La Scala and Riccardo Chailly have embarked on a project to record all the Puccini operas. The first one, recorded in 2015, is Turandot with a new completion of the third act by Berio rather than the usual Alfano version. The director was Nikolaus Lehnhoff with Nina Stemme as Turandot and Aleksandrs Antonenko as Calaf.
For the longest time the classic 1995 Glyndebourne recording of Janáček’s Věk Makropulos was the only video option. It’s now been re-released on DVD and Blu-ray in a completely remastered version. I watched the Blu-ray and it’s as well restored as the companion recording of Peter Sellars’ equally classic Theodora. As it’s drawn from a Channel 4 broadcast the picture is 4:3 and it’s presented here formatted for wide screens in what is, apparently, called “pillarbox” mode in the UK. At any event, the picture is excellent; certainly the equal of many more recent recordings, if not quite of the best HD quality. The sound, stereo only, is decent but a bit “boxed in” and the voices often seem to balanced a long way back.
When I first encountered Richard Strauss’ Elektra as a teenager I found the music almost unbearably harsh. The more I listen to it the more erroneous that judgement seems. It has its “tough” moments to be sure. How could an opera about Elektra not? But it is also full of lush romanticism and there are some really quite lovely passages. In the 2010 Salzburg Festival recording Daniele Gatti explores both sides of the music in a rather thrilling reading of the score aided and abetted by the Wiener Philharmoniker and a pretty much ideal cast.
My DVD of Hans Werner Henze’s Boulevard Solitude arrived the day before his death at the weekend and so went straight to the top of the reviewing pile. It’s an intriguing piece. It’s based on the same Abbé Prevost novel as all the other versions of Manon but updated to the period of composition (1952) and told from the viewpoint of des Grieux rather than Manon. In this version des Grieux picks Manon up at a railway station while she is on her way to finishing school in Lausanne. They run away to Paris but des Grieux is broke and Manon’s brother pimps her to a rich old man, Lilaque. The brother robs the old man’s house which gets them both kicked out. Manon has a brief fling with des Grieux before her brother pimps her out again; this time to Lilaque’s son. By this time des Grieux has a pretty serious cocaine problem. The cocaine, naturally, is supplied by Lescaut. Lescaut is in the process of stealing a painting from Lilaque fils when Lilaque père shows up. Lescaut hands Manon a gun and she kills the old man. In the last scene we are back at the railway station where a disconsolate des Grieux waits for one last glance at Manon as she is taken to prison.
The searing intensity of this 1988 Glyndebourne recording of Janáček’s Kat’a Kabanová overcomes a rather indifferent DVD transfer to great effect.
The production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff focuses on the inner emotions, or lack of them, of the principal characters especially Kat’a and the Kabanovicka. This focus is greatly aided by the simple but colourful semi-abstract sets that bring to mind Chagall or Kandinsky in their bold use of colour. The execution of the concept is first class. Nancy Gustavson, in the title role, gives a quite breathtaking portrayal of a mental breakdown, especially intense in the confession scene. She also sings quite superbly. Felicity Palmer as her mother in law is as chilling as one could possibly wish, nowhere more so than in the final scene as she walks away from Kat’a’s body. The Varvara, Louise Winter, the facilitator of Kat’a’s fatal affair, brings some real charm to what would otherwise be pretty unrelentingly grim.
The men have less to do and the only real stand out is bass Donald Adams as Dikoj. His scene with Palmer is oddly compelling in a revolting sort of way. The other men are perfectly adequate but it’s the women who carry the show here. The other real star is the LPO under Andrew Davis. This is a hell of a score and Davis, wonderfully supported by his players, makes the most of it. I just wish the sound quality had been better.
The production for DVD is adequate. Helped by the small stage of the old theatre at Glyndebourne video director Derek Bailey lets us see what is happening and only in Act 3 does he get a bit close up happy. All in all it’s not a bad job for a 1988 TV broadcast. The picture is tolerable. It’s 4:3 with hard English subtitles. As all 100 minutes of the opera are crammed onto one DVD5 it’s perhaps surprising it’s as good as it is. Sound is Dolby 2.0 and again “adequate” is as good as it gets. There are no extras or documentation beyond a chapter listing. The european release on a different label may be a little less Spartan.
Technical reservations aside, this is well worth seeing.