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S. Wells (California)

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Verdi: La Traviata [DVD] [2012]
Verdi: La Traviata [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Natalie Dessay/Charles Castronovo/Ludovic Tezier/Louis Langree/Jean-Francois Sivadier
Price: £13.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Buy this for Dessay, 10 Jun. 2012
Natalie Dessay is an artist whom I admire greatly for her singing, acting, intelligence and musicianship. This performance is ample reason why. Here is a well-sung and compelling acted performance of one of opera's more challenging roles. At times I thought her characterization was a bit edgy - on the verge in a manner more suited to Lucia than to Violetta - but, still, it's a thoughtful and valid portrayal. Her singing is technically brilliant (as in "Sempre libera") and deeply moving ("Addio del passato") where needed. I was particularly pleased that she takes both verses of both her arias. The last several performances of I've seen in the theatre have used these erstwhile traditional cuts.

Miss Dessay is well-matched in the Alfredo of Charles Castronovo. He has a pleasing lyric voice and shows a commendable empathy for a not altogether sympathetic character. His singing is tasteful and involved, though he does come close to losing the high C at the end of his second act cabaletta.

The most serious drawback to this performance is the Giorgio Germont of Ludovic Tezier. To my ears, at least, his voice is dry and colourless and his technique a bit dicey. Add to this that he shows about as much emotion as if he were singing listings from the telephone directory and you'll understand the damage he does in the great second act scena with Violetta. He's no better in his briefer appearances later in the opera.

Even the comprimarios are a pretty sorry lot. It's obvious why these persons are singing with the principals and not as the principals. Perhaps Mr. Tezier would have been better with them.

The updated setting adds nothing to the work and detracts slightly from it. I'd like the opera to be about persons who are a bit more sophisticated than the bottle-chugging partiers in the first scenes of the first and second acts. The pointless, though pleasant, choruses of gypsies and matadors in Act 2, Scene 2 seem even more pointless than usual. Perhaps worst is Violetta's standing-up death, followed by a little stroll across the stage after she's been pronounced dead.

On the whole, I would recommend this only for Miss Dessay's Violetta with some additional enjoyment from Mr Castronovo's Alfredo. As a first, or only, DVD of this opera, I'd go with the Georg Solti version from Covent Garden.

Bellini: Il pirata
Bellini: Il pirata
Price: £35.86

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Choice, 10 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Bellini: Il pirata (Audio CD)
This new recording of "Il pirata" is up to Opera Rara's usual high standards and takes first place amongst the limited number of recordings of the opera that are available.

Although I don't find her voice particularly attractive, I have to do her justice and state that Carmen Giannattiso is outstanding as Imogene. At times her tone becomes a bit astringent for my taste, but the voice is secure and the technique solid. She shows a keen intelligence that shows both an understanding and empathy for the situation this heroine faces. What the voice lacks in beauty is more than made up in the drama she conveys.

Jose Bros offers another finely sung and well acted role in the title part of the pirate, Gualtiero. The high tessitura of the part appears to offer him no challenges. I've come to regard Mr. Bros as a dependable singer whose performances I know I'll enjoy.

I was initially less sure about Ludovic Tezier as Ernesto. I was very disappointed in his portrayal of Giorgio Germont on the recent DVD of "Traviata" from Aix-en-Provence. Here he shows more involvement, both musically and dramatically, in his part. His "aria di sortita" and his contributions to the duets and trio are all very good indeed.

Brindley Sherratt makes the most of the small part of the hermit, Goffredo. The two comprimarios are acceptable, even if Mark Le Brocq's Italian pronunciation is pretty horrible.

Kudos to the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as to the conducting of David Parry. The opening scene of the opera is truly tempestuous and the gentlemen of the chorus give a rollicking rendition of the drinking chorus, "Evviva!"

