TCHAIKOVSKY: Excerpts from The Nutcracker. RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30. STRAVINSKY: Le sacre du printemps.
Yefim Bronfman, piano; Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Sir Simon Rattle, cond.
MEDICI ARTS DVD VIDEO 2057758 TT: 104 min.

"EL SISTEMA" "Music to Change Life" - A film by Paul Smaczny and Maria Stodtmeier
EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 205694 TT: 100 min.+ 9 min. bonus

DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor
Anna Netrebko (Lucia); Mariusz Kwiecien (Enrico); Piotr Beczala (Edgardo); Colin Lee (Arturo); Ildar Abdrazakov (Raimondo); Michaela Martens (Alisa); Michael Myers (Normanno); Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orch/Marco Armiliato, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD VIDEO B0013573 TT: 143 min. + 17 min. bonus

This Waldbühne concert took place in the huge German outside venue June 21, 2009, and was very special. Sir Simon Rattle conducted, and the Berlin Philharmonic was at its best, which is to say as good as it gets. Their playing is perfection throughout. Yefim Bronfman was soloist in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, a commanding, spectacular performance. Bronfman, a large man, is a physical presence at the keyboard, and tosses off the millions of notes with the greatest of ease. And the BPO/Rattle accompaniment could not be bettered. Rattle's live performance of Sacre is exciting indeed. It was raining that night, and the enthusiastic audience sat through the deluge, many with umbrellas—and they also stayed for the encores, more music from The Nutcracker, and the inevitable Berliner Luft, which Rattle begins and then moves into the percussion section to play the cymbals. It is all very entertaining indeed—the only negative element is audio. Usually concerts recorded at Waldbühren have superb sound; this one doesn't. I heard it on regular DVD; perhaps the Blu Ray version offers a better audio experience. There is a decided lack of brilliance in high frequencies, and low bass is lacking—so important in the percussive effects in Sacre. The solo piano, is rather subdued. Still, this are splendid performances well worth owning, even with faults.

"El Sistema" is a remarkable documentary film by Paul Smaczny and Maria Stodtmeier about the remarkable Venezuelan music education program that has changed the lives of thousands of impoverished children of that country, bringing new meaning to their lives. Gustavo Dudamel is a product of this program, and of course he figures prominently in this film, as does the remarkable Jose Antonio Abreu, who began the educational program three decades ago. This is a positive look at today's youth, a memorable viewing experience. It is available in both regular DVD and Blu-Ray; there's little point in spending the extra dollars for the latter.

Natalie Dessay in Lucia di Lammermoor is a hard act to follow, but Anna Netrebko did so with great success. Dessay had sung the role to tremendous acclaim on the Met's opening night in September 2007 in a somewhat controversial production by Mary Zimmerman. Now Netrebko is Lucia, and the first performance, February 7, 2009, was televised in HD throughout the country, and now we can see it on DVD. I have no great problem with the production (compared with many outrages perpetuated by the new breed of opera directors, it was quite mild), although I surely did object to a physician giving Lucia an injection—presumably a sedative—towards the end of the Mad Scene. Netrebko was impressive in every way, and even though she wasn't as thin as usual, having just returning from maternity leave, she sang very well and looked beautiful. The entire cast was first-rate. The indisposed Rolando Villazón was to have been Edgardo; he was replaced by Piotr Beczala, a handsome tenor who did not disappoint. Dessay was hostess and her rather awkward interviews with singers, director and conductor add little to this presentation, with one exception: the episode when she reviews backstage personnel about the manifold difficulties in mounting a huge production like this. This is an intriguing Lucia, well worth owning.

R.E.B. (December 2009)