ORFF: Carmina Burana
Kathleen Battle, soprano; Frank Lopardo, tenor; Thomas Allen, baritone; Shin-Yu Kai Chorus; Knabenchor des Staats-und Domchores Berlin; Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Seiji Ozawa, cond.
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125.
Anne Schwanewilms, soprano; Barbara Dever, alto; Paul Groves, tenor; Franz Hawlata, bass; Tokyo Opera Singers; Saito Kinen Orch/Seiji Ozawa, cond.
PHILIPS DVD B0002504-09 TT: 134 min.
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DONIZETTI: L'Elisir d'Amore
Renata Scotto (Adina); Carlo Bergonzi (Nemorino); Giuseppe Taddei (Belcore); Carlo Cava (Dulcamara); Renza Jotti (Giannetta); Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Chorus and Orch/Gianandrea Gavazzeni, cond.
HARDY CLASSIC VIDEO HCD 4014 (black & white) ("5.l surround") TT: 130 min.

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MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana
Shirley Verrett (Santuzza); Krijstian Johannson (Turiddu); Ettore Nova (Alfio); Ambra Vespoasiani (Mamma Lucia); Rosy Orani (Lola); Philharmonic Orchestra of Russe/Baldo Podic, cond.
VIDEO ARTISTS INTERNATIONAL 4285 (stereo) TT: 80 min.
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PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly
Anna Moffo (Cio-Cio San); Renato Cioni (Pinkerton); Afro Poli (Sharpless); Miti Truccato Pace (Suzuki); Gino Del Signore (Goro);Lella Dori (Kate Pinkerton);Pierluigi Latinucci (Prince Yamadori); Orchestra and Chorus of Milan Radio-TV; Oliviero De Fabritiis, cond.
VAI ARTISTS INTERNATIONAL 4284 (mono) (black & white) TT: 127 min.
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Carmina Burana is one of Seiji Ozawa's specialties—his 1969 RCA Boston Symphony recording is one of the best (superior to his later remake for Philips). This Berlin performance was issued on VHS well more than a decade ago and its appearance on DVD is welcome. The combination of a large Japanese chorus, a German boys choir and the powerful Berlin Philharmonic works well, and the three soloists are superb, particularly Kathleen Battle, whose "Dulcissime" is ravishing. Publicity for this release stated that as a "bonus" there is Beethoven's Symphony No. 9! Apparently recorded a few years ago (no dates are provided), it's a fine performance well sung and played. Both the Orff and Beethoven are listed as 5.1 surround sound, but it's doubtful the Orff was actually recorded in that format. Regardless, the overall sound picture as engineered here is effective enough. Even though there are surtitles, the complete Latin/English texts for Carmina Burana are provided in the DVD booklet as well as German/English text for the Ode to Joy.

This memorable performance of L'Elisir d'Amore recorded at the Florence May Festival in 1967 was presented to honor the 170th anniversary of Donizetti's birth. Three leading singers of the time, all in their prime, were featured: Carlo Bergonzi as Nemorino, Renata Scotto as Adina and Giuseppe Taddei as Belcore. For this opera it doesn't come better than this. The black and white film has held up well, and the sound (not surround as stated) is good enough to convey the performance. Those who enjoy Donizetti's masterpiece surely will wish to own this—even though Hardy Classic Video's documentation is minimal.

When this Cavalleria Rusticana was filmed in 1990 at the Teatro Comunale del Rinnovati, Siena, the occasion was to honor the 100th anniversary of Mascagni's masterpiece. At this time mezzo-soprano Shirley Verrett (b. 1931) had been singing in major opera houses for more than thirty years, a distinguished career in every way. The years had taken their toll although her voice has retained much of its richness. The demanding highly dramatic role of Santuzza is too much for her (apparently her first performance of the role), and even in the lower register there is lack of projection (her curse of Turiddu at the end of their duet is quite tame). At the end of the opera the off-stage cry of "Turiddu has been killed," apparently by a member of the chorus,doesn't amount to much. Ambra Vespasiani as Mamma Lucia is the strongest singer in the cast. Baldo Podic conducts the Philharmonic Orchestra of Russe, with an unidentified chorus. A great performance of Cavalleria Rusticana can be a thrilling event; this one isn't. The stereo sound is fine, as is the color photography. The tape begins with an introduction by Verrett in which she discusses Siena, its musical activities, and tells the story of the opera. This is a minor addition to the DVD opera library.

The first of several operas filmed by Anna Moffo in Japan was Madama Butterfly, in 1956. Moffo was virtually unknown at the time, but director Mario Lanfranchi (whom she married in 1957 and divorced in 1972) wanted a leading soprano who would look the part as well as be able to sing the very demanding role of Cio-Cio San. Shortly afterwards, Moffo also filmed Falstaff, Mosé, La Sonnambula (REVIEW) and La Traviata (REVIEW), all highly successful. Considering her slim figure it is remarkable that Moffo's voice was rich and powerful; those high notes never were a problem for her, although, surprisingly, she doesn't take the alternate D flat at the end of Butterfly's entrance. She is totally convincing in conveying the innocence and tragedy of Cio-Cio San. The entire cast is strong, with Renato Cioni a convincing, good-looking Pinkerton. Sound is well-balanced mono, the picture rather hazy black and white, but those seeking a convincing performance of Puccini's masterpiece should investigate this fine DVD. As a bonus VAI has included the Act I finale of La Boheme from a Bell Telephone Hour telecast of October 8, 1963, with Moffo joined by tenor Richard Tucker. Subtitles are provided in English, French and German.

R.E.B. (September 2004)