PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut
Jonas Kaufmann (Des Grieux). Kristine Opolais (Manopn Lescaut). Christopher Maltman (Lescaut). Maurizio Muraro (Geronte). Bernjamin Hulett (Edmondo). Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Antonio Pappagno, cond.

EVERYWHERE AND FOREVER - A film by Jason Starr analyzing Mahler's Song of the Earth

FOR THE LOVE OF MAHLER - A film by Jason Starr aboit the inspired life of Henry-Louis de la Grange, author of the definitive and most comprehsneive book about Mahler.

There are many fine videos of Manon Lescaut including two from the Metropolitan Opera conducted by James Levine, , one with Karitaa Mattila and Marcello Geronte(REVIEW), the other with Renata Scotto and Plácido Domingo (REVIEW).Both are superior to this latest concept disaster from the Royal Opera House. It was directed by Jonathan Kent, who had a distinguished career in non-musical theater but in recent years has turned to opera. This production, designed by Paul Brown. places the story in more or less contemporary times. There are different stage levels and with a spiral staircase. Manon arrives in a minivan, which really looks stupid. The performance itself is excellent vocally. Kaufmann appears to be a bit uncomfortable, but the voice is there. Perhaps these Royal Opera performances were a major factor in his canceling out of a series of Met performances of this opera this season? But is pleasant to see a truly handsome Grieux, although it is difficult to see why he would be attracted to Manon sung by Kristin Opolais. She can be an exciting singer, at the beginning of what [romises to be an extraordinary career. She is married to fellow Latviuan Andres Nelsons, now, among other things, conductor of the Boston Symphony. Opolais gains in vocal strength as the performance goes on. But she is garbed atrociously, with unflattering wigs, rather looking like a Barbie Doll wearing a mini-mini skirt and her legs are always apparent and usually without stockings. And director Kent often has her posed in rather awkward sexually provocative stances. Video and audio are excellent, but I won't watch this production again. There are two short "bonuses" that don't amount to much. Skip this one, for sure.

We have two fine films by Jason Starr. Everywhere and Forever r is essential viewing for those who love Mahler's works. It is a highly detailed, sensitive examination of Das Lied von der Erde. This is is a "song symphony," Mahler's setting of six ancient Chinese poems about beauty, life, sorrow, loss, and death. Each episode is discussed in detail in a most revealing way, with commentary by Peter Franklin, Thomas Hampson, Hanry-Louis De La Grange, Stephen Hefling, Catherine Keller, Marina Mahler (the composer's grand-daughter), and Morton Solvik. Throughout we have video clips of the music performed by the Suisse Romande Orchestra conducted by Neemi Järvi (the total uninterrupted performance is available on video (coupled, appropriately with Strauss's Death and Transfiguration (REVIEW).This is a major addition to the Mahler video library.

Also of major interest is the other video, For the Love ofMahler, featuring the famous writer Henry-Louis De La Grange, author of the four-volume book on Mahler and his music. Now 91, he is living history, having studied with Yvonne Lefebre and Nadia Boulanger. He was a distinguished critic for the New York Times and wrote for many leading magazines. He first heard music of Gustav Mahler in 1945 in a concert with Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic performing Symphony No. 9. It surely made an indelible impression as since that time Grange has devoted his life to Mahler's music and done much research. It is a pleasure and fascinating to observe him speak articulately about his beloved subject. Grange does so with quiet authority and total knowledge and sincerity. Special features include "mini-documentaries" which expand on the biographical, philosophical, and musical issues. Participating are Pierre Boulez, Christoph Eschenbach, Riccardo Chailly, Thomas Hampson and Marina Mahler. This has been beautifully filmed and edited. An outstanding release! If you love Mahler's music surely you should investigate not only the two DVDs mentioned here, but the Järvi performance of Das Lied mentioned above.

R.E.B. (April 2016)