BIRGIT NILSSON - A League of Her Own

VERDI: Joan of Arc
Francesco Merli (Carlo VII). Anna Netrebko (Giovanna). Carlos Alvarez (Giacomo). Dmitry Beloselskiy (Talbot). Michele Mauro (Delil). La Scala Chorus and Orchestra / Riccardo Chailly, cond.
DECCA DVD TT: 136 min.

HOLST: The Planets. ELGAR; Enigma Variations, Op. 36.
BBC National Orchestra of Wales / David Atherton, cond. (Holst). BBC Symphony Orchestar / Andrew Davis, cond.
OPUS ARTE DVD (2 disks)

This DVD featuring Birgit Nilsson is essential in every opera collection The magnificent, reliable Swedish soprano dominated the operatic scene for almost three decades, particularly in Wagner and Strauss. I had the privilege of seeing her several times: a 1966Turndot in Baltimore, and Tosca, Die Walküre and Elektra at the Met. This beautifully produced video covers her life, beginning with her birth in Sweden and includes interviews with many of her colleagues: Placido Domingo, Marilyn Horne, James Levine. Otto Schenk, Nina Stemme and Jonas Kaufmann. There also are a few excerpts from live performances. This is a quality tribute to one of the greatest operatic stars of the century. Don't miss it¡

Verdi's seventh opera, Giovanna d'Arco, was premiered in 1845 at La Scala. Now we have a new production of this lesser-known opera from that venue, with a distinguished cast conduced by Riccardo Chailly who at the time (December 2015) was making his first appearance as music director at the famed theatre. This was a special occasion, the first time the opera had been presented since its premiere 150 years earlier. Stage directors were Mosche Leiser and Patrice Caurier, sets were by Christian Fenouillat, costumes by Agostino Cavalca. The opera has been updated to the 20th Century, and effective use of projected images and lighting create the fantasy world of the bi-polar heroine. Anna Netrebko is brilliant in the title role; this is her second video of it—the other was in Munich only a few years ago. The remaining cast is strong throughout. Video is superb, and he well-balanced multi-channel sound places us right in La Scala. A major issue!

Opus Arte has a twin-DVD set called British Classics offering English orchestras playing Holst's The Planets with David Atherton conducting, and Sir Andrew Davis leading Elgar's Enigma Variations These are BBC film presentations made some years ago. Video was directed by Rhodri How and Diana Hill respectively. Appropriate images are on screen for each movement of The Planes, and this is unique in that it also includes an extra planet - Pluto, which was not discovered until after Holst's death. Colin Matthews write the brief (6:14) addition, which is seldom played, possibly for good reason. During the Elgar we see photos of al of the people depicted. Performances are fine, audio what one would expect from the BBC. It seems odd these are issued on separate DVDs—both would easily have fit onto one disk.

R.E.B. (July 2018)