There are limited other choices of recordings of this opera. The oldest is a live recording featuring Maria Callas towards the end of her career. She gets off to a shaky start, but is quite good for what remains of the opera. The Callas recording can be recommended only to those interested in this important artist. The performing edition is mangled out of shape by the extensive cuts that were required for compensate for the limited capabilities of the other singers. Only Callas is up to the music. A recording with Monteserrat Caballe came out in the early 1970s and it has a great deal to recommend it. Unfortunately, it also has Madame Caballe's husband, Bernarbe Marti, in the title role. Prior to the Opera Rara release, the Caballe recording had top honours. There's also a lesser known recording featuring Lucia Aliberti on the Berlin label. The Berlin recording has many enjoyable moments, particularly the Gualterio of Stuart Neill, but I'd not recommend it other than as a curiosity. Ms. Aliberi's singing is curious, when not just plain bizarre. This Opera Rara set is by far the best of the lot and I give it my hearty recommendation.

Luigi Cherubini - Medee - Theatre Imperial de Compiegne [DVD]
Luigi Cherubini - Medee - Theatre Imperial de Compiegne [DVD]
Dvd ~ Michèle Command
Price: £15.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent performance -- poor quality DVD, 13 April 2012
The title of this review pretty much says it all.

This is an excellent performance of the original French version of Cherubini's Medee. The singers are doubled by actors who speak the dialogue. This sounds a bit dicey, but it actually works very well, particularly considering the talent of both actors and singers. The actors deliver their lines with flair and a beautiful sense of the prosody of the language. Francince Berge is especially remarkable as the actress Medee. Michele Command who sings the title role is the weakest link. On the whole her performance is fine, though her characterisation pales beside the actress and she has to shout some of the higher notes. This isn't a problem for Inva Mula who dashes off Dirce's introductory aria with aplomb and lovely tone. Jacques Noel as Jason and Jean-Philippe Courtis, Creon, also deserve special mention for the well sung accounts they give of two thankless roles.

Had the presentation of the DVD been better, I'd have given this five stars. I regret that both picture and sound are sub-par for a live performance filmed as recently as 1996. The picture is grainy and the sound dull -- it may not even be stereo. Both picture and sound are no better than adequate. I'm familiar with the opera, but others should be warned that there are no subtitles. Lastly, there's a completely inexcusable lack of queues on the DVD, not even to separate each of the three acts. You can skip through the unlisted chapters, but they generally will take you to the middle of a scene.

So, buy this for the splendid performance of a rarely performed opera, but be prepared to accept the technical limitations.

Donizetti: Maria Di Rohan (Opera Rara: ORC44)
Donizetti: Maria Di Rohan (Opera Rara: ORC44)
Price: £23.10

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine opera but not a very dramatic recording, 25 Dec. 2011
Although titled "Maria di Rohan", I thought the best work on this set was that of Jose Bros as Riccardo, the Count of Chalais. He uses his bright tenor voice to deliver a lively and empassioned performance. Compared to him, the rest of the cast sounds more studied than invovled. Krassimira Stoyanova seems mistcast. Her lyric voice is suited to Verdi's Desdemona rather than Donizetti's countess-in-a-quandary. The voice is laboured above the staff and the coloratura is lightly etched instead of cleanly articulated. Christopher Purves is very good, if a bit unidiomatic, as Maria's husband, the Duke of Chevreuse. The Geoffrey Mitchell Choir and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment respond admirably to Sir Mark Elder's conducting.

The work itself is top-drawer Donizetti with very compact action. This recording uses the original Viennese version of the score that plays well under two hours. The later additions for the Parisian premiere are included in appendices. My only quible with the recording is that, other than the tenor, the rest of the singers sound quite univolved in the drama. As a point if reference, I pulled out and played an older recording of the work on the Nuova Era label. This was recorded live in 1988 at the Festival of the Valle d'Itria. The recorded sound is less than optimal and the orchestra and chorus are decidedly provincial, but the three main singers (Mariana Nicolesco, Giuseppe Morino and Paolo Coni) sound like they're eating up the scenery when compared to their counterparts on Opera Rara. I'm happy to have both sets, but if I had to choose between them, I'd go for the Opera Rara set under review.

