PUCCINI: La Bohème
VERDI: Don Carlo
METROPOLITAN OPERA GALA
Here are three memorable evenings at the Metropolitan Opera House. La Bohème, taped March 15, 1977, was the first of a series of telecasts from the Met. Pavarotti's voice was a model of perfection and beauty; his fans will welcome this opportunity to see him at his best long before he became a caricature of himself. The entire cast was first-rate, Scotto on one of her better nights, Niska a vivid Musetta. The cameras usually were in the right place but the video quality is disappointing—a note states restorative work was done because of age of the tapes. Sound quality is adequate except that obtrusive background sounds often are heard, rather like distant mumbling. This is another issue utilizing the AMSI (Ambient Sound Imaging) process, an effort to create 5.1 surround sound from stereo. The results are hardly convincing. Tony Randall was host for the live broadcast, and his interviews with Pavarotti, Scotto and Levine are seen in the bonus feature. Regardless of its technical shortcomings, this is a Bohème performance many will wish to own.
Don Carlo, broadcast live March 26, 1983, is opera at its grandest. This is its second Met telecast; the first was in November 1950 early in the Rudolf Bing era. The later production by John Dexter restored the first act as well as other music, and the gorgeous sets and costumes are impressive as is the singing. This was the only time Freni sang Elisabeth, and her last performance at the Met; Ghiaurov, who married Freni in 1981, is an imposing King Philip. Domingo is superb, as always. Brian Large directed the video and did his usual expert work. Picture quality is excellent. Here the AMSI process is effective. The bonus is a brief pictoral history of performances of Don Carlo at the Met.
Metropolitan Opera Gala offers the Met tribute to James Levine commemorating his 25th anniversary with the company, recorded April 27, 1996. Most major operatic stars participated and it, indeed, was a very special occasion. But it is far from complete. We have 294 minutes out of the eight hour program. Omissions include performances by Vladimir Chernov, Richard Leech, Roberto Alagna, Alfredo Kraus, and the last performances at the Met by Carlo Bergonzi, Grace Bumbry and Gwyneth Jones (I recall the latter's singing of "In questa reggia" was booed by much of the audience—can't blame the producers for omitting it). Perhaps DG will consider a second release of items not included in this set. Highlights in this twin-DVD set are Renée Fleming's radiant Depuis le jour, an excerpt from Tristan sung by Waldtraud Meier and, in particular, comments by Birgit Nilsson, who had retired from the Met in 1984 and was now 78, ending her tribute to Levine with a remarkable Brünnhilde Battle Cry. This is an essential DVD set for opera lovers.
R.E.B. (December 2005)