"THE BERLIN CONCERT"
PLÁCIDO DOMINGO HOMMAGE A SEVILLA
GOUNOD: Mireille (abridged)
"The Berlin Concert" is an absolute knock-out. Here we have three of today's major singers, all at the top of their form, incredibly responsive to each other, all having a fabulous time, as did the audience. This concert was given in the Waldbühne July 7, 2006, an outdoor amphitheater in western Berlin, with a capacity of about 20,000. Tasteful amplification and large-screen TVs to permit the entire audience to hear and see the performers. Plácido Domingo and Rolando Villazón are casually dressed, Anna Netrebko ravishingly beautiful in varied costumes. High points of the program are a magnificent love duet from Otello, the big duet from The Pearl Fishers with Domingo (singing the baritone part) and Villazón, Netrebko's stunning "O mio babbino caro," and the Act I conclusion of La Bohème, with the dream duo Netrebko/Villazón. Excitement mounts as the program proceeds from one treasure to another, and the encores include Villazón's tremendously virile La danza, Domingo singing zarzuela, and Netrebko's Musetta. The concert ends with a thrilling "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from The Land of Smiles, sung by all three, in which the interplay between the singers and the incredible singing!! are pure pleasure. While not labelled as high definition video, it easily could be, and surround sound could not be bettered—you are right there along with the cheering crowd. This is a DVD I will return to often. Get it!
The opera scenes in Plácido Domingo's tribute to his beloved Seville were filmed in that city in December 1981, his commentaries in July 1991. The operatic scenes are presented in elaborate, imaginative stagings by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, and it's obvious no expense was spared. In the Don Giovanni excerpt, Domingo is the Don, but also is seen as Leporello. The final duet from Carmen oddly takes place inside the arena, with Victoria Vergara a vocally disappointing heroine. The 8-minute behind the scenes feature has Domingo, Levine and Ponelle discussing, rather awkwardly, the concept of the film. Photography is superb, the artificially-induced surround sound OK, but this brief video is primarily for Domingo fans who want to have everything he recorded.
Again we salute VAI for making available historic performances. Gounod's Faust, premiered in 1859, quickly became one of the most popular operas of all time. Such was not the fate of Mireille, premiered in 1864, and understandably so. Based on Mistral's poem, with a weak libretto by Michel Carré, it's the story of the unfortunate young girl Mireille, in love with the poor basket-maker Vincent. Her wealthy father doesn't approve and wishes her to marry the wealthy herdsman Ourrias. The latter attempts to kill Vincent, but the witch Taven (who wears a very funny fake nose) saves his life. At the end, Mireille dies in Vincent's arms (the revised version of the opera has a happy ending). Gounod's music is always pleasant but unmemorable, although a few arias are sometimes programmed. This VAI video offers a Radio-Canada telecast of January 24, 1957, with a sterling cast headed by the husband/wife team of Léopold Simoneau and Pierrette Alarie (who four years earlier had recorded Bizet's Pearl Fishers for Philips). The entire cast is excellent, and Roland Leduc conducts the radio orchestra. The black and white photography is fine, as is the monophonic sound. Sets are what one would expect from a live telecast and there are some quite impressive (for the time) visual effects. Act II of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande is seen from a telecast of March 24, 1955, of interest particularly because of Suzanne Danco's Mélisande. The Belgian soprano specialized in this role and recorded it in its entirety with Ernest Ansermet on the podium. Audio quality for the Debussy is not as good as Mireille, but those who treasure this opera won't mind. What other treasures might be lurking in the Canadian archives?
R.E.B. (April 2007)