CARLOS KLEIBER - Traces to Nowhere
PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly
This superb documentary by Eric Schulz about the life of Carlos Kleiber (1930-2004) was issued about a year ago, and now is reissued on Blu Ray at a considerably higher cost. One might question why? It is a fascinating film, but most of it was made under less than ideal conditions and hardly looks or sounds better with state-of-the-art processing. The enigmatic conductor is a legend, as was his father, Erich (1890-1956). He disliked making commercial recordings but fortunately there are a number of live performancers to be had. The title of this issue, Traces to Nowhere, refers to the Chinese/Buddhist idea that one should leave as little trace of one's presence in the world as possible. By limiting his recordings and performances, Kleiber did his best to stick to that unfortunate premise.
Two videos of Tannhäuser have been mentioned on this site, a Danish production by Kasper Holten, a review that ended with "Skip this ill-advised debasement of Wagner (REVIEW), and a Zurich production by Jens-Daniel Herzog ending with, "I probably won't watch this again" (REVIEW). This latest version is no better. It's a production by Robert Carsen with minimal sets by Paul Steinberg, recorded during performances in Barcelona in April 2008. Program notes, in three languages, advise us of Carsen's concept of the opera, transforming it to more recent times, focusing on an international art gallery where most of the action takes place. Tannhäuser is one of many painters, although his work shocks everyone—but at the conclusion eventually it is accepted. The Bacchanale is danced only by men wearing skimpy briefs—although Venus doesn't mind showing it all. Often singers make their entrance from the back of the theater. Peter Seiffert has made a specialty of the title role, and has a fine recording with Daniel Barenboim conducting from the Bayreuth Festival recorded about a decade ago. But on this new recording he is vocally insecure, surprising as the previous year Seiffert was a superb Siegmund in Valencia's Die Walküre conducted by Zubin Meta. Surely the video Tannhäuser to own is the 1982 Met production with James Levine on the podium, even though Richard Cassilly isn't quite up to the title role.
This Butterfly was filmed July 2007 during the Puccini Festival, Torre del Lago Puccini, at the open-air theatre on the shores of Tuscan lake, where the composer apparently spent much time. The production appears to have had a limited budget. The effective sparse set and costumes were designed by Ugo Nespolo. Stephano Vizioli's direction is in line with Puccini's intentions, and the cast generally is excellent. I've never heard of Elmira Veda, but she acquits herself admirably in the demanding title role. Tenor Carlo Barricelli is a bold Pinkerton with an all-encompassing smile that often is inappropriate. Young conductor Laurence Gilgore holds things together nicely, but the venue seems inappropriate. The audience (which does not sound large) apparently is quite removed from the stage and their response is limited—curtain calls are awkward to say the least. Video and audio are satisfactory, but there hardly is need for Blu Ray processing. This issue is no competition for the best of existing videos of Puccini's masterpiece.
R.E.B. (March 2012)