MUSSORGSKY: Night on Bare Mountain. KHACHATURIAN: Spartacus and Phygia from Spartacus. WAGNER: Rienzi Overture. ELGAR: Salut d'amour, Op. 12. TCHAIKOVSKY: Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. Arias from Rusalka, Capriccio, Die tote Stadt, La Bohème (Puccini), La Bohème (Leoncavallo), and Turandot; Strauss: Zueignung, Op. 10 No. l
Renée Fleming, soprano; Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Ion Marin, cond.
|EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 2058074 (Blu-Ray) TT: 125 min

Karita Mattila (Tosca); George Gagnidze (Scarpia); Marcelo Álvarez (Cavaradossi); David Pittsinger (Angelotti); Paul Plishka (Sacristan); Joel Sorensen (Spoletta); Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orch/Joseph Colanen, cond.

ULLMANN: The Broken Jug
James Johnson (Adam); Bonaventura Bottone (Licht); Steven Humes (Walter); Elizabeth Bishop (Frau Marthe); Melody Moore (Eve); Jason Stearns (Veit Trümpel); Richard Cox (Ruprecht); Natasha Flores (Frau Brigitte); Los Angeles Opera Chorus and Orch/James Conlon, cond.
Rodrick Dixon (The Dwarf); Mary Dunleavy (Donna Clara); Susan B. Anthony (Ghita); James Johnson (Don Estoban); MelodyMoore (First Maid); Lauren McNeese (Second Maid); Elizabeth Bishop (Third Maid); Karen Vuong (First Playmate); Rena Harms (Second Playmate); Los Angeles Opera Chorus and Orch/James Conlon, cond.

Renée Fleming was featured guest at the final concert in Berlin's Waldbühne 2010 season before an audience of 22,000. She was in her best vocal state that night, radiant in arias by Korngold, Puccini and the final scene from Strauss's Capriccio. Conductor Ion Marin led an impassioned account of the Spartacus Adagio as well as music by Tchaikovsky and Wagner. In the customary finale at these concerts, Lincke's Berliner Luft, horn and trumpet players performed their parts on African vuvuzelas alluding to the World Cup the German football team had won that afternoon. Video and audio are excellent. This is a highly entertaining concert in every way.

Luc Bondy's new production of Tosca opened the Met's 2009 season to negative reviews and some of the loudest booing ever heard in the house, and for good reason. The singing is adequate if not outstanding—Mattila, in spite of her vocal prowess, is not ideal for the title role. This is an ill-advised, arbitrary production, often tasteless and unconvincing, ignoring Puccini's specific stage directions. At the end of the first act, Scarpia erotically embraces the statue of the Madonna, at the beginning of the second act, he is seen cavorting with three prostitutes, and after Tosca stabs Scarpia, she doesn't place candles around his body or put a crucifix on his chest as Puccini specifically wished. In the final scene, Tosca fights the soldiers who are trying to capture her before running inside the tower with a body double making her leap to death. This DVD contains the performance of October 10, 2009 which was a HD transmission, including as well various interviews and features from the telecast. What it does not include is any of the booing, curtain calls being stopped before the production team appeared on stage. Video and audio are just fine, but I cannot imagine anyone wanting to own this ill-fated production.

Los Angeles Opera has a series called Recovered Voices that features relatively unknown works by composers restricted by the rise of the Third Reich. Record collectors will remember the London/Decca series about a decade ago called Entartete Musik which served the same purpose. This DVD was recorded March 1 and 8, 2008 in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and contains two widely contrasting works, Der zerbrochene Krug (The Broken Jug) by Viktor Ullmann, and Der Zwerg (The Dwarf) by Alexander Zemlinsky. The Broken Jug, the second of Ullmann's three operas, is a comedy about a small-town judge who must rule on a case involving a broken jug which was broken by the judge when he was attempting to seduce the daughter of the plaintiff. All this takes place on a simple set, often in silhouette. It is a charming miniature, very different from The Dwarf which in a way depicts Zemlinsky who was very short and not very attractive. He had an affair with Alma Schindler who left him for Mahler, and this had a devastating effect on the composer. Zemlinsky asked composer Franz Schreker to write a libretto on "the tragedy of an ugly man," but Schreker, intrigued by the story, instead wrote his own opera, Die Gezeichneten (The Branded), a DVD of which was mentioned on this site (REVIEW). Zemlinsky's opera is based on Oscar Wilde's tragedy The Birthday of the Infanta. This is about a sensitive dwarf who has been sheltered from mirrors and is given as a birthday present to the beautiful young Spanish infanta. At first she is intrigued by him, but then rejects him. When the dwarf eventually sees his reflection, he dies brokenhearted. The Los Angeles Opera has gone all out to make a strong case for both of these operas. Singers could not be bettered. Video and audio are state-of-the-art; the Blu Ray version is somewhat superior. Already announced for DVD release is another LA Opera production, Walter Braunfels' The Birds. I look forward to it.

R.E.B. (December 2010)