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Leonardo (Solihull)

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Prokofiev: Trois Oranges [DVD] [2006]
Prokofiev: Trois Oranges [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Jose van Dam
Price: £20.65

3.0 out of 5 stars This noise is giving me a headache..., 8 Sept. 2012
...Actually, that's a line from the libretto but, perhaps Prokofiev was offering a hostage to fortune. The only other production I have seen of this opera was the one done in 1994 at Aix-en-Provence. It was in Russian with no subtitles and very surrealistic. This version from Paris is comparatively straightforward. The Commedia dell'Arte characters tell a simple story and the production is always a pleasure to look at with attractive costumes and sets. I particularly liked the clownlike male chorus that is continuously on stage, reacting to and commenting on the action. Prokofiev's music did not do much for me although it was composed during his neoclassical period so it is tuneful without being memorable, sounding more balletic than operatic.

Solo honours go mainly to the female singers, possibly because they look so sensational. I liked the flame-haired Béatrice Uria-Monzon as Fata Morgana. Hannnah Esther Minatillo, as Clarice, wears a slinky green gown with matching green hair; I was not so keen on the green eyelashes though. Lucia Cirillo is charming as the slave Sméraldina although it was probably an error of judgement to have her play the part as a racial stereotype.

Beethoven: Fidelio (Peter Seiffert/Waltraud Meier/Zubin Mehta) [DVD] [2009] [NTSC]
Beethoven: Fidelio (Peter Seiffert/Waltraud Meier/Zubin Mehta) [DVD] [2009] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Peter Seiffert
Offered by rwl-123
Price: £16.20

4.0 out of 5 stars Veiled Comment, 28 Aug. 2012
This is the best staged version of Fidelio that I have ever seen. The production is ungimmicky using period sets and costumes. There is an excellent cast headed by the divine Waltraud Meier. I am used to seeing her in Wagner with big hair and enormous shoulder pads so I was surprised to see how she is really petite. Matti Salminen is a dignified and sympathetic Rocco. Peter Seiffert is a competent Florestan. Ildikó Raimondi gives a nicely-turned cameo as Marzellina. I always have a soft spot for Marzellina in this opera. She only has a few seconds to adjust to the fact that the man she is hoping to marry is a woman before she has to join in the general rejoicing with the rest of the cast. Juha Uusitalo is a slight disappointment as Don Pizarro, not being scary enough for my taste.

They prisoners' chorus is movingly done as are the hymnlike chorales at the end of the opera. I also enjoyed the soldiers' march. By writing music that you really could not march to, I think Beethoven intended the effect to be ridiculous but this march is so well choreographed that it produces the opposite effect.

I was so surprised by other, negative, reviews that I went back and watched the film again. Yes, it is sometimes gloomy but, after all, it is set in a prison. And, yes, there appears to be a gauze veil across the front of the stage in the second act. This did not particularly bother me and, in fact, it added a sort of artistic craquelure to the scenes at the end of the opera. The only problem is one of continuity. As they change cameras from long-shot to close-up the picture goes from grainy to pin-sharp.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 6, 2012 9:24 AM BST

Handel: Rinaldo [Glyndebourne 2011] [Sonia Prina/ Varduhi Abrahamyan/ Tim Mead/ Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/ Robert Carsen/ Ottavio Dantone] [Opus Arte: OABD7107D] [Blu-ray] [2012] [Region Free]
Handel: Rinaldo [Glyndebourne 2011] [Sonia Prina/ Varduhi Abrahamyan/ Tim Mead/ Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/ Robert Carsen/ Ottavio Dantone] [Opus Arte: OABD7107D] [Blu-ray] [2012] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Sonia Prina
Price: £27.11

19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Wet Dream, 14 Aug. 2012
I like to visit Glyndebourne most summers and last year I was all set to buy tickets for this production. On reading that it was to be directed by Robert Carsen I decided to save my money. I also avoided the touring production so it was not until it was broadcast on BBC4 recently that I caught up with it.

