HENZE: Der junge Lord.
Edith Mathis (Luise); Donald Grobe (Wilhelm); Barry McDaniel (Sekretär); Loren Driscoll (Lord Barrat); Vera Little (Begonia); Manfred Röhrl (Burgomeister); Margarete Ast (Baronin Grünwiesel); Bella Jasper (Ida); Schöneberger Sängerknaben, Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin/Christoph von Dohnányi.
Medici Arts DVD 2072398 () () TT: 135:30

VERDI: Il trovatore
José Cura (Manrico); Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Count di Luna); Yvonne Naef (Azucena); Veronica Villarroel (Leonora); Tómas Tómasson (Ferrando); Gweneth-Ann Jeffers (Ines); Thomas Barnard (Old Gypsy); Royal Opera House Chorus and Orch/Bernard Haitink, cond.

TCHAIKOVSKY: Eugene Onegin
Renée Fleming (Tatiana); Elena Zaremba (Olga); Ramón Vargas (Lenski); Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Eugene Onegin); Svetlana Volkova (Madame Larina); Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.
DECCA BLU-RAY DVD 074 3298 TT: 156 min. incl. features

Quite nice. I know I'm in the minority, but I'm not a big fan of music DVDs. Only in rare cases -- watching a conductor's technique, for example -- do I want to see a performance. Since most opera production and especially opera acting is so abominably amateurish, I don't feel I've missed all that much. I greatly prefer to listen to CDs.

The satirical Der junge Lord ranks as one of Henze's best works. It's not particularly deep, but does have wit, thanks not only to Henze's musical jokes (at one point during a town's official welcome of an English lord, the chorus breaks out into Mozart's praise of the pasha from Die Entführung aus dem Serail) but to poet Ingeborg Bachmann's devastating libretto.

Big doings in a provincial German town: an English lord is taking up residence. All the leading citizens show up, the mayor has prepared a speech (and insists on practicing it before the Englishman arrives), and children are practicing their welcome anthem. The lord is late, and the townsfolk keep mistaking parts of his entourage for the lord himself. When the lord finally alights from his carriage, his secretary tells one and all that the lord will skip the ceremony and all the other delights the town has planned. We also meet the young lovers, Wilhelm, an impoverished student, and Luise, the prettiest and richest girl in town. Naturally, they are kept apart by her guardian, the snobbish Baroness Flora Grünwiesel.

It turns out that the lord, Sir Edgar, refuses all invitations (indeed, he never leaves his house), and this turns the leading citizens against him. A small circus troupe comes to town. Miracle of miracles! Sir Edgar appears to attend the street show. The burghers are so enraged that they insist on closing the troupe down and running them off. Sir Edgar invites the circus folk into his home. Sensation!

In the dead of winter, the town lamplighter hears strange, horrible noises coming from Sir Edgar's place. The burghers show up at the door and demand to know what's going on. The secretary tells them that Sir Edgar's son, Lord Barrat, has arrived for study at German universities. The strange noises they heard were merely the young man learning German, "a most difficult tongue," so that he can take his place among their society. This completely turns the town around, now pleased as punch that Sir Edgar and Lord Barrat will condescend to them.

Lord Barrat turns out to be a little strange, but the town chooses to regard his behavior as another charming example of English eccentricity. The girls, including Luise, fawn over him, the men imitate his manner and his dress. This annoys Wilhelm, who regards the young lord as a lout. In a fit of jealousy, Wilhelm insults Barrat and loses Luise.

Cut to a ball. The town expects an announcement of the engagement of Barrat and Luise by evening's end. Wilhelm is there, pining for Luise and eating his heart out. For her part, Luise seems a bit torn, but she decides in favor of Barrat. However, Barrat's behavior becomes so strange, that Sir Edgar is forced to reveal the young lord's true identity: an ape in men's clothing. Wilhelm and Luise are reunited because even in Germany there are laws against interspecies marriage.

The satirical point couldn't be plainer.

Musically, the work takes off from Stravinsky's Rake's Progress. Although not as monumental as that earlier score, Der junge Lord still beats out most contemporary operas. Henze has the ability to get at least three separate plot points going in the same number and to make them crystal clear. I enjoy Henze's operas far more than his instrumental works, as a matter of fact. I think him a marvelous dramatist, if not necessarily a manufacturer of hits.

The production is miles beyond almost anything you find in the United States, including the Met. If the script doesn't require much in the way of acting, at least the singers know how to take a stage, and the direction is superb. I lived in a small German town for a while, and the actors really have the types down. The sets and costumes evoke the Biedermeier era, with gentlemen in top hats and breeches and women in lace caps and so many petticoats, they resemble gossamer toilet plungers. All this helps the comedy. Edith Mathis as Luise is simply adorable, Barry McDaniel appropriately oily (and slightly sinister) as the secretary, and the townspeople slightly grotesque, as befits a satire. The camera work isn't as spectacular as, say, Bergman's in The Magic Flute. Indeed, it captures a staged production. Nevertheless, it's efficient and clarifies the action.

S.G.S. (January 2009)

About five years ago this site unenthusiastically reviewed this 2002 Royal Opera House production of Il trovatore (REVIEW). Here it is now on Blu-Ray at a cost of about $10 more than the regular DVD. There are many commendable performance of this opera on CD; unfortunately that is not the case on video. Let us wait, and hope.

This performances of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin was presented at the Met in February 2007 and televised nationally. It features soprano Renée Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as the unfortunate lovers, Tatiana and Onegin. Ramón Vargas is the unfortunate Lenski, Elena Zaremba is Tatiana's sister, Olga. With Valery Gergiev at the podium we can be sure of orchestral excitement, and this DVD affords the opportunity to watch his conducting style and fluttering hand movements. The performance is excellent throughout, chemistry between Fleming and Hvorostovsky particularly obvious during the sad final scene. Costumes are appropriate, but otherwise the production is almost bare bones, with a very basic set. Decca's film of this opera that uses the 1974 Decca recording conducted by Sir Georg Solti as its soundtrack is much more lavish in design and execution. Video and audio on the new issue are outstanding. As a bonus we have excerpts from rehearsals for the opera, and a Beverly Sills' brief interview with Fleming and Hvorostovsky backstage at the Met recorded shortly before Sills died from cancer at the age of 78.

R.E.B. (January 2009)