PUCCINI: La Fanciulla del West
CANNOT START WITHOUT ME" Valery Gergiev Documentary
The premiere of Puccini's The Girl of the Golden West was a star-studded affair. It took place at the Met December 10, 1910 with Enrico Caruso as Dick Johnson, Emmy Destinn as Minnie, Pasquale Amato as Jack Rance, and Arturo Toscanini conducted—what a night that must have been! Since then the opera has attracted many major sopranos and most collectors first heard it via the 1958 Decca recording with Renata Tebaldi. Birgit Nilsson recorded it the same year, and later versions featured Carol Neblett, Eva Marton, Maria Zampieri, and Barbara Daniels. Plácido Domingo sings in three of these (Neblett, Zampieri, Daniels). Most operaphiles interested in a video probably would prefer the Daniels DVD (REVIEW) as well as the historic Japanese 1965 performance with Antionetta Stella (REVIEW). Surely none of these are challenged by this 2005 performance from a Puccini festival in Torre del Lago. Daniela Dessi has her moments but they are few, and her husband, tenor Fabio Armillato, is sorely taxed throughout. Stick with Neblett and Domingo, a Met performance that has the lustre of Sherrill Milnes as Jack Rance.
Edgar, Puccini's second opera, had its premiere in Milan April 21, 1898. It was not well received, not was a revised version in 1905. The plot concerns a rather vapid protagonist, the young man Edgar who cannot seem to decide if he wishes to share his life with the pure home town girl Fidelia, or with the lusty gypsy Tigrana. When he finally chooses Fidelia, Tigrana stabs her. The music is not particularly memorable. This DVD is a live performance from Teatro Regio in Turin in 2008, the first time Edgar has been presented in the original four act version since the premiere— so now we hear the extended final act. It is a fine performance, particularly from Julia Gertseva as Tigrana in the composer's only role for contralto. What is truly outstanding about this release is video/audio quality. In the Blu-Ray version, color and definition are truly extraordinary, and the 7.1surround sound could not be bettered. Should you wish to experience early Puccini very well performed, this is for you.
Bel Air Classics DVD documentary of Valery Gergiev is fascinating, although the title You Cannot Start Without Me doesn't make much sense. The video was directed by Academy Award winner Alan Miller and offers a glimpse into the frantic life of one of today's busiest conductors, who currently plays a major role with the London Symphony, Metropolitan Opera and Mariinsky Theatre, along with numerous guest conducting assignments. Gergiev, who was born in Moscow May 2, 1953, can be seen traveling, during rehearsals, in administrative meetings, and excerpts from performances, along with scenes with his young wife Natalya whom he married in 1999, and their three children. Extras include a number of brief interviews and excerpts from performances. One cannot help but wonder how much longer Gergiev will be able to maintain this incredible schedule.
R.E.B. (August 2010)