VERDI: Macbeth
Zeljko Lucic (Macbeth); Maria Guleghina (Lady Macbeth); John Relyea (Banquo); Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs (Lady-in-waiting); Raymond Renault (Duncan); Russell Thomas (Malcolm); Dimitri Pittas (Macduff); Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Chorus and Orch/James Levine, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVD VIDEO 063049 TT: 155 min.

PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut
Karita Mattila (Manon Lescaut); Marcello Giordani (Des Grieux); Dwayne Croft (Lescaut); Sean Panikkar (Edmondo); Dale Travis (Geronte); Paul Plishka (Innkeeper); Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Chorus and Orch/James Levine, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVD VIDEO 174209 TT: 137 min.

HUMPERDINCK: Hansel and Gretel
Christine Schäfer (Gretel); Alice Coote (Hansel); Rosalind Plowright (Mother); Alan Held (Father); Sasha Cooke (Sandman); Lisette Oropesa (Dew Fairy); Philip Langridge (Witch); Metropolitan Opera Childrens' Chorus and Orch/Vladimir Jurowski, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVD VIDEO 063089 TT: 121 min.

The Metropolitan Opera has revolutionized bringing grand opera to the masses with their movie theater presentations. Here are three from last year, highlighted by Macbeth, presented in Adrian Noble's production with sets and costumes by Mark Thompson, far removed from any standard presentation of the opera. Vocally we are on firmer ground: Zeljko Lucic is an outstanding Macbeth, and Guleghina makes much of the role of Lady Macbeth. James Levine is, as usual, a strong force on the podium. Bonuses include a backstage tour of the Met and interviews with leading singers and Noble, as well as a "video blog" of Macbeth at the Met that is tempting as is illustrates superb singers of the past in more traditional settings. Of lesser interest is Manon Lescaut, not presented for 18 years at the Met, and revived for Karita Mattila. Many praised her performance, but others—including me—feel she is miscast in the role, with Marcello Giordani a wooden Des Grieux. I'd skip this one, and run quickly over Hansel and Gretel, which is seen in a weird and rather ominous new production by Richard Jones, with sets and costumes by John Macfarlane. This production previously was presented by the Welsh National Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago. It manages to eliminate all of the charm and beauty of Humperdinck's tale of lost children. The mother is a pill-pushing woman, the Witch, sung by Philip Langridge is a buxom society matron who actually climbs into the oven by herself in the climactic scene. Overall, sets are barren, costumes sometimes vivid, but this is a dismal operatic presentation in spite of the fine cast and conductor Vladimir Jurowski. Renée Fleming is hostess, and there are a number of behind-the-scenes views. Two friends of mine who know nothing about opera went to a performance of this at the Met to see what opera was all about—and left before it was over. I've tried to urge them to give the Met another chance. Almost anything else is better.

R.E.B. (October 2008)