Donizetti: Linda di Chamounix
Donizetti: Linda di Chamounix
Price: £36.56

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good performance -- indifferent opera, 25 Dec. 2011
I found this to be a very good performance of an indifferent opera, so I regret that I can't be very enthusiastic in this review. I am an avid admirer of Donizetti's operas, but this opera left me unmoved, and for the most part, uninterested. Perhaps I just don't like the "melodramma semiserio" nature of the work. I thought the attempts as comedy fell particularly flat. The music for the Marchese di Boisfleury is mostly patter, but it lacks the verve and elegance of the similarly-veined music in "L'elisir d'amore" and "Don Pasquale." The Marchese is an especially annoying character, and the rest of the characters are equally duplicitous (like Carlo) or just plain dim (like Linda and Pierotto). Though this is one of Donizetti's more mature works, the music doesn't show him at the top of his form. I suspect it's the fault of the less than inspired libretto. Now for a few specific comments on this performance.

The title role is beautifully sung by Eglise Gutierrez. Her middle voice is warm and vibrant and the upper extension is bright and secure, if it does turn a bit thin in the highest passages. She dashes off "O luce di quest'amina" and is at her best in the mad scene that ends the second act.

Stephen Costello seems to be generating most of the buzz about this recording and his Carlo shows a fine lyric tenor voice of considerable beauty. His second act romanza (Se tanto in ira agl'uomini) is one of the highlights of the recording. I hope he remains in this fach; heavier roles would probably spoil his voice.

Even such a talent as Alessandro Corelli can't make such a repulsive character as the Marchese appealing. The rest of the cast fill their roles very well. The Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden perform splendidly under the direction of Sir Mark Elder.

The performing edition is a pastiche of the original version produced in Vienna with some of the later additions for the work's Parisian premiere. A recording of this work really couldn't be released without "O luce di quest'amina." Pierotto loses his additional music in the first act. Unlike many other Opera Rara productions, there are no appendices with the musical variants.

My final analysis: This recording has much to recommend it, except the work itself. Others might find more to admire in the opera than I.

Rossini: William Tell (French version)
Rossini: William Tell (French version)
Price: £14.55

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Supplement, 1 Oct. 2011
I expected -- and truly wanted -- to like this recording. But I knew it was against fierce competition. Since it was released, the old EMI set with Bacquier, Gedda and Caballe has been one of my very favourite opera recordings. This new set has some undoubted felicities, but I see it best as a supplement the the more definitive earlier recording.

First the felicities:

Antonio Pappano conducts and muscular and energetic reading of the score. The overture is nothing less that rip-snorting, and the rest of the performance follows in the same vein. Indeed, it's much more exciting than the more measured and thoughtful conducting of Lamberto Gardelli on the older set. However, this set misses the grace and gravitas of Gardelli. Compare the first act Chorus (Hymenee) and its following ballet as an example.

Gerald Finley gives a splendid performance of the title role. His French pronunciation is impeccable, and, as always, he displays comsumate intelligence and musicianship in his singing. All this is presented in one of the most beautiful baritone voices of our time. Gabriel Bacquier is both more seasoned and dramatic, but Mr. Finley wins for beauty of tone.

John Osborne presents Arnold's youth and impetuosity in bright, ringing notes. Here, as with Tell, the voice is younger and fresher than the counterpart on the Gardelli set. But Osborn hasn't a patch on the sheer stylishness of Nicolai Gedda.

Now the pain points:

I found Malin Bystrom's voice to be rough around the edges, harsh and undiscplined. Her technique simply isn't up to snuff for the florid passages. I don't know what sort of singing is appropriate for her voice, but it certainly isn't Rossini. I wouldn't want to hear her in Donizetti, Verdi or Puccini either. Indeed, I don't care to hear he again. Full stop. I doubt that I shall ever again listen to this recording all the way through. I'd be too tempted to skip any passage with Mathilde.

Regardless of the motivations behind the performing edition, I seriously regret that the last act trio (Je rends a votre amour) for Mathilde, Jemmy and Hedwige is omitted. Not only is it one of the most delicious numbers in the score, but it's ommission makes the fourth act finale feel like a dash to bring an already long evening to a close.

In short, there is a great deal to enjoy in this set (despite the leading lady). So, don't buy it instead of the Gardelli recording, but as a supplement to the older version.

