BELLINI: I Puritani
ANNA NETREBKO IN SALZBURG
This production of Carmen, filmed in the Zurich Opera House in 2009, is staged by Matthias Hartmann, a leading director in Zurich. He has updated the opera to mid-20th century and supposedly in his version, "this clever blending of styles reflects the universality of the piece, its continuously shifting tragic-comic tone, and its curiously amorphous nature." (whatever that means) Sets are by Volker Hintermeier, and he had little to do. Acts I, II and IV are on a barren stage with minimal props. The costume designer, Su Bühler, has dressed Carmen in a frumpy flower-decorated house dress. This is a Carmen where the Gypsy Dance has no dancers until the final pages when Carmen and two others sort of shimmy about. Often singers are very close to each other, and in the final act, José and Carmen prance sideways in front of each other, perhaps to suggest a bullfight? And when Carmen is stabbed, the wide-eyed expression on Kasarova's face is more comic than deadly. The Bulgarian sopran is well known for her Carmen, but in this production doesn't have much of a chance, nor does Kaufmann, in fine voice and always a treat for the eyes. Michele Pertusi's voice lacks the solid low register essential for Escamillo. Welser-Möst's conducting is low on energy. Video is terrific, audio less so, with orchestral sound lacking body and warmth. There are many superb Carmens on video. Check out the Met with Elena Garanca and Roberto Alagna (REVIEW), or the performance with Kaufmann and Anna Caterina Antonacci as Carmen from the Royal Opera House conducted by Antoninio Pappano (REVIEW). And do not overlook historic exciting performances with Franco Corelli (REVIEW), and Plácido Domingo (REVIEW). There are many mediocre videos of Bizet's masterpiece, particularly the ill-fated Liceu production with Roberto Alagna as the only ray of vocal expertise in a tasteless production (REVIEW), but this new one approaches it in mediocrity—and surely avoid the inept 3D production..
This Zurich production of Tosca was mentioned on this site in June 2010; now we have it on Blu Ray. Robert Carson's odd dark production leaves much to be desired, and it is a waste of the talents of the two principals to be involved. The Blu Ray processing brightens up this dreary production, but this is not a Tosca for collectors. If you wish to experience Kaufmann's memorable Cavaradossi surely the way to do this is via the Royal Opera House production (REVIEW).
I Puritani has fared very well on recordings, video as well. Many of the great divas of the past (including Calla, Sills, Sutherland and Gruberova) have recorded it and there are a number of videos including the Met 2009 HD telecast featuring Anna Netrebko (REVIEW). This new one from Teatro Communale di Bologna offers the new critical edition, staged and directed by Pier Alli who also did the sets, costumes. and assisted in the lighting. Unfortunately only two of the singers can cope with their demanding roles, Juan Diego Flórez as Lord Arturo, and Ildebrando d'Arcangelo as Giorgio Valton. Elvira is sung by a relative newcomer, Nino Machidze, who was praised when she substituted for Anna Netrebko in Salzburg's 2008 Romeo and Juliet. She strives valiantly and sometimes succeeds but this is not an assured performance. Sets are minimal and there is virtually no stage direction, characters - and chorus - walk on stage and usually just stand there and sing. The chorus and orchestra do not impress, and although video is quite good, audio is thin and unresonant. The only reason to have this is if you are a devoted fan of Flórez, who delivers.what his adience wants.
Decca has issued a 3 opera set (4 disks) containing theer earlier recordings of La traviata, The Marriage of Figaro and La Bohème. Two of these were unenthusiastically mentioned on this site, La traviata (REVIEW), and Bohème (REVIEW).Figaro is a live production from the 2006 Salzburg Festival with Harnoncourt on the podium, the Vienna State Opera Chorus and the Vienna Philharmonic. The entire cast is excellent, but this is a modern interpretation of the opera directed by Claus Guth exploring the depths of each character's emotions. This long, stately production is short on humor. Everyone seems to have forgotten that The Marriage of Figaro is a comedy. Should you wish to explore it, now is your golden opportunity as this multiple-opera issue is budget price; now for the price of one disk one can acquire all three although in this case it is a dubious bargain. .
R.E.B. (November 2014)