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Leonardo (Solihull)

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Wagner: Parsifal [DVD] [2010]
Wagner: Parsifal [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Christopher Ventris
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £25.74

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Light at the end of the tunnel, 30 Oct. 2009
This 2004 production from Baden-Baden tries hard to make sense of Wagner's mystical last opera. It has strong vocal performances in the four main roles. Thomas Hampson is a rather subdued Amfortas, not surprisingly since he spends the night swathed in bandages. Chris Ventris as the wild-child Parsifal runs round the stage like an untrained Labrador puppy. Matti Salimen is an impressive Gurnemanz. Most sensational is Waltraud Meier in a part she knows well. Vocally thrilling, she looks sensational in a succession of feathery costumes and wild wigs.

Tom Fox as Klingsor has Mickey Mouse ears. The flower maidens also look distinctly unsexy in their Minnie Mouse ears. What you make of the plot is anyone's guess. The director Nikolaus Lehnhoff sets the last act on a railway line that disappers into a tunnel, perhaps indicating that somewhere, at the other end, there is some light


Maazel - 1984 / Keenlyside, Lepage (Royal Opera House) [DVD] [2008]
Maazel - 1984 / Keenlyside, Lepage (Royal Opera House) [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Simon Keenlyside
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £21.62

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Operatic Room 101, 30 Oct. 2009
This is a vanity project for the conductor Lorin Mazeel who reportedly had to bung ROH several million pounds to persuade them to stage his opera. His music is barbaric and unmelodic. Sometimes this fits with the barbarity of the story but mostly it is irritating. Even the love duets between Simon Keenlyside's Winston Smith and Nancy Gustafson's Julia are unmelodic.

There are elaborate sets making good use of the revolving stage. Room 101 is very effective but Smith's electric shock treatment is less so, the set looking like a 1930s Frankenstein Film. The libretto is an effective adaptation of George Orwell's novel. It recalled important bits of dialogue and plot for me, even though I read the book more than 40 years ago.

Keenlyside and Gustafson make an incredible effort to bring this disaster to life. Their singing and acting is top-notch but to no avail. I had to struggle to watch it to the end. If room 101 is where your worst nightmares come true, this was my operatic room 101.


Mozart: Cosi fan tutte -- Berlin/Barenboim [DVD] [2007]
Mozart: Cosi fan tutte -- Berlin/Barenboim [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Dorothea Röschmann
Price: £29.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Da Ponti gets his way, 30 Oct. 2009
My heart sank when I realized that this was a 1960s version of Così but I quickly realized that it was a clever idea on director Doris Dörrie's part. The 1960s were a period of unprecedented sexual liberation and Mozart and Da Ponti's opera about near-wife swapping fits comfortably into it. The sets and costumes are brilliantly evocative of the period. I remember wearing a blue mohair suit like Don Alfonso's, but I don't remember wearing a brown trilby with it. I can also remember my girlfriend wearing a miniskirt with at zip up the front, just like Fiordiligi's. The sets too are evocative: I particularly liked the telephone and television in red plastic.

The opera opens in an airport departure lounge Guglielmo and Ferrando are about to fly off on business when they place their bet with Don Alfonso, played here not as an old man but as a colleague of about the same age. I enjoyed the dollybird air hostesses (that's what they were called in those days) and the mock sword-fights with umbrellas.

The two men return as hippies to woo each others' fiancées. There is no suggestion in this production that Fiordiligi and Dorabella recognize their suitors but they quickly yield to their advances. Guglielmo removes Dorabella's bra rather than her locket as proof that she has betrayed Ferrando. Ferrando returns from his assignation with Fiordiligi contentedly zipping up his fly. At the end of the opera everyone returns cheerfully to their own lover with none of the tension that one sometimes finds in this opera. There is more emphasis on comedy than the usual pathos in these scenes and, for once, one gets the impression that Da Ponti, the librettist, is getting the upper hand over Mozart the composer.

All six performers are in top form and the four lovers are well delineated so that the audience does not get confused as to who is wooing who, as can sometimes be the case. The whole thing is briskly conducted by Daniel Barenboim.


