DONIZETTI: Anna Bolena
Anna Netrebko (Anna Bolena); Elina Garanca (Giovanna Seymour); Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (Enrico); Dan Paul Dumitrescu (Lord Rochefort); Francesco Meli (Lord Riccardo Percy); Elisabeth Kulman (Smeton); Peter Jelosits (Sir Herbey); Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orch/Evelino Pidó, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD B0016203 TT: 194 min. + 4 min. bonus.

Jonas Kaufmann (Werther); Sophie Koch (Charlotte); Ludovic Tézier (Albert); Anne-Catherine Gillet (Sophie); Alain Vernhes (Le Bailli); Andreas Jäggi (Schmidt); Christian Tréguier (Johann); Alexaqbnder Duhamel (Brühlimann); Olivia Doray (Käthchen); Chorus and Orchestra of the Parma Opera/Michel Plasson, cond.
DECCA DVD B0014794 (2 disks) TT: 162 min.

JOHANN STRAUSS II-arr. Schönberg: Kaiserwaltzer, Op. 437. Rosen aus dem Süden. Lagunenwaqlzer, Op. 411. JOHANN STRAUSS II-arr. Webern: Schatzwalzer, Op. 418. Wein, Weib und Gesang! Op. 388. KREISLER: Marche mbniature viennoise. Schön Rosmarin. Caprice viennois. KOVÁC: Yiddische Mame. GODOWSKY: Alt-Wien
The Philharmonics
ACCENTUS DVD ACC 20228 TT: 64:20 + 10 min. bonus

Anna Netrebko enjoyed a spectacular success last fall when she opened the Met season with Donizetti's Anna Bolena, later seen as the first Met HD telecast of the season. Doubtless eventually this will be released on DVD; in the meantime we can enjoy this performance from the Vienna State Opera in April of this year. This was the first time Netrebko sang this demanding role, and she does it brilliantly, both dramatically and vocally. The pivotal role of her rival, Giovanna Seymour, is magnificently sung by Elina Garanca; the chemistry between the two of them is remarkable. The important role of the page Smeton is equally well sung. Male singers aren't quite of that calibre, particularly Francesco Meli's Percy, but the show primarily depends on the two sopranos, and they deliver. The demanding final scene will delight the legion of Netrebko's admirers. Brian Large directed the video with his usual expertise, and picture quality is exceptionally fine on the regular DVD; I cannot imagine the Blu Ray could be superior. Audio places us right in the center of the orchestra, to the detriment of the singers.

Werther is a role that has attracted many singers. Originally written for tenor, on occasion it is presented with the role sung by a baritone; Thomas Hampson made a recording of this version in Paris, available on DVD. Since the premiere in 1892 he has attracted many famous tenors includingGeorge Thill, Nicolai Gedda, Alfredo Krauss, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Ramón Vargas, Roberto Alagna and Marcelo Alvarez. Now these are joined by the remarkable German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who offers what is perhaps the definitive interpretation of the role. With his rich sonority, total control, matinee-idol good looks and total involvement with the character, he is the doomed Werther. Sophie Koch is superb as Charlotte, and the entire cast is of highest quality. Sets by Charles Edwards and André Diot are simple but effective with limited scenery. Christian Gasc designed the period costumes. This performance was recorded in January 2010 at the Opéra Bastille. Video quality is extraordinarily fine, as is the realistic audio. Unfortunately the camera sometimes takes us backstage where we really don't want to be, and the overhead shots are distracting. There are many closeups including the sensuous kiss as Werther and Sophis kiss for the first - and only - time. If you're interested in Werther, this surely is a must, and it is essential for the legion of admirers of the amazing Jonas Kaufmann.

The Accentus issue of Viennese music is an oddity. It offers a group of Strauss waltzes arranged for chamber ensemble by Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern. A fascinating 10 minute documentary with Dr. Christian Meyer, Director of Vienna's Arnold Schoenberg Center, tells how these arrangements came to be. Apparently Schoenberg and the other two composers wished to present concerts of then contemporary music (including, of course, their own), but needed funds to bring this about, so each composer made transcriptions of popular Strauss works to be played at concerts with the income supporting their primary project. These took place in 1921 and apparently were well received. The documentary is beautifully done and includes a number of Schoenberg's striking paintings. This DVD offers these waltzes and other works listed above in stunning performces by nine members of the Vienna Philharmonic including concertmaster Tibor Kovac. At the beginning we see them walking through the streets of Vienna and entering Café Sperl March 9 of this year; they then perform before a small group of diners/drinkers who don't seem to be particularly interested in the proceedings. Performances are elegant indeed, audio is superb and the photography almost puts the viewer inside the instruments. Very pleasant indeed, but why is the program so short?

R.E.B. (December 2011)