MOZART: Don Giovanni
OFFENBACH: Orpheus in the Underworld
YUSUPOV: Viola Tango Rock Concerto
In 1958 Ferenc Fricsay made a highly-acclaimed recording of Don258 Giovanni in Berlin with a superb cast; it has never left the catalog. Now we have the opportunity to see his performance of the same work, the opening performance in the new Deutsche Oper Berlin. Actually what we see is the dress rehearsal filmed September 23, 1961; this was televised the following day when the actual premiere took place (no explanation is given as to why the actual performance wasn't televised). The cast is perfection, director Carl Ebert has sensible, simple sets, and appropriate costumes. Camera work (black and white) is effective, and the mono sound is well balanced. It is a pleasure to watch one of the great conductors of the past at work in music he loves. This is a classic performance of Mozart's masterpiece.
For French operetta at its best, investigate this Arthaus Musik 2-disk set that contains Offenbach's most famous works, Orpheus in the Underworld and La Belle Hélène, the former from the Lyon Nationional Opera in 1997, the latter from the Paris Musical Theatre in 2000. Chantal Thomas created modern sets for both that work well, and the colorful costumes are appropriate, designed by Michel Dussarat and Laurent Pelly for Orpheus, and Pelly for Hélène. A leading diva stars in each, Dame Felicity Lott, towards the end of her career, as Helen, and Natalie Dessay, towards the beginning of hers, as Eurydice. Both are superb and comediennes as well. Both operettas sparkle under Marc Minkowski's direction, video and audio are excellent. An entertaining bonus offers Minkowski and Pelly discussing their approach to Offenbach.
Benjamin Yusupov (b .Nov. 22, 1962 in Duyshanbe, Tajikistan) has been lauded by a number of famous musicians including Yuri Temirkanov and Mischa Maisky who soon will premiere the composer's cello concerto. The Viola Tango Rock Concerto was written for Maxim Vengerov who calls the work, "the greatest concerto ever written for the viola...it really shows what the viola can do...I hope this concerto will become a classic very soon." I doubt that it will, as it is a true oddity with unusual performance requirements. The soloist plays the very difficult solo part on viola and electric viola, a middle movement calls for a small metal-rock band (with appropriate flashing lights and bombastic amplification), and in the finale, the violist puts aside his instrument and in front of the orchestra dances a "mystic tango" with a professional dancer. The concerto has many moving moments, with unusual orchestration (including a variety of percussion and accordion). This performance, recorded in June 2009 in Colombia's National University Auditorium, presumably is what the composer intended (he appears on stage during curtain calls). Aníbal Dos Santos is principal violist with the Bogotá orchestra, and he plays with virtuoso flair, although his dancing is cumbersome in the concluding tango. The orchestra is excellent, audience response very enthusiastic. This issue is lacking in production values. There is no list of the concerto's sections: only on screen does it indicate that the concerto consists of a prelude, four movements, postludium and "Go Tango." Video is OK, audio satisfactory. An unusual release that surely will attract those interested in the viola.
R.E.B. (December 2011)