Rossini: Il Barbiere Di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) - Madrid Teatro Real  [DVD] [2005] [NTSC]
Rossini: Il Barbiere Di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) - Madrid Teatro Real [DVD] [2005] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Bruno Practicò
Price: £20.04

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Black and white in colour, 30 Oct. 2009
This was my third Barbiere so far this year and it is only May so I was not exactly looking forward to it. I put it on at 9 pm after a hard day's work and watched it right through till after midnight. It was so good that it was like hearing and seeing the opera for the first time. Right from the overture, with Gianluigi Gelmetti conducting the orchestra of the Real Teatre in Madrid, it is clear we are in for something special. The curtain rises to a Seville street scene in black and white. All the characters wear black and white costumes.The effect is strangely beautiful.

The first half hour of this opera, until Rosina's entrance can be a little bit tedious but not in this production. Juan Diego Florèz as Count Almaviva shows why he is currently the world's leading Rossini tenor. I loved his serenade at Rosina's window and the fact that, instead of his pretending to play a guitar, the Spanish guitar player in the orchestra is spotlighted. Then we have the entrance of Figaro, sung by Pietro Spagnoli. Figaro is sometimes played as a bit of a clown but not in this production. He is a very dapper barber in his white waistcoat with black spots. Normally Figaro has the stage to himself when he addresses the audience but in this production, when he sings his "Largo al factotum", he is in a street bustling with people. He even cuts someones hair while he is singing. This is so obvious and natural that I wonder why I have never seen it done before. The idea of having an audience for the big solo numbers is repeated for Don Basilio's aria "La Calumnia" and also during Rosina's music lesson.

I was smitten by Maria Bayo's Rosina. She has a beautiful and very distinctive voice with a little girl timbre but an operatic volume. Her Italian has a charming Spanish accent which seems entirely appropriate. Bruno Praticò as Doctor Bartolo is good fun because he is younger and more repulsive than usual. There is a lot of comic business in this opera and it can sometimes be tedious but not in this production. All the stuff about letters and laundry lists, drunken soldiers and fake music teachers is carried off brilliantly. My only disappointment was the Act I finale, which should be the highlight of the opera. It was too complicated with a platoon of soldiers descending into the orchestra and then reappearing from trapdoors, detracting from the brilliance of Rossini's writing at this point.

Suddenly after three black and white hours, in the final scene, everything bursts into hilarious colour with violently clashing pink, red and crimson costumes. At this point Juan Diego Florèz springs a surprise: he performs the aria that is usually dropped from Il Barbiere that we now all know as the soprano tour de force from the end of La Cenerentola. Not surprisingly the Madrid audience goes wild. I loved it even though I felt slightly disconcerted hearing it sung by a tenor.

This production could not be bettered either visually, musically or dramatically. It restores my faith in a tired old warhorse. It must have been just as exciting as this on the first night in Rome in 1816


Mozart: La Clemenza Di Tito [DVD] [2006) (2-DVD Set) [2010]
Mozart: La Clemenza Di Tito [DVD] [2006) (2-DVD Set) [2010]
Dvd ~ Susan Graham
Offered by Naxos Direct UK
Price: £14.25

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Opera-U-Like, 30 Oct. 2009
This is Mozart's last opera, allegedly written in 18 days as an occasion piece for the coronation of the Emperor Leopold II of Bavaria. It is an opera seria with the recitatives probably written by Mozart's pupil Sussmayr. It contains some of Mozart's most sparkling music but is let down by those interminable recitatives. In fact most of the plot is contained in the recitatives with Mozart's arias applying the occasional glorious punctuation. I love it all the same and I am always fascinated by the depiction of Tito the kindhearted emperor who cannot stop forgiving his enemies even when they try to kill him and to burn down the Capitol.

