MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov
SALLINEN: The Palace
MOZART: Sonata in G, K. 302. Violin Sonata in E flat, K. 302.
Violin Sonata in C, K. 303. Sonata in E minor, K. 304. Sonata in A, K.
305. Sonata in D, K. 306.
Here is the final installment of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen in the exciting new Netherlands Opera production. The first three were reviewed on this site: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre and Siegfried. George Tsypin's remarkable sets, imaginative costumes designed by Eiko Ishioka and stage direction by Pierre Audi combine in an imaginative and powerful modern treatment of Wagner's masterpiece. The singing is of a uniformly high level although heldentenor Heinz Kruse's Siegfried is strained; he was much better in the previous music drama. Jeannine Altmeyer's Brünnhilde is adequate but she acts well. The visual effect in the final scene is stunning; there's no horse, but the image of fire for the immolation has been brilliantly achieved. Photography is superb, surround sound excellent and surtitles are in seven languages. Extra features are an introduction to the opera, a brief cast gallery, and illustrated synopsis. Highly recommended!
Another winner is Gran Teatre del Liceu's production of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov produced in the Fall of 2004. This is the original version (I prefer the Rimsky-Korsakov edition), so we have no love scene between Marina and Dimitri, and sparser orchestration throughout. Willy Decker's stage direction is basic and powerful, dominated by a huge chair (not a throne) symbolizing power, and the image of the innocent tsarevich appears often. Costumes are contemporary but effective. Finnish bass Matti Salminen was 59 at the time of these performances. He is a superb Boris totally in command vocally and histrionically. The entire cast is strong, the chorus superb. Tenor Brian Asawa sings Fyodor very well, but hardly looks like the Tzar's young son. Conductor Sebastian Weigle misses none of the power of Mussorgsky's music, and doesn't hesitate in using big bells for effect. The warm acoustics of Liceu are richly captured, although the DTS surround sound advertised on the DVD box isn't on the disk; however, Dolby digital is. This is a splendid DVD.
Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen's opera The Palace (his fifth) has a libretto by German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger and German-American author Irene Dische both of whom apparently were inspired by Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio, even using names of some characters in Mozart's opera to create a dramatic opera far removed from Mozart's effervescent music. The Palace is a satirical look at the dangers of tyranny. It's based on the successful overthrow in 1974 of Ethiopian emperor Halle Selassi after 44 years of dictatorship and transfer of power from a tyranny to the greater brutality and corruption of a military dictatorship, the subject of this opera. Juha-Pekka Kiljunen's stage design is simple but effective and Riitta Riihonen's costumes work well. The music is wonderfully old-fashioned brimming with beautiful tunes and colorful orchestration all of which seem rather inappropriate for such a dark subject. The performance was filmed in the courtyard of Olavlinna Castle in Finland where an opera festival has taken place every year since 1974 often featuring the remarkable Finnish bass Matti Talvela who directed the company. The entire cast (which boasts Tom Krause as Ossip) is superb, and conductor Okko Kamu, a champion of Sallinen's music, obviously cherishes this score. This video was made in 1995 at the premiere of The Palace. Audio is excellent stereo, camera work just what it should be. There's a brief short feature on making of The Palace, and subtitles in six languages. A fascinating opera, to be investigated by all operaphiles.
Euroarts' DVD of Mozart's six sonatas for piano and violin is a superb presentation of the repertory. These are stylish, secure performances by Gil Shaham, one of today's master violinists, and his younger sister Orli, who has a distinguished career on her own. Gil and Orli Shaham often present this music in concerts; these performances were recorded in Vienna in December 2005 at the Palais Daun-Kinsey, without an audience. Paul Smaczny produced the recording, and direction was by Michael Beyer. During the first sonata, Gil is behind his sister and as there is much communication between the two, she has to swing around to see him. Wisely, for the remainder he is in her sight line. The beautiful photography shows the elegant palatial surroundings, and audio quality is fine, although 5.1 surround is hardly necessary for this repertory.
R.E.B. (July 2006)