VERDI: Othello
Wolfgang Windgassen (Othello), Sena Jurinac (Desdemona), Norman Mittelmann (Iago), Margarita Lilova (Emilia), William Blankenship (Cassio), Adolf Dallapozza (Rodrigo), Walter Kreppel (Lodovico), Willy Ferenz (Montano), Leo Heppe (Herold), Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna State Opera Childrens' Chorus; Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orch/Argeo Quadri, cond.
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 101 505 TT: 134 min.

Tatiana Serjan (Aida), Rubens Pelizzari (Radamès), Kevin Short (Il Re), Iano Tamar (Amneris), Tigran Martirossian (Ramfis), Iain Paterson (Amonasro), Ronald Samm (Messenger), Camerata Silesia; Polish Radio Choir Krakow; Bregenzer Festspielchor; Vienna Symphony Orch/Carlo Rizzi, cond.
C MAJOR DVD VIDEO 702308 TT: 135 min.

WAGNER: Lohengrin
Jonas Kaufmann (Lohengrin); Anja Harteros (Elsa); Wolfgang Koch (Friedrich von Telramund); Michaela Schuster (Ortrud); Christof Fischesser (Heinrich); Evgeny Nikitin (Herald); Bavarian State Chorus/Orch/Kent Nagano, cond.
DECCA DVD 0743387 (2 disks) TT: 207 min.

In 1965 Austrian television decided to present a production by Otto Schenk of Verdi's Othello who, unlike many of today's directors, can always be counted on for taste and a directorial concept that does not insult the composer and audiences. and reality. The performance is sung in German, with an outstanding cast. Wolfgang Windgassen, the leading Tristan of the time (a few years earlier he recorded the opera with Birgit Nilsson, Solti conducting), is in fine form. Canadian-born Norman Mittelmann (b. 1932) is a superb Iago, and American William Blankenship, who had an extensive career in Vienna and Berlin, is Cassio. We also have the luxury of Sena Jurinac as Desdemona. Argeo Quadri, best known to collectors for his orchestral recordings a half-century ago, conducted opera frequently in Europe, and is a firm figure on the podium. In this TV film, sets and costumes by Gerhard Hruby are appropriate, and camera work (black and white) focuses only occasionally on close-ups. Video is excellent for the time as is the monophonic sound. This is a fascinating release.

The Bergenz Opera has a unique presentation site, as the stage is surrounded by water, and directors try to incorporate this in their visions of opera. It worked reasonably well in the 2007 Festival production of Tosca (REVIEW), but it surely doesn't in this unfortunate presentation of Aida filmed September 17 and 22 and July 24, 2009. Sets and costumes are by Paul Brown who combines the old with the new. The main set looks like a huge ad for Dr. Scholl's with two huge blue feet dominating the stage, with no body—but there is a huge head that looks like the Statue of Liberty. We know we are in trouble right at the beginning when during the Act I prelude we see a crane holding two bodies strapped together pulled from the water dripping wet, presumably to let us know a tragedy is about to happen. The Act II ballet is "danced" in a foot of water. And so it goes. Vocally there is little of interest here. Iano Tamar's voice is not suited to Amneris, tenor Rubens Pelizzar, now at the beginning of his career, sounds nervous, but who wouldn't when singing suspended in a crane over water? Russian soprano Tatiana Serjan improves as the performance proceeds and under different circumstances probably would be effective in the demanding title role. There are many small cuts made in the score including a large chunk of "O patria mia.". Hats off to conductor Carlo Rizzi who makes the best of a very difficult situation. Audio and video are satisfactory, but I cannot imagine anyone wanting to see this production except out of curiosity.

Decca's Lohengrin is terrific musically. Jonas Kaufmann is a magnificent knight easily conquering this demanding role. He has a superb sense of theatre, an actor who really is involved with the music and understands it thoroughly. I cannot imagine the role being sung better. Anja Harteros, already known for her Mozart and Strauss, is a perfect Elsa, and Michaela Schuyster's Ortrud is outstanding. All of the other roles are very well sung, the chorus and orchestra under Kent Nagano's knowing direction are superb. The problem is the awkward staging, set designs and costumes. During the exquisite first act prelude, we see Elsa alone on the stage designing a new house, dressed as a masoner which is intended to represent her hope for the future. When Lohengrin arrives he is not in a boat led by a swan, but he is actually carrying the swan (a mechanical creation that occasionally preens itself), wearing a blue T-shirt and workout pants—hardly appropriate for a knight—and he joins Elsa joining cement and brick. The concept is not as bizarre as most recent directorial Wagner travesties, but somehow the magic and mystery of Wagner's score are missing, in spite of the magnificent singing. Video and audio are state-of-the-art, and it is intriguing to watch from backstage during the vociferous curtain calls. Don't miss this!

R.E.B. (July 2010)