HOLST: The Planets "Universe Of Sound"
VERDI: La forza del destino
This issue is fascinating in many ways. It originated with a video/audio project of the Philharmonia Orchestra designed to expand the audience for classical music by innovative programs exploring how music is performed and played. This project premiered last year in London's Science Museum. 37 cameras are used to film musicians and the conductor, and all of these are mixed by Creative Director Richard Stanley and his staff for optimum effect. What we see is a performance of The Planets filmed in a large studio theater, considerably spread out, presumably for ease in filming. Multiple microphones also were used, with considerable mixing afterwards. Viewers have the option of watching the conductor, or the now standard procedure of close-ups on featured instruments with occasional views of larger groups. We also have an option of a musical explanation of each of the 7 planets, and an intriguing addition is work commissioned for the occasion from Joby Talbot (b. 1971) called Worlds, Stars, Systems, Infinity. This music begins immediately after the conclusion of Neptune, and is in the style of John Williams—and very effective. At its conclusion, it just stops softly, perhaps suggesting the unending universe. Special features include are a documentary about the making of the film, and commentary on the music by conductor Salonen and members of the orchestra. There is a lot of interest going on here, but the video of the full performance with all those cameras really isn't superior to most of what is seen in other concerts, and the audio, although clear and wide-range, doesn't have much low bass. We don't see the women's' chorus performing at the end of Neptune; their voices were dubbed in, but we do see them at their recording session. It appears this release is only available on Blu Ray, but the price is considerably less than usual for the format.
On my list of favorite operas, L'Orfeo is very close to the bottom. This is a style of opera that does little for me, no matter how well performed. L'Orfeo is important, perhaps, as it is considered to be the first opera ever written, composed in 1607, premiered in a room in the palace of a duke. The plot is about the Greek legend of Orpheus and his unsuccessful descent into Hades attempting to bring his wife Eyrudice back to the world of the living. This performance is from La Scala filmed September 19, 2009. Production is by Robert Wilson. stark and simple mostly in white, gray and pale blue, with simple costumes. Lots of make-up, and double eye lids. Most of the action is static, with characters just standing there doing their thing against a silhouette background. There are some moderately effective lighting scenes, particularly in Act V when Apollo descends from the Heavens and invites Orpheus to join him in Heaven where he will once again see Eyrudice. All of the performers do their work well, and the orchestra makes baroque sounds under the direction of Rinaldo Alessandrini, who specializes in this repertory. Surely not my preferred kind of opera experience, but if it is yours, give it a try. Does anyone know why Eryudice went to Hades? If she had gone to Heaven, this would have been a happier hour.
Four years ago, this Forza del Destino was unenthusiastically reviewed on this site (REVIEW). At that time it was on the TDK label; now here it is again, but on ArthausMusik, with a Blu Ray edition as well. Remastering can't help the lackluster performance, but now presentation is slightly different. During the Act I Prelude, we see Mehta and the orchestra full-screen on the theater stage, unusual indeed. I don't know if this is what was seen by the audience, but it adds little to the presentation. Skip it.
R.E.B. (April 2013)