Don Tom

There are over 40 video recordings of Don Giovanni in the catalogue, dating back to 1954, and Thomas Allen sings the title role in quite a few of them.  This one was recorded at La Scala in 1987 and features a very strong cast in a careful, traditional staging.  It’s also pretty decent technical quality for the era.  The director was Giorgio Strehler in a comparatively rare opera outing.  His sets and costumes are of some vague aristocratic past with liveried footmen, big hats and twirling capes.  It’s quite handsome but not in any way revelatory.  Nor is any aspect of the production really.  We are clearly in an aristocratic milieu.  Tom Allen’s Don Giovanni is arrogant and proud with plenty of swagger.  There’s no hint of ambiguity about  Edita Gruberova’s Donna Anna or Ann Murray’s Donna Elvira and Francisco Araiza is a properly dutiful chump of a Don Ottavio.  It’s all quite serious with comic relief only in the most obvious places.  Having said that, there are some very effective scenes; especially the ending which has a an interesting lighting plot and manages not to be anti-climactic.

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Ponelle’s Cenerentola

There’s been a fair amount of discussion of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s film version of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito over at The Earworm so I thought it would be a good time to dig out his La Scala production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola.  They have a lot in common; an obsession with statuary and heavy focus on verticality that makes the picture often seem taller than it is wide are just two.  The Rossini, despite being filmed at La Scala is very filmic.  It’s much more like a movie than a video recording of a staged performance.  Continue reading

A girl called Maria

Maria Ewing has always been a bit of an enigma to me. It’s the range of roles I’ve heard her in; Salome, Dido, Carmen, Rosina. Soprano to mezzo and bel canto to dramatic.  In the recording under consideration here she sings Rosina in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. It was recorded at Glyndebourne in 1982 when she was 32. Her performance is typical Ewing. She acts really well, looks great (if her unusual looks work for you – they do for me!)  and sings really well without ever really sounding beautiful and occasionally giving one the feeling one gets watching somebody corner a little too fast on a large motorbike. I find watching her fascinating.

The production is as traditional as one could get and makes the small, old Glyndebourne stage look even smaller. Costumes too are absolutely generic 19th century comic opera. Blocking is basic. Mostly it’s very straightforward “park and bark”. All in all it’s the sort of thing you simply wouldn’t see in a modern opera house (except maybe the Met) and I’m sure it would please the investment banker’s wife in the Salzburg King Arthur. The singing and acting, Ewing aside, backs the production up.

John Rawnsley is a very broad Figaro with winks and big gestures and little mincing footsteps. He sings very well indeed but he has a voice that seems two sizes too loud for the production and tends to dominate ensembles. Max-René Cosotti is the Count. He has an old fashioned Italian tenor voice that works really well in this context. The rest of the cast is perfectly OK too and there’s a bit of a bonus in that Basilio is sung by a 33 year old newcomer called Ferrucio Furlanetto. We are a million miles away from Phillip II here! The London Philharmonic are in the pit under Sylvain Cambreling. They are balanced well back from the voices but seem OK to me. All in all, this is musically quite fine, if rather old fashioned, but dramatically it’s rather like watching superior panto for adults.

Technically this disc is about what one might expect. It’s taken from an ITV broadcast and is very much video directed for small screen. The picture is barely DVD quality 4:3 and the sound is Dolby 2.0. It isn’t particularly good either being slightly muffled and with quite unrealistic balance. Subtitles are available in English, French, German and Spanish. There are no extras and minimal documentation. All in all I think one has to treat this like a dodgy mono sound recording from the 1950s. It’s worth having if one wants a record of these singers but otherwise one is better off looking for something more recent. Certainly Dario Fo’s Amsterdam production is much more fun to watch.