Rinaldo is a comedy about Christians and Saracens during the first crusade. Most directors seem to be averse to taking it at its face value though. Carsen has the wet idea of staging the piece as the dream of a bullied and abused schoolboy. The crusaders are schoolboys with breastplates worn over their school uniforms. The headmaster becomes the Saracen king and his schoolmistress becomes the sorceress Armida, played by Brenda Rae as a sort of Miss Whiplash in a rubber dress. Her furies are St Trinian's schoolgirls. Rinaldo meets his beloved Almirena in the bicycle shed. She is kidnapped by Armida and imprisoned in the school gym. And so it goes on with a mind-numbing paucity of invention.

It was clear from the interval interviews that Sonia Prina, who plays Rinaldo was unhappy with the entire concept and that she and Carsen were at loggerheads over it. She is a petite mezzo and her inclination is to play a trouser role heroically then along comes Carsen who dresses her as a little boy so that she loses all credibility. The role of Rinaldo has some beautiful and demanding music but, sadly, I felt that Prina could not make much of it. Part of the problem is that we hear also with our eyes. If she is standing in the bicycle shed behind a wire mesh singing "Cara sposa, amante cara" it just has no credibility.

This is not the world-class cast that we expect at Glyndebourne. Varduhi Abrahamyan makes little impression as Goffredo. In truth I suppose I prefer both these roles to be sung by countertenors. Countertenor Tim Mead is rather more successful as Eustacio although he has to sing his big number while repairing a puncture on his bicycle. Anett Fritsch is an insipid Almirena leaving me totally unmoved during the opera's best known aria "Lascia ch'io pianga". Slightly better were bass Luca Pisaroni as Argante and soprano Brenda Rae as Armida. Their Act III duet "Al trionfo del nostro furore" is the only number in the opera that really made me sit up and listen.

The programme was introduced by Katie Derham who, on two occasions, reminds us that this is a comedy and we are permitted to find it funny. If only.

Puccini: Il Trittico [Opus Arte: OA1070D] [DVD] [2011] [NTSC] [2012]
Puccini: Il Trittico [Opus Arte: OA1070D] [DVD] [2011] [NTSC] [2012]
Dvd ~ Lucio Gallo
Price: £20.01

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ortonesque, 17 July 2012
I have seen quite a few Gianni Schicchis but this is only the second version that I have seen of Puccini's triptych, the other being the excellent Met recording from 2007. At the time, it seemed difficult to imagine a better Trittico but I think this new production from Covent Garden is superior in all three parts. In each part Puccini demonstrates his mastery of ensemble writing and develops a large cast of characters in a short time. In Il Tabarro, we get a vivid description of life on the Seine at the turn of the 20th century with Eva-Maria Westbroeck as the frustrated younger wife of the boorish Michele.

The main surprise is in Suor Angelica which is set, not in a nunnery, but in a ward of a childrens' sanatorium with the nuns doing the nursing. This generally works well in playing down the Sound Of Music aspect of the story. It is a bit of a stretch making Angelica the herbalist rather than a gardener. We see soprano Ermonela Jaho blissfully grinding herbs in the middle of the ward. Director Richard Jones baulks at Puccini's ending where the dying Angelica is welcomed into heaven by the Virgin Mary and her dead son. I, for one, was grateful for this outbreak of good taste.

Best of all is the gaudy 1950s version of Gianni Schicchi with a large cast of avaricious relatives carrying a corpse around the stage propped up between them to conceal the body from the lawyer. Joe Orton came to mind. Lucio Gallo is a sly, comic delight in the title role.

Haydn: Orlando Paladino (Freiburger Barockorchester/Jacobs) [DVD] [2009] [NTSC] [Region 0] [2010]
Haydn: Orlando Paladino (Freiburger Barockorchester/Jacobs) [DVD] [2009] [NTSC] [Region 0] [2010]
Dvd ~ Marlis Petersen
Price: £23.73

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I Should Cocoa, 16 May 2012
Haydn wrote a dozen or so operas in his lifetime although they are rarely performed today. In fact, I have never before had the opportunity to hear a Haydn opera so I was looking forward to this production of Orlando Paladino. This was, apparently, one of his more popular operas. The libretto is taken from Ariosto's poem Orlando Furioso set during the time of the crusades. Opera lovers will be familiar with the mock epic themes and picaresque style from similar works such as Handel's Alcina and Rossini's Armida.

