The big or small screen, or none at all?
© Chris Green, November 2016
A lot of my friends make a a particular point of booking a seat when a local cinema screens opera or ballet from one of the big international houses such as the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Met in New York or Sydney Opera House. Most recently, it has been Puccini's Turandot that has been shown in a "live" transmission. Yet many of the same friends would not consider investing in a DVD or Blu-Ray of an opera and watching it at home.
Now I suspect that this is down to the nature of the immersive experience. Being in a cinema is halfway (or more) to sitting in an auditorium with a "live "performance, but at home there are too many distractions.
Well, as a lecturer I have little choice but to use DVDs as the basis for illustrating some of my musical talks, and being in the middle of a series about opera, I have been collecting together a number of opera transmissions from which to show clips. I thought I would share some of the collection with you starting with an over-the-top production of Mozart's Don Giovanni from Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona. The music making under the direction of Betrand de Billy is first rate, but the contemporary production caused widespread debate amongst my students, more used as they were to the familiar settings of eighteenth century Spain. In this 2002 production, the Don is first seen in a car-park seducing one of his many conquests and when he finally gets his come-uppance at the end, he is in party mood with a room that looks like a garbage heap which fits his behaviour.
In the lecture series it was a short step from Mozart to Christoph Willibald Gluck, a composer who tried to reform German opera and steer it away from the influence of Italian opera. Orfeo ed Euridice is one of his most performed compositions and a very new DVD - a film by Ondrej Havelka with soloists and chorus accompanied by Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704 conducted by Vaclav Luks is a real gem. It was filmed on location in the Baroque Theatre of Ceský Krumlov Castle. The star of the piece has to be the young American counter-tenor Bejun Mehta who sings the role of Orfeo - his range and quality of timbre is awesome, and director Luks leaves the viewer puzzled at the very end- with its uncomfortable happy side and yet Orfeo disappears into the distance in thoughtful, pensive mode (Arthaus 102 184).
At the time of writing my course has returned to Italy and the dramatic output of Guiseppe Verdi. Two productions that are watchable, even if not presented in the best possible sound include Aida performed in the open-air arena in Verona and conducted by Nello Santi (TDK DVWW-OPAIDV). The setting is magnificent and the production is based upon a 1913 design. The recording is now 24 years old but still highly serviceable and the cast of "thousands" managed well by director Gianfranco de Bosio. The other Verdi production is Verdi's Un ballo di maschera from the Metropolitan Opera, New York with Katia Ricciarelli, Judith Blegen and Luciano Pavarotti. There is no denying the power of the solo singers and the video director was Brian Large whose pedigree is well known, but I find the storyline so unlikely that it leaves the music to speak more than the plot. In that respect the1980 production is a worthy testament to the greatness of the Met's work (Decca 074 32270).