VERDI: Un ballo in maschera
Plácido Domingo (Gustavo III), Leo Nucci (Il conte Anckarström), Josephine Barstow (Amelia); Florence Quivar (Ulrica), Sumi Jo (Oscar), Jean-Luc Chaignaud (Cristiano), Kurt Rydl (Horn), Goran Simic (Ribbing); Vienna Philharmonic Chorus and Orch/Sir Georg Solti, cond.
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD VIDEO 107 271 TT: 145 min.

Cecilia Bartoli (Clari), John Osborn (Il Duca), Eva Liebau (Bettina), Oliver Widmer (Germano), Giuseppe Scorsin (Luca), Carlos Chausson (Alberto), Stefania Kaluza (Simonetta), Zurich Opera Chorus and Orch/Adam Fischer, cond.
DECCA DVD VIDEO 074 3382 TT: 158 min.

Vladimir Galouzine (Hermann), Hasmik Papian (Lisa), Irina Bogatcheva (Countess), Nikolai Putilin (Count Tomsky), Ludovic Tezier (Prince Eletsky), Christianne Stotijn (Polina), Vsevolod Grivnov (Chekalinsky), Paris Opera Chorus and Orch/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, cond.
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD VIDEO 107 317 TT: 178 min.

This is a memorable Masked Ball with a seasoned cast that made a recording in 1989 with Herbert von Karajan conducting before scheduled performances at the Salzburg Festival; however, the conductor died, and Sir Georg Solti took over for the Salzburg performances. He also conducted the repeat of the production the following year when this video was made for TV. This site mentioned it in 2005 when it was first issued on DVD on TDK (REVIEW). It's a terrific performance with lavish sets and Domingo at his best in a role he had recorded earlier in his career with Claudio Abbado and Riccardo Muti. Video and audio are excellent, and as in the previous release, there are numerous tracks so you can easily find what you're looking for.

The astounding mezzo Cecilia Bartoli again goes into relatively unknown repertory with this splendid DVD of Halévy's opera Clari. This work was written for one of the greatest mezzo-sopranos of 19th century, Maria Malibran. Bartoli is fascinated by Malibran and has recently issued a disk of music associated with her. The plot is simple: the peasant girl Clari is taken in by the Duke with the promise he would marry her. However, he passes her off as his cousin. Clari's father is horrified that his daughter apparently has become a kept woman. All is well as the Duke realizes he really loves Clari, and the opera ends with a rousing display of happiness. The writing throughout is florid and only the most accomplished singers should attempt it. This performance manages this superbly—the entire cast is top-notch, particularly Bartoli whose astounding singing, particularly in the final act, is a marvel of virtuosity. American tenor John Osborn is admirable in the role of the Duke (he once stepped in for Juan Diego Flórez in a performance of Barber of Seville). Comic situations are clever throughout. In the first act, Osborn reminds me of Harvy Korman in a Carol Burnett comedy skit! The role of the housemaid Bettina is another showcase role, brilliantly sung by Eva Liebau. The chorus and orchestra under Adam Fischer are just about perfect. Sets and costumes are perhaps a bit gaudy, but imaginative, and everyone seems to be having a great time. Video and audio are excellent. A fine release! It does seem strange that the performance is on two disks; it easily would have fit on one.

Tchaikovsky's wonderful opera Pique Dame is given dismal treatment on this performance recorded at the Paris Opera Bastille in 2005. Director Lev Dodin has elected to begin the opera as the composer ended it: in a mental asylum, and before the opera begins, we see Hermann in hospital garb walking towards the bed where we find him for most of the opera. David Borovsky's drab sets divide the stage in half horizontally with the hospital on the bottom and a platform on top where most of the action takes place, although sometimes characters do descend into the lower region. The performance itself is superb, but I cannot imagine anyone who loves Tchaikovsky's opera wanting to experience this other than as a curiosity. Video and audio are fine. Why did the Paris Opera permit Lev Dodin to desecrate this opera? Sad.It is surprising that the distinguished Gennady Rozhdestvensky would be involved in a mess like this.

R.E.B. (August 2011)