VERDI: I vespri Siciliani
TCHAIKOVSKY: The Sleeping Beauty
PUCCINI: Il Tritico
Thomas's Hamlet has been a showcase for baritones and sopranos ever since its premiere in Paris in 1868. The composer's treatment of Shakespeare's tragedy is odd indeed—at the end of the opera, Hamlet, after being stabbed, returns to health and is proclaimed King of Denmark! It's a big-scale opera in five acts, with many big choral scenes magnificently sung by the Liceu chorus. This production, directed by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, with costumes by Agostino Cavalca, and sets by Christian Fenouillat, is outstanding. With effective lighting, the basic simple set is highly effective. Of course what counts most is the singing, and throughout it is superb. The remarkable baritone Simon Keenlyside is a sensitive Hamlet; it's easy to understand why he is so effective in Benjamin Britten operas. Béatrice Uria-Monzon is outstanding as Gertrude, making much of the confrontation scene with her son. Natalie Dessay tosses off Ophélia's difficult music with great of ease and interpretive insight, receiving a well-deserved ovation after the famous "Mad Scene." The remainder of the cast is excellent, the orchestra first-rate, Bertrand de Billy's conducting perfect—and the recorded surround sound is all it should be. An outstanding release—but not without its presentation problems. If you wish to find the plot you'll have to use your computer for the pdf file of same (in many languages). They don't tell you on which of the two disks you'll find it (it's on the first). There is a complete listing of contents of the two DVDs, with timings, printed in small black type on a dark blue background, almost impossible to read. In spite of these inadequacies, this is a superb performance of a major French opera, highly recommended.
I vespri siciliani is one of the least-performed of Verdi's later operas, the composer's rather gruesome retelling of an historical event—the uprising of a group of revolutionaries against the French in Sicily in 1282. The opera isn't given very often; aside from the overture, the Act Two bass aria O tu, Palermo and the soprano's Mercè, dilette amiche in act Five, the music is generally unfamiliar. In this live recording made in 1989 at Teatro alla Scala in Milan the real star of this production is conductor Riccardo Muti. Cheryl Studer's Elena is vocally assured and dramatically convincing; the other principals are considerably less impressive, particularly Furlanetto's Procida. As Vespri was written for Paris, the composer included a ballet, The Four Seasons, in Act Three, an interminable (to me) interlude that intrudes on the opera's dramatic situation. It's a full half-hour and although the lead dancers (Carla Fracci/Wayne Eagling) are excellent (although the latter almost falls at the ending), the ballet seems like an intrusion, and it's a rather comical sight to view male members of the corps de ballet dressed in military uniforms performing the usual ballet steps. Camera work is fine and the stereo sound excellent, although somewhat unresonant.
The Dutch National Ballet production of The Sleeping Beauty is a fine representation of this major ballet. Choreographer Sir Peter Wright has successfully replicated Marius Petipa's original production, and the elaborate Baroque sets and costumes are grand indeed. Sofiane Sylve is an elegant Princess Aurora, Gaël Lambiotte a convincing Prince Florimund. Ermanno Florio energetically conducts the superb orchestra, and the 5.1 surround sound is realistic. And there are some intriguing extras in this 2-disk set: cast gallery, a feature about fairy tales, Sir Peter Wright discussing the use of mime as well as rehearsing the production, and a portrait of Sofiane Sylve.
For years it has been a custom in Holland for the Concertgebouw Orchestra to give special matinee concerts on Christmas day, with a wide range of programs. During Bernard Haitink's tenure these included most of the Mahler symphonies (available on CD, see REVIEW). Outgoing music director Riccardo Chailly has featured Stravinsky on some of these and his performances of Rite of Spring, Pulcinella and a suite from Firebird are available on a DVD included in the conductor's multi-CD Q-disk set (REVIEW). Chailly's interest in opera is reflected on these performances from the Christmas concerts of Puccini's Trittico, Il Tabarro from 1998, Suor Angelica from 1999 and Gianni Schicchi from 2000. All are televised concert performances in the Concertgebouw, with minimal movement by the singers; they walk on and off stage as necessary. The small choruses are off-stage in the audience. All three are superbly presented with first-class singers, but the real stars are members of the Royal Concertgebouw and Chailly who play Puccini's scores with exquisite beauty and attention to detail. Camera work is exemplary, the stereo sound as natural as it could be. DVD presentation leaves much to be desired. Each opera has only one track so you'll have to do a lot of fast-forwarding to get to favorite sections. Subtitles are available only in Dutch. There is a brief bonus, a brief commentary by Chailly on Puccini and how he portrays women in his operas. This is spoken in English with Dutch surtitles. The DVD jacket displays the emblems PAL and ALL; it would play on only one of my DVD playback units—and I do not have PAL playback. As of now this DVD can only be obtained in Europe.
R.E.B. (January 2005)