STRAUSS: Ariadne auf Naxos
SHOSTAKOVICH: The Nose
It is seldom we find two DVDs by one conductor of the same work. Ariadne auf Naxos obviously is a favorite of James Levine; his 1988 Met performance featuring Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle and Tatiana Troyanos was issued some years ago on DGG, and now we have this April 2003 performance with Deborah Voight, Natalie Dessay and Susanne Mentzer. The latter was one year before Voight was fired by the Royal Opera because she was too large to fit into what became to be called "the little black dress." That year Voight underwent gastric bypass surgery which resulted in her losing more than 100 pounds which fortunately did not affect her voice. Ariadne auf Naxos played an important part in the soprano's career; a concert performance in Boston brought her to the attention of the opera world and soon she was singing in major opera houses, particularly at the Met. This Ariadne shows her at her best, and the entire cast is first-class, in particular Natalie Dessay's stunning and beautifully acted Zerbinetta. This was a production that was televised a decade ago. Picture quality is adequate but not outstanding; audio is satisfactory but surely not up to today's standards. A major inexplicable debit is that there is no listing of tracks. The synopsis of the plot doesn't help viewers find excerpts they wish to hear.
This Rigoletto is an all-star affair. The entire cast is first-rate. Diana Damrau's Gilda is effortlessly sung, and Zeljjkjo Luycic is perhaps the finest Rigoletto around today. The luxury of having Juan Diego Flórez as the Duke is enticing, he is the best-looking licentious cad you'll ever see, but he is not a Verdi tenor. Of course he has no problems whatever with the notes, even adding a few, but his somewhat nasal sound will disappoint most viewers. Nikolaus Lehnhoff's direction updates the story, sets are minimal and well-lit, costumes imaginative. Of the four other DVDs of Rigoletto mentioned on this site, the only one worth considering is the 1981 recording with Luciano Pavarotti and Riccardo Chailly on the podium (REVIEW).
Shostakovich's composed his first opera, a satire called The Nose ,a wonderfully imaginative, witty score, when he was only 22. The absurd plot revolves around a government official's nose that is cut off by his barber. The nose turns out to have a mind of its own and wants a political career. About a year ago a Mariinsky Theatre performance was issued on SACD conducted by Valery Gergiev (REVIEW). Gergiev conducted the Metropolitan Opera premiere of The Nose earlier this year, and there were 6 highly acclaimed performances. VAI has now issued an important document, a film of the 1974 Moscow Chamber Opera Theatre production, the first since the 1930 premiere. Shostakovich was enthusiastically involved in the production and in an all too brief film we can see him at a rehearsal discussing the score with conductor Rozhdestvensky. The production was recorded in studio sessions and released on CD. This video was filmed during a live performance in a very small theater with a virtually bare stage with few props. The performance could not be bettered. Video is adequate, audio is excellent—it seems the soundtrack contains some sections from the audio recording and occasionally there are minor lip-sync problems. But this is totally insignificant. This is a major release, and we are grateful to VAI for making it available.
R.E.B. (December 2010)