VERDI: Aida
Aprile Millo (Aida); Plácido Domingo (Radames); Dolora Zajick (Amneris); Paata Burchuladze (Ramfis); Sherrill Milnes (Amonasro); Dimitri Kavrakos (The King of Egypt); Margaret Jane Wray (Sacerdotessa); Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Chorus and Orch/James Levine, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD 440 073 001-9 TT: 158 min.
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PROKOFIEV: War and Peace
Olga Guryakova (Natasha Rostova); Nathan Gunn (Prince Andrei Bolkonski); Robert Brubaker (Count Pierre Bezoukhov); Anatoli Kotcherga (Field Marshall Mikhail Koutouzov); Elena Obraztsova (Maria D. Akhrossimova); Vassili Gerello (Napoleon); Elena Zaremba (Countess Hélène Bezoukhova); Stefan Margita (Anatole Kouragine); Susanna Poretsky (Princesse Maria); Leonid Zimnenko (Prince Nikolai A. Bolkonski); Mikhail Kit (Count Ilia A. Rostov); Vladimir Matorine (Le cocher Balaga); Chorus and Orchestra of the Paris National Opera/Gary Bertini, cond.
TDK DVUS OPWP TT: 210 min opera / 79 min. special features
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VIENNA PHILHARMONIC CONCERT
BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72a. Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58. WAGNER: Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde.
Wilhelm Backhaus, pianist; Birgit Nilsson, soprano; Hans Knappertsbusch, cond.
TDK DVUS CLHK62 TT: 81 min.
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BORODIN: Prince Igor
Nikolai Putilin (Prince Igor); Galina Gorchakova (Yaroslavna); Yevgeny Akimov (Vladimir Igorievich); Grigory Karasev (Yeroshka); Nikolai Gassiev (Skula); Vladimir Vaneev (Konchak); Olga Borodina (Konchakovna); Valery Lebed (Ovlur); Olga Markova-Mikhailenko (Nurse); Tatiana Pavlovskaya (Polovtsian Maiden); Kirov Opera Ballet, Chorus and Orchestra/Valery Gergiev, cond.
PHILIPS B000 1093-09 (2 DVDs) TT: 194 min.
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The Met's Aida is a big-scale production by Sonja Frisell with sets by Gianni Quaranta produced for television by Brian Large. From a 1988 performance, it was a 1989-90 Emmy Award winner as an outstanding classical program in the performing arts, an award it well deserved. The cast is uniformly fine with Domingo at his peak, soprano Aprile Millo in her short-lived prime, Dolora Zajick a strong Amneris, the other male roles admirably filled by Milnes, Kavrakos and Burchuladze. James Levine keeps things moving nicely, the big ballet scene is impressive as is the triumphal scene in which the only animals are two horses on good behavior. The lavish production is beautifully photographed and very much worth while in every respect, although not a truly great performance of Verdi's masterpiece. The only sound provided is regular stereo.

Prokofiev's War and Peace is a massive opera based on Tolstoy's novel, premiered Oct. 16, 1944 with piano, with the full-scale premiere of the original version taking place in the great hall of the Moscow Conservatory June 7, 1945. Prokofiev continued to make changes in the score and died in 1953 before a "complete" performance with his revisions could be presented. War and Peace is in two parts. The first, in seven scenes, depicts the carefree, luxurious life of Russian aristocracy focusing on the love story of Natacha Rostova and Prince Andrei Bolkonski, ending with a declaration of war between Germany and Russia. The second part, in six scenes, depicts various events of the war including the battle of Borodino, a touching scene between Natacha and the dying Andrei, and the triumphant liberation of Moscow.

For obvious reasons, War and Peace is seldom presented. Aside from the forty-three listed roles, a huge chorus and orchestra are also required. This co-production between Francois Roussillon & Associates, the Opéra National de Paris, France 2, France 3, Mezzo, with the participation of NHK and Centre National de la Cinématographie, was filmed at the Paris National Opera in March 2000. It is a stunnng achievement for all concerned, magnificently and imaginatively photographed, Prokofiev's difficult music superbly sung and played. Radio France is to be commended for their superb sonic achievement—the surround sound, mighty in its impact and clarity, puts you right in the hall. The scope of the production is obvious from the curtain calls as all of the performers assemble on stage. A plus is inclusion of an 80-minute feature on preparations for this opera, with Francesca Zambello, stage director, discussing the monumental problems of putting this all together. You'll probably wish to use the subtitles which are available in English and three other languages. This is a major issue for the DVD operatic world, and highly recommended.

The Knappertsbusch concert was filmed/recorded in black and white during one of the "Vienna Festival Weeks" in the Theater an der Wien May 31, 1962 . The concert was broadcast both on television and radio by the Australian radio. Although stereo technology was available at the time, this is a monophonic recording, but the sound is well balanced and reasonably wide-range. The program is fascinating as it gives us the opportunity to watch Wilhelm Backhaus, 78 at the time, performing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with expertise and technical assurance that belies his age. The German pianist was legendary and we are fortunate to have this opportunity to watch him in concert. Soprano Birgit Nilsson already was singing at Bayreuth, famous in the most demanding Wagner roles as well as Elektra and Salome. It seems odd the remarkable Swedish soprano sang only Isolde's Liebestod. The concert, which is rather short, surely should have ended with the Immolation Scene from Götterdämmerung—but, unfortunately, it doesn't!

What a pleasure it is to be able to see Borodin's mammoth opera Prince Igor! Ever since its premiere in 1890 at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Igor has been a major classic Russian epic although what audiences saw and heard was not what the composer wrote. Borodin didn't complete his opera but he did leave countless sketches, and ideas. Immediately after their friend's death Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov "completed" the opera, with numerous changes in content and orchestration—Glazunov actually composed the well-known overture. Valery Gergiev, artistic director of Mariinsky Theater, initiated the version heard on this DVD which uses the Rimsky-Korsakov/Glazunov edition, Paval Lamm's unpublished vocal score—and "additional linking material composed by Yuri Faliek." Everyone knows the familiar Polovtsian Dances (from Act I) and it is a pleasure to see them danced so vigorously.

On this superb video we have the opportunity to see Russian opera at its grandest. This is a 1998 production of Igor, which tells of the struggle between the Russians and Polovtsian nomads, Prince Igor’s capture and eventual escape from his noble opponent, Khan Konchak, and the love between Igor’s son, Vladimir, and Konchak’s daughter, Konchakovna. Gergiev and his Kirov forces recorded this opera for CD in 1993 (Philips 442 537) with some of the same principal cast members (Gorchakova/Borodina/Gassiev), a version that includes several short sections not on the DVD. This is a long opera that does not sustain interest three-hours plus duration. But we are fortunate to be able to see it in this magnificent production, and the 5.1 surround sound is superb. There's no libretto, but subtitles are provided in English and five other languages.

R.E.B. (January 2004)