva’s instead of ‘qui’s and ‘qua’s, the acting is very broad, and characterizations are Read the rest of this entry »