VERDI: Il trovatore
DONIZETTI: Don Pasquale
WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde
Director Robert Carsen is responsible for this production of Il trovatore for the 60th Anniversary of the Bregenz Festival recorded during performances August 9 and 13, 2006. Suggested by Verdi's frequent referring to fire in the libretto, designer Paul Steinberg's floating set on Lake Constance carries a huge smoking petrochemical factory that often has blasts of fire and smoke coming from its chimneys. For this viewer, this detracts considerably from Verdi's music—to say the least—and the setting surely does little for the opera. The singers must negotiate many stairs, and Leonore has to cautiously wend her way througth a bunch of old oil cans while singing her big arias. The cast is admirable considering the circumstances, but there is no singing here that will be remembered for its vocal allure. The high definition photography is fine, the audio remarkably good considering the difficulties of recording outside on a huge set. Conductor Thomas Rösneris to be commended for managing to hold things together very well on this sprawling set, but I will not watch this production again.
I surely plan on returning often to Decca's issue of Don Pasquele recorded on unspecified dates in 2006 in the Zurich Opera House. Luigi Perego's sets and costumes are beautiful, and Grischa Asagarotti's direction is always appropriate. The cast is terrific. Ruggero Raimondi had to be talked into assuming the role of Don Pasquale, often reserved for baritones at the end of their careers, and he is perfectly cast. The real star is Juan Diego Flórez who is in spectacular form tossing off the florid writing with the greatest of ease, well-matched by Isabel Rey's enchanting Norina. Nello Santi, 76 at the time of this performance and conducting without score, is in firm control of the proceedings. This is a highly entertaining show in every way, beautifully recorded.
July 25, 1981 the Bayreuth Festival premiered a new production of Tristan und Isolde that marked the venue debuts of conductor Daniel Barenboim and stage director Jean-Pierre Ponelle who also designed sets and costumes. It was a spectacular success (unlike numerous Bayreuth fiascos since), and in October 1983 the entire ensemble made this film, described as "a live recording in studio quality, unblemished by noises from the audience or lapses from the artists..." The circumstances also permitted Emil Berliner Studios to have many close-up shots which are highly effective, particularly those of the dying Tristan. In this production, Isolde sings her Liebestod to a live Tristan who, "for her, is awakening to a new life, and she unites herself with him in death in the certainty that their love is immortal." The cast is superb in every way, and it's a pleasure to see two physically attractive singers in the title roles and also do justice vocally to this demanding music. Barenboim makes much of the music's sensuality, and the recorded sound is just fine. A memorable Tristan, indeed, and highly recommended.
R.E.B. (November 2007)