VERDI: La traviata
Anna Netrebko (Violetta); Rolando Villazón (Alfredo); Thomas Hampson (Giorgio Germont); Diane Pilcher (Annina); Helene Schneiderman (Flora); Vienna State Opera Chorus; Mozarteum Orch; Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Carlo Rizzi, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD VIDEO 0040 074 4196 (2 disks) TT: 132 min. + 47 min. bonus

VERDI: Rigoletto
Luciano Pavarotti (The Duke); Ingvar Wixell (Rigoletto); Edita Gruberova (Gilda); Ferruccio Furlanetto (Sparafucile); Victoria Vergara (Maddalena); Fedora Barbieri (Giovanna); Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Riccardo Chailly, cond.

PUCCINI: La Bohème
Mirella Freni (Mimì); Gianni Raimondi (Rodolfo); Adriana Martino (Musetta); Rolando Panerai (Marcello); Gianni Maffeo (Schaunard); Ivo Vinco (Colline); Carlo Badioli (Benoit/Alcindoro); Franco Ricciardi (Parpignol); La Scala Chorus and Orch/Herbert von Karajan, cond.

WAGNER: Tannhäuser
Richard Cassilly (Tannhäuser); Bernd Weikl (Wolfram); Robert Nagy (Walther); Eva Marton (Elisabeth); Tatiana Troyanos (Venus); John Macurdy (Landgraf); Richard J. Clark (Biterolf); Richard Vernon (Reinmar von Zweter); Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Chorus and Orch/James Levine, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD VIDEO B 0006580 (2 disks) TT: 189 min.

This Traviata was the hit of the 2005 Salzburg season, and rightfully so. All seven performances were sold out weeks in advance. The cast is extraordinary with Anna Netrebko a glamorous and vocally assured Violetta, Rolando Villazón a convincing Alfredo and Thomas Hampson an impressive Germont. Willy Decker's stark staging is impressive in its own way, although I much prefer a more standard approach—the 1968 RAI televised production with Anna Moffo (see REVIEW) is perfect in this respect .Surely in Salzburg they didn't spend much on scenery! There's hardly any except for a large clock that constantly reminds Violetta that time is running out. Carlo Rizzi's conducting is vivid and you'll never hear the chorus in Act I sung more precisely than it is here. Photography is superb and one doesn't mind close-ups of Netrebko. 5.1 surround sound is excellent, with performers in front and a pleasant ambience. A second DVD offers a documentary of behind the scenes, rehearsals, an introduction by Villazón, a picture gallery and discography. This is a splendid representation of a major opera event of the year.

The Duke in Rigoletto was one of Pavarotti's favorite roles, one he recorded commercially several times, and now we have this film version that is shows him at his best. The recording was made in Vienna December 1-23, 1981, the filming on location in Italian Renaissance landmarks at Mantua, Cremona, Sabionetta, Parma and Acquanegra April 25-May 30, 1982. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's film captures the essence of the story in a most imaginative way beginning with Rigoletto mourning the death of his daughter, the remainder a flashback to what led up to this tragic event. Elaborate sets were designed by Gianni Quaranta, luxurious costumes by Martin Schlumpf. This is an imaginative, vivid presentation of Verdi's opera that should delight opera lovers. Singing throughout is outstanding as is the acting and lyp-sync is as perfect as it could be. Sonic quality is excellent although not original 5.1 surround sound.

La Bohème is another winner, an elaborate production directed and designed by Franco Zeffirelli filmed at La Scala in 1965. Visually it is a delight and the performance is excellent although tenor Gianni Raimondi is unexceptional. The very young Mirella Freni (she was 29 at the time), is an affecting, vocally secure Mimì, Adriana Martino a voluptuous Musetta, and the remainder of the cast is uniformly strong. Karajan had great affection for this opera which he first conducted in a small opera house when he was but 22 in 1930. In 1972 he would make his famous Decca recording with Freni and Luciano Pavarotti. There's no audience for this Zeffirelli production, camera work is exemplary, the artificially induced 5.1 surround sound OK.

The Met's 1982 televised Tannhäuser, staged by Otto Schenk, is magnificent, infinitely superior to the Zurich Opera modern version (see REVIEW). It's been called "a 20th-century landmark in the history of Wagner staging" and for good reason. Visually it is stunning. Using modern theater technology and projection effects we have Wagner's opera in a performance that doubtless would have pleased the composer. The Paris version is used so we have the orgiastic Bacchanal magnificently—and sensuously—danced by the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. Richard Cassilly, at the height of his career, is superb in the title role, Tatiana Troyanos a stunning Venus, Eva Marton at her best as Elisabeth, Bernd Weikl a strong Wolfram. James Levine and the Met orchestra are superb. Originally a Live from the Met telecast, the camera work is ideal, sound totally satisfactory although the 5.1 surround sound has been artificially produced. An extra is a picture gallery of performances of Tannhäuser at the Met. This is a wonderful, definitive addition to the DVD opera catalog.

R.E.B. (July 2006)