The Borgias (I Borgia) (1981) (5 DVD) [Import w/english audio]
The Borgias (I Borgia) (1981) (5 DVD) [Import w/english audio]
Dvd ~ Adolfo Celi

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth watching, 10 April 2011
In response to the previous review, yes the picture quality isn't up the current standards, but it's no worse than most any other DVD of a television production of this vintage. I found it quite watchable on a large screen television. Note: This is an Italian edition of the programme. I purchased my copy at a shop in Naples. The dialogue has been dubbed in Italian. The English soundtrack is also available, with Italian subtitles.

The performances are excellent, particularly the representations of Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia. The series provides a glimpse behind the scenes of papal politics at the outset of the Renaissance, but it shouldn't be taken too literal as history. Many of the popular bits of spicy rumour about the Borgias make their way into this drama. So, it may not be reliable history, but it's lots of fun.

Rossini: Stabat Mater
Rossini: Stabat Mater
Price: £11.31

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Splendid!, 12 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Rossini: Stabat Mater (Audio CD)
I believe that this is as fine a recording of this work as you'll find. Although I have frequently heard this piece, both live and recording, this set made me think I was hearing the work for the first time. I give Antonio Pappano credit for this fresh and vivid approach. He is especially effective in bringing out the more lyrical passages and coaxing some exquisite soft singing from his soloists. Just listen to the "un poco meno" section of the bass aria "Pro peccatis" elegantly sung by Ildebrando d'Arcangelo.

Indeed, the soloists are all splendid. Lawrence Brownlee makes the aria "Cujus amimam" sound effortless as he delivers it with golden tone. The darker colour of Netrebko's voice contrasts well with the brighter palate of DiDonato in their duet and they sing their respective arias with great beauty. Perhaps the highlight of the recording is the a capella quartet "Quando corpus morietur."

I have one minor quibble: the voices of the soloists are much more forward than those of the choir. They seem to come from different aural planes. Even in the choral movements, the choir seems remote and recessed. This, however, is not so significant as to impair one's enjoyment of this excellent set.

Highly recommended!

The Woman in White [DVD][1982] [1997]
The Woman in White [DVD][1982] [1997]
Dvd ~ Diana Quick
Price: £5.99

91 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An execellent dramatisation, 25 July 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I remembered that I greatly enjoyed this when it aired on television many years ago and I snapped up a copy of the DVD as soon as I knew it was avaialble. It's every bit as good as I remember.

The acting is uniformly splendid, but what impressed me most was its complete faithfulness to Collin's novel. There's no revisionism or interpolation of 21st century notions here. Rather, you get a ripping good story that presents even the smallest details of the novel, down to the right moment in the correct opera for the observation that leads to the final unraveling of the plot.

If you're an admirer of the novel or a lover of period drama, you're sure to enjoy this!

Rossini: L'Italiana In Algeri
Rossini: L'Italiana In Algeri
Price: £11.76

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A lively live recording, 25 July 2010
This set enters a field that's already full of fine recordings. This is an enjoyable performance, but it offers no compelling reason to put it at the head of the pack. It's most outstanding feature is the Lindoro or Lawrence Brownlee. It is probably the best sung rendition of this role I've heard on record. Mr. Brownlee's tone is full, warm and flexible, and he presents a delightful rendition of the character. Indeed, all the performers appear to be having a lot of fun with this show.

The remainder of the cast are very good, if not especially remarkable. Lorenzo Ragazzo is a fine Mustafa. The Taddeo of Bruno de Simone is full of personality. Marianna Pizzolato is more capable than charming in the title role. Her voice has a limited colour palette and comes across sounding rather small and dry. I prefer a juicier voice in this part.

The recording uses the critical edition issued by the Rossini Foundation. I followed along with the piano-vocal score based on the critical edition and published by Ricordi. Maestro Zeddi snips out a few bits of recitative (they aren't missed) and allows the singers a few judicious and tasteful ornaments.

I learned to love this opera from the old EMI set with Giulietta Simonato and Cesare Valetti. That set appears to be no longer available on CD. Even if it were, I'd not recommend it now as a first choice due to the dated sound and severe cuts. Nor would I recommend the set currently under review as a first choice. However, it is a pleasant supplement to the delicious recordings of this work on Decca (Berganza, Alva, Corena, conducted by Silvio Varviso) or Erato (Horne, Palacio, Ramey, conducted by Claudio Scimone).
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