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Rossini, Gioacchino - La donna del lago [NTSC]
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Director Werner Herzog and conductor Riccardo Muti combine with the finest of casts to lavish Rossini's rarely-performed Neapolitan masterpiece, set in feudal sixteenth century Scotland, with the genius it deserves. June Anderson is an outstanding Elena (the Lady of the Lake) in the 1992 production of the melodrama based on Sir Walter Scott's poem.
"With lavish sets by Maurizio Balo, evocative and realistic, it establishes the period atmosphere well; but it is Muti's evident enthusiasm for the piece in his taut and exciting conducting that above all brings out the drama of conflict in 16th-century Scotland, with the melancholy Elena, the heroine, caught between rival forces." (The Penguin Guide)
"This DVD gives a rare opportunity to experience a work of musical individuality and interest in a well-sung and conducted performance. It is mature Rossini at his best and most demanding of participants. I welcome its availability and recommend it to other enthusiasts of Rossini's opera seria that are, through their musical quality and dramatic potential, slowly gaining a foothold in the repertoire. " (Musicweb International)
Rockwell Blake (Giacomo V, Re di Scozia)
Giorgio Surjan (Douglas d'Angus)
Chris Merritt (Rodrigo di Dhu)
June Anderson (Elena)
Orchestra & Chorus of La Scala; Riccardo Muti
Catalogue Number: OALS3009D
Date of Performance: 1992
Running Time: 167 minutes
Sound: Dolby Stereo
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Label: Opus Arte
Die hatte man mit Rockwell Blake als Giocomo und Chris Merritt als Rodrigo gefunden. Beide mit eher rauher Mittellage, aber explosiv entfalteten Höhenstrahl-Expansionen, wie man sie diesbezüglich vom Jahrhunderttenor Alfredo Kraus kennt. Insofern ist diese Aufführung auch ein Stimmendokument. Martine Dupuy in der männlichen Rolle des Malcolm überzeugt mit wunderbar fundiertem Mezzo. June Anderson singt die Elena mit lichtklarem Sopran. Die Stimme wirkt immer ein bißchen fahl. Aber das ist Geschmacksache. Giorgio Surjan ist ein baritonal volltönender Duglas. Ensemblemäßig wird ansonsten auf gutem Niveau gesungen. Ricardo Muti dirigiert dieses arienreiche Werk, das relativ unbekannt ist, mit Brisanz.
Insgesamt, aufgrund der beiden timbremäßig außergewöhnlichen Tenorbesetzungen, für Stimmenliebhaber, eine sehr interessante Sache.
Ich möchte allerdings anmerken, daß die saubere Reproduktion dieser Tenöre keine mittelmäßige Wiedergabe verträgt, da die Höhen sonst "überspitzt" erscheinen könnten. Über aktive, professionelle Studiomonitore und entprechendes Equipment abgehört, kommen die Stimmen bis in die Höhenstratosphäre sauber. Ebenso ist das besondere Timbre dieser Stimmen eine Sache an der sich manchmal "die Geister scheiden". Der eine findet es "göttlich", dem anderen gefallen diese Extremhöhen bzw. außergewöhnlichen Stimmfarben gar nicht.
Zwei so ungewöhnliche Stimmen zu hören, sollte Entdeckerseelen ansprechen. Die Oper ist mit vielen Arien gespickt.
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A less visible hero of this performance is the conductor Riccardo Muti. Albert Innaurato wrote in his article titled "INSIDE LA SCALA: TEMPLE OF MUSIC OR TEMPLE OF DOOM?" in Opera News magazine, July 1999: `Riccardo Muti is the world's most publicly detested conductor. In her book Cinderella and Company, Manuela Hoelterhoff calls him "the famously short maestro of fear".' IMHO he is one of the century's greatest conductors and could have reached Toscanini's fame had he not tied the knot with La Scala's lion's den. It would be a cliché to call him a "Rossini scholar": he conducts this opera with sensitivity, discipline and just the right amount of vigor without distorting Rossini's simple and linear composition style by underlining crescendos or changes in rhythm excessively to achieve a crowd pleasing effect.
Herzog's stage evokes Walter Scott's northern romantic atmosphere to which he adds some Gothic accents. His set designer uses huge fantasia-like sets with immense stalactites coming down from nowhere and the whole scenery changing in concentric circles - best appreciated in fast forward. The fairy-tale element that seems to be Herzog's forte reaches its smashing climax at the finale, in the throne room scene.
