ZANDONAI: Francesca da Rimini
Renata Scotto (Francesca); Plácido Domingo (Paolo); Cornell Macneil (Gianciotto); Nicole Lorange (Samaritana); Richard Fredericks (Ostasio); William Lewis (Malatestino); Natalia Rom (Biancofiore); Gail Robinson (Garsenda); Ballet, Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera/James Levine, cond.

BERLIOZ: Les Troyens
Plácido Domingo (Enée); Jessye Norman (Cassandre); Tatiana Troyanos (Didon); Allan Monk (Chorèbe); John Cheek (Panthée); Paul Plishka (Narbal); Douglas Ahlstedt (Iopoas); Claudia Catania (Ascagne); Jocelyne Taillon (Anna); Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orch/James Levine, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD VIDEO 00440073431000 (2 disks) TT: 250 min.

POULENC: Dialogues des Carmélites
Dagmar Schellenberger (Blanche); Anja Silja (Madame de Croissy); Gwynne Geyer (Madame Lidoine); Christopher Robertson (Le Marquis de la Force); Gordon Gietz (Le Chevalier); Barbara Dever (Mère Marie de l'Incarnation); Laura Aikin (Soeur Constance de Saint-Denis); Annamaria Popescu (Mère Jeanne de l'Enfant-Jésus); La Scala Chorus and Orch/Riccardo Muti, cond.

Two major productions of the Metropolitan Opera are now available on DVD. The most important is Les Troyens, the mammoth Berlioz opera never presented complete during the composer's lifetime, not given in the U.S. until 1972 when Sarah Caldwell conducted it in Boston, and not at the Met until the following year. A decade later, the Met production was staged by Fabrizio Melano with sets, costumes and visual effects by Peter Wexler. The score is presented absolutely unabridged, more than four hours in length, and with a strong cast featuring Jessye Norman as Cassandra (making her Met debut), and the remarkable Plácido Domingo and Tatiana Troyanos.The production is impressive if less than ideal. The famous "Royal Hunt and Storm" in Act II is identified as a "pantomime" and the track listing describes stage action that doesn't take place; all we see is James Levine's conducting and the Met orchestra. Brian Large's camera work is fine, orchestral sound is a bit blurred, and surely this is not true 5.1, although sound is coming from all speakers.

Riccardo Zandonai (1883-1944) had one great hit, the opera Francesca da Rimini which premiered in 1914. Based on D'Annunzio's play inspired by Dante's tragic love story, the "blood and lust" plot tells of the ill-fated love between Francesca and Paolo, brother of her husband Gianciotto. This opera was premiered at the Met in the 1916/17 season with eleven performances featuring a star-studded cast: Frances Alda, Giovanni Martinelli and the great Pasquale Amato. The opera wasn't given again until 1984, a luxurious production by Piero Faggioni with elaborate sets by Ezio Frigerio and appropriate costumes by Franca Squarciapino. Francesca da Rimini is a showcase for a prima donna; Maria Cebotari was perfect as Francesca—her 1959 over-the-top live performance from La Scala (with Mario Del Monaco) set the standard. Renata Scotto pulls out all of the histrionic stops in her performance and is in reasonably good voice for this stage of her career. Domingo and Macneil are magnificent. Brian Large does his usual fine video job, and the sound is good enough.

Poulenc's magnificent Dialogue of the Carmelites is given an extraordinarily fine performance filmed in Milan in February 2004 in a staging by the Netherlands Opera directed by Robert Carsen with stark sets by Michael Levine, costumes by Falk Bauer, and lighting by Jean Kalman. The conflict between religion and revolutionary forces is always obvious, with many scenes of ominous crowds contrasted with simplicity of the nuns. The cast is outstanding, particularly Gwynne Geyer's Madame Lidoine and Anja Silja's powerful Madame de Croissy. Riccardo Muti's conducting could not be bettered. A disappointment is direction of the incredible final scene. The nuns, one by one, are supposed to be led to the scaffold. They aren't—they are always on stage, and, with each sound of the guillotine, one falls to the ground. It is much more effective to see the stage slowly emptying with just Blanche on stage before the final guillotine strike. Still, the power of Poulenc's incredible music is there, and those who love this opera won't want to miss this. Video and audio quality are excellent.

R.E.B. (January 2008)