Thu, Dec 22, 2005 - Page 14 News List

Classical DVD review

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Not many new DVD releases appear in December, so I'll take this opportunity to offer an overview of some of the more enjoyable opera DVDs I've encountered over the last few years. Enthusiasts need not write in with complaints about what's omitted -- there are already more opera recordings on DVD than anyone not possessing a fortune could manage to collect.

First, my top-ranking masterpieces. These are as follows: Le Nozze di Figaro directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle [DGM 073 4034]; Norma with Caballe and Vickers [VAI 4229]; the Boulez/Chereau version of the Ring operas [DGM 073 4058-65, seven DVDs]; the Metropolitan Opera's Die Meistersinger von Nurnburg [DGM 073 0949]; the Metro-politan Otello with Domingo and Fleming [DGM 073 092-9]; Frederic Mitterand's film of Madame Butterfly [Columbia TriStar 05670]; and Dmitri Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk from Barcelona [EMI 5 99730 9].

But there are many other contenders to tempt the library-builder. Here are some fine versions that happened to have come my way.

Handel's Xerxes comes in two excellent productions, each visually seductive. The first, sung in modern English, is from London's ENO, directed by Nicholas Hytner and ravishingly high-spirited in its green-and-cream garden setting, with a cast led by Ann Murray, Valerie Masterson and Christopher Robson [Image 0143815-78720]. Strongly competing is a version sung in the original Italian, and hence with the Italian title Serse [EuroArts 5379]. This comes from the 2000 Dresden Music Festival and is visually highly stylish in silver, blue and black. The musical strengths of these two versions are on balance equal. The German one comes on one DVD rather than two, while the English offering has the advantage of Chinese subtitles.


Jerusalem, Morris, Behrens

Metropolitan Opera

Conducted by James Levine

Continuing with Handel, there's a zestful Giulio Cesare from Sydney Opera House with Graham Pushee and Yvonne Kenny, sung in Italian with English subtitles only [Kultur D2911]. In both this opera and Xerxes, incidentally, the love interest greatly exceeds the political one. The ENO's Ariodante, again with Murray and Robson, but also now Gwynne Howell, is much darker, emphasizing love's cruelty and deceptiveness in David Alden's shadowy and sometimes surreal production [Image 01438-923520].

Mozarteans are well-served on DVD. Here I will only mention two comparative rarities. The generally unloved Idomeneo is given a winning production on Glyndebourne's tiny stage that convinces by its very simplicity with Richard Lewis and Josephine Barstow [Arthaus 101 079]. And Il Re Pastore, written when the composer was 19, proves that top-rank artists -- Jerry Hadley and Sylvia McNair, plus Neville Marriner conducting -- are always worth listening to. The opera is given in a mock chamber-concert version, with singers applauding each other after most numbers [Cami Video/ORF/ZDF/ Philips Classics HX-0057].

Of the many versions of Donizetti operas available, Joan Sutherland's fans will probably consider that her 1980 Covent Garden performance of Lucrezia Borgia, with Alfredo Krauss as Gennaro, remains unsurpassed [Kultur 0437]. Also very fine, however, is a Roberto Devereux from Naples, with an astonishing performance by Alexandrina Pendatchanska as Queen Elizabeth I of England [Panorama 012608].

As for Richard Wagner, the authoritative New York Ring cycle has outstanding musical quality, and a much more convincing dragon in Siegfried [DGM 073 037-9] than Chereau could manage, not to mention a live bear.

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