All opera lovers must investigate this DVD of Aida recorded at the Met October 24, 2009, one of their HD theatre telecasts. The performance is respectable if not outstanding. Johan Botha, a large man, is a wooden Radamès but he copes well with the demanding role. Violeta Urmana is not a true Verdi soprano and she sometimes rushes a bit; most successful of the principals is Dolora Zajick, who has been singing Amneris for about two decades. The real star here is the fantastic production that makes full use of the Met's backstage magic. Sonja Frisell's production is grand, sets are spectacular, and the bill for the costumes must have broken the budget. However, the result is opera on a grand scale indeed, a treat for the eyes, and the ears as well as audio is uncommonly fine. The "bonus" is Renée Fleming's rather awkward interviews with the three leading singers.
It was in 1961 that Leopold Stokowski conducted a series of acclaimed performances of Turandot at the Met with an all-star cast: Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli. with Liùs including Anna Moffo, Teresa Stratas, Leontyne Price and Licia Albanese. It is unfortunate singers of that stature weren't available when Franco Zeffireli's production premiered March 12, 1987. It is over the top with luxurious sets and costumes—a fabulous show indeed. The elaborate costumes doubtless hindered singers; I cannot imagine anyone singing their best with all that excess dress and headware to deal with. The 1988 performance with Eva Marton, Plácido Domingo and Leona Mitchell conducted by James Levine was mentioned on this site (REVIEW). All had appeared in the premiere of the production the year before. The new DVD is a Met HD theatre presentation taped November 7, 2009. Zeffirelli's production is still stunning in its opulence, but Maria Guleghina isn't quite up to the title role (she was more assured in the 2008 Valencia production (REVIEW), and Marcello Giordani is taxed as Calaf and receives a rather undeserved ovation after his "Nessun Dorma." Marina Poplavskaya's Liù is excellent, and the remainder of the cast is equally fine. But Turandot should be a singers' showcase, which is surely isn't here. However, there is a lot to look at, and the audio is excellent.
If you feel Wagner didn't know what he was doing in 1845 when he wrote the text and music for Tannhäuser, a story of the struggle between sacred and profane love, you might not mind this new Danish production. It is by Kasper Holten, who also was responsible for the Copenhagen Ring. Holten has decided the opera takes place in the minds of Wagner and Tannhäuser. Venus appears to be a drag queen, the basic set is a three-story 19th century house that has a lot of moveable stairways and on occasion is supposed to represent an outdoor scene. Not very convincing for sure. The cast is adequate but little more. They seem to throw themselves into the director's concept—after all, they do want to get work. Stig Andersen in the title role is a handsome Tannhäuser, but vocally far from a heldentenor. Wagner doesn't need this directorial treatment. At the end the audience is rapturous in their ovation. I cannot imagine why. Video is OK, with lots of very close-up images of singers that few would want to view, and the audio offers a rather distant pickup. Skip this ill-advised debasement of Wagner.
R.E.B. (September 2011)