VIVALDI: Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons)
It seems odd Verdi's Aida had not been presented at La Scala for two decades until this glossy new production by Franco Zeffirelli premiered in December 2007. Although this obviously was a very expensive enterprise, it cannot match the Met 1988 production, also available on video (see REVIEW). In spite of La Scala's efforts, the results disappoint. The three principal singers aren't totally up to their tasks, although Riccardo Chailly's conducting is exceptional.This is the production that tenor Roberto Alagna abandoned after the second performance in response to booing from the audience after his "Celeste Aida." His performance taped here prior to that event is respectable enough although he doesn't really have the vocal heft for the role, but physically he impresses—there aren't many tenors around who look good when naked from the waist up. Violetta Urmana is not a true Verdi soprano, but by Act III is in good form. Ildiko Komlosi doesn't have the power for the role of Amneris and has the misfortune of spending a considerable amount of her time on stage waving her arms about, thanks to choreographer Vladimir Vassiliev. This production of Aida has one of the finest Act II ballets you'll ever see, and the leading dancers are spectacular. Credits for video/production are voluminous and it isn't quite clear who should be faulted for the poor video choices. The nervous camera darts about far too much, sometimes goes where it shouldn't, and there are numerous fadeouts to a bit of scenery and back—most annoying indeed. Audio is good enough, but this is not one of the better videos of Verdi's masterpiece. Curtain calls are intriguing; Alagna doesn't want to leave the stage. If you listen carefully in surround sound you can hear a boo or two from the right rear. For a worthy Aida, investigate Zefferelli's scaled-down 2001 production from Teatro Giuseppe Verdi (see REVIEW).
Herbert von Karajan made DGG recordings of Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana at La Scala in 1965, highly regarded among collectors. Three years later the conductor decided to make new versions for video that he would supervise "artistically". Audio was recorded at La Scala May 25 - June 2, 1968, filming at the Palazzo Ghiaccio in Milan May 27 - June 11 of that year. The result is a very mixed bag. Of course it is a pleasure to watch Jon Vickers as Canio, but singing from the rest of the cast in both operas is not as distinguished as what is heard on Karajan's earlier recordings—and here we must deal with inept amateurish video production and cameras often in the wrong place. Blame Karajan for this—he was in charge of "artistic supervision." Heard in 5.1 audio, the sound is weak with voices diffuse, but listening in two-track solves some of this problem. Skip this one.
In April 1981 violinist Gidon Kremer performed Vivaldi's Four Seasons leading the English Chamber Orchestra recorded in the baroque library of the monastery in Polling, near Munich. It is, as one would expect from a master violinist, a superbly insightful performance. The sound is resonant and satisfying although surely not true 5.1, and those who wish to have this music on video might well investigate it. Visually it is a bit distracting to watch Kremer performing. He is quite animated and often plays with his mouth open. This is not a concert performance, and one might wonder why more music wasn't included. This premium-priced DVD contains only 42 minutes of music; for less than half of that you can get the Anne-Sophie Mutter/Karajan DVD.
R.E.B. (May 2008)