So what's the problem? The stage is so dark you can hardly see the details, and that is on top of the usual problems with the La Scala re-issues (because of problems with getting the rights, in large measure because of region coding, the Image releases have rights only to the previous LaserDisc masters with titles, not to the source material without). It was unfortunately in vogue at the time to use dimly lit scenery for "dark" subjects. This trend reverberated in some MET productions including the last "Ring" (despite the wonderful music the darkness beckoned me to sweet sleep at both the Rheingold and Die Walküre earlier this year. This silliness has to stop, you can't sit for hours in semi-darkness past dinnertime without falling asleep to the lullaby coming from the stage). The audio is good (obviously not as good as the new 5.1 Dolby surround DVD's). This DVD is gradually becoming difficult to get.
My first La Donna del Lago is the Opera d'Oro production-sadly deficient in printed matter. The description of the libretto is so sketchy I was rather misled by it, now that I see this one limned out visually. The music is so inventive, lovely, and memorable, it is one of the few operas I found myself playing again and again. so, naturally, I had to know more about the story. The only thing giving me pause
( to actually buy for instance ) about this production are the lukewarm reviews. But it's the only one out there, so we take the plunge, don't we? I have provided photo screen shots for this one so others can see what the fuss is all about, regarding the terms used like "dark", "foreboding", "cave man"...words to that effect. You can certainly see why the other reviewers were so distracted. This may well be a reprint, in any case, there is nothing whatever 'golden' about this set. If someone offered me ( retired from a career in design ) to come up with a gloomier set, I don't think I could have come up with one THIS damn gloomy! Think about it as you look at the images...the stage is not very large. It IS tall, however. So what do we fill that tallness with?...acres of charcoal black stone! 90% of the visual field is black! whole football fields of convoluted stone...even the so called castle back at the King's digs are stoney and gloomy.Sheesh. What were they thinking? That the performers would stand out in sharp contrast? Well how?...virtually every scene has the feel of a heavily overcast night, with perhaps a glimmer of cold, blue moonlight through dense fog. The costumes, as others have pointed out, are the dullest colors known to man ( natural dyes, I suppose ); and all shabbified, like this was 10,000 B.C. instead of medieval Scotland . Maybe the designer has never ventured far from his sun drenched villa, and thinks of northern Britain as some hellish, foggy, permanently dark moonscape of basalt lava formations and caves? These kinds of design failures result when we hire some artist who is "semi famous"...and no one dares to say, "the king is wearing no clothes"? Art and design is not the "exclusive, and hallowed domain of a sanctimonious few, privy to its secrets, and all you other churls are dimwitted fools". Do NOT ever let some haughty , mincing artist ever lead you to believe "you just don't understand art"...yes you do. Even mentally challenged folks can recognize hideous, dark, and ugly when they see it.
It angers me when I see extraordinarily talented people come together to perform THE most difficult operation known to man, opera...and have it plunged in design swill like this. The performers in this opera are nothing less than world class.
Now how about the conducting? I feel , personally, that I was most spoiled by the Caballe CD/audio version. I describe it as 'sensitively executed', for lack of a better term. The wonderful love at first sight duet between the King ( Rockwell Blake) and Elena ( June Anderson ) is one of those stupendous, majestic melodic pieces Rossini is capable of in spades. You do not want to rush through this one...oh but is it ever rushed. You get the image/feeling of "horses out of the gate"..."aaaand...they're OFF!". This causes us to take a look at the conductor and study his demeanor...which we find stern...and humorless. "Ahh", we surmise...he whipped them "like the peasants they are"..."because his darn reputation was on the line". Well...I don't really think he did his reputation much good. Many beautiful arias and duets are so rushed the singers practically trip over the 30 note per measure romps. Groan.
Unfortunately, the reviewers are right to express some measure of distraction and disappointment. The singers and the music, and the orchestra are superb. They deserve better.
Do I recommend this DVD? Yes I do. it's the only one we have, isn't it? Someday...someday...this will be done with the sensitivity and glorious rainment of ambiance and atmosphere it deserves. It is "la donna del lago"...lady of the lake...shimmering, sparkling water, beautiful light, three great tenors in love...this IS a tenor's opera! You designers out there...so when we are talking 'war' everything has to be dark and gloomy? Battles can happen on sunny days! Tragedies can happen on incongruously gorgeous days. Stop it with all this ham fisted design overkill! Do you crack open your pecans with a sledge hammer? Pulease. Ease up on the room temperature I.Q. color choices.
I haven't mentioned the romantic lead, "Malcolm", played by Martine DuPuy. There's a good reason for that. He should be the strongest most handsome tenor on the set...he gets the girl, right? We all know that. Well then why is he/she so androgynous? I could not help but think "pants role"...sheesh again. Look at the images I uploaded...there is no chemistry whatever. Get 'casting' out here. Front and center. Oh well...this was done almost 20 years ago. We've been spoiled by recent productions. So just brace yourselves...look at it...then go play the Montseratt Caballe CD after that....and pray for this one to be done by an opera house with a good reputation. The Madrid Opera House comes to mind.