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"Joseph Kermer" (UK)

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Verdi: Rigoletto [DVD]
Verdi: Rigoletto [DVD]
Dvd ~ Paolo Gavanelli

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good but could have been even better, 10 Jan. 2012
This review is from: Verdi: Rigoletto [DVD] (DVD)
Although this is easily the best "Rigoletto" currently available on DVD, it leaves a feeling of slight disappointment. Musically, visually and in terms of dramatic truth the whole thing is quite brilliant. Sir Edward Downes conducts a performance of the score, both orchestrally and vocally, that it is hard to imagine ever being bettered; all aspects of the design - set, costumes, lighting - are wonderful (towards the end of "Caro nome del mio cor", for example, you could be looking at a Rembrandt painting); David McVicar's direction gives the work the kind of power and coherence that are too often lacking in this opera. And yet...

The disappointment lies in the inability of some of the cast to play their parts with real conviction. Marcello Alvarez is a wonderful singer but he simply can't act well enough to play the kind of Duke that the production calls for. All he ever manages to project is vague amiability when what is called for is a combination of preening egoism and vicious cruelty. In Act 1, in spite of having beautiful young and half naked women hanging on him, he looks as if he would rather be in a burger restaurant (it doesn't help that he is badly overweight). It's not that he doesn't try: he just can't do it. Graciela Araya's Maddalena is also very overweight and quite coarse looking. When you look at what is available in the court (surely these are not the altos and sopranos of the ROH chorus!), it just isn't credible that the Duke would go to Sparafucile's tavern for such a lump. Paolo Gavanelli has been much praised but I think his interpretation is quite superficial and lacks complexity or subtlety. Only Christine Schaefer seems to understand what her director wants and she delivers to perfection. In the final duet she acts Gavanelli right off the stage.

In spite of these drawbacks this is still the "Rigoletto" to have.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 20, 2012 2:41 PM GMT

La Traviata: Salzburg Festival (Rizzi) [DVD] [2006]
La Traviata: Salzburg Festival (Rizzi) [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Anna Netrebko
Price: £9.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "Traviata" for our times, 29 Dec. 2011
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This is the best "Traviata" I have seen. The whole performance is absolutely full of life and energy and is directed with great imagination and flair. Anna Netrebko puts her entire heart and soul into Violetta, singing and acting with an intensity and passion rarely encountered in opera. Her final moments are heartbreaking. Roland Villazon, another fine singer-actor, is an ideal Alfredo for her: the sexual chemistry between them really fizzes (and is still there at the end in the wings, when the two are waiting to take their bows) and he captures to perfection Verdi's blend of ardent young lover and petulant, immature young man. Thomas Hampson completes the picture with a truly chilling portrayal of Germont senior, Verdi's representative figure of bourgeois moral hypocrisy. He absolutely drips with self-righteousness and insincerity and, even at the end, conveys the feeling that his self-reproach is formulaic rather than genuine.

Willy Decker's non-naturalistic, feminist production wrenches the opera away from its usual unchallenging identity as 19th century "period piece" and turns it into something much more uncomfortable, disturbing even, and much more relevant to our own times. Of course, this does not go down well with dessicated canary fanciers, who do not understand theatre and regard an opera performance as the equivalent of an Associated Board grade exam. Ignore these people and side with the Salzburg audience, who give the show a prolonged and well-deserved standing ovation.

Incidentally, although Amazon advertises this DVD as NTSC Region 1, the copy I obtained (from Moviemars) is Region 0 and is fully PAL compatible. Maybe Amazon should take another look?

Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor / Netrebko, Beczala, Kwiecien, Metropolitan Opera (2009) [DVD] [NTSC]
Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor / Netrebko, Beczala, Kwiecien, Metropolitan Opera (2009) [DVD] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Poitr Beczala
Price: £18.11

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A lifeless let-down, 9 Dec. 2011
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Although the singing and orchestral playing in this production are fine ("bel canto" obsessives may disagree but they're welcome) the overall effect is very disappointing. Director Mary Zimmerman tries to avoid the melodramatic excesses of Donizetti's old war horse but, by failing to create a believable alternative, squeezes all the life out of the opera. As played by Anna Netrebko, Lucia is so buttoned up and contained (literally in extremely unflattering costumes, which make her look anything but girlish) as to be of no serious interest as a character and one might suspect Netrebko of merely going through the motions were it not for the fact that her successor in the role - Natalie Dessay - has since been criticised for exactly the same failing. As both these singers are also very fine actresses, it is clear that they were following Zimmermann's orders in failing outwardly to communicate Lucia's gradual descent into breakdown and madness. This lifeless restraint is also a problem for the chorus. When Lucia appears in her bloodstained dress, their lack of reaction is quite ridiculous: you would think she had merely committed a social faux pas. The leading men are more energetic but Beczala's Edgardo does not remotely cut it as an ardent young lover; indeed, there is practically no sexual chemistry between him and Netrebko. Kwicien, on the other hand, plays Enrico as a pantomime villain and only wants a cork moustache to complete the picture. He seems to belong in an altogether different production, as do the ridiculous ghosts.

