MOZART: Die Entführjung aus dem Serail
Diana Damrau (Konstanza). Christoph Quest (Selim). Olga Peretyatko (Blonde). Christoph Strehl (Belmonte). Norbert Ernst (Pedrillo). Franz-Josef Selig (Osmin). Chorus and Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu/Ivor Bolton, cond.
C MAJOR DVD 789284 (BLU RAY) TT: 188 min.

ROSSINI: La Gazza Ladra
Paolo Bordogna (Fabrizio). Kleopatra Papatreologou (Lucia). Dmitry Korchak (Giannettio). Mariola Cantarero (Ninetta). Alex Esposito (Fernando). Michele Pertusi (Gottardo). Manuela Custer (Pippo). Stefan Cifolelli (Isacco). Cosimo Panozzo (Antonio). Vittorio Prato (Giorgio). Matteo Ferrara (Ernesto). Prague Chamber Choir/Orchestra Haydn di Bolzano e Trento/Lü Jia, cond.
DYNAMIC DVD 55567 (BLU RAY) TT: 201 min.

MAYR: Medea in Corinto
Alastair Miles (Creonte). Alek Shrader (Egeo). Nadja Michael (Medea),. Ramôn Vargas (Giasone). Elena Tsailagova *(Creuysa). Kenneth Roberson (Evandro). Francesco Petrozzi (Tideo). Laura Nicorescu (Ismene). Choir of the Bavarian State Opera/Bavarian State Opera Orch/Ivor Bolton, cond.
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD (BLU RAY) 108030 TT: 151 min + 48 min. bonus

Mozart's delightful comedy is about the trials of Belmonte and his servant Pedrillo and their attempts to rescue Konstanze and Blonde from the seraglio (harem) of the Pasha Selim. When premiered in Vienna in 1782, Emperor Joseph, who commissioned the work, supposedly made the comment, "there are too many notes," to which Mozart replied, "there are just as many notes as need be." The opera is a delightful singspiel filled with vocal fireworks which are surely delivered by the outstanding cast assembled for this production. This was recorded in July 2010 at Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, and it is proof that an old masterpiece can receive a relatively modern treatment and not be an insult to the composer. Sets and costumes by Herbert Murauer are simple and effective, and director Christof Loy keeps things moving nicely both on stage and, on occasion, in the audience. Diana Damrau tosses off the fireworks of the role of Konstanze with the greatest of ease, and everyone seems to be having a great time. Ivor Bolton maintains a sprightly pace; this is his second video of this opera—his performance from the 2006 Salzburg Festival is still in the catalog. Video and audio on the new version are outstanding. Recommended!

One of Rossini's later operas, La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie) was a hit at its premiere in 1817, although it never achieved great popularity. Everyone knows the overture, distinctive for its use of snare drums which in the opera signify the beginning of the trial of Ninetta, falsely accused of stealing a silver spoon which actually was taken by a magpie. Gazza Ladra is a long opera (more than three hours) with many recitatives. There are several big arias, particularly in the final act, but unless they are given virtuoso performances, they cannot have their full effect. This performance took place in 2007 during the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro and was issued on DVD that year. Now we have it on Blu Ray. It seems the original was not filmed in HD—video is quite good but could be sharper, audio is satisfactory with voices well recorded. But was a Blu Ray issue really necessary? The cast is uniformly good, but often taxed by Rossini's virtuoso writing. The simple sets by Paolo Fantin work well, primarily a series of large moveable hollow pipes that on occasion represent trees, cannons, bars etc. During the overture we see the culprit magpie (a non-singing role) at work. There are 19 tracks which is not enough: the arias in the final scenes of both acts should have separate tracks. Still, this is an entertaining performance of a splendid opera, worthy of investigation.

Giovanni Simone Mayr (1763-1845), called by Rossini "the father of Italian opera," was a highly respected composer and teacher—his students included Mozart's son, Bellini and Donizetti. When he died, Verdi delivered the funeral oration. He wrote more than 60 operas. Medea in Corinto, one of his last operas, had its successful premier in 1813. This performance was filmed in Munich's National Theatre with a splendid cast. It is unfortunate that set designer Anna Viebrock, costume designer Elina Schnizler and director Hans Neuenfels have decided to update the opera, supposedly to emphasize political intrigue and violence. In one scene we see a modern camera. The basic set is a house with two floors; props are carried through the doors. Cruesa, Jason's new love, is dressed in a dapper bright outfit, Medea first appears dressed as witch, and a rather stupid-looking one at that. suggesting Carmen Miranda on an off day. She then wears a revealing black form-fitting outfit except at the end of the opera when, after killing her children, she is dressed in white. Ramón Vargas, as Glasone, wears a soldier's uniform until the final act when he sports a black suit with bow tie. Some characters were feathered plume hats. The melange of styles seems inappropriate. As presented here, before the curtain raises we hear a blood-curdling scream and then the opening scene; the overture isn't heard until 16 minutes into the opera; no explanation is given for this. The cast is strong throughout and conductor Ivor Bolton obviously loves this score. Nadja Michael is a superb singing actress; her video of Tosca and two videos of Salome have been reviewed on this site. She makes the most of the role of Medea and receives a huge ovation for her remarkable performance. When she takes her solo bow she does something probably no other soprano can do - she bows and places her hands on the floor. Video and audio are outstanding. Included as a bonus there is a brief documentary about the composer, and some interviews of limited interest.

R.E.B. (April 2012)