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.
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.
Giuseppe Verdi also defies all attempts to pigeon-hole him. Suffice it to say here that the Metropolitan Rigoletto has a strong all-round cast in Cornell MacNeil, Placido Domingo and Ileana Cotrubas [DGM 073 093-9], that Karajan's Otello with Jon Vickers and Mirella Freni will please many [DGM 073 4040], and that the best Falstaff I've seen was a film conducted by Georg Solti, issued on LD, and to date not available in any other format.
Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet with Natalie Dessay and Simon Keenlyside [EMI 5 99447 9] is a revelation and exceptionally enjoyable. Turandot [RCA 62909-2] from Beijing is fascinating, though lacking in close-ups. Petr Weigl's film of Eugene Onegin has many virtues, even though it omits the opening scene [Decca 071 124-9]. And all collectors will want to have Franco Zeffi-relli's classic films of Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana [DGM 073 403-3].
Space permits only brief mention of four recommendable 20th century works. Leos Janacek's Jenufa and The Makropulos Case are both given fine performances by Glyndebourne Opera [ArtHaus 100 208 and Warner Music Vision 0406]. If the former is the more gripping, it's because it remains the finer work. Erich Korngold's Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City) is mesmeric in Oper National du Rhin's 2001 hallucinatory production [ArtHaus 100 343]. Finally, Richard Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman Without a Shadow), from the Salzburg Festival of 1992, starring Cheryl Studer, Thomas Moser and Eva Marton, pseudo-Wagnerian though it may be, and given a somber production here that has all the shadows its heroine so misses, is a magical myth despite its obscurity [Decca 3031].
As for the future, there's much activity on the Wagnerian front with a new Ring cycle from the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona and a highly-praised new Parsifal, both issued by ArtHaus. Watch this space for reviews of these early next year, and a Happy Christmas to all classical music lovers!
English National Opera
Murray, Masterson, Robson
Conducted by Charles Mackerras
Covent Garden Opera
Conducted by Richard Bonynge
Denoke, Kerl, Batukov
Oper National du Rhin
Conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig
Jerusalem, Morris, Behrens
Conducted by James Levine
With his sugarcane juice stall at Monga Nightmarket (艋舺夜市) floundering due to COVID-19, things took a turn for the worse for Lin Chih-hang (林志航) when he was furloughed from a part-time job. The crowds are trickling back to this nightmarket in Taipei’s Wanhua District (萬華), but Lin is now so busy that he has hired a friend to run his stall. As the sole driver of the night market’s delivery service, established on April 12, Lin takes on an average of 20 orders on weeknights and over 60 on weekends, with his father helping out when he is too busy.
May 25 to May 31 Three months before his 90th birthday in 2015, Chung Chao-cheng (鍾肇政) woke up shortly after midnight and experienced a inexplicable sense of clarity. “Suddenly, my mind started going all over the place. There were some recent memories, but also many that I thought I had long forgotten. They would appear and disappear from my brain one after another, and they were so clear, so lucid. Even the memories from 70, 80 years ago felt like they happened yesterday. I suddenly thought, if I still remember so much, why don’t I write everything down?” Despite his solid
In troubled times, people have been known to hoard currency at home — a financial security blanket against deep uncertainty. But in this crisis, things are different. This time cash itself, passed from hand to hand across neighborhoods, cities and societies just like the coronavirus, is a source of suspicion rather than reassurance. No longer a thing to be shoved mindlessly into a pocket, tucked into a worn wallet or thrown casually on a kitchen counter, money’s status has changed during the virus era — perhaps irrevocably. The pandemic has also reawakened debate about the continued viability of what has been
Green, spiky and with a strong, sweet smell, the bulky jackfruit has morphed from a backyard nuisance in India’s south coast into the meat-substitute darling of vegans and vegetarians in the West. Part of the South Asia’s diet for centuries, jackfruit was so abundant that tonnes of it went to waste every year. But now India, the world’s biggest producer of jackfruit, is capitalizing on its growing popularity as a “superfood” meat alternative — touted by chefs from San Francisco to London and Delhi for its pork-like texture when unripe. “There are a lot of inquiries from abroad... At the international level, the