POULENC: Dialogue of the Carmelites
EMI made their magnificent monophonic recording of Poulenc's powerful Dialogue of the Carmelites in 1958 shortly after the French premiere of the work, and this doubtless always will bee in the catalog. It set a high standard for future recordings. On DVD, Dialogue has fared rather well, particularly in Riccardo Muti's La Scala production mentioned on this site (REVIEW). This Hamburg production was directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff with appropriately minimal sets by Raimund Bauer (which resemble a piano keyboard) and simple costumes by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer. The cast throughout is strong, orchestral contribution first-rate thanks to conductor Simone Young who shows she is as adept in French repertory as she is in Bruckner. For me, the final scene just doesn't work. Each nun has her own space on the "keyboard" stage and when executed simply falls to the floor. Video and audio are state-of-the-art, and admirers of this opera surely will wish to own this although Muti's is the preferred version.
This performance of Parsifal was taped in Baden-Baden in August 2004 and issued on DVD the following year. Now we have in on Blu-Ray, with the added clarity and audio enhancement that medium provides. Director Nikolaus Lehnhoff, designer Raimund Bauer and costume designer Andrea Schmidt-Futterer show that it possible to have an updated view of an operatic masterpiece and not insult the viewer (as happens so often in today's operatic world). This set includes a 75-minute documentary analysis directed by Reiner Moritz explaining Lehnhoff's concept of this masterpiece which takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which religion already has failed. The opera ends hopefully as Kundry and Parsifal approach a distant shaft of light. The simple sets are effective, and the singing is magnificent, particularly Waltraud Meier as Kundry. Kent Nagano is a master of things Wagnerian and his orchestra is in top form. Here Nagano doesn't have to deal with a director's stupid concept of a Wagner opera as he experienced in his recent Lohengrin (see REVIEW). If you enjoy Wagner's masterpiece you won't be disappointed with this superb presentation.
The Met Carmen from this past season is a true winner. Bizet's masterpiece has been updated a century, taking place in a poverty-ridden Seville where darkness prevails. Rob Howell's sets and costumes fit in perfectly, and Christopher Wheeldon's choreography includes two effective balletic interludes. A revolving stage, at one point a bull ring, works effectively. Sexy Elina Garanca's velvety voice is ideal for the sultry gypsy, and she surely looks the part. Roberto Alagna also is in top form. He may not have the tonal beauty and control of Jonas Kaufmann in the recent Royal Opera production (REVIEW), but histrionically he is unmatched, and to watch the interplay between Garanca and Alagna is to experience opera at its best. Teddy Tahuy Rhodes is a handsome, swaggering Escamillo. Yannick Nézet-Séguin's dynamic conducting brings out details in the score other conductors miss. Video and audio are all one could ask. As this was a HD transmission, we also have introductions by Renée Fleming and, as extras, interviews with Nézet-Séguin, Frittoli, Rhodes and Wheeldon. Don't miss this Carmen, surely the finest on DVD.
R.E.B. (December 2010)