This French production from the Paris Garnier sets the action in the age of enlightenment. In other words, instead of presenting an allegory of noble kingship to flatter Emperor Leopold, it is actually set in Leopold's time. This Tito is very much a Napoleonic figure. The directors, Karl-Ernst and Ursel Hermann seem sensitive to the fact that it was written soon after Mozart's three Da Ponti masterpieces and almost contemporaneously with the Magic Flute. So what we get is largely a comedy of manners like the Marriage of Figaro with the trouser-role of Annio being very much a Cherubino figure. At the end we get some of the mysticism of the Magic Flute with a blindfold Sesto appearing before Tito in a scene reminiscent of Tamino at Sarastro's court. The overall effect is to intellectualise Mozart's sword and sandals potboiler and to turn it into something that it is not intended to be.

Christoph Prégardien is a thoughtful Tito, recognisibly humane without being too sanctimonious. I particularly liked the scene where he gets Sesto to confess to his attempted assassination by saying "confess to your friend, the emperor shall not know". I was less happy with Susan Graham as Sesto although she has the best music in the piece. Her "Parto, parto" was thrilling but, on the whole I find that I am not very happy with mezzos in this role and think that perhaps it is time to give a counter-tenor a crack at it. Hannah Esther Minutillo is more successful in the other trouser role as the Cherubino-like Annio. The duet between these two castrato parts is always a high-spot of the opera. Catherine Naglestad is impressively restrained as Vitellia, Tito's neglected mistress. The directors oblige her to eat quite a lot of fruit during the performance and also, bizarrely, to put on warpaint while she is dispatching Sesto to murder Tito. I was also bemused by the scene where she has to put her hand down Annio's blouse while sweet-talking him, presumably a sure-fire way of discovering that he is Hannah Esther Minutillo in drag. Still, modern directors do strange things. The strangest was at Tito's first appearance: behind him a giant baked potato smothered in garlic butter and topped by a serving wench is rolled across the stage. Could the production have been sponsored by Spud-U-Like?


Donizetti: Don Pasquale -- Teatro Lirico, Cagliari / Korsten [DVD]
Donizetti: Don Pasquale -- Teatro Lirico, Cagliari / Korsten [DVD]
Dvd ~ Patrizia Carmine

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marriage of Figaro Lite, 30 Oct. 2009
This good-looking 2002 Italian television production comes from Cagliari. It was the first time that I have seen a production of Don Pasquale and I got the impression that it is a sort of Marriage of Figaro Lite. It has the same theme of a rich and lecherous older man being given his comeuppance by attractive young lovers. There is even a denoument in the garden at night. Donizetti's frothy confection has none of the depth and complexity of Mozart's masterpiece but it still makes for a very entertaining two hours. The two lower male voices for Don Pasquale and Dr Malatesta are ably supplied by Alessandro Corbelli and Roberto de Candia. Eva Mei, as Norina, gets off to a shaky start in her big number "Quel guardo il cavaliere" but soon gets into her stride. She brings charm and exhuberance to the role. The weak link in the cast is Antonino Siragusa as Ernesto. His tenor voice has an unpleasant rasp to it when he sings solo although in duets and ensembles it is quite acceptable.

There were two high-spots for me. The first is when Norina strikes her new husband Don Pasquale. This could have been played for laughs but we see the horror on Pasquale's face, shortly followed by Norina's horror as she realizes the enormity of what she has done. The second injection of reality comes from a chorus of servants who make only one brief appearance. In a brilliantly staged scene we hear them casually commenting on the behaviour of their employers as they go about their work. This opera contains some of Donizetti's best music, even though it is in one of his slightest works.


Wagner: Die Meistersinger Von [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Wagner: Die Meistersinger Von [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jokey Wagner, 30 Oct. 2009
A comic opera written by Wagner sounds like an oxymoron. Wagner takes four hours to tell this slight tale of a visiting knight who woos the local beauty and wins a singing contest. The rustic humour reminds me of Britten's opera Albert Herring although Britten managed to keep his work down to a more manageable two hours or so.

Die Meistersinger is beautifully staged and has strong performances from Wolfgang Brendel as Hans Sachs, the shoemaker, Eva Johansson as Eva, the young maiden, Gösta Winbergh as Walther, the wandering knight. The hero of the piece is Sachs, who Wagner intends to embody all that is honest and decent, but this, apparently, does not preclude him from beating his apprentice.

