LEHAR: The Merry Widow
PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly
MOZART: The Magic Flute
Franz Lehar's immortal Merry Widow is presented here in a San Francisco Opera production recorded during a performance Dec. 8, 2001 at the War Memorial Opera House. New dialogue from Pulitzer Prize-winning playright Wendy Wasserstein adds to the production as does an original ballet during the 'Chez Maxim' scene. The entire cast is superb, with soprano Yvonne Kenny singing the title role for the first time and doing so brilliantly. In addition to fine singing throughout, all of the singers are well fitted physically for their parts, the many stretches of dialogue spoken with style. Everything about this production is first-rate, the beautiful sets and costumes are perfect, camera work is exemplary, and the Dolby digital surround sound totally natural.
Herbert von Karajan's video is a Jean-Pierre Ponnelle color film production dating from about 1974, a lush, ponderous, big-scale treatment of Puccini's masterpiece.About the same time the conductor made a studio recording, also with the Vienna Philharmonic and Mirella Freni, this time partnered by Luciano Pavarotti as Pinkerton; Placido Domingo is featured on the video. He was in his prime at the time—and looked quite handsome as the unfaithful officer. Freni was a fine Butterfly, and one could not find a more effective Suzuki than Christa Ludwig. The remainder of the cast is equally strong. Decca's 5 channel surround sound is artificially created, but natural, although the singers often are quite distant. Karajan's tempi are lethargic and it is to the singers' credit that they can sustain their vocal lines at this slow tempo. The performance obviously was recorded first, then filmed, with occasional lip-sync problems. Ponnelle's direction is a bit artsy at times with many hazy outside episodes.On occasion the singers don't move their mouths while "singing," and Ponnelle has Pinkerton leap through the paper wall of Butterfly's house at the opera's conclusion—a dubious decision.
Sir Colin Davis leads the Royal Opera House Orchestra in a sprightly performance of Mozatr's The Magic Flute. The cast throughout is excellent and all benefit from Sir Colin's expertise as a Mozart conductor. Director David McVicar keeps things moving impressively with Diana Damrau a remarkably accurate Queen of the Night, Franz-Josef Selig coping well with the demanding bass role of Sarastro, Will Hartmann and Dorothea Roschmann perfect as Tamino and Pamina, and Simon Keenlyside delightful as Papageno, with Ailish Tynan as Papagena. Beautifully presented in every way and, as always, the surtitles (in English and Spanish) will help the novice.
Opus Arte's Carmen is not of the same level, primarily because of the directing of _________. The opera, perhaps the most performed opera in the world, seems to be indestructable, in spite of being subjected to a variety of ill-advised intervening directors who impose their own will on Bizet's masterpiece, usually to negative effect. I'm sure Anne Sophie van Otter could be an effective in the title role but in this production she is an unclassy, unsympathetic creature. I doubt that Marcus Haddock's Don Jose would impress regardless of the director, and Laurent Naouri's Escamillo is surprisingly unmasculine for a leading toreador, Lisa Milnes is a matronly-appearing Michaela. Director ____ decides to have male dancers in the Act II Gypsy Dance (which conductor Jordan begins at a very slow tempo) in spite of the fact the Bizet specified there would be none. OTHER
problems? ? Please add..... Photograpy is fine, as is the sound, but the finest Carmens on DVD remain the 1984 Columbia Tri-Star issue conducted by Lorin Maazel with Placido Domingo and Julia Megenes-Johnson, or the Universal 1987 Metropolitan Opera issue with James Levine conducting, and Agnes Baltsa and Jose Carreras.