STRAUSS: Elektra
Evelyn Herlitzius (Elektra). Waltraud Meier (Klytämnestra). Adrianne Pieczonka (Chrysothemis). Mikhail Petrenko (Orest). Tom Randle (Ageisth). Gulbenkian Chorus. Orchestra of Paris/Esa-Pekka Salonen, cond.
BEL AIR CLASSICS DVD TT: 110 min. + 23 min. bonus

BORODIN: Prince Igor
IldarAbdrazakov (Prince Igor). Oksana Dyka (Yaroslavna). Sergey Semishkur (Vladimir). Mikhail Petrenko (Prince Galitsky). Stefan Kocan (Konchak). Anita Rachvelishvili (Konchakovna). Mikhail Vekua (Ovlur). Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orch/Giannandrea Noseda, cond.
DGG DVD (2 disks) TT: 192 min. + 10 min. bonus

VERDI: Il trovatore
Anna Netrebko (Leonora). Plácido domingo (Count di Luna).Marina POrudenskaya (Azucena). Gaston Rivero (Manrico). Adrian Sampetrean (Ferrando). Anna Lapkovskaja (Ines). Florian Hoffmann (Ruiz).Berlin State Opera Chorus and Orch/Daniel Barenboim, cond.
DGG DVD TT: 145 min.

This production of Elektra is exceptional. It was staged by Patrice Chereau , his last major production before his death in October 2013. Chereau's imaginative approach to opera was displayed in many acclaimed productions over the years including the Ring at Bayreuth in 1976. This DVD has a bonus of Chereau discussing his view of Elektra, which is most convincing. Set designer Richard Peduzzi gives us a dark, gloomy scene, effectively lit by Dominique Bryuguiere. The opera opens without music as the servants are working in the courtyard. Chereau was fortunate to have Evelyn Herlitzius in the title role, and one wonders how much of her highly theatrical interpretation of the role was influenced by him. Surely the final triumphal dance has never been as exciting as it is here, Herlitzius' trim figure and athletic prowess enable us to perform a demonic final dance that I'm sure would have delighted Strauss.

Herlitzius' voice is powerful enough although without the intensity and thrust of Nilsson, or going back several decades, Rose Pauly. Her acting is extraordinarily expressive in conveying the tormented daughter. Adriana Pieczonka is a strong Chrysothemis, although not as effective as Rysanek or Deborah Voight. The amazing Waltraud Meier gives us a glamorous Klytämnestra far removed from the grotesque creature on other productions and she, also, is a superb actress. For whatever reason, at the end of the confrontation scene as the queen is informed of the supposed death of Orest, she does not laugh, as written in the score. Odd. The two screams as she is being murdered are appropriately frightening— I wonder if she actually did them? Often these are performed off stage by someone else. Mikhail Petrenko is a strong Orest, also a fine actor particularly as he caresses Elektra's forehead during the recognition scene.Video is excellent although I wish the camera had focused more on Elekra in her final dance rather than the reactions of others. This is It is a deluxe presentaton, very handsome on the shelf, a major addition to the Elektra DVD library..

Borodin's Price Igor was a major project for the composer . He started working on it in 1869 and periodically composed it until his death in 1887. The opera is about the campaign of Russian Prince Igor Svyatoslavich against the invading Cuman Polovtsian tribe, with a somewhat unclear plot and references to other medieval stories. It was unfinished at the time of Borodin's death, completed by his friend Rimsk-Korsakov, with a premiere in St. Petersburg in 1890. Since then it has been recognized as an icon icon in Russian opera, and there are two magnificent videos available, a live 1981 Bolshoi Theatre production conducted by Mark Ermler (REVIEW), and a 1998 Kirov Opera version led by Valery Gergiev (REVIEW).Now we have this radical revised Met production designed and directed by controversial Dimitri Tcherniakovs whose productions of many operas including Don Giovanni, Il trovaore and Eugene Onegin have been highly challenged. This DVD basically is what was presented in the Met's HD telecast March 1, 2014. The superb bass-baritone Eric Owens is the obviously uncomfortable host, and in four interviews with various people involved in the production (including) Ildar Abdrazakov(who singers the title role). , The Met gave him free reign and apparently an unlimited budget for this enterprise. Reported total cost of this production was $4.3 million. The large poppy field of individually created flowers is, indeed, gorgeous to view, but it cost $169,000. Tcherniakovs has concentrate more in historic facts in his concept altering the story's focus and sometimes the music as well. In some ways it is effective, but along the way Russian grand opera has disappeared. The familiar overture is omitted. Admittedly it actually was composed by Glazounov, but it surely does make an effective opening for the opera. The main set is a rather dreary inside of a large room—surely nothing grand or impressive here. Often black and white images of war and atrocities are projected. And the famous Polovtsian Daces are absurd, featuring undulating barel-clad maidens weaving in and out of rows of poppies. Singing is magnificent throughout; this is an all-Slavic cast and they know what they are doing. The problem is that with Tcherniakova's approach the majesty of grand opera is absent. .Audience response at the end is surprisingly enthusiastic, but it is interesting that the director does not make a solo bow—I'm sure if he had there would have been hostile audience reaction. It has been said that ticket sales for Ior were rather low. If the Met is concerned about its financial stability. it might reconsider expensive productions like this (also their Salome, Handel and Gretel and Las Vegas Rgoletto). that might appeal to somebut hardly will draw capacity audiences who expect respectful productions of grand opera.

The only reason to acquire this new Il trovatore from Berlin is to hear Anna Netrebko's first performance of Leonora, and that is reason enough. The famous soprano is in fabulous voice throughout, although saddled by a wretched production that tests the endurance of opera audiences. The production, headed by Director Phlippe Stölzl, is dismal, a single small set that looks cheap. Lighting silhouettes singers sometimes effectively, but the costumes by Ursula Kudrina are grotesque, often comic clown-like characters. And it seems the director simply said to everyone, just move around from time to time and look comically stupid. Of limited interest is Plácido Domingo's assumption of the role of Count di Luna as he continues his descent into the baritone world. Marina Prudenskaya is a demonic Azucena, and tenor Gaston Rivero is adequate as Manrico. Barenboim's tempi are leisurely for Netrebko's big arias, confident that she will be able to deliver, which she does. Video and audio are fine, but the reason to view this is Netrebko's spectacular performance.

R.E.B. (January 2015)