ROSSINI: La Gazzetta
SCHREKER: Die Gezeichneten
DEBUSSY: Pelléas et Mélisande
Two absolute winners—and two losers. Rossini's relatively unknown early comic opera is about pompous Don Ponponio who advertises his daughter as a bride in the local newspaper (La Gazzetta) with the intent of accepting all who respond and making money in the process. Nobel Prize-winning writer Dario Fo has brilliantly reconstructed Rossini's incomplete opera in a delightful modern style. His sets and costumes are stunning as is the stylish performance—all of the singers cope admirably with Rossini's florid vocal writing and it is remarkable that producers were able to assemble a cast as handsome as what we see here. All of the women look and act like fashion models and have much opportunity to strut their stuff. Angel Luis Ramirez directed the video production and did a superb job. The 5.1 surround sound is just fine. This DVD, a total delight, deserves a spot in all DVD opera collections.
Franz Schreker's wrote the libretto for Die Gezeichneten ("The Branded") at the request of Alexander Zemlinsky who wanted him to "write the tragedy of the ugly man," referring to himself after being spurned by Alma Mahler who referred to him as "a hideous dwarf." Schreker ended up writing the music as well as the libretto and, although seldom performed, it is regarded as the composer's most important contribution to the field of music drama. Die Gezeichneten takes place in 16th century Genoa, the story of hunchbacked aristocrat Alviano Salvago who has built a paradise for himself on a Mediterranean island but doesn't visit it because of his ugliness. However, his friends use the island for their orgies, particularly Tamare who abducts and rapes Carlotta, a beautiful noblewoman who was a painter and loved Alviano for his soul. It's an odd story indeed, and the characters are appropriate to it. Alviano wears women's clothes which are removed from him by Carlotta in their unconsummated "love scene" which ends Act II. At the end of the opera Alviano goes insane when Carlotta dies after being assaulted by Tamare. Raimund Bauer's stage design is dominated by a huge fallen female statue, and Andrea Schmidt-Futterer's costumes are effective. Andreas Morell directed the production recorded live at the Salzburg Festival July 26, 2005 and apparently the big hit of the Festival. Schreker's music is glorious, often sounding like Korngold or Richard Strauss at their best, but with even more complex harmonies. Kent Nagano, a champion of Schreker's music, brings out all of the rich textures and the orchestra plays beautifully. The entire cast is magnificent in every way. Soprano Anne Schwanewilms is stunning both vocally and visually as Carlotta, and Robert Brubaker as Alviano is her equal. Audio is superb, camera work could not be bettered; subtitles are provided in English, German, French and Spanish. Opera lovers surely should investigate this remarkable opera in this seemingly definitive performance.
Now, the two losers. Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande premiered in Paris April 30, 1902 and, with its subtle symbolism and complex harmonies, was hailed as the most important operatic development since the era of Wagner. It takes place in legendary times in the mythical kingdom of Allemonde opening in a forest with most of the later action taking place in a castle. Director Sven-Eric Bechtolf, set designer Rolf Glittenberg, and costume designer Marianne Glittenberg instead give us a bleak arctic scene with ice and snow, and each of the principals has a dummy counterpart—and sometimes they are in wheelchairs. The cast is excellent, playing of the Zurich Opera orchestra is fine, but this inappropriate directorial approach is one I don't want to watch. There are two other DVD presentations of Debussy's masterpiece which I haven't seen: from Glyndebourne with Andrew Davis conducting on Kultur Video, and the Welsh National Opera with Pierre Boulez on Deutsche Grammophon. Surely either of these would be preferable to the Zurich Opera misguided production.
Now we come to Aida from La Monnaie - De Munt, wherein cult director Robert Wilson offers Verdi's masterpiece in his own interpretation (he also was set and lighting designer and presumably, although not stated, responsible for the costumes). All of the grandeur of Aida is gone. Sets are stark, costumes often representative of Japanese Noh theater. Don't expect the big scenes Verdi wrote—they aren't there. Best of the singers is Ildiko Komlosi as Amneris, and Mark Doss as Amonasro. Norma Fantini is a loud Aida sometimes a bit off-pitch; Marco Berti an unimpressive, shaky Radamès. The beginning of the first act's scene 2 give us out-of-tune singing by the chorus, followed by a ridiculous dance of the Priestesses that looks as if it is performed by rejects from the Trockaderos. This is a forgettable Aida. Incredibly, there are some published rave reviews of this production! To enjoy Aida as it should be and Verdi intended get the 1988 Met production on DGG with an all-star cast and James Levine conducting.
R.E.B. (July 2006)