PUCCINI: Turandot
Eva Marton (Turandot); Michael Sylvester (Calaf); Lucia Mazzaria (Liù); Kevin Langan (Timur); Theodore Baerg (Ping); Dennis Peterson (Pang); Craig Estep (Pong); San Francisco Opera Chorus and Orch/Donald Runnicles, cond.
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD VIDEO 100 089 TT: 123 min.

VERDI: Otello
Plácido Domingo (Otello); Barbara Frittoli (Desdemona); Leo Nuci (Iago); Rossana Rinaldi (Emilia); Cesare Catani (Cassio); Antonello Ceron (Roderigo); Giovanni Battista Parodi (Lodovico);Cesare Lana (Montano); Ernesto Parariello (Herald); Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala/Riccardo Muti, cond.
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD VIDEO 107 090 TT: 140 min.

SHOSTAKOVICH: Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat, Op. 107. PROKOFIEV: Sinfonia Concertante in E minor, Op. 125.
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello; London Symphony Orch/Charles Groves, cond. (Shostakovich); Monte Carlo National Opera Orch/Okko Kamu, cond. (Prokofiev)

This Turandot was taped in 1994 in the San Francisco Opera House. It is a co-production between that group and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, designed by David Hockney with costumes by Ian Falconer and lighting (very important in this production) by Thomas J. Munn. Much of the scenery is projected (although there is a physical staircase), and effects are achieved by lighting. Often the stage is in bright red or blue, and it works. This is Eva Marton's third video of Turandot, and she negotiates the difficult part very well, but not as securely as she did in the Vienna State Opera production of 1983 with José Carreras and Lorin Maazel conducting (REVIEW), or in the bloated Met Ziffirelli production in 1987 with Plácido Domingo and James Levine on the podium (REVIEW). American tenor Michael Sylvester is more than adequate as the Prince; he has a Pavarotti appearance but surely not a Pavarotti voice. Lucia Mazzaria is a touching Liù. This overall is a fine performance, and Brian Large's video is usually focused where it should be. Audio is only in stereo, and the singers are not picked up very clearly. There are 53 tracks.

This Otello is a major releases for several reasons. Taped at La Scala in December 2001, it was the final production before the fabled house was closed for three years for renovation. It also marked Plácido Domingo in what apparently was his final appearance as the Moor, a role he had already sung for a quarter-century. Barbara Frittoli was a touching, secure Desdemona, and Leo Nucci in top form as Iago. As one would expect with Riccardo Muti conducting we have a taught, powerful reading of Verdi's magnificent score. Ezio Frigerio's sets are simple but effective, Franca Squarciapino designed the costumes. Graham Vick directed the production. Audio is good enough although surely not 5.1 surround. Video director Carlo Battistoni has more close-ups than I would care to see, although because of these we can see that Otello really didn't kill Desdemona—she is still breathing. There are 47 cuing tracks. An important release! Also check out Domingo's Met performance of 1996 conducted by James Levine (REVIEW).

About 6 years ago EMI Classics issued an important DVD not previously mentioned on this site. Mstislav Rostropovich is seen performing two major works of the repertory, Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1 (which is dedicated to him), and Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante (written by the composer with assistance from the cellist). The Shostakovich is a BBC studio performance from December 16, 1961 with the London Symphony conducted by Charles Groves. As the DVD notes point out, you can see Barry Tuckwell playing the important horn solos in the work. The black and white video is well managed with many close-ups of Rostropovich. The Prokofiev was recorded during the MIDEM gala concert in Cannes with a very young Okko Kamu conducting the Monte Carlo National Orchestra. This is a color video before an audience and again the video is excellent giving us ample opportunity to watch the cellist's incredible playing. A considerable bonus is a performance of Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death with soprano Galina Vishnevskaya accompanied at the piano by Rostropovich. It is a magnificent performance filmed January 20, 1970 at the ORTF in Paris, and it is a pleasure to watch the histrionic interpretation by the famed soprano.

R.E.B. (November 2009)