WAGNER: Siegfried
Heinz Kruse (Siegfried); Jeannine Altmeyer (Brünnhilde); Graham Clark (Mime); John Bröcheler (Wanderer/Wotan); Henk Smit (Alberich); Carsten Stabell (Fafner); Anne Gjevang (Erda); Stefan Pangratz (Forest Bird); Rotterdam Philharmonic Orch/Hartmut Haenchen, cond.
OPUS ARTE DVD VIDEO OA 0948 D TT: 273 min.

VERDI: Un ballo en maschera
Massimiliano Pisapia (Riccardo); Chiara Taigi (Amelia); Franco Vassallo (Renato); Anna Maria Chiuri (Ulrica); Eun Yee You (Oscar); Herman Wallén (Silvano); Tuomas POursio (Samuel); Metodie Bujor (Tom); Leipzig Ballet; Leipzig Opera Chorus; Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch/Riccardo Chailly, cond.
EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 2055108 TT: 137 min.

ROSSINI: Il signor Bruschino
Alessandro Corbelli (Gaudenzio); Amelia Felle (Sofia); Alberto Rinaldi (Bruschino padre); Vito Gobbi (Bruschino figlio); David Kuebler (Florville); Oslavio di Credico (Commissario di polizia); Carlos Feller (Filiberto); Janice Hall (Marianna); Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orch/Gianluigi Gelmetti, cond.
EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 2054988 TT: 98 min.

Excerpts from Aida, Fidelio, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Don Giovanni, Die Meistersinger, and Der Rosenkavalier
Singers include Edita Gruberova, Plácido Domingo, Thomas Hampson, Soile Isokoski, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Violeta Urmana, Johan Botha, Agnes Baltsa, Falk Struckman, and Deborah Polaski, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa, Zubin Mehta, Christian Thielemann, Danielle Gatti, and Franz Welser-Möst
EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 2054928 TT: 188 min.

The Netherlands Opera continues their imaginative traversal of Wagner's Ring with this issue of Siegfried; the first two, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, already have been REVIEWED on this site. Again we have the circular stage with the orchestra in the middle, sparse but imaginative sets and costumes, although, to this viewer, they always don't work. It seems odd indeed when Brünnhilde appears on a laboratory table with lighted florescent light bulbs under it. However, Siegfried's encounter with the giant Fafner in Act II is very well done, and the production constantly surprises in a most engaging way. The short but important role of the Forest Bird is sung by Stefan Pangratz, a member of the Vienna Choir Boys, who acts better than he sings. Tenor Heinz Kruse, a new heldentenor on the operatic scene (he has recorded Zemlinsky, Weill and Krenek) copes well with the demanding title role, but soprano Jeannine Altmeyer, who won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions in 1970, is towards the end of a career that included some distinguished moments (Sieglinde in Boulez's 1976 Bayreuth Ring) and gives all she has, which isn't quite enough. John Bröcheler's Wotan/Wanderer continues to impress, Henk Smit is an appropriately scheming Alberich. Carstan Stabell's Fafner is menacing, Anne Gjevang's Erda rather wobbly. Hartmut Haenchen's direction is brisk in accordance with the new Wagner edition. The "Cast Gallery" consists solely of a picture and artist's name. The illustrated synopsis is 9:15 and very well presented with scenes from the production. There also is a lengthy (38:08) introduction to Siegfried with presenter Michaël Zeeman, composer Peter-Jan Wagemans, and pianist Stefan Mickisch. Subtitles are provided in seven languages, and audio 5.1 quality is excellent. Producers provide more than 50 track identifications (with timings for each) but for some perverse reason haven't numbered them making it awkward to try to find a particular track.

This new production of Un ballo in maschera was recorded live in November 2005, one of the first operatic productions of Riccardo Chailly in his major new role on Leipzig's musical scene. Arnaldo Pomodoro's stage design is rather stark but effective, his costumes colorful, if rather quirky for Ulrica whose garb looks like a porcupine, and Oscar who in later scenes seems to have nuts and bolts attached to her. Vocally, this Ballo doesn't challenge other DVD versions (the Met with Luciano Pavarotti, Aprile Millo, and Levine conducting on DG, the Salzburg production with Plácido Domingo and Josephine Barstow with Solti conducting, on TDK). Massimiliano Pisapia and Chiara Taigi as the unfortunate lovers surely won't erase memories of many past inspired performances (if you've heard the incredible Met broadcast from 1940 with Jussi Bjoerling and Zinka Milanov, you've heard the best). Nyika Jancsó's photography has entirely too many super close-ups: who really wants to see the singers that close? Jürgen Otten's program notes are adulatory about this performance and concept of Ballo, stating Chailly "exposes the work's harmonic flanks, gazing deep into the unfathomable depths of the score and essentially offering an interpretation that serves as a rebuttal of the beauties of bel canto...." whatever that means. Camera work is sometimes shaky, 5.1 sound excellent and subtitles are provided in five languages.

Rossini's Il signor Bruschino is almost exclusively known for its brilliant overture with its unique effect as strings tap their bows on music stands (and in this video we of course see them close up doing this). The composer wrote five one-act operas in his youth of which this is the last. The Venice premiere in 1813 was a total failure, but Rossini retained affection for the opera stating at the age of 66, "...I am happy about having committed this youthful folly." The score contains some charming music, much florid writing, and one major soprano aria ("Ah, donate il caro sposo") that hasn't yet attracted attention from star divas. Based on a French plot, the story is of Florville in love with Sofia who has been promised to Bruschino whom she has never met. Florville masquerades as the groom-to-be, with the expected comic situations. The cast is uniformly strong, and conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti keeps things moving indeed—as he did in four Rossini overtures recorded for EMI in Stuttgart in 1991, just released in a budget set (REVIEW) .Il signor Bruschino is not a new recording—it dates from May 7-9, 1989. This production by Opera der Stadt Köln was recorded in the intimate rococo theater of Schwetzingen Palace, a perfect setting for this light-hearted farce. TV direction by Claus Viller is excellent, as is the 5.1 sound.

A Gala Concert took place November 5, 2005 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the reopening of the Vienna State Opera after World War II. Many of today's finest singers participated as well as five conductors long associated with the venerable institution, in excerpts from six operas presented during the reopening November 1955. None were staged; these are all concert performances. Edita Gruberova, who first sang with the VSO 35-years ago, was still in remarkable form in an excerpt from Don Giovanni, and other singers listed above were at their best, although it seems odd Violeta Urmana was chosen to sing "O patria mia" from Aida—surely not the best role for her. Of particular interest are two of the newcomers, Genia Kühmeier as Sophie in Rosenkavalier, and Ricarda Merbeth as The Empress in Frau ohne schatten. The closing scene from Frau was magnificently presented under conductor Franz Welser-Möst's inspired direction. There's much of historic interest here. Often pictures are shown of casts and programs from legendary Vienna State Opera performances. Brian Large directed the production with his usual expertise, 5.1 sound is excellent, and subtitles are provided in four languages.

R.E.B. (June 2006)