STRAUSS: Adriadne auf Naxos
Gundula Janowitz (Primadonna/Ariadne); René Kollo (Tenor/Bacchus); Edita Gruberova (Zerbinetta); Trudeliese Schmidt (Composer); Walter Berry (Music Master); Heinz Zednik (Dancing Master/Brighella); Barry McDaniel (Harlekin); Kurt Euiluz (Scaramuccio); Manfred Jungwirth (Truffaldino); Hilde De Groote (Najade); Axelle Gall (Dryade); Olivera Miljakovic (Echo); Erich Kunz (Major-domo); Georg Tichy (Wigmaker); Alfred Sramek (Lakai); Peter Weber (Officer); Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Karl Böhm, cond.
DGG DVD VIDEO 04400734370 TT: 127 min.

VERDI: Macbeth
Leo Nucci (Macbeth);Shirley Verrett (Lady Macbeth); Samuel Ramey/Johan Leysen (Banco); Anna Caterina Antonacci (Dama); Veriano Luchetti/Philippe Volter (Macduff); Antonio Barasorda (Malcolm); Nicolas Sansier (Fleanzio); Sergio Fonata (Medico); Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Riccardo Chailly, cond.
DGG DVD VIDEO 04400734380 TT:132 min + 45 min documentary

VERDI: Ernani
Luciano Pavarotti (Ernani); Leona Mitchell (Elvira); Sherrill Milnes (Don Carlo); Ruggero Raimondi (Don Ruy Gomez de Silva); Jean Kraft (Giovanna); Charles Anthony (Don Riccardo); Richard Vernon (Jago); Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orch/James Levine, cond.
DGG DVD VIDEO 004400743228 TT: 140 min.

This performance of Ariadne auf Naxos was taped in Vienna October 25 - November 9, 1977, and filmed during a two-week period beginning May 16, 1978. Based on a production of the Vienna State Opera with sets and costume design by Filippo Sanjust, it is a superb realization of Strauss's score, strongly-cast throughout, and conducted masterfully by Karl Böhm. Coloratura soprano Edita Gruberova, who is still singing brilliantly today, made her major breakthrough in opera via this production, and she is spectacular both vocally and dramatically. Janowitz is at her best, and there is much to admire here. It's unfortunate a live performance wasn't filmed; the lip-sync is often problematic. DGG has provided a detailed synopsis of the proceedings with subtitles in four languages. A quality issue, in spite of its few coordination problems.

Verdi's Macbeth is here presented in a film made at Chateau fort de Bouillon in Belgium in 1987. The opera was recorded in Chiesa di S. Giorgio, Bologna, Italy, at the same time. Verdi's masterpiece was adapted and directed by Claude D'Anna, with set designs by Eric Simon and costumes by Didier Sainderichin. Although well-received at the time (D'Anna received a Prix de l'Académie Française), I find the overall effect disappointing. Singing is adequate but little more—this was baritone Leo Nucci's first performance of the title role; DVD notes mention that at the advice of conductor Claudio Abbado, Nucci withdrew from later La Scala performances, and it's easy to understand why—Nucci doesn't have the vocal heft for this demanding role. Shirley Verrett is an old hand as Lady Macbeth, and almost manages that treacherous final "D" at the end of the sleepwalking scene, but this is a cautious performance. For unexplained reasons, Samuel Ramey sang the role of Banco but it is acted by Johan Leysen, and Macduff is sung by Veriano Luchetti and acted by Philippe Volter; two other smaller roles receive similar treatment. One wonders why? Lip-sync isn't always coordinated, as usual in productions like this, but stage action is much more involved: there are several big indoor/outdoor scenes, and we often follow characters through the subterranean passageways of the castle. Lighting overall is dark and gloomy, appropriate for the score, but the banquet scene is hardly luxurious. A 45-minute documentary on making of the film is included. Audio is somewhat unfocused. What is heard surely is not 5.1 surround.

Admirers of the late Luciano Pavarotti will wish to investigate this issue of a Metropolitan Opera performance taped in December 1983 for the Live From The Met series. He was at his best, and throughout the casting is luxurious including Leona Mitchell in her prime, Sherrill Milnes and Ruggero Raimondi. Pier Luigi Samaritani's sets and Peter J. Hall's costumes reflect 16th century Spain and, fortunately, we do not have to endure directing/design excesses so common in today's opera houses. Video quality is excellent, as is sonic quality although not 5.1.

R.E.B. (January 2008)