WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde
CILEA: Adriana Lecouvreur
VERDI: Simon Boccanegra
GREAT SINGERS OF RUSSIA - Volume II - From Petrov to Kazarnovskaya
The Met's production of Tristan und Isolde dates from 1999. Designed by Jürgen Rose and directed by Dieter Dorn, it was generally well-received, but more for the quality of singing than anything else. The stage generally is bare, often the singers are in silhouette, not very flattering considering the girth of the two principals. Both Jane Eaglen and Ben Heppener are magnificent vocally in their roles and perform the Act II love duet uncut—although, oddly, at the passionate conclusion, they are six feet apart seated on a bench in silhouette. Katarina Dalayman is a superb Brangäne, René Pape a fine King Marke. But the real stars of this production are James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra—as well as producer Brian Large and audio producer Jay David Saks. The 5.1 surround sound is glorious in every way. This is about as fine a Tristan as you will hear today, and highly recommended if you don't mind the stark design.
Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur is a dramatic showcase for a soprano. Written in 1902, it's an opera about an actress and a wealthy princess both in love with the same man (Maurizio). The jealous princess sends the actress a bouquet of poisoned violets and she dies just as Maurizio declares his love for her. The plot is quite trivial, but there is some wonderful music with two big arias for the soprano, "Il son l'umile ancella" in the first act, "Poveri fiori, gemme de' prati" from the last. The opera was a favorite of Renata Tebaldi who recorded it with Mario del Monaco and Giulietta Simionato, also of Renata Scotto who recorded it with Placido Domingo and Elena Obratzsova. It also was a a showcase for the legendary Magda Olivero. Adriana Lecouvreur needs star power to be effective and this DVD of a La Scala production of January 2000 falls quite short. Best of the three principals is Olga Borodina whose rich mezzo creates an imperious Princess. In the title role Daniela Dessi doesn't impress either vocally or physically, Serge Larin takes a while to get warmed up and by the final act is in good form. Photograpy is excellent, the surround sound fine. This is the only DVD of this opera. To experience what this opera should sound like, check out the audio recordings with Tebaldi or Scotto.
After the enormous success of Verdi's Rigoletto in 1851, Il trovatore and La traviata two years later, the composer was approached by management of La Fenice to write a new opera. Verdi chose the story of Simon Boccanegra who in 1339 was elected Doge of Genoa, attempted to reconcile the two rival parties of the plebeians and the patricians, survived two assassination attempts and finally was poisoned in 1363. Simon Boccanegra is one of Verdi's lesser-known operas with none of the show-stopping arias in his previous operas, although among connoisseurs it is highly favored for its effective orchestration. The opera is a favorite of conductor Claudio Abbado whose 1977 DG recording has been greatly admired. This DVD was filmed at the Teatro Comunale in Florence, June 2002, directed by Peter Stein with rather stark sets by Stefan Mayer and costumes by Moidele Bickel. With the exception of soprano Karita Mattila, who was a sensation this season in the Met's new production of Salome, the cast is adequate but unexceptional. Aside from Mattila, the star of this production is conductor Claudio Abbado whose love for the dark orchestral sounds is always evident. The surround sound is superb.
The second volume of Great Singers from Russia is almost as memorable as the first (see REVIEW). Most of the films seem to be filmed to recordings as often there are lip-sync problems. On both volumes of the Great Singers there is a lack of documentation including performance sites, dates and sources. Soprano Ljuba Kazarnovskaya again is host, along with Joan Dornemann, who is vocal coach and an assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. As with the first DVD in this series, there aren't enough tracks—often there are intriguing performance excerpts that aren't mentioned in the brief information provided. For example, famous bass Ivan Petrov, who sang at the Bolshoi for four decades, is interviewed rather extensively and we see him in an excerpt from Prince Igor and one from Boris—these are on track 4, not tracked or identified individually. Petrov proves to be a charmer as he recalls his own career and other famous singers of his time. His recollections include a meeting with the daughter of the famous Feodor Chaliapin who gave him a ring her father had worn during his performances of Boris Godunov.
A real gem is a young—and incredibly beautiful—Galina Vishnevskaya singing Ritorna vincitor from Aida, one of the rare remaining videos of the soprano as everything else was destroyed when she fled Russia. There are some other extraordinary performances here: tenor Zrab Andzhaparize in arias from Rigoletto and The Queen of Spades as well as a duet from Aida with mezzo Irina Arkhipova. Arkhipova and Mario del Monaco are seen in a dynamic final scene from Carmen, rather odd as it's a French opera but the tenor sings in Italian, the soprano in Russian—but what a thrilling performance! Arkhipova is also seen in a short excerpt from Khovanshchina and we see a brief excerpt from one of her masterclasses. Baritone Yuri Mazurok is splendid in Eri tu from A Masked Ball, and coloratura soprano Bella Rudenko sings most of the Bell Song from Lakmé. Bass Evgeny Nesterenko is heard in a concert performance of an excerpt from Prince Igor, Elena Obraztsova in the Habanera from Carmen and a magnificent O don fatale from Don Carlo. Tenor Vladimir Atlantov, who seems to be Russia's version of Franco Corelli, is seen in arias from Pagliacci and Tosca. Then we progress a number of years for Olga Borodina singing Una voce poco fa from The Barber of Seville, and a very young Dmitri Hvorostovsky singing the Largo al factotum from the same opera. The program ends with hostess Ljuba Kazarnovskaya in recital singing a folk song called Song of Zemphira, an impassioned Addio del passato from La traviata—and two excerpts from a live performance of Salome. We see part of the Dance of the Seven Veils (not very imaginatively done), and part of the final scene (but, surprisingly, not the final pages). Kazarnovskaya's rich voice, with its wide vibrato surely isn't appropriate for this role. While she is a fine singer, she cannot match artistry of other singers on this DVD. In spite of lack of important documentation, both of these VAI DVDs are essential for opera collectors.
R.E.B. (April 2004)