PUCCINI: Turandot
Nina Stemme (Turandot). Aleksanders Antonenko (Calaf). Maria Agresta (Liu). Angelo Vecchia (Ping). Roberto Covatta (Pang). Blagoj Nacoski (Pong). Carlo Bosi (Altum). Giabluca Breda (Mandarin). Chorus and Orchestr of La Scala / Riccardo Chailly, cond.
DECCA DVD TT: 136 min.
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L'Histoire de Manon - Ballet in three acts after L'Abbé Prévost's novel L'Histoire du Chevalier Des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut.
BEL AIR CLASSICS DVD TT: 125 Min. + 11 min bonus
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VERDI: Un ballo en maschera
Piotr Beczala (Riccardo). Anja Harteros (Amelia). George Petean (Renato). Okka von der Damerau (Ulrica). Sofia Fomina (Oscar). Anatoli Sivko (Samuel). Scott Conner (Tom). Bavarian State Opera Chorus and Orch / Zubin Mehta, cond
C MAJOR DVD TT: 149 Min.
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This Turandot has only one impressive element: the singing of Nina Stemme as the imperious Princess Turandot. Her voice is big, bold and beautiful and she displays remarkable power, sensitivity as well. Then all is downhill. Latvian tenor Aleksanders Antonenko is a bold but crude Calaf who sings at top volume but with shaky pitch and control. A blustery Calaf, indeed. Italian soprano Maria Agresta's Liù is assured but the fragility of the role escapes her. This new production was designed by Raimund Bauer, directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff. Thereis one set with two levels, usually dark blue or red. Costumes by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer are sometimes rather odd. At the beginning of the opera, the Mandarin, with his top hat and striped clothes rather looks like Uncle Sam, and Turandot's costume looks like an explosion of shiny black mylar strips, and her tierra looks like a small clothes line. For much of the time she is holding what appears to be half of a red hula-hoop. The director has decided that Calaf should not give three massive strikes to the gong at the end of the first act as he accepts Turandot's challenge; instead he just pounds his fists against a door Not very impressive, for sure. The biggest problem is they use Luciano Berio's conclusion to the opera, the first time (and hopefully the last) this was presented at La Scala. Valery Gergiev made this mistake in his Salzburg production several years ago. Berio manages to make Turandot boring, with a long duet that utilizes some themes heard earlier in the opera. It ends softly as Turandot and Calaf, holding hands, walk off into the distance. I would imagine most listeners would prefer the Alfano version. Audio and video are excellent, although video director Patrizia Carmine too often focuses on trivia instead of letting us see what's going on. For Turandot as the grand spectacle it can be, investigate the Met version (REVIEW).

If you love ballet you should investigate Bel Air's issue of L'Histoire de Manon. This is based in Prevost's novel of the life of the courtesan Manon. Kenneth MacMillan who created this ballet depicted the tragic life of the young girl whose greed, turned her into a prostitute, losing the only man she ever really loved. It is diffficult to be sympathetic to such a character, but it surely does giv eample opportujnity for a ballerina to show a wide range of emotion. This performance was the retirement of internationally acclaimed ballerine Aurelie Dupont from the stage. She is partnered by the handsome Roberto Bolle. All of the music is by Jules Massenet, arranged and orchestrated by Martin Yates, who leads this performance taped at the Paris National Opera May 18, 2015. Prodiucers have provided numerous tracks for each episode; it is unfortunate the booklet doesn't identify them. There is a welcome 11-minute bonus interview with Dupont. Video andaudio are first=rate. An outstanding issue!

This new Ballo en Maschera has many plusses. It is a new production filmed March 209, 2016 at the Bavarian Opera. It celebrated the 80th birthday of Zubin Mehta, and the cast was exemplary. The remarkable soprano o Anja Harteros sang Amelia for the first time and did so with vocal beauty and security—and she can act as well. Polish tenor Piotr Beczala (b. 1966) has been praised in major opera houses (except for La Scala) and is a strong Riccardo. George Petean is excellent as Renato, Okka von der Damerau is a rich Ulrica, and soprano Sofia Fomina tosses off Oscar with the greatest of ease. Heika Scheele designed the basic set which features countless mirrors at different angles and costume designer was Gesine Völin. Modern dress prevails, and a puppet figures prominently Program notes give no hint of symbolism behind all of this. It is a fine Ballo is not challenge the best available, many of which have been mentioned on this site. Video and audio are state-of-the-art. Check this one out, even if just for the singing.

R.E.B. (May 2017)