Ironically, Zimmerman's failure to get the right kind of acting out of her performers results in an old- fashioned "stand and deliver" approach to the big set-pieces that she can't really have intended and that reduces the opera to nothing more than a concert in fancy dress. Not that this worries the self-indulgent Met audience, who yell and applaud at every possible opportunity - even in the middle of the "mad" scene - and clearly have no interest in opera as drama.

Weber: Der Freischutz [DVD] [2011]
Weber: Der Freischutz [DVD] [2011]
Dvd ~ Nikolaus Harnoncourt

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who's afraid of the German forest?, 5 Dec. 2011
"Who's afraid of the German forest?" is the title of an essay written by Harnoncourt in the booklet which accompanies his CD of this wonderful but underrated opera. In this excellent Swiss production the late, great Ruth Berghaus brings out the dark undertones of Weber's work in a way that perfectly complements Harnoncourt's reading of the score. In Berghaus's hands, instead of looking like a spooky version of "White Horse Inn", the opera comes across as an intense exploration of fear and insecurity, both social and personal . Her staging of the finale to Act 2 - the "Wolf's Glen" episode - is an object lesson in how to create a feeling of nightmare by the use of non-naturalistic methods and it pays the opera the compliment of taking it completely seriously.

Harnoncourt gets superb playing from his orchestra and all of the singing and acting is very strong, with the one exception of Inga Nielsen's Agathe. Nielsen looks too old for the part, sings with a rather thin tone and seems rather detached and uninvolved. She is the only reason I have not given this show a fifth star.

Offenbach: Les Contes D'Offmann (Olivier Py) [DVD] [2009]
Offenbach: Les Contes D'Offmann (Olivier Py) [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Patricia Petibon
Price: £25.90

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative production, 2 Dec. 2011
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Among DVDs of "Hoffmann" currently available, this is the only one that even begins to stand comparison with the superlative Powell and Pressburger film (whose ideas it occasionally borrows). Olivier Py's baroque imagination, which sometimes leads him into self-indulgence and incoherence, is well suited to bringing out this opera's darkness and he does an excellent job.

For me, the Prologue is overlong and the Tale of Giulietta is marred by Wesseling, who, for all that her singing is excellent, is overweight and lacking in sexual allure. It doesn't help that she is flanked half of the time by almost naked (in bodystockings) women of perfect shape, while she is bursting out of her corset (Petibon and Harnisch sing every bit as well as Olympia and Antonia while also managing to look every inch the part). As another reviewer has commented, the men are a bit weak. Cavallier is the best, especially as Dr Miracle, but Laho's Hoffmann is almost anonymous and completely fails to engage our interest. This may be partly Offenbach's fault but I don't think Laho can act.

Overall, there is more than enough in the show, both musically and visually, to compensate for these weaknesses but, if you only want one "Hoffmann", buy the "Criterion Collection" version of the Powell and Pressburger. It's in a completely different league and is astonishing value at £4.99.

Berg: Lulu [DVD] [2011]
Berg: Lulu [DVD] [2011]
Dvd ~ Olivier Py
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £14.45

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars worth having but seriously flawed, 26 Nov. 2011
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This review is from: Berg: Lulu [DVD] [2011] (DVD)
With so few performances of "Lulu" available on DVD, this is a welcome addition to the catalogue and it is well worth having for two chief reasons. Firstly, Berg's score is beautifully played by the Licieu orchestra under the baton of Michael Boder and, secondly, Patricia Petibon gives an outstanding performance as the title character. Unfortunately, Boder and Petibon are let down by a mostly mediocre supporting cast, a dubious staging by Olivier Py and (for this DVD) really awful filming.

Petibon, especially, deserves better. She sings the difficult music effortlessly, looks stunning and acts brilliantly. Her Lulu is harder edged than that of Christine Schaefer in the celebrated Glyndebourne production and, instead of the latter's childlike vunerability, she projects a fatalistic weariness as a creature who exists for the use of others. Of the other leads, only Julia Juon as Countess Geschwitz is of any interest. Ashley Holland as Schoen/Jack the Ripper is wooden, while Paul Groves's Alwa not only only looks to be the same age as his father but seems embarrassed at having to do love scenes with the sexy Petibon. In the long love scene at the end of Act 2 he can hardly bring himself to look at her (perhaps he is desperately watching the conductor)and his physical grappling with her at the end of this scene is an object lesson in how not to do it. None of the minor parts acts with any conviction so the whole point of Lulu's story is lost.

