CABALLÉ - Beyond Music Documentary
EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 2053197 TT: 98 min.

BIZET: Carmen
Elena Obraztsova (Carmen); Placido Domingo (Don José); Yuri Mazurek (Escamillo); Isabel Buchanan (Micaëla); Cheryl Kanfoush (Frasquita); Axelle Gall (Mercédès); Kurt Rydl (Zuniga); Hans Helm (Moralès); Paul Wolfrum (Dancaïre); Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orch/Carlos Kleiber, cond.

WAGNER: Das Rheingold
Falk Struckmann (Wotan); Wolfgang Rauch (Donner); Jeffrey Dowd (Froh); Graham Clark (Loge); Günter von Kannen (Alberich); Francisco Vas (Mime); Kwanchui Youn (Fasolt); Matthias Hölle (Fafner); Lioba Braun (Fricka); Elisabete Matos (Freia); Andrea Bönig (Erca); Christina Obregón (Woglinde); Ana Ibarra (Wellgunde); Francisca Beaumont (Flosshilde); Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu/Bertrand de Billy, cond.
OPUS ARTE DVD VIDEO OA 0910 D TT: 159 min.

EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 2051807 TT: 60 min.

Euroarts' documentary on Montserrat Caballé is a loving portrait of one of the major singers of the 20th century. It includes tributes to her from many associates including José Carreras, Plácido Domingo, Renée Fleming, Giuseppe di Stefano and Joan Sutherland, and conductors Claudio Abbado and Zubin Mehta. We see family scenes with her husband and two children and excerpts from many performances that demonstrate she was, indeed, an incredible soprano. There also is an explanation of her varied physical problems that caused her to cancel many performances. This is an essential CD for admirers of Caballé. To see her at her best, in a performance she considered her finest, don't miss the 1974 Norma from Orange (REVIEW).

Bizet's Carmen is given a stunning performance and production recorded at the Vienna State Opera December 9, 1978. This was a grand event directed for stage and television by Franco Zeffirelli, who, as usual, aims for the visually spectacular, filling the stage with bodies—and sometimes animals—but it all works. Elena Braztsova is a relatively subdued Carmen, Plácido Domingo in his prime as Don José, althouigh he isn't as possessed as Franco Corelli or Mario del Monaco in their DVDs. Isobel Buchanan, who stepped in at the last moment as Micaëla, is superb. The only weak principal is baritone Yuri Mazurok who doesn't have essential low notes, particularly in the famous Toreador Song. The real star here is conductor Carlos Kleiber. His interpretation is exciting in every way, and he inspires the Vienna Philharmonic to play with uncommon precision. Producers apologize for the video quality of this color film, but they really didn't have to. The stereo sound is bright. There are 56 tracks on the DVD, and surtitles in five languages. An essential DVD in any opera collection.

Opus Arte's DVD of Das Rheingold recorded during performances in June 2004 at Gran Teatre del Liceu is of modest interest, a production directed by Harry Kupfer with sets designed by Hans Schavernoch, costumes by Reinhard Heinrich and lighting by Franz Peter David. . The concept works reasonably well in modern but not outrageous terms, but as Wotan and Loge descend into the Niebelungen they seem to do so via a subway escalator, and when the Gods ascend into Valhalla in the final scene, after an awkward little dance they climb about 6 stairs and continue upwards on a lift. As they do so, they toss confetti as Loge, down below, blows his nose and then guides the curtains to close. Not very grand, although the audience is highly enthusiastic. The two giants, Fasolt and Fafner, look like big versions of Robocop. Singing generally is unexceptional; there's a lot of wobble here that thwarts Wagner's music—just listen to that incredible 1958 Decca recording with Sir George Solti to hear what this music is about. In any case, this set could not be recommended, aside from its performance limitations, because it has been spread out over two DVDs when easily it would have fit on one. When changing disks (at least on the three DVD players I have) it's necessary to reset audio before continuing with the performance, an additional interruption totally unnecessary.

The Berlin Philharmonic Story is a fascinating one-hour documentary telling not only the history of the famed BPO but the history of 20th Century Berlin as well. There are interviews with conductors Roger Norrington, Simon Rattle and Bernard Haitink, as well as with a number of players in the orchestra, all of which offer fascinating insights into the orchestra's behind-the-scenes activities. The film also covers the difficult times during the Nazi regime, pointing out that during this time the many Jewish players had to leave. We follow the string of conductors associated with the BPO including Hans von Bulow, Artur Nikisch, Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan. There are brief excerpts from performances including that incredible Brahms Symphony No. 4 with Furtwängler. It's unfortunate there aren't more live performances which would have been appropriate to show the magnificence of this remarkable orchestra—there is plenty of room on the DVD for much more. This DVD costs about the same as a regular CD, and doubtless many collectors will wish to own it.

R.E.B. (April 2005)