FREDERICK II OF PRUSSIA: Flute Concerto No. 3 in C. QUANTZ: Capriccio
in G. Capriccio in B . Flute Concerto in G. Prelude in D. BENDA: Flute
Concerto in E minor. C. P. E. BACH: Flute Sonata in A minor.
PUCCINI: La Fanciulla del West
GOUNOD: Roméo et Juliette
Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great, was famous for his military conquests, but he also had great interest in music and philosophy. He patronized musicians, particularly those who composed for the flute, and he was a composer as well. This program filmed at SSanssouci October 16, 2011 is a tribute to Frederick the Great by Emanuel Pahud, principal flute of the Berlin Philharmonic, who has a major career as solo flutist. He is accompanied by Kammerakademie Potsdam directed from the harpsichord by Trevor Pinnock. Pinnock is one of the most respected and recorded early music artists, and if you'd like to see him at this stage of his career, here's your opportunity. The program is given in a rather small but beautiful hall, with a very small chamber orchestra. We have flute concertos by Frederick the Great, Johann Joachim Quantz and C. P. E. Bach, as well as two solo works by Quantz. Pahud's playing is perfect and a pleasure to hear and view. Beatrix Conrad was video director and, unfortunately, focuses primarily on closeups of individual performers—do we really want to see them that close so often? Interspersed with the performances we see someone (presumably Frederick?) walking his dogs through the statues and gardens of the magnificent estate, which I found quite distracting. Video quality is outstanding, and audio well captures the performers in a fine hall. One might question why the program isn't longer; surely more solo pieces would have been appropriate.
December 10, 1920 was a very special night at the Metropolitan Opera. A commissioned new opera from Puccini had its premiere with some of the greatest singers of the era: Emmy Destinn as Minnie, Enrico Caruso as Dick Johnson, and Pasquale Amato as Jack Rance, with Arturo Toscanini on the podium. The libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zanganini is based on the play The Girl of the Golden West by American David Belasco (who also collaborated with Puccini on Madama Butterfly). Expectations were high, and no one was disappointed. In spite of its initial success, The Girl of the Golden West isn't produced very often although many feel it is one of Puccini's finest operas as he did. There are few major arias, but the score, requiring a large orchestra, is thematically rich. There have been several outstanding recordings over the years, particularly the Decca 1958 with Renata Tebaldi and EMI recording with Birgit Nilsson made the same year.. Fancuilla has fared rather well on DVD. There are two featuring Plácido Domingo as Dick Johnson, one with Mara Zampieri as Minni with Lorin Maazel conducting (REVIEW), the other with Barbara Daniels with Leonard Slatkin from the Met (this is the same production seen in this latest DVD)(REVIEW) . There also is a superb 1963 performance from Tokyo with Antionetta Stella as Minni (REVIEW). This new DVD commemorates the centennial of the opera's premiere at the Met resurrecting Giancarlo del Monaco's 1991 production which is beautiful to see. Minnie is one of Puccini's most demanding roles. Leontyne Price sang it five times at the Met in 1961 (including opening night) to great acclaim, then she stopped singing it. Deborah Voight tosses herself enthusiastically into this role, but much of the singing is in the lower range where Voight's voice is unfocused. With an inadequate Minnie, the opera cannot be salvaged by other singers, fine though they might be. Giordani had become a house tenor at this time; he is taxed as Dick Johnson. Lucio Gallo (who can be seen in two other videos of this opera) is a rather tame Jack Rance. The many smaller roles are done to perfection—this is a splendid group of sensitive cowboys. Video and audio are excellent, and soprano Sondra Radvenovsky, a Verdi soprano to recon with, is a pleasant host. At the beginning of her presentation, she is with two horses which perhaps might help to establish the atmosphere of the Wild West, but the horses are incidental at most, appearing only briefly in Act II. And Minnie does not make her dramatic third act entrance riding a horse, and she and Rance simply walk slowly into the distance at the opera's conclusion instead of riding away as Puccini wanted. This is a disappointing Fanciulla.
Gounod's lovely Romeo and Juliet is given an overblown Cirque du Soleil staging in this production from the massive Verona Arena recorded in August 2011. Director by Francesco Micheli, with sets by Edoardo Sanchi and costumes by Silvia Aymonino, this is a garish, lavish production that totally misses the point of Gounod's gentle treatment of the tragic story. It is spectacular in a Las Vegas way, with many outlandish and inappropriate costumes, many adorned with bird feathers, dancers in drag, and comic props most of which have little to do with the opera. Best of the singers is Nino Machadze, known for her interpretation of Juliette (she can be seen in a 2008 Salzburg production). Rising tenor Stefano Secco is stressed and uncomfortable as Romeo, and generally the supporting cast is adequate at best. Conductor Fabio Mastrangelo opts for leisurely tempi. Video is excellent, audio reasonably good for an outdoors performance, but this is a production of Gounod's masterpiece that I don't care to view again.
R.E.B. (August 2012)