This is a concert from New Year's Eve 2000 at the Philharmonie in Berlin. Unusually for this sort of concert, it is devoted to semi-staged operatic highlights from Verdi and is given sparkle and dash primarily because Claudio Abbado is on the podium. The contribution of Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic is so nearly perfect as to bring tears to your eyes. The major highlight, about which more below, is three big scenes from 'Falstaff' given absolutely riveting performances.
The concert begins with four excerpts from 'A Masked Ball' featuring, among others, soprano Andrea Rost and tenor Ramón Vargas. Rost starts with Oscar's 'Volta la terrea fronte' followed immediately by 'Signori: oggi d'Ulrica' led by Ramón Vargas and joined by Lucio Gallo, a baritone I'd not know before but who is very impressive, as well as American baritone Alan Titus and basso Anatoly Kocherga. Then Kocherga sings Renato's 'Ve', se di notte' with Titus as one of the conspirators along with Gallo and soprano Carmen Remigio as Amelia. Finally, we have Rost singing 'Saper vorreste' gorgeously.
Next, from 'Don Carlos', is a somewhat lackluster 'Que de fleurs et que d'étoiles' with Prague Radio Choir along with Remigio and mezzo Stella Doufexis. The BPO, especially their amazing winds, play the scintillating intro and ball music gorgeously. Ramón Vargas then sings the two big tenor arias from 'Rigoletto': Questo o quella' and 'La donna è mobile.' Although he has his fans, he is not one of my favorite tenors and frankly I could have given these a miss although I acknowledge that they are done at least adequately. Others will undoubtedly rank these performances more highly than I.
From 'La Traviata' we get Rost again, along with Vargas, Doufexis, Titus and the young (attractive and very promising) tenor Massimo Giordano, singing 'Libiamo' and 'Sempre libera.'
Now for the most impressive part of this concert -- three excerpts from 'Falstaff' totalling more than three quarters of an hour of glorious singing and playing. It starts with the Act I, Scene II with the women (contralto Larissa Diadkova as Mistress Quickly, Carmela Remigio as Alice, Stella Doufexis as Meg, Elizabeth Futral as Nannetta) comparing the two letters from Falstaff. They are then joined by the men in that masterful ensemble with its rhythmic cross-currents, brilliantly done. The men are Enrico Facini, Anthony Mee, Anatoly Kocherga, Massimo Giordano (as Fenton), and Lucio Gallo (as Ford). Fabulous. This is followed by Falstaff's 'Quand'ero paggio' sung by Alan Titus and leading into the scene where he hides in the laundry basket. Again, fabulous ensemble work by the soloists and nimble underscoring by Abbado and the BPO. Finally, we get the final scene of the opera, seventeen minutes of it!, beginning with the 'Pizzica, pizzica' chorus and leading to that glorious vocal fugue, 'Tutto nel mondo è burla'. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.
So, although there are, for me, a few less than marvelous moments here, on the whole this is an inspiriting, exhilarating concert caught in lifelike sound, more than adequate video and such a sense of occasion that I felt like popping the champagne at the orchestra's concluding traditional 'Maskenfest-Quadrille' by Johann Strauss II. Happy New Year!
[PCMStereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1; Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish; TT=94mins; NTSC 16:9 anamorphic]