This production from Berlin's Unter den Linden theatre has an accomplished cast performing with the Freiburger Barockorchester under the baton of Réne Jacobs. Unfortunately directors Nigel Lowery and Amir Hossenpour fail to establish a credible idiom that might have breathed life into this neglected piece. The whole thing is played too much for laughs and the costumes seem to have been selected at random from the dressing-up cupboard. In 19th century operas it is not unusual for directors to struggle to find something for their singers to do during the long da capo arias. The singing is too often undercut by the heavy-handed comic business.

The best of the music is probably in Act I. I enjoyed Marlis Petersen's Angelica and also the rich timbre of Alexandrina Pendatchanska's Alcina. Tenor Magnus Staveland has the stand-out aria of the opera: "Parto. Ma, o dio, non posso". Tom Randle's Orlando, Pietro Spagnoli's Rodomonte and Sunhae Im's Eurilla struggle to make an impact with their silly costumes and comedy mugging but they all have their moments vocally. There are good ensemble numbers, one at the end of each act where the cast reflect how dazed and confused they are. These forshadow similar scenes in Rossini's operas. Orlando's squire Pasquale, sung by Vincenzo Moratti has an innuendo-filled patter song about how his instrument is irresistible to ladies. It is the sort of thing that has been done much better by Rossini and in the Carry-on films.

Amidst all these pantomime antics the directors lose the plot. I was fortunate to have a synopsis in front of me. When Act III started with a man in a dressing gown and nightcap pouring a mug of cocoa down Orlando's throat I knew that we were in the Underworld and Charon was reviving Orlando with the waters of the Lethe. Sadly, in the version I saw, the English subtitles were not synchronized with the action. Sometimes they raced ahead and at other times they lagged by about 15 seconds. The whole thing became quite surreal during love duets where the tenor and the soprano appeared to be singing each others parts. At the end, the television director zoomed in on the three members of the audience who were giving the performance a standing ovation. Everyone else looked distinctly underwhelmed.

Mozart: Le Nozze Di Figaro [DVD] [2007]
Mozart: Le Nozze Di Figaro [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Wiener Philharmoniker
Price: £14.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Buy the Record, 27 Mar. 2012
The five leading roles in this production are very well cast. Ildebrando d'Arcangelo and Anna Netrebko are in perfect voice as Figaro and Susanna. I am used to seeing Anna Netrebko in bel canto and I was impressed with her range, both in acting and singing in this, more demanding role. Bo Skovhus was a convincingly slimy Almaviva and Dorothea Röschmann a sympathetic Countess, although her Dove Sono was a little understated. Christine Schäfer, in short trousers was a charming Cherubino. The lesser roles were not so well served. I liked Maria McLaughlin's twinkling Marcellina and Eva Liebau's naughty schoolgirl Barbarina but the male character roles were disappointing.

Director Claus Guth seems to have visualised this comedy as a Strindbergian drama, or, to put it another way, he has removed all the comedy. Da Ponte's libretto is plot driven so Guth simply ignores the plot. There are just two sets, a row of fitted wardrobes and a huge staircase. Opera directors love staircases. Whenever they cannot think of something for their characters to do they can have them go up and down the stairs. There is no Act IV garden scene, it takes place on the stairs. Over and over again, the characters are singing one thing while doing something different. Susanna has to sing "If your ladyship will allow me, I'll stay among these trees", when she is actually standing on the staircase of Almaviva's house.

Guth even adds a new character, Cherubim, an overgrown cherub who irritatingly hangs around throughout the action. Visually and dramatically, this is by far the worst of the ten versions of this opera that I have seen. It is very well sung so my advice would be to buy the CD. Citizens of Salzburg pay E350 a head to see this rubbish. There is a brief shot of the audience at the end. Most of the women are clapping politely while their husbands are, generally, looking grumpy no doubt thinking of the E700 that they have just wasted.

Someone recently described my star grading system as somewhat wilful so I will just explain here that the three stars are an average of 5 for the singing and 0 for the production. OK I know that should make 2 ½ but Amazon does not allow fractions.

