STRAUSS: Salome
Teresa Stratas (Salome); Astrid Varnay (Herodias); Bernd Weikl (Jochanaan); Hans Beirer (Herodes); Wieslaw Ochman (Narraboth); Hanna Schwarz (Page); Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Karl Böhm, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMOPHON DVD VIDEO 00440 073 4339 TT: 101 min.
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JANÁCEK: Jenufa
Nina Stemme (Jenufa); Eva Marton (Kostelnicka Buryjovka); Jorma Silvasti (Laca Klemen); Pär Lindskog (Steve Buryja); Viorica Cortez (Starenka Buryjovka); Rolof Haunstein (Stárek); Enric Serra (Rychtár); Chorus and Orchestra of Gran Theatre del Liceu/Peter Schneider, cond.
TDK DVDVIDEO DVWW OPJENU TT: 127 min.
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VERDI: Stiffelio
Plácido Domingo (Stiffelio); Sharon Sweet (Lina); Vladimir Chernov (Stankar); Peter Riberi (Raffaele); Paul Plishka (Jorg); Charles Anthony (Federico); Margaret Lattimore (Dorotea); Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera/James Levine, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD VIDEO 00440 073 4288 TT: 116 min.
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The soundtrack for this superb Salome was recorded in Vienna's Sofiensaal in March 1974, filmed in July/August of that year. The performance is outstanding in every way. Teresa Stratas is an ideal Salome in many ways and, at least in the studio, has the vocal heft for the role. Dramatically she is stunning. The entire cast is strong, particularly Astrid Varnay's Herodias and Bernd Weikl's powerful Jochanaan. Robert Cohan has choreographed a rather odd "Dance of the Seven Veils" (the Princess oddly assisted by four handmaidens), beginning with many veils, ending with none with a fast fade just before the last. Gerd Staub's sets are realistic, Jan Skalicky's costumes appropriate. Karl Böhm is a master of the score, and the only deficit is Götz Friedrich's direction, which offers far too many super close-ups. Sound is excellent, although hardly 5.1 surround, but on occasion voices are overly covered by the orchestra. This is a basic Salome for every opera video collection.

Janacek's Jenufa is a story of Moravian peasant life, telling the tragic life of a young woman in love with and pregnant by the rather repugnant Steva, who owns the town mill. The elderly Kostelnicka, sexton of the church, powerfully portrayed by Eva Marton, disapproves of Jenufa's association with Steva and, not knowing Jenufa is pregnant, refuses to permit the two to marry. Eventually Jenufa has a baby son, but Steva refuses to marry her as he is now seeing someone else. Laca, Steva's brother, is in love with Jenufa but will not accept his brother's son. Kostenicka kills the child, telling Jenufa the baby died of sickness. Jenufa then agrees to marry Laca, but on their wedding day the body of the dead baby is found under the ice in the lake. Although Jenufa is first accused of the murder, Kostelnicka admits she is guilty. Jenufa forgives her, and the opera ends with a glimmer of happiness as Laca marries her. Janacek's music vividly conveys the complexities of the plot and frailties of the leading characters. A fine performance can be a memorable event, and this production from Gran Teatre del Liceu in May and June 2005 is excellent. Olivier Tambosi's symbolic concept features a raised platform onto which ordinary people cannot step, and a large stone that in act three, broken into pieces, represents the tragic infanticide. Frank Philipp Schlossmann's stark sets and costumes are basic and effective. Casting uniformly is strong headed by Nina Stemme's vivid portrayal of the title role; she is in far better vocal state here than in her recent EMI Strauss recital disk (see REVIEW). All in all, this is a splendid presentation of Janacek's masterpiece, beautifully filmed and very well recorded in 5.1.

Verdi's Stiffelio had its premiere in Trieste in November 1850, and had a troubled performance history. Stiffelio is a protestant minister who divorces his adulterous wife but, after much anguish and soul-searching, forgives her from the pulpit in the opera's final scene. The subject didn't go over well with Italian religious and political powers, so many changes were made to the disappointment of the composer who eventually withdrew it but used some of the score in his Aroldo seven years later. In 1992 the composer's original score was discovered and a "critical edition" was prepared, given for the first time in October 1993 at the Met as a vehicle for Plácido Domingo to commemorate his 25th anniversary season in the house. This DVD offers the television Live from the Met broadcast, directed by Brian Large. Stiffelio was very well received by critics and audiences, and again presented at the Met (also with Domingo) in 1998. The music is some of Verdi's best, with big arias and scenes not only for the tenor, but for the soprano, Lina (Stiffelio's wife), and baritone, Stankar (the old colonel). The performance is magnificent with everyone in top form, although Sharon Sweet as Lina takes a while to get into stride. James Levine again shows he is a master of Verdi. Michael Scott's sets and costumes are appropriate, and Giancarlo Del Monaco's production keeps things moving as much as possible.Video and audio are first-rate, although sound is not true 5.1 surround.

R.E.B. (August 2006)

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