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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 22, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 43
Visit St. Petersburg in operatic style
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Visit St. Petersburg in operatic style

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

This is one of the most visually beautiful DVDs you're likely to find. Half travelogue and half concert by two of the world's greatest living singers, it takes you to modern St. Petersburg. Renée Fleming narrates visits to many of the sights, filmed with stunning cinematography. She also describes the history of the several venues in which she and Dmitri Hvorostovsky sing duets and songs. Her remarks are genuinely informative and a pleasure to listen to.

This Musical Odyssey in St. Petersburg begins with the artists singing with the State Hermitage Orchestra at that great museum in the Hermitage Theatre, built by Catherine the Great. The acoustics may not be ideal, but the history and opulent setting more than justify the choice. But this is just one of the exquisite auditoria thus employed. The second venue is a small jewel box of a Baroque theater in the Yusupov Palace, an incredibly opulent and intimate place for the songs they present. Last, we hear them at The Gold Ballroom of the Peterhof Palace. Each venue is the site for several musical offerings.

The gardens at the Peterhof Palace deserve special mention, for they are incredibly over the top, especially in the spectacular gravity-powered fountains.

Verdi and most of the great Russian composers wrote all the music performed. Both artists are at their very best, which is to say that one could not likely find better anywhere today. Fleming, as usual, wears gowns designed by her favorite stylists, and Hvorostovsky, with his gorgeous white hair, is one of the opera world's sexiest men.



Highlights include Hvorostovsky singing Yeletzki's aria from Tchaikovsky's Piqué Dame and Fleming in Natasha's aria from the same composer's opera Oprichnik. Presented as bonus tracks are 'Hamlet's Drinking Song' from Thomas' opera Hamlet, 'Casta Diva' (without cabaletta) from Bellini's Norma, an aria from Rubinstein's opera Nero, and 'Lisa's Aria' from Tchaikovsky's Piqué Dame. I suppose these are here as bonuses because they were not composed by Verdi (who visited St. Petersburg) or by Russians.

The production values of this DVD could hardly be bettered. Video, sound, subtitles, and packaging are all first-rate. If you like operatic excerpts, presented in the most beautiful settings imaginable, this is the disc to seek out.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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