ORFF: Carmina Burana. BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3. HANDEL: Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah.
Sally Matthews, soprano; Lawrence Brownlee, tenor; Christian Gerhaher, baritone; Berlin Ruindfunkchor; Knabenchor des Staats-und Domchores Berlin; Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Sir Simon Rattle, cond.
EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 2053678 TT: 89 min
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Duets and arias from Il trovatore, Simon Boccanegra, Pique Dame, Hamlet, Norma, Nero, Oprichnik and Eugene Onegin; songs by Tchaikovsky, Medtner and Rachmaninoff
Renée Fleming, soprano; Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone; State Hermitage Orchestra (St. Petersburg Camerata)/Constantine Orbelian, cond. Ivari Ilja, piano; Olga Kern, piano
DECCA DVD VIDEO B0014647 TT: 91 min. + 23 min. bonus
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GOUNOD: Faust
Angela Gheorghiu (Marguerite); Roberto Alagna (Faust); Bryn Terfel (Mephistopheles); Simon Keenlyside (Valentin); Sophie Koch (Siebel); Della Jones (Marthe); Matthew Rose (Wagner); Royal Opera House Chorus and Orch/Aantonio Pappano, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVD VIDEO 3611 (2 disks) TT: 180 min.
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This 2004 New Year's Eve concert featured Sir Simon Rattle, soloists, choruses and the Berlin Philharmonic in Orff's Carmina Burana. The program began with Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3, and ended with Eugene Goossens' arrangement (for Sir Thomas Beecham) of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. As Sir Simon said to the audience after the Orff, "what can you do as an encore after Carmina?" He then went on to say we have all these singers on stage, and the ideal work would be the 'over the top' arrangement of Hallelujah Chorus. And the audience loved it, with its huge chorus and added percussion and cymbals. Carmina Burana is given a dynamic performance indeed, and the soloists are just fine. As so often happens nowadays, the camera gets too close too often—at one point, during Dulcissime, we have two different views of Sally Matthews' teeth. Audio is adequate, but rather bass-shy. You might investigate Beecham's 1959 recording of Messiah, available now at super-budget price. There's no other performance like it.

Admirers of Renée Fleming might enjoy this compilation of concert performances from three Russian venues. Called A Musical Odyssey in St. Petersburg, it was filmed in White Columns Hall of Yusupov Palace, the Baroque Theatre of the palace, and the Gold Ballroom of Peterhof Palace. The State Hermitage Orchestra is directed by Constantin Orbelian ; Ivari Ilja and Olga Kern are pianists for non-operatic works. Interspersed with the performances we have three brief travelogues of historic sites in St. Petersburg. Fleming is in top form, Hvorostovsky's voice is not as sterling as his reputation. Video and audio are excellent, but this does seem to be a bit of a hodgepodge.

Gounod's Faust has survived for decades since its premiere in 1859 which was a failure. When revived a few years later, Faust soon became immensely popular and became a staple of virtually every opera company. In 1883 it opened the Metropolitan Opera House and well over 700 performances have been given there since. Faust also doubtless will survive this latest David McVicar production filmed June 19, 2004 at the Royal Opera House that updates the scenario by a century, turns Marguerite into a barmaid, Méphistophéles into a drag queen, and Faust into a junkie (he is shooting up while the devil is singing his serenade). Singing is of an unusually high level, particularly Roberto Alagna and Bryn Terfel ,and we do have the luxury of Simon Keenlyside as Valentin. Conductor Pappano keeps things moving nicely. But Faust deserves a better production than this. Video and audio are excellent. It's interesting to note that during the curtain calls, Alagna kisses Gheorghiu's hand; obviously this was prior to their acrimonious divorce.

R.E.B. (December 2010)

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