< DVD VIDEO Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci / Carmen / La traviata /Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana.
Plácido Domingo (Turiddu); Elena Obraztsova (Santuzza); Fedora Barbieri (Lucia); Renato Bruson (Alfio); Axelle Gall (Lola); La Scala Chorus and Orch/Georges Prétre, cond.
Plácido Domingo (Canio); Teresa Stratas (Nedda); Juan Pons (Tonio); Florindo Andreolli (Peppe); Alberto Rinaldi (Silvio); La Scala Chorus and Orch/Georges Prétre, cond.

BIZET: Carmen
Grace Bumbry (Carmen); Jon Vickers (Don JosČ); Mirella Freni (Micaëla); Justino Diaz (Escamillo); Olivera Miljakovic (Frasquita); Julia Hamari (Mercédes)'; Robert Kerns (Morales); Anton Diakov (Zuniga); Vienna State Opera Ballet, Chorus and Orch/Herbert von Karajan, cond.

VERDI: La traviata
Angela Gheorghiu (Violetta); Frank Lopardo (Alfredo); Leo Nucci (Germont); Gillian Knight (Annina); Leah-Marian Jones (Flora); Royal Opera Chorus and Orch/Sir Georg Solti, cond.
DECCA DVD VIDEO B0004643-50 TT: 135 min.

SHOSTAKOVICH: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
Nadine Secunde (Katerina Ismailova); Christopher Ventris (Sergey); Anatoli Kotcherga (Boris Ismailova); Francisco Vas (Zinoviy Ismailov); Chamber Chorus of the Palau de la Música Catalana; Gran Teatre del Liceu Chorus and Orch/Alexander Anissimov, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVD VIDEO 99730 9 TT: 187 min.

These are four terrific operatic DVDs. Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci are spectacular, lavish Franco Zeferelli 1981 productions, films of the two operas with no stage limitations—there are many countryside scenes which would be impossible in a staged production. Both operas were pre-recorded but the lip-sync is perfectly accomplished, the performances magnificent. Domingo was in his prime at this time and in fine voice if not quite as possessed as Franco Corelli in his Italian TV recording of Pagliacci (see REVIEW). Other singers in these two operas are perfectly cast with the one possible exception; Obratzova's Santuzza; dramatically she is outstanding, but vocally she tends towards shrillness in the upper range. Teresa Stratas is a perfect Nedda, Juan Pons a strong Tonio. I've never heard better work from conductor Georges Prétre. Both operas have too many close-ups of unimportant characters to suit my taste but overall camera work is extraordinary. The finale of Cav, as a peasant woman screams that Turridu has been murdered, is the most hair-raising I've ever seen or heard. The sound is just fine, although surely not original 5.1 surround sound, although advertised as such. There are 16 tracks for Cav, 19 for Pag.

Carmen is Herbert von Karajan's Salzburg production with a soundtrack recorded in Vienna's Sofiensaal in June of 1967, filmed in Bavarian studios in Munich two months later. As with Cav and Pag, lip-sync is perfect. We do get to view Karajan conducting the overture with his eyes closed (as usual), but the Vienna Philharmonic plays magnificently for him. Karajan directed the production and fortunately sticks to the standard concept of the opera. Grace Bumbry is a bit too cloying for me, Jon Vickers a sturdy Don José although he is rather wooden throughout the performance, even in the climactic final scene—for the ultimate in involvement watch the Corelli performance (REVIEW), or Mario Del Monaco's in Russia (REVIEW). The sound is splendid but not true 5.1 surround; the booklet states the new Ambient Surround Imaging technology was used which "converts the original stereophonic audio into authentic 5.1 surround sound." There are 53 cuing tracks.

This BBC live performance film of La traviata was made in Britain's Royal Opera House in December 1994. This was the first time Sir Georg Solti conducted the opera, and soprano Angela Gheorghiu's first assumption of the role of Violetta. After the highly-praised first performance, it was decided to make a film, and the result is an extraordinary treat for opera lovers. Gheorghiu is outstanding both vocally and physically, and the supporting cast is excellent. This is a superb presentation of Verdi's masterpiece, beautifully filmed and and recorded, although the sound isn't authentic 5.1 surround, it is very, very good. There are 24 cuing tracks.The video is available in two versions; the one covered here also includes a "bonus" CD of more than an hour of highlights from the opera, presumably taken from the Decca CD recording of the opera made at the same time.

Videos from Gran Teatre del Liceu have had their ups (Hamlet) and way downs (Das Rheingold/Die Walküre) but this performance of Shostakovich's lurid masterpiece Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is a definite "up." Nadine Secunda is a full-figured, lusty Katerina whose voice is perfect for the role. The entire cast is excellent, and the live performance atmosphere adds to the excitement. Conductor Alexander Anissimov provides a passionate account of the score, and a major plus is the 5.l surround sound which vividly captures both orchestral and vocal sound. The "love scene" from Act I, with its roaring brass, is a sonic demonstration interlude. There's another DVD video of this opera, a film by Petr Weigl that uses the 1978 EMI recording (with Galina Vishnevskaya) as the soundtrack along with superb actors. Fine though that is, those interested in this controversial opera (Stalin called the composer "an enemy of the people" after he heard it) surely will wish to have this splendid EMI set.


R.E.B. (June 2005)