Il Tabarro and Pagliacci at the Met

The Metropolitan Opera opened the 1994/5 season with a starrily cast double bill of Puccini’s Il Tabarro and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.  Both were conducted by James Levine and filmed by Brian Large.

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I due Foscari

Verdi’s sixth opera, I due Foscari, is probably not well known to many readers so a brief description may be in order.  It’s a rather grim tale of injustice and revenge.  Francesco Foscari is the aged Doge of Venice.  His son, Jacopo, has been stitched up by the family rival Jacopo Loredano and exiled to Crete.  He returns to try and clear his name but is fitted up again.  This time for the murder of one Donato.  Despite torture he refuses to confess and is sentenced to return to exile in Crete.  The first three quarters of the opera is mostly either father or son bemoaning their fate (Francesco has already lost three sons.  Lady Bracknell would be unimpressed) or Lucrezia, Jacopo’s wife, pleading for mercy to anyone who will listen.  Then there’s a final scene where Francesco receives proof of his son’s innocence, closely followed by news of his death, closely followed by news that the Council and Senate are sacking him.  Loredano gloats.  Foscari dies.  Structurally it’s very much a “numbers” opera with a succession of short scenes mostly featuring various combinations of the three Foscaris and the chorus.  There are a lot of quite sophisticated ensemble pieces as well as a couple of solo arias for each of the principals.  It’s musically rather distinguished in fact.  The three Foscari roles are big sings.  Nobody else has much to do.

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Monochrome Nabucco

Daniele Abbado’s production of Verdi’s Nabucco, recorded at Covent Garden in 2013 was the vehicle for Placido Domingo taking on yet another Verdi baritone role.  It’s set in the 1940’s because, Jews.  At least it’s costumed that way because nothing else about the production has any kind of sense of time or place.  It’s virtually monochrome and quite abstract.  The Temple is represented by a set of upright rectangular blocks which are toppled at the appropriate moment.  The idol of Baal is a sort of wire frame that comes apart rather undramatically and so on.  There’s also nothing in the direction to suggest any kind of concept.  It’s quite straightforward with rather a lot of “park and bark”.  There’s some use of video projections behind and above the action but it’s rather hard to figure them out on video as they tend to appear in shot rather fleetingly.

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The way by swan

No Madelaines were harmed in reviewing this DVD.  It’s a 1992 recording from the Wiener Staatsoper of, of course, Lohengrin and its main claim to fame is that stars Placido Domingo (note no further jokes about water fowl despite the prominent role of Heinrich der Vogler).  It’s one of those DVDs from the 80s and 90s that are a bit frustrating.  The singing is very good indeed.  Domingo is superb and the rest are at least very good plus Abbado conducts with real flair but the production is dull as ditch water and the video quality is awful.

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Meyerbeer in the museum

Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine was a huge hit in Paris, London and New York when it premiered in 1865.  I’m not sure why.  It has all of the things that make Meyerbeer seem very dated and not as much of the good stuff as Les Huguenots, or even Dinorah.  It’s ostensibly about Vasco de Gama but that’s just a peg to pin a love triangle and a bunch of exoticism on.  Are we actually supposed to believe that the Portugese wanted to find a way around the Cape to find out what was there?  It would have been a lot easier to get hold of a copy of Herodotus.  It’s also long.  Even with cuts it runs well over three hours in the version recorded at San Francisco Opera in 1988.

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Frock Opera

Giordano’s Fedora is a sort of apotheosis of the 19th century Italian opera.  It’s a melodramatic love story in an aristocratic Russian setting.  There is murder and suicide and plots and a dead mother and brother.  The music is dramatic, even bombastic, when the mood suits but finds time to give showpiece arias for the principals.  There is not an idea in libretto or score that give anyone an uncomfortable thought.  The Metropolitan Opera’s 1996 production by Beppe di Tomasi builds on this by playing it dead straight and setting it in a series of suitably opulent settings complete with extravagant frocks.  The cherry on the already rather rich cake is casting Placido Domingo as Loris Ipanoff and Mirella Freni as Fedora Romazoff.  I imagine it’s many people’s idea of the perfect night at the opera   In it’s way it’s the polar opposite of, say, Bieito’s WozzeckContinue reading

Superbly sung Butterfly with Mirella Freni and Placido Domingo

Continuing the Jean-Pierre Ponnelle marathon we come to his 1974 film of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly with Mirella Freni in the title role and a young Placido Domingo as Pinkerton.  Musically this is the most satisfying of the Ponelle productions I’ve yet come across.  Freni is superb.  Radiant is not too strong a term,  Domingo sings pretty much as well (we’ll come to points of dramatic interpretation later) and the supporting cast is flawless.  There’s some serious luxury casting here with Christa Ludwig as a superb Suzuki.  Robert Kerns is an excellent Sharpless and Michel Sénéchal equally good as Goro.  Herbert von Karajan conducts.  He tends to go for sheer beauty of sound rather than maximum drama but what beauty of sound!  The soloists are wonderfully backed up by the Wirner Philharmoniker and the Staatsopernchor.  Continue reading