Trouble is afoot on the island of Alcina. Its resident evil sorceress bewitches practically every character in Orlando Furioso, so naturally the cast is compelled to perform passionate, seven-minute songs, then immediately make buggy eyes at whoever is currently singing. For three hours. This world-premiere staged video recording of Orlando brings us many of the same singers who collaborated with conductor Spinosi on a 2005 recording of the opera. Marie-Nicole Lemieux—whom I could listen to all day—graces us with her unearthly beautiful instrument. Lemieux has seemingly endless intensity and stamina, perfect for her title character’s long and arduous descent into madness. Other callouts are due to countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with his full and colorful tone, and to Romina Basso as Medoro. The closest thing to a weak link in this production is baritone Christian Senn as Adolfo, who can’t quite meet Vivaldi’s demands for flexibility. The staging presents a Venice that is unrelentingly dark and shadowy, and the blocking is a little awkward at times, but every note from the Ensemble Matthaus seems to shimmer, always floating, cascading, and intensifying with perfect timing and poise. The DVD’s packaging—as visually striking as the production—includes a lovely and useful booklet with a synopsis, extensive program notes, biographies, and a note from the directors. Recommended.
Claudio Monteverdi. L’Incoronatione di Poppea. Directed by Ole Anders Tandberg; conducted by Alessandro De Marchi. Available on DVD and Blu-ray disc. EuroArts (2058928), 2010. 180 minutes. $24.99/$39.99.
If you’re a stuffy traditionalist seeking to challenge your rigid ways, this could be your cold turkey opportunity. In this live performance of Monteverdi’s final opera, controversial stage director Ole Anders Tandberg turns L’Incoronatione di Poppea on its ear. His interpretation of the libretto’s moral ambiguity puts a spotlight on the opera’s key takeaway—that greed triumphs over virtue—but the execution is so blatantly sexual that it distracts from the storyline rather than enhancing it. The only color we see is red, shown in flushed cheeks, on pouty lips, and through pints of human “blood.” When the characters are fully clothed (hint: not always), their attire is modern rather than the expected period dress of Imperial Rome. The production’s oddities are not limited to Tandberg’s vision, unfortunately. From the onset of the prologue, the Orchestra of the Norwegian National Opera sounds frazzled and rough. I was also generally disappointed with the quality of the singing; as Poppea, Birgitte Christensen’s breath intakes are so audible that they’re almost asthmatic. Monteverdi doesn’t leave much wiggle room for pitch accuracy, let alone for the amount these singers insist on wiggling. Further, I question the wisdom of shooting video in monochrome and then releasing the product on Blu-ray, and the many and lengthy close-up shots eliminate the physical context of the minimalist stage which—in case you were wondering—is a single, mammoth, metallic slope. There are just too many blemishes here on what should have been a visually striking and respectable production.
This historic and nicely restored 1963 performance from the Deutsche Oper Berlin is now available for the first time on DVD. Fidelio was featured at the company’s 1912 opening of the Deutsches Opernhaus, a structure that like many others did not survive the mid-1940s. This production commemorates both the 1962 reopening of the Deutsche Oper Berlin and the company’s 50th anniversary, and it was prepared for television and broadcast shortly after the run of the anniversary performance. In this film we hear the Fidelio overture, while the often-included Leonore Overture No. 3 is omitted. The three headliners—Christa Ludwig as Leonore, Walter Berry as Don Pizarro, and James King as Florestan—are absolutely top shelf.
– Anne Shelley