Handel: Tamerlano [DVD] [2010]
Handel: Tamerlano [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Placido Domingo
Price: £29.86

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pandas Mate in Madrid, 4 Feb. 2012
I have seen live productions of Xerxes and Flavio in recent weeks, followed by this filmed production of Tamerlano. I am getting a little confused because they all seem to have the same plot: a feather-brained king fancies a new lady who is introduced to his court, renouncing his previous love. Unfortunately the object of his affection is secretly engaged to his trusted general. Seeing and hearing these operas, it is difficult to recognize the genius who wrote, for example Giulio Cesare, Rinaldo and Alcina.

The opera was, presumably, revived as a vehicle for Plácido Domingo. And fair enough, as Bajazet the captive Ottoman emperor he gives a three-dimensional performance while all around him are cardboard cutouts. I'm not sure that it is an authentic performance, he sounds as though he made a wrong turning on the way to a production of Otello and some of his coloratura in Act I is a bit garbled, Nevertheless he makes a thrilling sound.

The parts of Tamerlano, the Tartar emperor and Andronico the Greek prince were written for castrati. In this production they are both sung by women. Sara Mingardo is an effective Andronico and I found her aria Bella Asteria very moving with some thrilling low notes. Monica Bacelli is hoplessly miscast as Tamerlano. I found her operatic gesturing very irritating and her coloratura sounds like a coughing fit. Neither singer seems able to manage the masculine body language that is the stock-in-trade of most trouser-role specialists. They both wear bejewelled trouser suits and huge turbans so neither looks remotely like a man. Ingela Bohlin is a fairly anodyne Asteria, the unlikely object of everyone's lust. Best of the sopranos is Jennifer Holloway as the spurned princess, Irene.

I was largely unmoved for the first 2½ hours but then, in Act III everything suddenly came to life. There is a stunning duet "Vivo in te" between Asteria and Andronico that reminds me of the love duet at the end of Montiverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea. Then Plácido Domingo has a tenor version of a mad scene before going to his death. It is thrilling stuff and, clearly, it must be this scene that attracted him to the role. Finally there is a scrumptious duet for the two castrato roles.

Graham Vick directs, for him, unobtrusively. The singers are in 18th century costumes on a largely bare stage. Supernumeraries in huge black and white turbans occasionally roll around the stage looking like copulating pandas, that is, if pandas ever do copulate. I enjoyed Irene's entrance riding a blue elephant on casters. I was not so keen on a tableau that was rolled on during Andronico's Act II aria, consisting of a hunter astride a globe on top of a sheep on top of a whale...

The English subtitles, in the version I saw, are gobbledegook. On a second viewing, after I had sorted out the convoluted plot, the opera started to grow on me as I was able to concentrate more on the music. Even so, it is a bit of a marathon and I suggest that it is best experienced at home in three 75 minute chunks on successive evenings.

Dove: Adventures of Pinocchio [DVD] [2010]
Dove: Adventures of Pinocchio [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Dove
Price: £25.65

5.0 out of 5 stars It wins by a nose, 26 Aug. 2011
This brilliantly staged production is a triumph for director Martin Duncan and designer Francis O'Connor. The imaginative sets change rapidly over 20 different scenes. The costumes are even better for the large number of animals that Pinocchio meets during his travels. Pinocchio, played by mezzo Victoria Simmonds looks every bit a wooden boy with a woodgrain body and a six inch nose. I wondered, as I did when watching Placido Domingo in Cyrano de Bergerac, whether wearing a prosthetic nose affects your singing ability. Anyway Ms Simmonds handles it with aplomb. The nose-growing sequence is particularly impressive and I am still not sure, after watching it several times, how it was done and how the nose gets pecked back down to size again by the woodpeckers.

Librettist Alasdair Middleton has done a good job of adapting Carlo Collodi's novel. The libretto in the early scenes is in rhyming couplets but, as the opera progresses it is mostly in prose. Jonathan Dove's music effectively catches the speech rhythms of the prose. Comparisons with Janacek come to mind, particularly, of course, the Cunning Little Vixen. I was also reminded of the operas of John Adams. Dove may not quite be in the same class as these two composers but his music, more motifs than tunes, serves the libretto well so that words and music are equal partners in the drama. I could understand every word that was sung, which is unusual for an opera in English without subtitles.

