BIRGIT NILSSON - Bell Telephone Hour 1961-1967
Both of these recent DVDs of two major operas, productions of the Gran Theatre del Liceu, disappoint. Otello is from performances in February 2006. José Cura in the title role is physically impressive, but his interpretation is coarse and not always on pitch. The remainder of the cast is uniformly excellent, particularly Krassiumira Stoyanova as Desdemona. John Macfarlane designed sets and costumes to reflect Willy Decker's conception and production. This is stark to say the least with many barren walls. Eliminating various props supposedly gives us "the raw exposure of the three main personalities in conflict, for the benefit of the tragedy." A symbolic cross is often evident, we have no ship as Otello arrives in act one, Desemona doesn't have a bed and is killed on the floor. The first two acts are presented without a break, as are the last two. Camera work and sonics are fine, but this is not an Otello I'd care to see again.
Another Liceu production is Turandot filmed in July 2005. The title role is sung by American soprano Luana DeVol who has had quite a successful career in Europe. She was sensational in the 1992 Bavarian State Opera production of Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten (see REVIEW), but now, based on this performance as the Princess Turandot, she is in severe vocal difficulties. Only at the conclusion of Act III does she begin to suggest the glory her voice once possessed. Barbara Frittoli is a vocally assured Liù, but tenor Franco Farina an edgy Calaf who just doesn't have the vocal resources required. When he hits the huge gong at the end of the first act, he hits it with tremendous impact—a highlight of his performance. The production, with sets by Ezio Frigerio and costumes by Franca Squarciapino, generally is beautiful, although costumes for Ping, Pang and Pong in the first two acts are inappropriate—the three men look like women in a sauna. Director Núria Espert has decided that Turandot should commit suicide at the end of the opera. Rather unlikely indeed; she has just discovered love, so she kills herself? Another reason for collectors not to consider this version of Puccini's masterpiece. Camera work and sonics are excellent, and there is a 19-minute informal feature on Luana DeVol.
Singing of another order is on Vai Video Artists International's DVD featuring Birgit Nilsson's performances on the Bell Telephone Hour from 1961-1967. Nilsson was at her best during this period and tosses off "In questa reggia" twice (1963/1967), as well as arias from Tannhäuser, Macbeth, La Forza del Destino, Tosca, and a truncated version of the Immolation Scene from Götterdämmerung. Unusual repertory includes Come unto Him from Messiah, Inflammatus from Rossini's Stabat Mater, and short works by Stolz and Sieczynski. The mono sound is adequate to convey the performances, as is camera work. An important issue!
R.E.B. (April 2007)