Renée Fleming Performs Strauss Lieder; Eine Alpensinfonie. Performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; conducted by Christian Thielemann. Available on DVD (OA 1069D) and Blu-ray disc (OA BD 7101D). Opus Arte, 2011. 84 minutes. $24.99.
This live performance from the Grosses Festspielhaus at the 2011 Salzburg Festival celebrates Richard Strauss’s role as one of the festival’s founders. If the programming of four brief songs, one aria, and a symphonic work seems a little unconventional, that’s because it’s meant to showcase three genres—song, opera, and tone poem—to which Strauss contributed greatly. Add to the occasion some of the world’s most recognized Strauss interpreters—soprano Renée Fleming, conductor Christian Thielemann, and the Vienna Philharmonic—and those of us who couldn’t make it to Salzburg last year are especially grateful for this disc. It’s up for debate whether the core of the show is the set of songs seemingly customized for Fleming’s velvety voice, or Eine Alpensinfonie, Strauss’s final symphonic poem that chronicles the experience of a day in the Alps. Fleming’s breath control is superhuman and the orchestra’s conveyance of the majesty of the Alps is enchanting. The sound on this disc is well-balanced between soloist and orchestra; the videography is clear, active but not overly so, and gives the viewer a personal experience of the event. Recommended.
Considered by some to be the most authentic Spanish opera written thus far, La vida breve was produced only after composer Manuel de Falla gave up on broken promises from his Madrid contacts and schlepped his work to Paris for consideration. Paul Dukas, Claude Debussy, and Isaac Albéniz all approved, but it was still several years before the opera premiered in Nice, in French. Today La vida breve is performed primarily in Spain, in Spanish, and this release marks its premiere on DVD. 80-year-old Lorin Maazel conducted this production in his penultimate year with the Palau de les Arts in Valencia. Set in a poor section of Granada, the stage is bathed in a red glow from the nearby forge’s fires. Haunting off-stage wails disturb us along with the troubled title character, Salud, whose lover has betrayed her for another woman. The orchestral and ballet interludes are highlights, though the entire performance is a fine one.
This 1990 production involves a very literal interpretation of the 10th-century setting designated by Wagner. The dark and simple staging conveys very well the dreariness of the Middle Ages, and provides no distraction from the luscious singing. Placido Domingo’s sparkle catches your attention from the moment of his arrival, and he hits it out of the park with Act III’s “Höchstes Vertrau’n.” As Elsa, Cheryl Studer sings so sweetly, almost tentatively, that I wouldn’t have minded a bit more ham (or at least air) from her at times. The consistently imperfect intervals from the brass and low strings and occasional roughness of the chorus fit with the rustic production. The only real blemish on this performance is the lame swordfight in Act I. If you don’t already have this disc in your collection, run, don’t walk to pick up your copy.
– Anne Shelley