PUCCINI: La Fancilla del West
PUCCINI: La Rondine
This production of La Fanciulla del West was taped in Sweden's Royal Opera House in February 2012. The production is relatively simple, with sets and costumes by Herbert Murauer, direction by Thomas Wilhelm. The opening is impressive—over the orchestral introduction to the opera we see a movie of Minnie riding a horse in the desert, eventully striding then running directly toward the audience, then bursting through a paper screen smiling with pistols in both hands. This is the only time a horse appears in the production. In Act III, Minnie doesn't arrive on one, and at the opera's conclusion, Minnie and Dick Johnson are not seen walking into the distance; the director has decided instead to show us the cowboys in various stages of grief at losing her. It is not explained in the DVD booklet why the director has elected to project some of the scenes on the back wall of the room as they happen. The performance is excellent. Nina Stemme, best known for her Wagner, is a vivid Minnie although as costumed here she resembles Carol Burnett as Nora Desmond. Aleksandrs Antonenko is a terrific Jack Rance, with solid control throughout and sufficient power for those demanding high notes. He has come a very long way since his disappointing Otello at the 2008 Salzburg Festival conducted by Riccardo Muti (REVIEW). The famed conductor obviously has faith in the young tenor; he chose him for concert erformance of Otello with the Chicago Symphony, just issued on SACD (shortly to be reviewed on this site). A number of videos of Puccini's western opera have been reviewed on this site. Particularly noteworthy are the two with Plácido Domingo, and I surely would not want to be without the stunning 1963 live performance with Antionetta Stella (REVIEW).
German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952) is a major, respected figure on the contemporary music scene. This site has mentioned DVDs of his opera Oedipus (REVIEW), and his major orchestral work Verwandlung 2 conducted by Riccardo Chailly (REVIEW). His Dionysos, "an opera fantasy," opened the 2010 Salzburg Festival and was widely acclaimed. It is based on Nietzsche's Dionysos-Dithyramben, an allegorical exploration of men's unsuccessful search for Dioysian sensuality of life. It is a challenge for both performers and viewers, and there is no question that this performance is exactly what Rihm wished. He has no pity whatever for singers, particularly female voices. Sets and costumes are outstanding, and all of the performers could not be bettered. It is suggested you check Anthony Tommasini' New York Times REVIEW of the premiere. This video is state-of-the art both visually and sonically. A 53-minute documentary is included. Looking for the unique in opera? Here it is.
Canadian-born soprano Teresa Stratas (b. 1936) was a remarkable if somewhat erratic figure on the operaic scene. She was acclaimed for her vocal security as well as her beauty. We are fortunate to have some of her performances on DVD: La Boheme, Pagliaci, Il Tabarro and and Corigliano's The Ghost of Versailles. Particularly valuable is Salome which she recorded in 1974 with Karl Böhm on the podium. This is a role I don't believe she sang on stage, but in the studio she could present an admirable interpretation, with a little help from the engineers, and visually she was perfect. The history of this recording is covered in detail in our REVIEW. Now we are fortunate to have another example of this Stratas's artistry, a lavish television production of La Rondine produced in 1971 by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Produced and direction by Norman Campbell, it is perfect. Video and audio are first-rate, and the English translation by Robert Hess is effective. British conductor Brian Priestman (b. 1927) an important conductor for decades, leads a sensitive performance, with a handsome, vocally assured cast—and what a pleasure it is to watch Stratas. There are no subtitles, but for English-speaking viewers this is no problem. This is a treasurable DVD. Don't miss it!