"GALA CONCERT - 300 Years of St. Petersburg"
STRAVINSKY: Le Rossignol (a film by Christian Chaudet)
VERDI: La forza del destino
PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly
The St. Petersburg Gala Concert was recorded in the Grand Hall, St. Petersburg Philharmonia, June 1, 2003. The event was to mark the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg, considered by some to be the leading music center of the East. The program features five distinguished soloists and a wide range of music, beginning with a hyper, virtuoso performance of Shostakovich's Festive Overture, brilliantly played by the orchestra, followed by a rather odd compilation of repertory, ending with Fanfare by Rachmaninoff which is not identified as what it is—the brief brass-laden beginning of the composer's first symphony. Hvorostovsky and Netrebko are beautiful singers vocally and physically, Elisso Virsaladze plays Ravel's concerto very well, and cellist Misha Maisky and violinist Viktor Tretyakov also are in top form. Nicolai Alekseev conducts the Saint-Saëns, Ravel and Tchaikovsky polonaise; no information is given about him or any of the other performers, and there is no web link to provide this information. The 5.1 surround sound is excellent in every way. This is an entertaining program, very well presented.
Le Rossignol, a film by Christian Chaudet, is his modern-day concept of Stravinsky's opera using digital animation techniques including webcams, mobile phones, and computers. Chaudet states he "wanted the story to be set in the world of Chinese artifacts, in all the variety of their materials and colours, with all of the various dynastics and types jumbled up. Thanks to computer graphics I was able to create a world which is both theatrical and real. And I wanted the works of art to have the same fate as that of the Nightingale." He succeeded in his goal, although I would prefer a more standard representation of this enchanting work. Camera work and animation are remarkable, performances by all concerned are superb, particularly Natalie Dessay as the Nightingale. The performance was pre-recorded, the lyp-sync sometimes is a bit off, but if you enjoy this approach to Stravinsky's opera, you'll get much pleasure from this imaginative presentation. The bonuses include lengthy features on the making of the film, post-production, and audio recording sessions. The surround sound is fine, particularly in its defined representation of the many special effects.
It would be foolish to pretend that Leontyne Price's Leonora in La forza del destino as heard on this DVD of a 1984 performance, the last of many she gave at the Met, has the beauty and ease of production heard in her 1976 RCA recording with Domingo, Sherrill Milnes and James Levine conducting, much less her 1956 recording for the same label with Richard Tucker, Giorgio Tozzi, Robert Merrill and Thomas Schippers conducting, but it still has its impressive moments. This Forza is a grand performance strongly cast, cameras are always in the right place, the sound good enough, although the "surround sound" doubtless was artificially produced—although the AMSI process isn't mentioned. As a bonus, there is a picture gallery of the Met's performances of the opera.
Puccini's Madama Butterfly is given a powerful, dramatic and vocally assured performance on Opus Arte's new release of a live 2003 production by the Netherlands Opera. Director Robert Wilson, who also designed the sets and lighting, has eliminated almost all of the usual scenic effects seen in the opera - not a cherry blossom in sight - and the result is a conception that lets one focus on the music itself. Frida Parmeggiani designed the costumes which perfectly match the stark realism of Wilson's concept. The production is highly stylized with minimal movement, singers never touch each other. Cheryl Baker is magnificent in the title role both dramatically and vocally. No information is provided about her; she should be a major figure on today's operatic scene. The remainder of the cast is superb, the only quibble being that the unidentified child who portrays Butterfly's son is obviouisly more than three years old. Edo de Waart leads an impassioned performance, and the 5.1 sound is fine. The bonus includes interviews with Wilson in which he explains his concept, conductor de Waart, and soprano Cheryl Baker. Surtitles are in six languages. Highy recommended—a stunning new approach to Puccini's masterpiece.
R.E.B. (Decemer 2005)