Regular readers of this blog would probably expect that, faced with a Zeffirelli production of Il Trovatore from the Verona Arena, I would run screaming for the hills. The 2019 recording though piqued my interest. The geek in me wanted to see how much difference 4K ultra HD made, having only so far been able to get my paws on a couple of such recordings. I was also aware that it’s quite some time since I’ve heard Anna Netrebko and here she heads up a very appealing looking cast. So I succumbed.
Cineplex’s The Met: Live in HD features Franco Zefferelli’s Tosca on January 27 and Bartlett Sher’s production of L’Elisir d’Amore on February 10th
My first thought was that I would rather be suspended upside down in a vat of ordure and flogged by drug crazed trolls and then I realised that unless I was somewhere in the the multiverse where the Met still had Robert Carsen’s Eugene Onegin this couldn’t be right. The body text clarified. It’s actually the, by now scarcely distinguishable from the Zeff, Caledonian knight Sir David MacVicar “Rivaling the splendor of Franco Zeffirelli’s Napoleonic-era sets and costumes”.
There’s not a lot of film footage of Maria Callas performing and most of what there is is of concerts. What makes this disk special is that it contains the whole of Act 2 of Tosca recorded at the Royal Opera House on 9th February 1964. It’s a Zeffirelli production and Tito Gobbi sings Scarpia with Renato Cioni as Cavaradossi. It gives, I think, a pretty good idea of Callas’ appeal as an actress and as a personality. She is fascinating to watch but in many ways quite hard to listen to. My partner, who was in the next room, thought I was listening to an atonal modern piece, which is as much as I’m going to say about accuracy of pitch. I found myself more caught up in thinking about that modern audience segment that wants to go back to “the good old days” because if this is representative I think they are nuts. It’s not about Callas. Well directed I think I’d have enjoyed seeing her. It’s the overly melodramatic, well, everything. OK, I know it’s Tosca but Gobbi’s eye rolling scenery chewing is like three Bryn Terfels without the self deprecating twinkle in the eye. One wants to shout “watch out for the crocodile!” And is he ever loud? At first I just thought it was a recording balance thing but I don’t think so as he sounds way louder than the other singers. It’s hard (and probably unfair) to judge a voice on the basis of a rather ropey recording like this but I wouldn’t pay to hear barking like this.
The 2000 Metropolitan Opera recording of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is based on Zeffirelli’s 1990 production somewhat modified by director Stephen Lawless. It’s an entirely traditional “breeches and boobs” affair with baroque painted flats, tricorne hats etc. Blocking is mostly very basic with a lot of “park and bark” just livened up with a bit of prop twiddling. It works because it has a superb cast who sing and act (within the limits of the production) extremely well.
At the core is Bryn Terfel in the title role. You get what you expect; a big voice that can be scaled back to quite beautiful, menace, physical presence and a touch of humour when required. If you have seen his more recent Scarpia or Mephistopheles you know what to expect. He’s backed up Ferruccio Furlanetto in a rather broadly comic take on Leporello which, though I find it unsubtle, isn’t inappropriate in this production. The Terfel/Furlanetto relationship is very much master/servant. No ambiguity about two sides of one character here! Continue reading →