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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 12, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 24
Opera video treasures
Arts & Entertainment
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Opera video treasures

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

A friend of mine 'collects' CD's. Although he doesn't especially care for Bruckner, he has all ten Bruckner symphonies on CD because a 'collector' has to have complete sets. I am not a 'collector.' Operas on DVD or Blu-ray have to 'deserve' to be on my shelves; those obtained but not loved get given away. The list that follows are those particularly 'deserving' by virtue of being pulled down more than a couple times for repeated viewing. They make the list because they continue to give me thrills.

1. Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, conducted by young Israeli Omer Meir Wellber on Blu-ray - the most astounding disc on this list for the passion, power and beauty of Wellber's conducting. So fabulous in every detail that it makes the otherwise great Met performance with Fleming and Hvorostovsky seem nervous and superficial because of Gergiev's spotty leadership. This show from the Polish National Opera, Warsaw, not only sports a superb cast but also a daringly stylized production that works for me, supporting every emotion in ways I don't pretend to understand. It makes me think this just might be my favorite opera!

2. Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, with Levine in the Met's pit and an unparalleled cast headed by Ben Heppner in his prime (2004). The sound on this DVD is very good despite its age, and the period production is excellent, if old-fashioned.

3. Bizet's Carmen, conducted by Antonio Pappano at the Royal Opera House, London, on Blu-ray. Carmen is an opera I love to hear and hate to see; the story usually bores me. But here director Francesca Zambello makes every scene compelling with a cast that can't be beat. The great tenor Jonas Kaufmann converts the usually pathetic story of obsessive 'love' into a fascinating steep slope into mental illness. His 'Flower Song' makes me join him in tears at the end! Anna Caterina Antonacci sings the sexiest Carmen I ever hope to see.

4. Rossini's Barbiere di Siviglia, conducted by Antonio Pappano - who is the reason this performance beats the great Bartlett Sher production at the Met with the same perfect pair of singers, Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez. The 'Overture' alone is worth the price. DiDonato had broken her leg in the opening night performance and here brings off a miracle, singing and acting in and WITH her wheelchair! It's heaven all the way.

5. Wagner's RING, conducted by Levine (The Met) and Mehta (Valencia), both on Blu-ray. Of the seven complete RINGs on my shelves, these two are tied for interest and thrills. Both are creative productions (Valencia takes #1) and both have superb casts (Met downgraded for an embarrassingly bad Waltraute in Waltraute Meir, way past her prime). Both shows are superbly captured in stunning sound, especially Valencia. (The gory Copenhagen RING on DVD gets honorable mention for its daring and its excellent cast.)

6. Bellini's I Puritani, conducted by Patrick Summers at the Met, with Anna Netrebko. She does not have the greatest coloratura, but oh my, does she ever deliver in beauty (vocal and physical) and acting. Show her mad scene to anyone who thinks they don't like opera! One of the Met's first 'live in HD' series, shown in cinemas, this is very well filmed.

7. Verdi's (French version) Don Carlos, conducted by Antonio Pappano on DVD from the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, with Alagna, Hampson, Mattila, van Dam, and Meier. Despite a weak van Dam and miscast Meier (okay 'O don fatale' but disastrous fan aria), this cast makes clear why the French version of this opera is so superior to the Italian. A fabulous opera!

8. Mozart's Mitridate, rè di Ponto, conducted by Paul Daniel from The Royal Opera, London, on DVD. The miracle of the 14-year-old Mozart's music, a super cast, and a fascinating production make this rarity a must-see, again and again!

9. Massenet's Werther, conducted slowly but with love and wisdom by Michel Plasson from l'Opera national de Paris on DVD. It took me years to appreciate this special opera. Then came this disc with the incomparable tenor Jonas Kaufmann and the fine mezzo Sophie Koch. Interestingly filmed, with some off-stage shots, this lovely production is a feast of romanticism.

10. While we're on about Kaufmann, let me add this Blu-ray audio-only disc with the tenor singing Wagner excerpts from The RING, 'Rienzi,' 'Meistersinger,' 'Lohengrin,' and the complete 'Wesendonck-Lieder.' The dts-HD sound is exceptional, as are the sensitive interpretations by Kaufmann. Well worth repeated auditions.

Two of my favorite operas, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and Verdi's Macbeth, are missing here because I have not found videos to equal my expectations after seeing the 'Ben and Jane Show' (Ben Heppner and Jane Eaglen) in Seattle Opera's Tristan and a great Macbeth at the old Met with Leonie Rysanek and Leonard Warren. Am I ruined forever for these operas?

Passionate opera fans often disagree passionately. I welcome the opinions of others.

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

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