PUCCINI: La Bohème
DONIZETTI: Roberto Devereux
This production of Elektra is fascinating in many ways. Director Martin Kusej and designer Rolf Glittenberg give their interpretation of Hofmannsthal's tragedy. Elektra is "a young punk with clumpy shoes, jogging rousers and a hooded jumper." The serving maidens wear short skirts and skimpy aprons, characters seem constantly to be running across the stage in various states of undress and provocative action. At the time of Elektra's triumphant final dance (very understated by the protagonist), we see a Brazilian cabaret sceneand dancers with gaudy costumes. After the premiere at the Zurich Opera House December 13, 2003, critics wrote of this production, "sick, but superb," and "madness without end." Christoph von Dohnányi conducts with total authority, and the cast is uniformly strong. Eva Johannsson negotiates the title role with ease; doubtless we will be hearing much more from her. Melanie Diener, one of the newest singers on the Strauss horizon, shows she has what it takes. Marjana Lipovsek is totally neurotic as Klytämnestra and, unfortunately, is costumed in comic fashion; her murder scene doesn't amount to much, and Rudolf Schasching is a mincing, weakling Aegisth. Sound quality is superb, but Felix Breisach's video direction has far too many super closeups. This is an intriguing new look at Strauss's masterpiece.
Already there are more than a half-dozen DVD videos of La Bohème. This new Madrid production offers little competition to the best of them. Giancarlo del Monaco directed, with superlative sets and costumes by Michael Scott. In booklet notes, Monaco states each dramatic situation has "a cinematographic form and shape" and his production was based upon these ideas—whatever that means. No question that his direction includes many imaginative gestures, and the first act ending on a very dark stage is highly effective. As Mimì and Rodolfo sing of their love, the scene is unobtrusively changed and instantly— immediately at the end of their duet—we find ourselves immersed in the bustling activity outside Café Momus. In spite of some compelling visual effects, every Bohème needs top quality singers, and this one falls short. Inva Mula is a touching Mimì, and a splendid actress. Aquiles Machado states in the feature included in this set that the role of Rodolfo has special importance to him; perhaps this recording, made in Teatro Real in Madrid in March 2006, found him on an off day. Other male characters are excellent but Laura Giordano's Musetta, while well acted, vocally doesn't convince, and her Waltz Song is harsh. The production was filmed with high definition cameras and "true surround sound"—very impressive in this area.
DGG's video of Donizetti's Roberto Devereux is a production filmed at the Bavarian State Opera in May 2005, staged by Christof Loy who in 2004 was called "Director of the Year" by the German opera magazine Opernwelt. Loy turns Donizetti's period opera into a detective story combined with references to Pedro Almodóvar's social comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Designer Herbert Murauer has created the ambience of a fictional present-day England. The cast is excellent, particularly soprano Edita Gruberova who continues to astound with her longevity on the opera stage—she made her official operatic debut in 1968. Almost 60 at the time of this production (she was born in 1946), Gruberova tosses off the coloratura demands of Queen Elizabeth with the greatest of ease. If you don't mind seeing a performance of this opera that takes place mainly in a train station, you'll find this release worthy in many ways. Brian Large directed the video, the surround sound (in this case 5.0) is superb, and the disk includes a documentary on this production.. As a performance this is superior to the 1975 Wolf Trap performance that featured Beverly Sills too late in her career.
R.E.B. (December 2006)