VERDI: Simon Boccanegra
VERDI: La traviata
American baritone Sherrill Milnes is seen here at the height of his powers in this magnificent performance of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra filmed at the Metropolitan Opera in 1984. The production by Pier Luigi Pizzi came from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, but was revised so much by Tito Capobianco that it was virtually new. The splendid sets are grand, the dark lighting appropriate. Paul Plishka's Fiesco is perfection—what a reliable, first-class singer he has been at the Met for many years. James Levine's conducting is incredibly dynamic, the Met orchestra responds brilliantly. There is another Met Simon Boccanegra available. Levine also conducted it about a decade later featuring Vladimir Chernov, Kiri Te Kanawa and Plácido Domingo. The earlier performance is superior in most ways except for the leading soprano. Anna Tomowa-Sintow has a distressing vibrato and is hardly the "true Verdian soprano" John Ardoin called her. And Domingo's Adorno is another plus for the later set. Video and audio are excellent on both versions, and this 1984 performance is a splendid memento of one of the great American baritones of the past century.
Prokofiev composed his big-scale ballet Cinderella in 1944. It is filled with glorious music, often excerpted for presentation at. This DVD offers the ballet performed by Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo with choreography by Jean-Christophe Maillot who has his own conception of the ballet. The mother and father become principal characters, and the prince is not only looking for Cinderella, he is searching for " life and identity." There is no glass slipper; instead Cinderella's foot is sequined. If you're looking for an off-beat view of Cinderella, this surely is it, and it is entertaining indeed. Maillot's choreography is quite intricate to say the least, and the dancers obviously are having a great time as well as displaying remarkable technique.The second DVD has a detailed analysis of "the making of Cinderella," as well as a portrait of Bernice Coppieters, the remarkable dancer who is the fairy in this production. This performance seems to be filmed without an audience, but at the conclusion there is one. An odd fact about this DVD: no conductor or orchestra are listed either in the booklet or box, although in final screen credits they do state music is played by the Cleveland Orchestra with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting—they used the 1983 Decca recording. One wonders how this came to be? But it surely does guarantee perfection orchestral playing of a quality not usually experienced at ballet performances.
In December 2006 this site mentioned a new video of Verdi's Aida recorded at the Teatro Giuseppe Verdi in Busetto January 27, 2001 (REVIEW). This was a scaled-down production in a very small theater (it holds less than 350 people). Franco Zefferelli designed sets and worked closely with the young singers, and in spite of limited space, it is a very and often exciting performance of this masterpiece. Zefferelli also was involved in this production of La traviata given in the same venue, again working with a cast of young singers, with the exception of veteran Renato Bruson as Giorgio Germont. Scott Piper, who sang Radames in Aida, here is Alfredo and continues to impress as one of today's younger tenors. Violetta is the young soprano Stefania Bonfadelli who is admirable in many ways but does not challenge the greatest interpreters of this role—but she is young. Plácido Domingo conducts a score he has sung dozens of times. The Spanish dance company "La Corrala della Danza" adds much to the second act. The small-scale sets are effective, but this is not a Traviata of more than passing interest. Fausto Dall'Olio was in charge of TV and video and has chosen a preponderance of ultra close-ups which I find distracting—does anyone really want to see the singers that closeup? The second DVD also contains a feature on "The Making of La traviata," plus varied interviews.
R.E.B. (August 2008)