PUCCINI: La Fanciulla del West
Antionetta Stella (Minnie); Gastone Limarilli (Dick Johnson); Anselmo Colzani (Jack Rance); Mario Guggia (Nick);Bruno Marangoni (Jake Wallace/Ashby); Arturo La Porta (Sonora); Anna Di Stasio (Wowkie); Nikikai Chorus Group; Fujiwara Opera Chorus Group; NHK Symphony Orch/Oliviero De Fabritiis, cond.
VIDEO ARTISTS INTERNATIONAL DVD 4439 TT: 131 min + 24 min bonus

PUCCINI: Gianni Schicchi
Felicity Palmer (Zita); Marie McLaughlin (La Ciesca); Riccardo Novaro (Marco); Massimo Giordano (Rinuccio); Alessandro Corbelli (Gianni Schicchi); Sally Matthews (Lauretta); London Philharmonic Orch/Vladimir Jurowski, cond.

RACHMANINOFF: The Miserly Knight
Richard Berkeley-Steele (Albert); Sergei Leiferkus (The Baron); Maxim Mikhailov (Servant); Viacheslav Voynarovskiy (Moneylender); Albert Schagidullin (The Duke);London Philharmonic Orch/Vladimir Jurowski, cond.

BIRTWISTLE: The Minotaur
John Tomlinson (The Minotaur); Johan Reuter (Theseus); Christine Rice (Ariadne); Andrew Watts (Snake Priestess); Philip Longridge (Hiereus); Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Antonio Pappano

This is a remarkable performance of La Fanciulla del West, filmed in Tokyo November 2, 1963, the first time the opera was ever presented in Japan. The cast is excellent, often superb, particularly Antionetta Stella as Minnie—she is thrilling throughout, particularly in the act II finale. Gastone Limarilli is adequate as Dick Johnson, Anselmo Colzano's Jack Rance is appropriately ominous. Puccini's wonderful score is played well by the Japanese orchestra under veteran conductor Oliviero De Fabritiis. This is an exciting performance, not to be missed.The black and white photography is adequate with limited camera angles. Japanese surtitles are embedded in the original video; English, German or Spanish surtitles are seen over them. A plus is a 24-minute interview with Stella recorded in Rome this year when she was 78. In this she is a gracious grand diva who casually recalls her career and her performing with Corelli and other legendary singers of the era. Don't miss this one!

About three years ago, Opus Arte issued this performance of The Miserly Knight on a single disk, and we mentioned in the REVIEW that it seemed odd they didn't also include Gianni Schicchi which was presented on the Glyndebourne concert. Well, now it has, and via the Blu-Ray format, sounding and looking even better than on the standard DVD. The coupling of Gianni Schicchi and The Miserly Knight does seem rather odd, although not as far-fetched as a half century ago when the Met presented Schicchi before Strauss's Salome! Annabel Arden directed both Schicchi and Knight; the DVD booklet contains an article by her in which she explains similarities between the two. Both of these operas are splendidly presented—first-rate singers, state-of-the-art video and audio, and Vladimir Jurowski's commanding presence on the podium. Included are cast galleries, illustrated synopses and interviews with performers.

Covent Garden's Royal Opera has had far more than its share of blood and gore recently. Their David McVicar production of Salome earlier this year with Nadja Michael in the title role (see REVIEW) was drenched with red, and now we have Harrison Birtwhistle's The Minotaur, commissioned by the Royal Opera. This had its premiere April/May of this year, and is even bloodier. The composer wrote the opera as a vehicle for John Tomlinson, with a libretto by David Harsent. The Minotaur, half man, half beast, is imprisoned in a labyrinth on the island of Crete. Once a year there must be a sacrifice of innocent young men and women. The opera vividly depicts their rape and massacre after which a group of harpies rip the bodies apart and feast on them. Ariadne, half-sister to the Minotaur, in an attempt to escape from Crete, entices a reluctant Theseus to take her with him after he fights and kills the man/beast. In the final scene, the wounded Minotaur gains the ability to speak and expresses the emptiness of his life and the curse of his parentage—and when he dies, a harpie appears to eat him. Grand Guignol, indeed! The roles of Ariadne and the Minotaur, ungratefully written for the voices, are incredibly demanding and brilliantly sung by Christine Rice and Tomlinson. The stark production directed by Philip Langridge is effective. Birtwhistle's music does not appeal to me, and this seems to be more theatre than opera. It seems unlikely this "opera" will be produced by another opera company. The DVDs include a helpful illustrated synopsis of the plot, and a brief interview with composer, librettist and featured singers. I don't plan to watch this again.

R.E.B. (December 2008)