BRITTEN: Peter Grimes
MOZART: Don Giovanni
EMI has issued Zürich Opera productions of Don Giovanni and Peter Grimes. Giovanni was filmed in May 2006, Grimes in December 2005. Both productions are extraordinarily effective, although one has a serious flaw. Sven-Eric Bechtolf's production of Giovanni features Rolf Glittenberg's stark but colorful sets and Marianne Glittenberg's costumes, perfect for this imaginative up-to-date treatment of Mozart's masterpiece. Choreographer Stefano Giannetti keeps everyone on stage very active in a most compelling way although some may find there is overkill and too much clowning about. Eva Mai is miscast as Donna Anna—she is unable to sing this challenging role, and it is surprising the Zürich Opera couldn't find someone better, equally surprising they would permit this to be filmed. Otherwise, the cast is first-rate, particularly Simon Keenlyside's singing and acting in the title role—there are few singers on stage today who could handle the sheer physicality of this production—and look (and sing) this good during the process. Not a great Don Giovanni, but worth investigating for Keenlyside's participation. Peter Grimes was produced by David Pountney, with an imaginative, dark, brooding set by Robert Israel that perfectly suits the opera. Christopher Ventris (who can be seen as Sergey in two videos of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth), conveys with the greatest sensitivity the tragic character of the fisherman who doesn't conform to society. This is a compelling major production of Britten's masterpiece, with state-of-the art video and sonics. However, in both EMI has done a disservice to viewers—there is no printed track listing, and no information about either production. Both of these sets are relatively inexpensive.
Opus Arte has released Verdi's first opera, Oberto, recorded during performances in January 2007, part of Tutto Verdi, a 15-year project that began the previous year with the purpose of performing all of Verdi's operas, including different versions of each. An admirable project perhaps, but it shows that early Verdi is very far removed from the grandeur and magnificence of his mature works. Oberto, with a libretto by Temistocle Solera, premiered at La Scala November 17, 1839. The typical opera plot tells of a betrayed woman who searches out the traitor, and a father obsessed with honor. Action in this opera is static, and primary interest is listening for snatches of music Verdi used in later operas to much greater effect. Ildar Abdrazakov in the title role is easily the best of the singers; both leading sopranos are vocally insecure although Evelyn Herlitzius gets better as the opera progresses; Marianne Cornetti as Cuniza is matronly to the extreme. Sets by Domenico Franchi are dark, his costumes appropriately opulent. Video and sound are fine, but this opera, in this performance, is of little interest for operaphiles.
R.E.B. (December 2007)