STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40
Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Mariss Jansons, cond.
RCO LIVE DVD 04103 (5.1 channel) TT: 45:12 (Heldenleben) 49:17 (The Sixth Maestro).

Music from Goyescas, Roberto Devereux, Anna Bolena and Il Pirata.
Montserrat Caballé, soprano; French National Philharmonic Orch/Carlo Felice Cillario, cond.

Franco Corelli (Canio); Tito Gobbi (Tonio); Mafalda Micheluzzi (Nedda); Mario Carlin (Peppe); Lino Puglisi (Silvio); Italian Radio & Television Orch/Alfredo Simonetto, cond. Plus: arias from La Rosa di Stambul, Carmen, Aida, Il Trovatore, Cavalleria rusticana and Verdi's Requiem sung by Franco Corellli
HARDY CLASSICS DVD 4016 TT: 103 min.

ANNA NETREBKO - The Woman and the Voice (documentary) including arias from Faust, La Bohème, Don Giovanni, La Sonnambula and Rusalka
Anna Netrebko, soprano; Orchestras conducted by Gianandrea Noseda

This DVD of Strauss's massive symphonic poem is a treasure, recorded Sept. 4, 2004 at the first concert Jansons conducted with the orchestra as music director. The SACD version has been reviewed on this site (REVIEW). This is a luxurious account of the composer's concept of a hero, magnificently played and beautifully recorded. On the DVD we have superb camera work, even showing the three off-stage trumpets that announce the battle scene. It's fascinating to watch Jansons' conducting; he is a true master of the baton. We also have a 50-minute documentary called The Sixth Maestro introducing Jansons as chief conductor of the fabeled orchestra. There are many interviews with players and musicologists as well as brief film clips of previous conductors: Willem Mengelberg, Eduard van Beinum, Bernard Haitink and Riccardo Chailly. Jansons can be seen rehearsing the Concertgebouw in Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic in Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, and there also are brief segments where he and his wife visit conservatories in St. Petersburg and Vienna where he studied. The entire project is beautifully done—I look forward to future DVDs in the series.

VAI Video's DVD of Montserrat Caballé offers the Spanish soprano in her prime, a concert performance telecast from France Oct. 15, 1966, with the French National Radio and Television Orchestra directed by Carlo Felice Cillario, a conductor with whom she sang and recorded often. The program opens with The Lady and the Nightingale of Granados followed by three specialities of Caballé, major scenes from Donizetti's Roberto Devereux and Anna Bolena, and Bellini's Il Pirata. She is in top form. If there were any encores, they are not included. Sound is rather fuzzy mono, black and white photography somewhat blurred. Playing time is only 43 minutes, but admirers of Caballé surely will wish to have this.

Hardy Classics has another winner in this September 26, 1954 Italian telecast of Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci. What a cast! Tito Gobbi as Tonio, Franco Corelli as Canio and Mafalda Micheluzzi as Nedda. In spite of the black/white photography and monophonic sound (Hardy Classics has the chutzpah to state this is digital surround sound!), this is grand opera at its finest. Although Corelli did not sing the role of Canio often, he is an ideal interpreter, both visually and vocally. Gobbi had recorded the role of Tonio three months earlier for EMI with Callas and Di Stefano; it was one of his specialties. Micheluzzi is a name new to me, but she is vocally secure, dramatically convincing. As usual with these Italian TV productions, this was recorded first, filmed afterwards with relatively successful lip-sync. The DVD is filled out with a 1963 TV video of the seldom-heard "O rosa di Stambul" from the operetta The Rose of Stambul by Leo Fall, a luscious tenor lollipop sung to the hilt by Corelli. The remainder of the DVD consists of a color telecast several years after the tenor had officially retired from the operatic stage. Notes say these performances are from the TV program I Grandi della Lirica conducted by Guido Guarnera broadcast Jan. 14, 1983. Corelli appears older as one would expect him to, but these also were pre-recorded—and it is difficult to imagine that this assured, vibrant singing dates from 1983; perhaps producers used the tenor's older recordings? Regardless, Corelli fans surely will be interested in this DVD.

DG's DVD of Anna Netrebko is two-hour plus glossy portrait of the remarkable young soprano, replete with hype for her recordings. Featured are lip-sync videos of some of her CD recordings for the label including arias from La Bohème, Faust, Don Giovanni, La Sonnambula and Rusalka, with far-out settings, multiple costume changes, and rapid-fire editing (most annoying!), all introduced by Netrebko in rather cloying fashion. The video was produced by Vincent Paterson (who has collaborated with Michael Jackson and Madonna on similar projects), who takes full advantage of the soprano's beauty by adorning her in numerous elaborate costume changes. Included as a substantial bonus is a documentary on making of the film. Most interest on this video is to be found in live performances: Violetta's Act I finale from La Traviata in a 2003 production from Vienna, a brief excerpt from a 2004 modern Günter Krämer production of the same opera from Bavaria (in which she drinks green champagne!), and Lyudmila's first act aria from Ruslan and Lyudmila, which has been released in its entirety on DVD (REVIEW). Netrebko obviously is a major figure on today's operatic scene; perhaps this video will attract a new audience for opera. I find the whole thing, except fot the live performances, forgettable.

R.E.B. (February 2004)