VERDI: Rigoletto
Marcelo Alvarez (Duke of Mantua); Paolo Gavanelli (Rigoletto); Cristine Schafer (Gilda); Eric Halfvarson (Sparafucile); Graciela Araya (Maddalena); Peter Auty (Borsa); Graeme Broadbent (Ceprano); Royal Opera House Chorus and Orch/Edward Downes, cond.
BBC OPUS ARTE OA 0830 D TT: 169 min. incl. documentary Verdi through the looking glass, and director David McVicar talking about this production

VERDI: La forza del destino
Renata Tebaldi (Leonora); Franco Corelli (Don Alvaro); Ettore Bastianini (Don Carlo di Vargas); Giorgio Algorta (Marchese di Calatrava); Oralia Dominguez (Preziosilla); Boris Christoff (Padre Guardiano); Renato Capecchi (Fra Melitone); San Carlo Naples Chorus and Orch/Francesco Molinari Pradelli, cond.

VERDI: Otello
Jon Vickers (Otello); Mirella Freni (Desdemona); Peter Glossop (Iago); Stefania Malagu (Emilia); Aldo Bottion (Cassio); Michel Senechal (Roderigo); Jose Van Dam (Lodovico); Mario Macchi (Montana); Berlin German Opera Chorus; Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Herbert von Karajan, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD 073 006-9 TT: 140 min.

VERDI: Otello
Placido Domingo (Otello); Kiri Te Kanawa (Desdemona); Sergei Leiferkus (Iago); Roderick Earle (Montano); Robin Leggate (Cassio); Ramon Remedios (Roderigo); Claire Powell (Emilia); Mark Beesley (Lodovico); Royal Opera House Chorus and Orch/Sir Georg Solti, cond.
KULTUR DVD ISBN 0-7697-1492-7 TT: 146 min.

This 1958 San Carlo performance of La forza del destino has been pirated for years as an audio recording, treasured by everyone and rightfully so. This is as fine a performance of Verdi's masterpiece as you will ever hear, with both Renata Tebaldi and Franco Corelli at their peak—which is to say as good as it gets. All of the other parts are equally strong—Bastianini, Dominguez, Christoff, Capecchi...what a cast! Hardy Classic Video has been able to work with Italian Radio's master recordings resulting in better sound than heard on pirate audio issues, and now we can watch the performance as well. Admittedly the black and white photography has lost quite a bit of its original quality; doubtless original sources were in dreadful condition, but it is more than acceptable and we are fortunate to have what is here. The DVD also includes an interview with Tebaldi. We see only her (never the interviewer) and selected scenes from performances. As Tebaldi appears to be much older, it would seem this was taped at a later date. It's in Italian and there is no subtitle translation. This is an essential DVD for those who love grand opera.

The Royal Opera House Rigoletto is a travesty of Verdi's masterpiece, primarily because of David McVicar's tasteless production. He also was responsible for the debasement of Bizet's Carmen in the Glyndebourne production starring Anne Sophie van Mutter (see REVIEW). In Rigoletto's opening scene, supposedly a feast at the Duke's palace, we have bare-breasted women flouncing about, total nudity, and simulated intercourse. Verdi's music surely doesn't need all this sensationalism (if it could be called that)—could the distinguished Bernard Haitink, music director of the Royal Opera, have approved of this bawdy, demeaning treatment of Verdi's masterpiece? The performance itself, presumably dating from 2002 although no date is given, is unexceptional. Vocally, Paolo Gavanelli as Rigoletto is assured as the hunchback jester, as are some of the minor roles, but Marcelo Alvarez's Duke is tenuous, Christine Schafer's Gilda cautious rather than exciting. Visually and sonically everything is in order, but I cannot imagine anyone wishing to see this Rigoletto a second time. You might not even get through the first act!

Verdi is treated appropriately, and powerfully, on the two DVDs of Otello. Karajan's Unitel performance was recorded first, then filmed resulting in the usual lip-sync problems, but allowing some extraordinary visual effects. The opening storm and arrival of Otello is indeed thrilling, as is Jon Vickers' interpretation of the title role. Mirella Freni is a fragile Desdemona, Peter Glossop an appropriately sinister Iago. This is a fine representation of Verdi's masterpiece, well recorded in conventional stereo, and it's a pleasure to hear the magnificent Berlin Philharmonic playing this music. The Director and Artistic Supervisor was Karajan and, considering his incredible ego, it is amazing that he doesn't appear in the film, not even at the beginning.

The Royal Opera Otello is a relief after their debacle with Rigoletto mentioned above. Originally released in 1992, it features a fine cast headed by Plácido Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa and Sergei Leiferkus. Sir Georg Solti conducts a surprisingly tame opening storm sequence. The flyer in the set states one can "Access Otello's special features by pressing the menu key on your DVD player's remote control." I tried to do so on three different players and never found the option for "special features." Usually on the back of the DVD case there is a listing of special features, but here there is no such listing. Oddly, the first "chapter" is Solti entering the orchestra pit; there is no "chapter" for the actual beginning of the opera—and there should have been. At the conclusion there is the expected ovation and several times we see Prince Charles and a rather bored appearing Princess Diana in the Royal box. Otello was a major role for Domingo; there's another DVD—his 2001 LaScala performance with Barbara Frittoli, Leo Nucci and Riccardo Muti conducting, which the tenor said was his last, yet to be reviewed on this site.

R.E.B. (January 2004)