FERENC FRICSAY - MUSIC TRANSFIGURED: REMEMBERING FERENC FRICSAY
Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina can be viewed in a new production of the Bavarian State Opera conducted by Kent Nagano. Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov is responsible for this and uprooted the opera from its historical setting electing to view the opera as a timeless tale of people ruled by passions and desire for power. Tcherniakov also did staging and costume designs. There are no elaborate costumes. The set often is divided into three cubicles.We can't tell where this version takes place, and aren't given any assistance in DVD notes or on-screen. Of course there is no immolation scene at the conclusion. This production isn't nearly as objectionable a treatment of an operatic masterpiece as happens so often today, but it hardly represents the grandeur or power of Mussorgsky. Video and audio are excellent.
Medidi Arts' DVD documentary of legendary Hungarian conductor Ferenc Fricsay is welcome. He was a phenomenal conductor. In 1949 he was appointed conductor of the RIAS Symphony, and 1954 became conductor of the Houston Symphony. Born in Hungary August 9, 1914, he died of cancer February 20, 1963, at the height of his career. He studied with Bartók and Kodály, and specialized in those composers although he also was known for his Mozart and Beethoven. This fascinating Gerald Caillat film includes rehearsals and commentary by conductors Antonino Pappano and Kurt Masur, as well as complete performances of Rossini's La scala di seta overture and Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3 with the Berlin Radio Symphony taped in London May 9, 1961. Video and audio are as good as could be expected. This is a valuable disk, a remembrance of an outstanding conductor whose life was all too short.
Cavalleria rusticana, premiered in Rome in 1980, was Pietro Mascagni's third opera and immediately it became a great hit and became a staple of all major opera houses. L'amico Fritz followed a year later and it, too, was widely accepted. Twelve opera followed, most of which have been neglected. One was Amica, a short opera (75 min.) with a libretto by Paul Bérel, and premiered in1905. Mascagni called it "a dramatic poem in two acts." The story takes place in the courtyard of a farm surrounded by fields and mountains. The young girl Amica who has been raised by the wealthy farmer Camione. She is to marry one of his orphan sons, Giorgio, but she is in love with Rinaldo, the other orphan son. Confused, she decides to kill herself by jumping into the waterfall, which she does after which Rinaldo sings of how Amica is gone forever - "fatal love." Much ado about nothing. It is hard to believe that Geraldine Farrar agreed to sing the premiere (which was a great success, probably because of her). DVD notes talk of the opera's extravagant scenic and vocal demands, none of which are met here. Sets are very basic, and the singing is enthusiastic but hardly memorable. An unintended comic effect occurs at the end when Amica, who has just jumped into the waterfall, appears mid-stage and rolls quickly to center stage almost falling into the orchestra pit. Video and audio are adequate, but only the staunchest admirers of Mascagni will wish to experience this.
R.E.B. (November 2009)