ALFANO: Cyrano de Bergerac
SHCHEDRIN: The Seagull Ballet
MOZART: Don Giovanni
In July 2005 this site mentioned a DVD of Alfano's Cyrano de Bergerac, a fine performance featuring Roberto Alagna, the composer's original version sung in French in a production from Montpellier (REVIEW). Now we have this performance filmed at the grand Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia' in Valencia during three performances in February 2007. Plácido Domingo wished to sing the title role and to accommodate him, the Met produced it several seasons ago. Cyrano is often very beautiful indeed, with a rapturous love duet between Roxane and the unseen Cyrano. Domingo, a marvel of the operatic world, is at his best both dramatically and vocally. Sondra Radvanovsky is in spectacular form as Roxane. Sets and costumes are simple and appropriate, with excellent video and audio, although the surround sound isn't quite up to the level of Alagna's recording. This is an opera that should be better known as proof that Alfano did much more than write a much maligned ending for Turandot. I imagine most viewers would prefer the Domingo version for its authority and the remarkable singing of Radvanovsky.
Famed Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya married composer Rodion Shchedrin in 1958. For her he wrote music for the Carmen Ballet, which became a hit in the purely orchestral version as well as a showcase for his wife's incredible dancing. which can be seen in a video made in 1969 (REVIEW). He also wrote the score for Anna Karenina which is available on video in a performance filmed 1980 (REVIEW). In 1985 he wrote yet another—Lady With a Lapdog. Now we have The Seagull based on Chekhov's play. premiered at the Bolshoi in 1980. Plisetskaya was fascinated by the tragic role of Nina Zarechnaya, Plisetskaya was choreographer, as she was for all of her husband's ballets written for her. The Seagull is about unhappy, unfulfilled people. Characters do not love those who love them, and there is an overall morbid atmosphere. This is, reflected in Shchedrin's score, which consists of 24 polyphonic preludes, one postlude and three interludes scored for a small orchestra, sometimes imitating the shrieking sounds of the seagull. We could consider this performance to be definitive although there is is some confusion about dates. The VAI issue states it was recorded at the Bolshoi in 1982. This ballet has also been issued on Arthaus Musik at a slightly lower price. The performance, with the same cast, is identified on that issue as dating from 1980. Contents are somewhat different: Arthaus Musik includes "trailers," three of them: short excerpts from Bigonzetti's Caravaggio with the Berlin State Ballet, excerpts from Paquita from the Paris Opera in 2003, and Svadebko from the Netherlands Dance Theater.
Simon Keenlyside is today's reigning Don Giovanni. In 1998 he recorded the role with Claudio Abbado conducting. The video of his 2006 performance from Zürich conducted by Franz Welser-Möst has been reviewed on this site (REVIEW). In that rather odd updated production, Keenlyside's athletic performance, combined with his formidable vocal gifts, stole the show. This Royal Opera House production was filmed September 8 & 12, 2008 at Covent Garden. Francesca Zambello was the director with colorful sets and costumes by Maria Björnson. Directors seem to appreciate the fact that Keenlyside is in relatively good physical shape (although he's gained some pounds since the Zürich video), and this is, indeed, a very active Don who sings much of the role in varied states of undress. It is his singing that counts, and he is superb—and joined by an all-star cast that could hardly be bettered. Kyle Ketelsen is outstanding as Leporello, Joyce DiDonato an imperious Donna Elvira, although Eric Halfvarson's Commendatore isn't as imposing as it could be. Mozart specialist Charles Mackerras leads a spirited performance which has been beautifully filmed and recorded. An excellent issue of Mozart's masterpiece.
R.E.B. (December 2009)