PIZZETTI: Murder in the Cathedral
JANÁCEK: From the House of the Dead
DONIZETTI: La Fille du Regiment
Eight years ago, this site mentioned a superb Hyperion CD of music of Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968) (see REVIEW). It is odd that music of this composer, championed by Toscanini and performed by major artists of his time, has fallen into neglect. Pizzetti's primary interest was the theater. He composed 13 operas, and the only two performed are Fedora (1915), and Murder in the Cathedral, and those rarely. The latter is based on T. S. Eliot's play of the same name, the story of Thomas Becket's murder by the knights of Henry II. The premiere at La Scala in 1958 featured Nicola Rossi-Lemeni and soprano Leyla Gencer as the First Woman of Canterbury. It was enthusiastically received. Herbert von Karajan was so impressed by Pizzetti's score he presented it in German in Vienna in 1960 with Hans Hotter and an all-star supporting cast including Walter Berry, Gerhard Stolze, Paul Schöffler, Anton Dermota and Christa Ludwig. Both this and the premiere are available on CD, fortunately. This DVD is a performance given in the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari December 22, 2006, staged by Daniele D'Onofrio with video direction by Tiziano Mancini. Ruggero Raimondi is the ill-fated archbishop with an excellent supporting cast. Conductor Piergiorgio Morandi makes much of the brief orchestral interludes. The orchestra is divided into two sections to permit processions, and the various choruses assemble throughout the vestibule. Camera work is effective, audio quality reflects the resonance of the church. Perhaps the most moving part of this 80-minute "opera" is the six-minute final chorus in which the crowd implores God for mercy and "blessed Thomas" to pray for them.
The House of the Dead, composed 1927-28, was Janácek's last opera, premiered two years after his death. The libretto, based on Dostoyevsky's Memories from the House of the Dead, relates the author's unfortunate experiences in prison. The House of the Dead is challenging for both performers and audiences, a bleak, depressing 100 minutes presented on a darkly-lit stage. Orchestration is highly complex, repetitative and the music is difficult for everyone concerned. This performance was recorded July 20, 2007 at Aix-en-Provence, Grand Théatre de Provence, as part of the Vienna Festival, directed by Patrice Chéreau. The "bonus" is considerable—Chéreau in rehearsal and in conversation with Boulez, Thierry Thieu Niang working on the two pantomimes, and Boulez in an orchestral rehearsal. Video and audio are first-rate, with subtitles in English, German, Spanish, and French. This surely is the definitive video of this opera.
Eons removed in mood and temperament from the two DVDs above is Virgin Classics' issue of the Royal Opera House production of La Fille du Regiment filmed in January 2007. This season's Met production of La Fille du Regiment with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez was one of their greatest successes, and now we can see what all the shouting was about. Dessay and Flórez work beautifully together. Flórez already has a DVD of this opera on Decca, with Patrizia Ciofi (REVIEW), and doubtless the Met also will release their performance on DVD—so collectors will be able to watch Flórez effortlessly tossing off those nine Act I high Cs in three performances. Dessay is spectaular as Marie, a hoot dramatically with a sense of timing and comedy rare among operatic singers, and, of course, a stunning voice. She is sheer delight, and the supporting cast is expert. Video is first-rate, sound of the highest quality. Highly recommended!
R.E.B. (May 2008