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Certainly 'the yardstick', but should be re-issued in 16:9 on blu-ray.
on 22 November 2012
I simply cannot recommend this production more - it is a classic; it is the bench-mark; yet it is already more than 30 years old, and not getting the deserved attention by DG.
In its 111 anniversary, what DG should have done is to re-issue the VHS version in 16:9 on blu-ray. This 4:3 DVD version of the original VHS has severe side-cuts that blemishes the visual impact not insignificantly.
I also disagree with DG's DVD lining and booklet - the focus, it seems, is SOLELY on Frederica von Stade, which is unjustified, since the cast is unanimously terrific, if not native English-speakers. Such unjustified Anglo-phile approach belittles the English-speaking race as a whole.
Solely from the performance level, von Stade is visually unsurpassed, for sure, but vocally, I would say that the other great American mezzo-soprano Joyce Didonato has surpassed von Stade in this role, as well as the Italian diva Cecilia Bartoli. However, both Didonato and Bartoli are not blessed with such a wonderful Ponnelle filmed extravaganza!
If you ask for the truly outstanding members of this wonderful cast, I would say that Don Magnificio and Prince Ramiro are the two unsurpassed members.
Paolo Montarsolo's Don Magnificio is, apart from the usual buffo meanness and selfishness that are often aligned for this role, a true flesh and blood character. He is lazy, he is mean, he is shallow, he is vainglory, he is...but he ALSO strikes as such a commonplace middle-class father of two good-for-nothing spoilt girls!
There are numerous Prince Ramiros both past and present that filled the market - from the good-old days to the recent bel canto prince Juan Diego Florez to the MET visual fiasco Lawrence Brownlee. However, none, absolutely none, has the vocal calibre, the physical charisma, the charming princely regal demeanour, of Francisco Araiza in this film.
Araiza was about 30 years old when this was filmed. An amazingly virile and florid Rossinian tenor (and of course in MANY other genres of vocal repertoire, too) at that time before he switched to other notable repertoires as well, his performance here really is an operatic masterclass for any tenor attempting this role.
Compared to him, Florez's timbre is at best described as 'tenorino'. And Florez does not own the superb acting capabilities of Araiza. While Ramiro is not as significant a role as compared to Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere, the two major scenes of Prince Ramiro are both incredibly dramatically effective and vocally incomparable.
This, in fact, is Araiza's fourth Ponnelle film in a row between the three years from 1977 to 1980.
This alone tells a lot about this scandalously underrated artist.