This is an opera that, I think, very young children could enjoy; more so than say The Cunning Little Vixen or Hansel and Gretel. The only drawback here is that the picaresque nature of the drama does make it overstay its welcome. I think it might play better if its 2 hours 40 minutes running time were trimmed back to about 2 hours.

I loved all the animal characters. I enjoyed the interplay between tenor Mark Wilde's Cat and counter-tenor James Laing's Fox. It is a beautifully unforced counter-tenor sound. In fact, until I looked at the cast-list I thought the Fox was being sung by a mezzo. I particularly loved the two beautifully choreographed cameos by soprano Rebecca Bottone as the Cricket and the Parrot. Tenor Allan Clayton makes a big impression as the naughty schoolboy Lampwick. His is the most lyrical music in the opera. Being a big fan of Mary Plazas' bel canto roles at the Buxton Festival, It was also a great delight to see her in something completely different as the Blue Fairy.

Donizetti: L'Elisir D'Amore (Glyndebourne 2009) [DVD] [2010]
Donizetti: L'Elisir D'Amore (Glyndebourne 2009) [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Donizetti
Price: £24.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Electric Donizetti, 8 Aug. 2011
This production has an authentic Italian look and is set in the sort of village square that you can see anywhere in Italy. Only the presence of the telegraph pole and cables gives away the fact that this is the 1930s of Mussolini rather than the 1830s. Peter Auty is an accomplished young tenor. His Nemorino, in overalls, looking uncomfortably like Benny in Crossroads is the village electrician and is continually messing about with the electrical cables. He is an unlikely match for the glamorous Adina. I originally saw the Glyndebourne on Tour production of this opera with Adriana Kucerova as Adina. She looked stunning in the sort of bellbottom trousers made popular by Katherine Hepburn in 1930s romantic comedies. In this film, Ekaterina Siurina is a vocally effective Adina but does not quite pull off the Katherine Hepburn look.

She certainly attracts the attention of Belcore, the Mussolini blackshirted sergeant. This is a role that can be irritating but baritone Alfredo Daza brings an amusing arrogance to his characterization. Luciano di Pasquale is an effective Dulcamara making the most of his patter song extolling the virtues of his elixir that cures all known afflictions. He is amusingly assisted by a mute servant. The Glyndebourne chorus are well choreographed and individually characterised. Conductor Maurizio Benini keeps everything bubbling along nicely.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 1, 2012 10:49 PM BST

Verdi: La Traviata [2011] [DVD] [2010]
Verdi: La Traviata [2011] [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Richard Eyre
Price: £17.11

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bad wig day, 18 May 2011
The Royal Opera House had a big hit with this opera in the 1990s with Angela Ghiorghiu in the title role. This time, it is Renée Fleming who dons the silk corsets as the courtesan with a heart of gold. The production gets off to a bad start with a plodding account of the beautiful prelude, courtesy of Antonio Pappano. Fleming also seems unsettled in the opening scene and it is left to the sonorous tenor Joseph Calleja as Alfredo to settle everyones nerves.

Things improve at the end of Act I where Violetta has her big solos, E Strano and Sempre Libera. In contrast to Ghiorghiu's beautiful sound, Fleming bravely goes for characterisation and interpretation. Her sound at times is scarcely musical as she chokes and sobs but the effect is extremely moving. At the end of the act she takes a solo curtain call. This is rather unusual these days but the audience who, presumably, had each paid about £200 to see the Diva, loved it.

Unfortunately, that is the highlight of the evening. Act II is let down by a wooden performance by Thomas Hampson as Germont Pére. He is a brilliant baritone playing antiheros such as Don Giovanni and Hamlet but he does not seem to have made the transition to these middle-aged character parts. Act III is effective musically but is rather spoilt by Renée Fleming's bad wig.

Overall, this does not match up to Angela Gheorghiu's 1994 performance at the same venue or her even better 2007 performance at La Scala in 2007.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 1, 2011 10:56 PM BST

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