Py's staging is wildly over the top and, at times, an incoherent mess. He was right to go for vivid colour - too many recent productions of "Lulu" have been drab and dreary - and his expressionistic/Brechtian approach is fair enough but he never knows when enough is enough. The setting is a garish, neon-lit mix of amusement arcade and red-light district, scattered with Brechtian messages in various languages, which Py populates with sleazy characters
who never stop moving about the stage and constantly take the focus away from the central action. Worse, the set itself is in constant motion throughout Act 1 and during most of Act 3. Apparently Py wanted to reflect the restlessness of our hyper-sexual culture but his set, with its clutter and constantly busy action, instead of supporting the story being played out on stage, merely competes with it for attention. The one exception is during the orchestral interlude between Acts 2 and 3, when the moving, transforming set gives us a superb counterpoint to the music. Of course, there are no people at this point to get in the way, which makes one wonder if Py would have been happier with just an orchestra and a set! Py's Brechtian approach also goes too far. Schigolch spends the whole opera costumed as a circus clown and the Athlete spends all his time dressed as an ape. This is an over-expansion of the circus/menagerie idea with which the opera starts and, especially in the case of Schigolch, reduces the meaning of these characters to that of "extras" in the drama.

Even worse than Py's over-heated direction, however, is the sheer incompetence of the video direction. The camera varies unpredictably between close-ups and long shots of the whole stage. In the latter case, we cannot see anything that is going on as all the performers are dwarfed and overwhelmed by the set. We never get to see what is happening in the moving scenes at the back of the stage, which makes the constant motion even more annoying and meaningless than it must have been to the live audience. At times the camera cannot cope with the garish red and green lighting washes and the quality of the picture descends to that of U-tube. I suspect that this video was made on the cheap.

This is still worth having for Petibon, the music and some interesting ideas and effects but, if you only want one "Lulu", get the Glyndebourne one. As a production, it's in a different class.

Mozart: Le Nozze Di Figaro [DVD] [2007]
Mozart: Le Nozze Di Figaro [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Wiener Philharmoniker
Price: £18.43

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Different but compelling, 13 Nov. 2011
This has to be one of the very best versions of "Le Nozze di Figaro" currently available on DVD: brilliantly imagined, brilliantly sung and brilliantly acted. Those reviewers who have condemned this outstanding show are completely at odds, not only with the cheering Salzburg audience but also with the stellar cast, all of whom have bought unreservedly into Guth and Harnoncourt's interpretation, as shown by their whole-hearted commitment on stage. Great works of art, such as "Figaro", simply cannot be contained within any one interpretation. However this opera is staged, there will always be something missing because the work itself is profoundly ambiguous. In this case Guth chooses to sacrifice most of the "commedia dell'arte" humour for the sake of bringing out the tragic subtext which can clearly be heard in the music. Guth also makes Cherubino into a central character, rather than the peripheral one that turns up in most stagings (maybe this is why Schaeffer gets the biggest of all the audience cheers). It's only one approach but it's a perfectly valid one and the result is moving and a little disturbing, rather than funny.

As for failing to respect Mozart's and Da Ponte's "intentions", how on earth can anyone living in 2011 seriously claim to see into the minds of people who have been dead for over 200 years? Even if the opera were to be staged by candlelight, with a Susanna aged 19, in front of an audience that saw fit to come and go as it pleased and in a 200 seat theatre without any toilets, it still wouldn't be the same as in Mozart's day. Opera stagings either succeed in communicating with the audience or they don't. People are entitled to dislike what they see and hear but not for spurious reasons about the supposed "intentions" of the composer and/or librettist.

If you are interested in opera as a form of theatre rather than as "classical-music-in-tights", you will really enjoy this DVD. If you don't really understand theatrical ideas and already think you know exactly how the opera should be performed, then this one is not for you.

Weber: Der Freischtz [DVD] [2006]
Weber: Der Freischtz [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Zurich Opera House Chor And Orch

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding music theatre, 10 Mar. 2009
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If, like most "opera lovers", you regard the art form as just a showcase for vocal display and have little interest in or understanding of theatre, do not buy this DVD. You will struggle to understand Berghaus's theatrical language and end up annoyed. If, on the other hand, you take opera seriously as theatre, you will really enjoy this outstanding production. Harnoncourt and Berghaus are the perfect combination for bringing out the darkness and fear at the heart of Weber's opera (see Harnoncourt's comments in the booklet to his later recording with the Berlin Philharmoniker)and they both realise that, in this day and age, this can't be done with the original apparatus of "spooky" effects etc, as Hollywood has made it impossible to take such stuff seriously. Just how well they succeed in convincing and carrying their audience with them can be seen in the loud and prolonged ovation at the end.

If you want to see what a "traditional" production looks like, get the reissued Hamburg State Opera DVD from Arthaus. It's colourful and of great historical interest but, as theatre, it's almost pure kitsch.

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