'LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS - THE 100TH SEASON"
KHACHATURIAN: Spartacus Ballet
This recording of the Last Night of the Proms filmed September 10, 1994, is an absolute delight. Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944) conducted Proms concerts for a half-century, and gave British premieres of many major works including four Mahler symphonies (1, 4, 7 and 8), and many other works that are now standard repertory. As a tribute to him, the program includes three of his works: Fantasia on British Sea Songs, and his arrangements of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, and Handel in the Strand. Walton's Belshazaar's Feast is given a magnificent performance, with Byrn Terfel (who the following year would make his famous recording of the work with Andrew Litton on the podium). Evelyn Glennie is in spectacular form playing the Creston concerto and Miki's percussion-laced Marimba Spiritual, joined by three players from the BBC Symphony. We do have the expected favorites (Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1), Rule Britannia, Jerusalem, God Save the Queen, and Auld Lang Syne), all enthusiastically played and received by the huger audience, which seems to be in a particularly festive mood. Often during the music (but not during the Walton) one heard balloons popping, and the audience is very active most of the time. Surround sound is not an option on this recording, but the sound is wide in dynamic range and totally satisfying (listen to that Royal Albert Hall organ!). A CD is provided of the concert, omitting the Kabalevsky and Creston works, and Handel in the Strand. No explanation of why this included—perhaps producers thought you might like to listen to some of the concert in your car.
This new Rigoletto offers a splendid performance filmed at the Zurich Opera House in 2006. Veteran baritone Leo Nucci (he made his debut in 1967) is a perfect Rigoletto, with two major young stars on the operatic scene: Romanian soprano Elena Mosuc and Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, both favorites in Zurich. They are attractive and vocally secure. Moscu has coloratura to spare and an outstanding trill; Beczala is fearless on those high notes and holds on to them. Respected conductor Nello Santi made his debut in 1951 leading Rigoletto, and was 75 at the time of this performance. In spite of his dour facial expression, the orchestra plays beautifully for him—and he does smile during curtain calls. Gilbert Deflo was in charge of stage direction,the simple sets were designed by William Orlandi. Rigoletto wears a black suit and tie at the end of the opera. Video and sound are fine—this is one of the better videos of Verdi's masterpiece.
There are now four "complete" videos of Khachaturian's ballet Spartacus. Recently on this site we mentioned the extraordinary new one from the Bolshoi Ballet featuring Carlos Acosta (REVIEW). This Australian Ballet performance was filmed in 1990, with choreography and libretto by László Seregi who has a totally different view of the ballet than Yuri Grigorovich whose choreography has been used at the Bolshoi since 1958. While there is plenty of action in Seregi's version, Grigorovich's has more. Sergei changes the plot considerably, particularly omitting Spartacus's wife, Phyrgia, so the famous Adagio is danced by Spartacus and Flavia. This is a particularly disappointing episode in Sergei's version, as the thrilling climax of this section is danced solely by Flavia (!!). In the first scene, Spartacus, danced by Steven Heathcote (who has performed the role often for the company) is hanging on a cross, with a rather odd expression on his face, and this is only one example of the sometimes comic, and inappropriate, staging. Some of the scenes with Crassus look like leftovers from an old production of Sleeping Beauty. Skip this one - if you want Spartacus, get the recent Acosta version.
R.E.B. (January 2009)