STRAUSS: Capriccio
Renée Fleming (The Countess); Dietrich Henschel (The Count); Rainer Trost (Flamand); Gerald Finley (Olivier); Franz Hawlata (La Roche); Anne Sofie von Otter (Clairon); Robert Tear (Monsieur Taupe); Annamaria Dell'Oste (Italian Singer); Barry Banks (Italian Tenor); Petri Lindroos (Major-domo); Paris National Opera Orch/Ulf Schirmer, cond.

PROKOFIEV: The Stone Flower (ballet)
Lyudmilla Semenyaka (Katerina); Nikolai Dorokhov (Danile); Yuri Vetrov (Severyan); Nina Semizorova (Mistress of the Copper Mountain); Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Theatre Orch/Aleksandr Kopilov, cond.
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD VIDEO 101 121 TT: 120 min.

PROKOFIEV: Betrothal in a Monastery
Anna Netrebko (Louisa); Larissa Diadkova (The Duenna); Nikolai Gassiev (Don Jerome); Aleksander Gergalov (Don Ferdinand); Marianna Tarassova (Clara); Yevgeny Akimov (Don Antonio); Sergei Aleksashkin (Isaac Mendoza); Yuri Shkliar (Don Carlos); Kirov Ballet, Opera Chorus and Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.
PHILIPS DVD VIDEO B0005188 TT: 157 min.

HANDEL: Water Music
English Concert/Andrew Manze, cond.

This production of Capriccio, recorded at the Paris Opera in July 2004, had premiered the previous month to unanimous acclaim. The luxurious sets and costumes were by Michael Levine and Anthony Powell. Stage direction by Robert Carsen is imaginative in its recreation of the opera's "stage on stage" concept, beginning with Renée Fleming sitting in the audience, then going on stage on which there is another stage. It all works in this brilliant presentation of Strauss's rather long operatic discussion of which is more important in opera—words or music?—a question not resolved. The entire cast is perfect, with Fleming radiant—and gorgeous—as the Countess. This is a definitive performance beautifully photographed with outstanding 5 channel surround sound along with surtitles in five languages. Essential for Strauss lovers.

After the success of Cinderella in 1945, Prokofiev looked for a subject for a new ballet and chose one based on a fable from a collection of stories of the lives of miners in Ural. The Stone Flower, finished in 1950, wasn't premiered until 1954, a year after Prokokfiev's death. In this story, the malachite stone carver Danila wishes to create a perfect artwork. While searching for the perfect flower for his subject, he encounters and is seduced by the Mistress of the Copper Mountain. Danila's bride, Katerina, searches for him but finds that he has been turned into stone by the Mistress. When Danila returns to life, he chooses Katerina over the Mistress, and the ballet ends happily. The score includes an extensive series of lively folk dances, but the music doesn't compare with Prokofiev's earlier ballet masterpieces, Cinderella, or Romeo and Juliet. The production seen here, choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich, has been performed at the Bolshoi for well over four decades. This performance was filmed in 1990. It's a rather drab affair, with photography that often is blurred, stereo sound that should be better for a recording made 15 years ago. There is another DVD available of Stone Flower in a performance by the Kirov Ballet—haven't seen it, but surely it should be investigated before acquiring this disappointing Bolshoi version.

Other lesser-known Prokofiev can be viewed via the Philips set of his comic opera Betrothal in a Monastery. It's an all-star cast, in particular soprano Anna Netrebko as Louisa, in love with Don Antonio, sung by Yevgeny Akimov. This is Prokofiev's take on Sheridan's The Duenna, set in Seville as are Rossini's Barber of Seville and Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. Comic situations abound, with two pairs of lovers, a rich old lecher, and problem parents. The cast is uniformly strong, with Larissa Diadkova's lusty Duenna stealing the show. Wonderful costumes, beautiful photography and convincing 5.1 surround sound make this a most attractive issue. 48 cuing tracks help you find what you want. Recommended.

The Opus Arte issue is a BBC documenary of Handel's Water Music attempting to "recreate a royal spectacular," the 1717 premiere of this music" filmed in costume on a regal-style barge against the backdrop of the present-day Thames from Whitehall to Chelsea." With narration by biographer Peter Ackroyd, this production investigates the story behind this event and what it seen here is the second-ever performance on the river, filmed in costume on a regal-style period barge. Members of the English Concert wear costumes of the time (looking quite uncomfortable in them). An extra feature "follows the river route as it would have looked in 1717, while listening to the music, in a special multi-angle performance version featuring an historic-style panoramic view." I found it all rather boring, and the "5.1 surround sound" does what it can to provide a listenable acoustic recorded under such circumstances. This documentary, with a playing time of 78 minutes, is not inexpensive. Probably only historians will find interest in it.

R.E.B. (December 2005)