STRAVINSKY: The Rake's Progress.
RACHMANINOFF: The Miserly Knight.
BELCANTO - The Tenors of the 78 Era - Part II
TAVENER: Fall and Resurrection.
Rachmaninoff composed three operas, Aleko (1892), The Miserly Knight (1903-05) and Francesca da Rimini (1905). The Miserly Knight, with a libretto by the composer after one of the Little Tragedies by Alexander Pushkin, had its premiere at the Bolshoi Opera January 24, 1906. The plot is simple: the wealthy Knight (Baron) hoards his tremendous wealth and will not give any of it to his son, Albert, who has to borrow from local moneylenders and finally throws himself at the mercy of the feudal Duke. The latter meets with the Baron and asks him to support his son, which he refuses to do in a 20-minute plus powerful monologue about greed and selfishness. The Baron slanders his son who then confronts him and, after a duel, the Baron dies—and that's all there is to the plot. Like the other two Rachmaninoff operas, The Miserly Knight is rather short. The composer wrote the major part of the Baron for the great Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, who had scored a great success in Rachmaninoff's Aleko a decade earlier; but,. for whatever reason, the famed bass didn't champion either the big scene or the opera. This DVD is a production recorded July 1, 2004 at the Glyndebourne Festival. Sergei Leiferkus is magnificent as the Baron, a specacular display of vocal artistry in a role that covers the extremes of the baritone/bass voice. Richard Berkeley-Steele as the unfunded son Albert, is adequate, in much better form than he was as Siegmund in the Liceu Opera's dismal Die Walküre about a year earlier (see REVIEW). The other three three singers are excellent, and Matilda Leyser, listed as an "aerialist," presents a very limber image of the spirit of greed. Rachmaninonff's dark, rich score is beautifully played by the London Philharmonic, and conductor Vladimir Jurowski obviously loves this music. A sticker on the DVD cover proclaims this is "high definition in sound & vision"—and this is true. Photography is ultra-defined, the 5.1 surround sound is magnificent in capturing the stage production, with particularly natural orchestral sound. There's no printed libretto, but surtitles are available in five languages. Interviews with Jurowski and Leiferkus are included. When this opera was presented at Glyndebourne, it was coupled with Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, which is being released separately—odd, as the two would have made a fine pairing on DVD, and there's plenty of room for both.
The second DVD in the Belcanto - Tenors of the 78 Era series contains many treasures, although some of the faults of the first volume remain (see REVIEW). Here we have half-hour programs devoted to Lauritz Melchior, Helge Rosvaenge, Jussi Björling, John McCormack, Georges Thill, Ivan Kozlovsky and, briefly, Fernando de Luca, a tenor barely represented on video, so much of his half-hour is devoted to the history of vocal recording. As with Volume I, there are many interviews with family, friends and associates of each tenor, often interrupting the videos—most annoying indeed! There are many treasures, notably Kozlovsky's singing of Rachmaninoff, Georges Thill in rehearsal with Joseph Canteloube at the piano, videos of Schipa and Bjöerling, and several all-too-brief excerpts from movies made by many of the tenors. On the negative side we also have the opportunity to hear a brief concert performance by Stefan Zucker in which he attempts to illustrate the castrato sound, and he also comments brieflyon some of the other singers. In spite of these negatives, this is a DVD opera lovers will wish to have, in spite of its limitations.
Five years ago K.S. reviewed Tavener's Fall and Resurrection when Chandos released it on CD (see REVIEW). Now we have, courtesy of BBC/Opus Arte, a video of the concert in artificial, but effective, "surround sound." Recorded in St. Paul's Cathedral in London January 4, 2000, this is typical Tavener, and the huge masses of sound in Catastrophe and Cosmic Dance of the Resurrection are vividly reproduced. The DVD also includes a 16-minute talk by the composer called The Eye of the Heart.
R.E.B. (August 2005)