This recital DVD is Renée Flemings tribute to Vienna commemorating the city's composers at the turn of the century. We have music of the composers listed above. Maciej Pikulski is the excellent accompanist, and the adoring audience obviously enjoys the soprano's emotional interpretations of a rather wide range of repertory, overlooking the fact that often her pitch is suspect. This was not one of Fleming's better nights, in spite of the festivities. Video is brilliant, audio equally good. Admirers of Fleming probably will wish to have this even with its deficiencies.
Renée Fleming's first video of Arabella mentioned on this site five years ago (REVIEW) was a Zürich Opera production. It was admirable in every way except for Mandryka, sung by Morten Frank Larsen substituting for the indisposed Thomas Hampson. Now we have the famous soprano in a production from Dresden under the strong direction of Christian Thielemann taped at the Salzburg Festival April 10-21, 2014. This is a new production directed rather woodenly by Florentine Klepper, with simple rather cheap looking sets by Martina Segna and costumes by Anna Sofie Tuma. Flemming is in radiant form, and here she has an appropriate Mandryka—Thomas Hampson. There is much to admire in this performance, but still for a video Arabella the one to have is the 1977 film with a perfect cast with Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic (REVIEW).
More than a decade ago this site mentioned the welcome release of a 1931 La Scala recording of Boito's Mefistofele in a superb transfer by Ward Marston of the 34 78rpm sides (REVIEW). That review contains a brief history of recordings of this opera. This new DVD is the second of a performance from San Francisco Opera; the first was a 1999 production that featured Samuel Ramey in his best-known role—I've heard it is quite spectacular. This new release also is Robert Carson's production, and it is a beauty wonderfully capturing the glories of heaven and the demonic orgies of earth. Ildar Abdrazakpv is a powerful, menacing Devil, and his athletic approach to the role is commendable. Ramón Vargas is a satisfactory Faust, Patricia Racette's voice shows signs of wear and tear. The remainder of the cast is commendable, the choruses very fine. This opera contains some terrific, earth-shattering music, and justice is done to it here. Video and audio are excellent, although it would have been effective to use rear channels for off-staage, distant effects—a golden opportunity missed. A commendable release!
R.E.B. (October 2014)