MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 6 in B flat,K. 238. Piano Concerto
No. 19 in F, K. 459. Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466.
WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde
Overshadowed by Italy's more famous major opera houses, the Municipal Theatre of Piacenza isn't very well known, but it's been around for more than two centuries. Based on what is heard and seen on this DVD, produced by the Italian Television, Piacenza is a quality organization. This presentation of Verdi's Nabucco was recorded in September 2004 on the bicentennial of the opera house, and for the most part is a first-class production. Nabucco was Verdi's first major success on the operatic stage, premiered at La Scala in 1842. This production by Paolo Panizza is rather basic but effective, fortunately not including any effort at modernizing the plot except for brief appearances by the "acrobatic dance group" Sonics, which adds nothing to the occasion. Costumes by Valerio Maggioni are colorful and most of the singing is superb. American soprano Andrea Gruber, a relative newcomer to the operatic scene, is outstanding in the incredibly demanding role of Abigaille, with agility, power and ease of production. Both Ambrogio Maestri in the title role and Paata Burchuladze as Zaccaria are outstanding, with Nino Surguladze a fine Fenena. Tenor Nazzareno Antinori isn't quite at this level, but is adequate. Aside from a touch of tentative playing, the orchestra is very good, and conductor Daniel Oren keeps things moving incisevely. The chorus, which plays such an important part in this opera, is outstanding. No specific credits are given for film direction on this, but whoever was responsible focused on close-ups of not only the principal singers, but single members of the chorus as well—highly distracting and unnecessary. And this approach lets us see layers of thick, golden pancake makeup Gruber had to endure. But don't let this keep you from enjoying a fine performance of Verdi's masterpiece. The 5.1 surround sound is excellent; there are no "extras."
Euroarts' DVD is the third in their series of "Great Piano Concertos" (the first was REVIEWED on this site). A more appropriate title for the series could be "Complete Piano Concertos," as surely some of the earlier concertos aren't of the calibre or interest of the more mature works. At any rate, these are magnificent performances with video direction by Janos Darvas, produced by Bernd Hellthaler. All were recorded in different halls, No. 6 at Schwetzingen Palace May 22, 1989, No. 19 in Munich's Sophiensaal July 12, 1990, No. 20 at the Rittersaal of Palais Waldstein, November 19-20, 1990. Excellent camera work, and fine sonics distinguish this series.
This production of Wagner's masterpiece was directed by Alfred Kirchner, considered to be a major figure in today's opera scene. Forget what Wagner said he wanted; Kirchner elected to have Tristen stab himself at the end of Act II, and at the conclusion of the opera Isolde doesn't die—she stands motionless looking out into the night. Sets by Annette Murschetz are basic and boxy, Ann Poppel's costumes simple. One might be able to accept this if musically the performance was very well sung, but it is not. John Treleaven is severely taxed by the role of Tristan, approximating many of the notes, as inadequate here as he was as Siegmund in Liceu's Siegfried and Gotterdämmerung. Debora Polaski has been around for a long time and sounds like it. Vocal honors go to Lioba Braun, Erik Halfvarson and Falk Struckmann. There are 29 tracks on this recording but they aren't numbered, which is an inconvenience.The 5.l surround sound is unexceptional and favors the orchestra. As a performance this is far removed from the vocal splendors of the Met DVD featuring Ben Heppener and Jane Eaglen with James Levine conducting (see REVIEW). Skip this one, for sure!
R.E.B. (May 2006)