PONCHIELLI: La Gioconda
Publicity for this Gioconda announces this is the first time Deborah Voight has sung the title role. Although the much-discussed American soprano sings all the notes, Gioconda is not ideal for her, at least at this point in her career. The opera itself, with its convoluted and rather absurd plot, must have an all-star cast to be effective which, with one major exception, it doesn't receive here. In 1934 at the Met performances featured Rosa Ponselle, Rose Bampton, Gladys Swarthout and Giovanni Martinelli—now that is a cast! Great interpreters of the title role of the past have included, in addition to Ponselle, Giannina Arangi-Lombardi (whose 1931 recording is available on Naxos), Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi. The only truly outstanding singer in this video is Ewa Podles whose La Cieca is magnificent both musically and dramatically. The remainder of the cast doesn't impress. This production, directed by Italian architect Pier Luigi Pizzi, has rather simple sets and costumes, and moves action from the 17th century of the libretto to the 18th, which doesn't make much of a difference. Filmed during performances at Gran Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona in 2005 (no month is specified), the director has a severe case of bosomitis. Every woman in the cast (except for La Cieca) has more bodice exposed than most people would want to see. As the French whimsically say, Elle a bien du monde au balcon ("She has a lot of people in her balcony"). And if you are interested in cleavage, you will see the exquisite ballerina Letizia Giulianiu total undraped above the waist in the famous "Dance of the Hours." Giuliani and danseur Ángel Corella are spectacular, as is the entire corps de ballet. Imaginatively choreographed, this balletic interlude is presented with remarkable precision and coordination. This "Dance of the Hours" is stunning, a highlight of this performance and justification, in itself, for acquiring this recording. Camera work is fine, sonics excellent. There are no bonus features.
Giordano's Fedora has been a verismo operatic showcase for sopranos throughout the years, particularly Maria Caniglia, Maria Callas, Magda Olivero and Renata Tebaldi. Mirella Freni created a sensation in this production by Lamberto Puggelli created for her at La Scala in 1993 almost four decades after her operatic debut. This highly dramatic role is perfect for her histrionic abilities, and she is joined by Plácido Domingo who also can be seen with her in their 1997 Met performance, also available on DVD video (DGG 302709) (which I have not seen). Domingo is magnificent as the betrayed Loris. Unfortunate Fedora, who caused the deaths of Loris's mother and brother, dies in the final scene after taking poison as the only way out of her predicament—and does so to some of Giordano's most affecting music. Camera work is excellent as is the sound although not true 5.l surround as advertised. During the final moments of the death scene, video director Luisa Spinatelli superimposes conductor Gianandrea Gavazzeni who was 84 at the time, but led the performance with total control.
This new Rigoletto offers a production by Graham Vick with sets and costumes by Paul Brown. Their goal was "using concepts to convey the essence of the drama." Visually pleasing props were consciously avoided with each scene "underlining with a broad brush the drama's tremendous brutality." Rigoletto often is seated in a comfortable leather armchair. Sometimes the floor is tilted, and Gilda, at the end of "Caro nome" begins to climb a tree in her yard. In the final scene, Rigoletto places Gilda in the armchair and in the last moments of the opera dumps her on the floor. Carlos Álvarez is excellent in the title role, Inva Mula a touching and vocally assured Gilda. Marcelo Alvarez is no better than he was in the dreadful David McVicar Royal Opera House production (see REVIEW). Excellent photography and sonics, but this is not a production I want to see of Rigoletto
R.E.B. (November 2006)