CHRISTA LUDWIG "The Birthday Edition"
Music of Schubert, Wolf, Mahler, Strauss, and Leonard Bernstein + A Master Class with Christa Ludwig"
ARTHAUS MUSIC DVD VIDEO 102 089 (2 disks) TT: 116 +111
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JESSYE NORMAN - A Portrait
Music of Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, Mahler, Ravel and Wagner
DECCA DVD VIDEO 074 3251 TT: 90 min
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An Evening with Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti
Music of Verdi and Donizetti
DECCA DVD VIDEO 074 3229 TT: 115 min.
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Two of the most respected prima donnas are featured on two special issues. Mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig's career began in 1946 when at the age of 18 she sang Orlevsky in Die Fledermaus in Frankfurt. For more than three decades she was a major singer with the Vienna State Opera in a wide variety of roles, and appeared in most major opera houses to great acclaim. Ludwig also was known for her lieder recitals. Although a mezzo, she also sang soprano roles and was, for some, the definitive Dyer's Wife in Die frau ohne schatten. This 2-DVD set features Schubert's Die Winterreise, and songs by Wolf, Mahler, Strauss and Bernstein, all with pianist Charles Spencer, recorded in Athens in 1994. Also there is a fascinating Master Class recorded in Vienna in 1999. A quality production, of great interest. It is unfortunate it doesn't include some live performances from her distinguished career.

Fans of Jessye Norman surely will enjoy this "Portrait" conceived by André Heller, who also conducted many brief informal interviews filmed in the luxurious Jardin Majorelle and Guest Palace Ksar Chat-Bagh in Marrakech, Mororro, in 2005. In these, Norman discusses just about everything you might wish to know about her. Interspersed with these vignettes there are 13 staged performances in studio settings designed by artists including Arnulf Rainer, Peter Kogler and Brian Eno. These are lyp-synced to recordings made by Norman when in her prime including the Liebestod from Tristan with Karajan and one of the Four Last Songs with Masur, It's all very tastefully done and beautifully photographed. No texts, but there are subtitles in English, French, German and Spanish.

An Evening with Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti was a gala program broadcast live on Public Television January 11, 1987.Sutherland had been a favorite at the Met for years ever since her first performance there in November 1961 in Lucia di Lammermoor; her last appearance was a gala concert in December 1989. Pavarotti made his Met debut in November 1968 in La Bohème; his final performance was in Tosca March 13, 2003. Sutherland sang 230 performances at the Met, Pavarotti sang 383, a remarkable record for both. On this DVD we see them in Act III of La Traviata, two scenes from Lucia di Lammermoor, and Act III of Rigoletto. Performances are what one would expect, and there is much excitement throughout. Kirk Browning's video direction is appropriate, and audio, by Jay David Saks, is just fine. This is a major memento of two superb artists.

R.E.B. (May 2008)

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