ROSSINI: L'italiana in Algeri
Paolo Montarsolo (Mustafà); Marilyn Horne (Isabella); Spiro Malas (Haly); Myra Merritt (Elvira); Diane Kesling (Zuima); Douglas Ahlstedt (Lindoro); Allan Monk (Taddeo); Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orch/James Levine, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD VIDEO 004400734261 TT: 157 min. + 24 min. bonus

Music of Cherubini, Gluck, Thomas, Meyerbeer, Saint-Saëns, Rossini and Bizet
Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano; Svizzera Italian Orch/Martin Katz, cond.
VIDEO ARTISTS INTERNATIONAL DVD VIDEO 4401 TT: 105 min. + 72 min. bonus

Music of Rossini, Verdi, Cherubini, Mussorgsky, Cilea, Massenet, Puccini, Saint-Saëns and Bizet
VIDEO ARTISTS INTERNATIONAL DVD VIDEO 4402 TT: 91 min. + 40 min. bonus

The DGG issue is of major importance offering a major star in one of her finest roles. Marilyn Horne sang Isabella in Rossini's Italian Girl in Algiers many times at the Met. The first time was in 1973; the performance seen on this DVD, recorded January 11, 1986, was her 36th. She is a total delight in the role, both visually and vocally. Her ease in tossing off the florid writing is remarkable, and it's obvious she's having a great time. Jean-Pierre Ponelle's sets, costumes and production are perfect, and James Levine keeps things moving. The first act ending is a wonderful example of perfect Rossini ensemble performance. Audio is fine, the 5.1 surround artificially but effectively produced. The set includes a five-minute talk by Horne about the role of Isabelle, and two considerable bonuses. First, from a met gala performance date not given, we have Horne's "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix! from Samson and Delilah, and Samira's big comic scene from John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles, which had its premiere at the Met in 1991. Horne had sung in the premiere, and is seen in this version filmed in 1993, which was issued on VHS and laserdisk, but not yet on DVD.

The other DVDs offer Marilyn Horne and Grace Bumbry in concert performances. Both were recorded at the Lugano Festival, Horne's in 1986, Bumbry's in 1991. Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana accompanies, with Martin Katz (who often provided piano accompaniment for major singers in concerts) conducting for Horne, Massimo Pradella on the podium for Bumbry. These are typical opera concerts with orchestral works separating the vocal numbers. Surely no one would want to have these recordings for the orchestra, but admirers of the two singers surely will wish to investigate what is seen here. Horne is at her best, and the program includes "Cruda sorte! Amor tiranno! from Italian Girl in Algiers, which Horne performed the same year at the Met (see above). Also of interest is a lengthy (72 minute) audio feature of Horne in conversation with Jon Tolansky recorded in June 2004.

American soprano Grace Bumbry (b. 1937) had a distinguished career in a wide variety of roles. She made her operatic debut as Amneris in Aida, at the Paris Opera in 1960, after studying the role with Lotte Lehmann. She was the first black singer to appear in Bayreuth and made many recordings including two versions of Carmen (Karajan and De Burgos), Don Carlo with Levine. She has received many awards and has an extensive teaching schedule. When these Lugano Festival performances were recorded Bumbry was past her prime but still an imposing figure of authority. For Bumbry's best, check out her earlier recordings.

R.E.B. (May 2007)