BERLIOZ: Benvenuto Cellini
BERLIOZ: Les Troyens
VERDI: La Traviata
Verdi's La Traviata is given a sterling performance by a memorable cast in a production from the Royal Opera House recorded June 27 and 30, 2009. Sensible designs by Bob Crowley and direction Richard Eyre stick to the tried and true—no insults to the audience here as happens so often today in many opera productions. This is Renée Fleming's second video of Verdi's opera; the first was recorded in Los Angeles in 2006 and reviewed on this site (REVIEW).She still manages the coloratura of act one admirably, and is a superb actress. Thomas Hampson is a commanding Germont, and Joseph Calleja impresses as Alfredo although his fast vibrato is not to my taste—I much prefer Rollando Villazón in the 2006 performance. The chorus is superb, and conductor Pappanpo keeps things moving nicely. The Blu-Ray version is stunning visually, with excellent audio as well. A brief interview between Pappano and Fleming adds little to the proceedings.
Valery Gergiev conducts two Berlioz operas, Benvenuto Cellini in a performance from the 2007 Salzburg Festival, and The Trojans from Valencia November 9, 2009. Benvenuto Cellini is as close as Berlioz ever got to writing a comic opera and this colorful over the top production by Philipp Stötzl is appropriate. It is one big, bizarre cartoon including robots, a helicopter, fireworks, outlandish costumes and projected effects. The cast is uniformly excellent although tenor Burkhard Fritz in the title role doesn't settle into the role until after the first scene. The mammoth opera Les Trojans is seldom presented for a number of reasons, but there are some terrific recordings of it. On CD we have Rafael Kubelik, two by Sir Colin Davis, and several others. On DVD there are versions conducted by John Eliot Gardiner and Sylvain Cambreling neither of which I know, and in particular the Metropolitan Opera production conducted by James Levine. The Trojans was selected for opening night at the Met in 1983 and the filmed telecast is available on DGG. The cast is magnificent, with Plácido Domingo's only performance of the role of Énée, along with Jessye Norman and Tatiana Troyanos—a rather hard act to follow. This Gergiev production was staged by La Fura del Baus and directed by Carlus Padrissa who did the recent Ring Cycle from Valencia, which I found, for the most part, a wonderful show (REVIEW). In The Trojans we once more have the brilliant 3D projection effects, some outrageous costumes, along with vivid imaginative effects. Surprisingly, the Trojan Horse doesn't amount to much. Singers are up to their tasks, but I cannot imagine anyone interested in this opera preferring this to the Met Levine production which in its new remastering sounds better than ever and as a performance surely is more what Berlioz intended—and surely is better sung.
R.E.B. (August 2011)