Something of Wagner's attitude to women comes out in the fact that Eva is offered by her father as the prize in the song contest. Even the Meistersingers find this rather dubious and Eva's father finally agrees to give her a right of veto. The contest itself is hardly Eurovision, there are only two contestants and one of them cannot sing so the wandering knight gets the girl as everyone predicted four hours earlier. What is important is that Wagner attains a masterly balance between the vocal line and the orchestra so that each complements the other without either being dominant.

On second viewing this opera still seems long for a comedy but I suppose four hours of Wagner is better than two. I find it is best appreciated in 2-hour chunks on consecutive nights. This time round I appreciated more of Wagner's humour concerning the nature of songwriting and the contrast between the conservative style of the Meistersingers and the free-ranging style of Walther. There are three setpieces that explore this. In Act I, Peter, the apprentice explains the meistersingers' technique, illustrating them as he goes. In Act II, Walther, encouraged by Sachs, composes one of his new, freer songs. This sort of scene always amuses me. It reminds me of a similar scene in the Gershwin biopic where George and Ira compose Oh Lady Be Good. Finally, we have the song contest itself where Beckmesser, Walther's rival, makes a mess of the song he has stolen followed by Walther singing it perfectly.

Wagner sets Act I Scene 2 in real time. At the beginning the night-watchman announces that it is 10 o'clock. The scene lasts for exactly an hour, culminating in a riot where Wagner composes some of his most outrageous and violent music. As everything calms down, the watchman reappears to announce that it is 11 o'clock. The riot has long-term effects: in the final scene all the Meistersingers have casts on their arms or their heads bandaged or plasters on their faces.

The cast perform well although, clearly, they were chosen for their singing ability rather than their appearance. They are physically ill-matched and, often, about 20 years too old for their parts. This is a busy production with lots going on in the background. By a judicious use of close-ups, that master of opera film direction Brian Large ensures that all this business does not get in the way of the singing.


Humperdinck: Hansel and Gretel [DVD] [2008] [2010]
Humperdinck: Hansel and Gretel [DVD] [2008] [2010]
Dvd ~ Sue Judd
Price: £25.11

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delicious, 3 Oct. 2009
My heart sank when I saw that the BBC had chosen this production for its Christmas Day dose of culture. I love the opera but this production had been indifferently reviewed and its directors, Patrice Caurier & Moshe Leiser, can produce cheap and nasty work.

Well they didn't break the bank in this production but, to my surprise it is very effective and imaginative. It helps to have it in German and it helps to have two excellent interpreters of the title roles. Angelica Kirchschlager and Diana Damrau are convincing as brother and sister and look the part with the willowy Kirchschlager, in particular looking very boyish. The scene with the parents can be a bit anticlimactic but not in this production with veterans Thomas Allen and Elizabeth Connell giving a master class in how to act in opera. I particularly liked Allen's drunken wooing of his wife. Anja Silja as the witch makes the action more dark and frightening than in the recent production that I saw from the Met with Philip Langridge in the role. Having a woman rather than a pantomime dame in the part makes everything more serious.

This is an opera all about food and hunger, (the recent Glyndebourne production was set in a supermarket). Pat and Mo imaginatively restage the dream banquet as a Christmas scene with the parents handing Hansel and Gretel two large, shiny presents. They open the boxes and remove layer upon layer of wrapping until they arrive at half a sandwich each. Far from being disappointed, they are delighted with their gifts and eat them slowly and with relish. Pat and Mo's cheapskate tendency is seen amusingly in the scene with the gingerbread house. Instead of a full-size house the children find a cake in the shape of a doll's house. Not only does it save money but this scene actually works as the children devour the cake.

The final scene, in the witch's house is also very effective and, I imagine, quite frightening for its target audience, with children hanging in a larder and being brought out to be cast into a huge oven to be baked into gingerbread. Fortunately, it would require a very precocious seven year-old to go to the Royal Opera House to see an opera in German and the audience, which seemed to consist entirely of adults, enjoyed it immensely.


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