VERDI: Rigoletto (A film by Marco Bellocchio)
GLASS: Einstein on the Beach
Naxos here has a triple-header: three well-known operas in filmed quality presentations made in the actual location where historically they took place. Perhaps you might remember a 1992 PBS telecast of Tosca with Catherine Malifonto, Placido Domingo and Ruggiero Raimondi, with the RAI Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta. It was filmed in three locations. There were no stage limitations of any kind/. When there are crowd scenes there is indeed a crowd, and galloping horses also impress—things you could never see on an opera stage. Act II actually takes us inside the magnificent church of Sant'Andrea della ValleThe, and for the execution in Act III we have more than a dozen executioners. Malfitano is over the top in the title role, with excessive histrionics. Her excessive emoting during Vissi d'arte rather looks like Carol Burnett as Nora Desmond! Amusing in its own way! Cinematographers did their task with great imagination and style although some might find the approach too artsy. This Tosca is the gem on this new set; the other two operas are, from a performance standpoint, less satisfying. The Rigoletto displays Domingo in the title role and although he sings it well, his voice is not dark enough for the part. Gilda is sung by Julia Novikova, physically attractive but sometimes with uncertain pitch. The remainder of the cast is strong, which cannot be said of the Traviata. José Cura surely is not at his best, and Etero Gzava's Violetta, although visually and dramatically exceptional, vocally is taxed. The high point of this film is the stunning photography. The Act I party scene is brilliant indeed, and the outside scenes in the other acts surely impress. Packaging is luxurious with a 160-page richly illustrated booklet with comprehensive information and many color photographs. A plus is that each opera is followed by a one-hour documentary showing how the film was made, fascinating indeed. A major debit is that the three DVDs are mounted on a metal spindle set inside the box and it is virtually impossible to extricate them. However, this is a unique presentation sure to attract many opertaphiles.
Fort some, Glass's "opera" Einstein on the Beach is a masterpiece of 20th century opera. It had its premiere July 25, 1976 at the Avignon Festival in France. To many, including myself, it is not an opera, but a tedious theater piece that contains no singing. and no "music" other than brief ideas that are repeated ad nauseam. It begins with a Prologue: before the curtain raises showing the audience taking their seats as organ music plays. This is followed by four acts each separated by intermezzi called Knee Plays. The subject is Albert Einstein. Does anyone really know what it is about? A recording was made after the premiere, issued on 4 LPs. In order to get it on four disks they had to do some editing, which I imagine few noticed, and probably welcomed (this currently is available in the recent Sony Glass set). This production is deluxe, beautifully packaged with a 56-page booklet with comprehensive program notes. If this sort of theater work appeals to you here it is in a first-class presentation beautifully photographed with excellent audio.
October 17, 2015 the Met had an HD telecast of Verdi's Otello with the cast listed above. Zeljko Lucic was a powerful Iago, and new soprano Sonya Yoncheva impressed as Desdemona a. However, Latvian tenor Aleksandris Antonenko disappointed in the title role. He can be seen in the video of this opera presented in 2008 at the Salzburg Festival with Riccardo Muti on the podium, the only weak singer in the cast (REVIEW). Surprisingly, Muti also chose him for recent concert performances with the Chicago Symphony. The Met's designs and costumes are effective, video is just about perfect, audio emphasizes the voices. For a video Otello there are many far superior in performance, notably those by Placiudo domingo and Jon Vickers.
R.E.B. (Decfember 2016)