BRITTEN: Peter Grimes
DUN: The First Emperor
PUCCINI: La Bohème
These are three of the finest of last season's Met movie theater presentations. Peter Grimes is a major addition to the DVD catalog, a powerful performance with a cast headed by Anthony Dean Griffey in the title role, and Patricia Racette as Ellen Orford, both of whom are vocally and histrionically perfect as the tragic doomed fisherman and the only woman who seemed to understand him. Almost as impressive is Tan Dun's The First Emperor, with a libretto based on incidents from the life of Qin Shi Huyang, who became his country's first emperor through brutal conquest. The Emperor is looking for an anthem to glorify the new nation and expected his friend Gao Jianli to compose it. But Jianli falls in love with the Emperor's crippled daughter although she is to marry the general. By opera's end, three of the principals are dead, either murder or suicide, and when the new "anthem" is played at the end of the opera, it turns out to be the slaves' song, Jianli's final revenge on the Emperor. The music successfully combines music of the East and West in a most imaginative way, and visually is spectacular. Costumes are stunning, as are the dances. We see Plácido Domingo in yet another role, and the entire cast is outstanding. Special features include rehearsals of the opera, and the late Beverly Sills in conversation with Domingo. Great video and audio as well; highly recommended.
There are well over a dozen DVDs currently available of La Bohème, but this one from the Met surely is among the finest. Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargás are in top form and totally convincing; the latter's final page is sung with taste and a welcome absence of excessive histrionics. This is the famous and to some overdone production by Franco Zefferelli, beautifully filmed, with fine audio to match. A bonus is a feature on Zefferelli at the Met, and backstage at the Met with Renée Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu, Ramón Vargás and Met Technical Director Joe Clark. You won't be disappointed by this Bohème.
R.E.B. (October 2008)