VERDI: Aida
Daniela Dessi (Aida); Fabio Armiliato (Radamés); Elisabetta Fiorillo (Amneris); Stefano Palatchi (Il Re); Roberto Scandiuzzi (Ramfis); Juan Pons (Amonasro); Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu/Miguel Ángel Gómez, cond.
OPUS ARTE DVD OA 0894 D (2 DVDs) 5.1 surround TT: 186 min.
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RIMSKY-KORSAKAKOV: Le Coq d'Or
Albert Schagidullin (King Dodon); Ilya Levinsky (Prince Guidon); Andrei Breus (Prince Afron); Ilya Bannik (General Polkan); Elena Manistina (Amelfa); Barry Banks (Astrologer); Olga Trifonova (Queen of Shemakha); Yuri Maria Saenz (The Golden Cockerel); Chorus of the Marinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg; Orchestre de Paris/Kent Nagano, cond.
TDK DVUS-OPLCO 5.l surround TT: 108 min.

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PUCCINI: La Fanciulla del West
Mara Zampieri (Minnie); Placido Domingo (Dick Johnson); Juan Pons (Jack Rance); Sergio Bertocchi (Nick); Luigi Roni (Ashby); Antonio Salvadori (Sanora); La Scala Orchestra and Chorus;Lorin Maazel, cond.
OPUS ARTE DVD OA LS 3004 5.1 surround TT: 144 min.
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BIZET: Carmen
Belén Amparán (Carmen); Franco Corelli (Don José); Anselmo Colzani (Escamillo); Elda Ribetti (Micaela); Rena Gary-Falachi (Frasquita); Miti Truccato Pace (Mercedes); Antonio Cassinelli (Zuniga); Antonio Sacchetti (Dancairo); Vittorio Pandano (Remendado); Enzo Pieri (Morales); RAI Milan Television Chorus and Orch/Nino Sanzogno, cond.
HARDY CLASSC VIDEO HCD 4013 (mono) (black and white) TT: 143 min.
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This 1991 Italian Radio production of Puccini's La Fanciulla del West recorded during live performances at La Scala is magnificent in many ways. The same cast made an audio recording at the same time for Sony, which is still available. Placido Domingo is superb as Dick Johnson, at his peak of performance. The impossibly demanding role of Minnie, the "Girl of the Golden West," is well sung by Mara Zampieri, with Juan Pons a strong-voiced and sinister Jack Rance. Directed by Jonathan Miller, with realistic sets by Stefanos Lazaridis, costumes by Sue Blane and lighting by Vannio Vanni, visually the presentation is first-rate. The extensive curtain calls are included; conductor Lorin Maazel, whose ego is legendary, takes a solo bow, although his unimaginative conducting hardly warrants it. Color photography is just fine, with adequate if unexceptional stereo sound. Oddly, the complete libretto is provided in Italian but with no translations—but English subtitles are provided should you wish to read them on-screen. Recommended!

If Fanciulla represents opera on DVD at its near-best, this Aida is an example of a commonplace performance that hardly deserves preservation on DVD—except for the opportunity to see the seven magnificent sets designed by Manresa-born Josep Mestres Cabanes for a highly successful 1945 production of the opera in Barcelona's opera house, the Liceu. The naturalistic elaborate sets are made out of paper scenery mounted in wooden frames. All of these have been painstakingly restored, and are a delight to see. There is a brief documentary about the restoration process. The performance was recorded July 21 and 24 2003 in the Gran Theatre del Liceu. Daniela Dessi's Aida is adequate but little more—and did the costuming have to show that much cleavage? With the exception of Juan Pons' Amonasro, the remainder of the cast is unexceptional. Don't expect a lot of spectacle in the big scenes; the opera house seems rather small—just enjoy those beautiful sets. The surround sound is very effective. Two DVDs are used with the tracks identified but, for whatever reason, not numbered.

Rimsky-Korsakov's "fairy tale with a moral" Le Coq d'Or is given a spectacular performance on this new DVD. Many collectors are familiar with the suite from this opera and now can hear how the familiar orchestral excerpts fit into the opera. Le Coq d'Or, composed in 1907, was Rimsky-Korsakov's last opera. He never saw it produced as censors found the subject unflattering to Tsar Nicholas II and the conduct of the Russian-Japanese war at the time. Indeed, King Dodon is a dolt, as are his two sons. At the beginning of the opera a mysterious astrologer gives the King the Golden Cockerel which will warn him when enemies approach. Dodon is so grateful he agrees to give the astrologer whatever he asks, but the latter says he will later tell the king what he wants as a reward. As King Dodon is about to marry the beautiful Queen of Shemakha, the astrologer states he wants her for himself. The infuriated King kills the astrologer and then in turn is killed by the Golden Cockerel. In a brief epilogue the astrologer, returned to life, suggests that only he and the Queen were "real," all the others never existed except in dreams. This performance, choreographed by Kanshino Fujima, designed by Setsu Asakura, with costumes by Tomio Mohri, all in kabuki style, is visually stunning. It was recorded live at the Theatre Musical de Paris - Chatelet, in December 2002. All of the singers are excellent, although both sopranos have a somewhat edgy sound. Tenor Barry Banks is outstanding as the astrologer, the chorus is perfect, and Kent Nagano again shows he is one of the leading conductors of the day—and he takes his well-deserved bows at the end with the remainder of the cast.

The 1956 Italian radio film of Bizet's Carmen (reportedly one of the first Italian opera telecasts) is a fascinating document. The performance was recorded first, filmed later, so all concerned could concentrate on their acting. There aren't too many lip-sync problems, the mono sound and black/white photography are totally adequate. Don José was a major role in Franco Corelli's early career, and here we have him at the height of his powers. Histrionically he is totally convincing—and does any tenor have a right to be so handsome? Belén Amparán, born in El Paso, Texas in 1927, sang at the Met from 1956-1968 and is an effective, if rather matronly, cigarette girl. Anselmo Colzani sang at the Met from 1960-1978; he's a sturdy, secure Escamillo. Admirers of Carmen surely will wish to own this set. As for documentation, there is virtually none, no printed list of tracks, and on-screen I couldn't find information on acts two and three. It's inexcusable for Hardy Classic Video to be so inept in providing the purchaser basic information, particularly on full-price DVDs—but opera lovers still won't want to miss this one.

R.E.B. (September 2004)

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