PUCCINI: Turandot
Eva Marton (Turandot); José Carreras (Calaf); Katia Ricciarelli (Liù); Waldemar Kmentt (Emperor); John-Paul Bogart (Timur); Robert Kerns (Ping); Helmut Wildhaber (Pang); Heinz Zednik (Pong); Kurt Rydl (Mandarin); Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orch/Lorin Maazel, cond.

MUSSORGSKY: Khovanshchina
|Vladimir Ognovenko (Prince Ivan Khovansky); Vladimir Galouzine (Prince Andrei Khovansky); Robert Brubaker (Prince Vasily Golitsyn); Nikolai Putilin (Shaklovity); Vladimir Vaneev (Dosifei); Elena Zaremba (Marfa); Graham Clark (Scribe); Nataliya Tymchenko (Emma); Pavel Kudinov (Varsonofev); Francisco Vas (Kuzka); Mikhail Vekua (Streshnev); Dimitar Darlev (Streltsy); Josep Ruiz (Follower of Golitsyn); Chorus and Orchestra of Gran Teatre del Liceu/Michael Boder, cond.
OPUS ARTE DVD VIDEO OA 0989 TT: 192 min.

ROSSINI: La Cambiale di Matrimonio
Paolo Bordogna (Tobia Mill); Désirée Rancatore (Fanny); Saimir Pirgu (Edoardo Milfort); Fabio Maria Capitanucci (Slook); Enrico Maria Marabelli (Norton); Maria Gortsevskaya (Clarina); Haydn di Bolzano e Trento Orch/Luigi Squarzina, cond.
NAXOS DVD VIDEO 2.110228 TT: 83:13

This Turandot is very special. Recorded at the Vienna State Opera on unspecified dates in 1983, it was directed by Harold Prince, best known for his work on musicals, with sets and costumes by Timothy O'Brien and Tazeena Firth. This production is far removed from the bloated Franco Zeffirelli Met production with its grandiose approach to everything. Sets here are minimal, even the famous staircase is basic. However, costumes are imaginative, colorful and often reflective. Eva Marton is magnificent in the title role; I have never heard her sing better—this is one of the best Turandots you'll ever hear. She is partnered by José Carreras, a rather light-voiced but impressive Calaf, seen here in his prime four years before he was diagnosed with leukemia—a disease he fought and conquered. Katia Ricciarelli is an ideal Liù, and the remainder of the cast uniformly strong. Lorin Maazel, who was director of the Vienna State Opera from 1982-1984, leads a powerful performance that misses not one bit of Puccini's lush scoring. Audio is stereo with no attempt at creating surround sound. There is some distortion at times, but this is a minor problem. If you enjoy Turandot you must have this video which is far superior to the 1987 Met performance that finds Marton in poor voice, although Plácido Domingo is a sterling Calaf, Leona Mitchell a sensitive Liù (see REVIEW).

Mussorgsky's composed his five-act opera Khovanshchina in St. Petersburg between 1872 and 1880. The composer wrote the libretto basing it on historical sources relating to the Moscow Uprising of 1682, the struggle between progressive and reactionary political factions during the time of Tsar Peter the Great, and the passing of old Muscovy before Peter's westernizing reforms. The opera was unfinished and unperformed when the composer died in 1881. Today it is best known for its orchestral preludes to acts I and IV, and "Dance of the Persian Slaves," (which seems out of place in an opera as somber as this), and Marfa's Prophecy. Rimksky-Kosakov revised and completed the work and it had its premiere in 1886. Shostakovich revised the opera in 1959 based on the original vocal score, and his version was performed frequently, and Stravinsky added a final chorus to the work. This new DVD is a performance recorded May 26 and 29, 2007 at the Gran Teatre del Liceu. Many years ago I saw a production of this opera at the Covent Garden Royal Opera House, which ended impressively as Khovansky's followers were enveloped in flames. You won't see that here. Director Stein Wings presents his own version of the opera editing as he felt appropriate, and the final death scene each of the Old Believers carries a lit candle which is blown out as the person symbolically died. It works with great effect, and the opera ends softly. Khovanshchina is presented in Russian with an adequate if not outstanding cast. Elena Zaremba's Marfa is dramatically strong, but her unevenness of production distracts. The chorus is outstanding. Video quality is fine, as is the audio. This is another view of an opera seldom presented (the Met didn't give it until 1950, with revivals in 1986, 1988 and 1999). There are other DVDs of this opera (which I have not seen) conducted by Claudio Abbado, Yuri Simonov and Valery Gergiev.

La Cambiale di matrimonio (The Bill of Marriage) is Rossini's first opera, a comic opera in one act composed in 1810 for Venice. The libretto was by Gaetano Rossi, who later collaborated with Rossini on Tancredi and Semiramide. Cambiale is a constant delight. Rossini's spirited music is perfect for the story about the bumbling English merchant Tobia Mill and his attempt to marry off his daughter Fanny to the wealthy Slook. The young lady is in love with Edoardo and there are many misunderstandings before the happy ending. This performance is superb with the entire cast having a great time and well able to cope with the score's florid writing. The single set works well, but the costume and makeup for Tobia Mill (baritone Paolo Bordogna) is overdone—he looks like a character from Planet of the Apes. Video is well done, but there is a problem with audio: in surround sound format the audio is out-of-sync with the video, very disturbing indeed—but you can avoid this by listening in the stereo mode. .

R.E.B. (April 2008)