Cher Public

One of three

When I acquire DVDs of opera performances, I look for performances which truly merit a video recording; performances in which the totality of the musical and dramatic elements are worth preserving for repeated viewing.  These three DVDs of Verdi’s middle operas from the Tutto Verdi collection all fail to satisfy this requirement, though by differing margins. And to tell the truth, none of these performances are second or even third choices for DVDs of these operas.

The least satisfactory performance comes first, Un Ballo in Maschera, recorded at the Teatro Regio di Parma.   Overall this performance has the qualities of a bad revival: lack of direction, uneven casting, and lackluster orchestral playing.  The production, with costumes and sets by Pierluigi Samaritani is drab and traditional, and his costumes flatter no one.  

The stage director for this revival, Massimio Gasparon, seems to have just directed traffic, leaving the specifics of characterization and acting to the principals.  Needless to say, it is not cohesive nor specific, never mind trying to make sense of this tricky drama.

Our Riccardo, Francesco Meli, sings stylishly but his bright, monotone voice lacks variety and the top tends to become tight and dry when pressed.  He is not a very involved actor and it is obvious that he is often thinking about his singing.  In contrast, Kristin Lewis‘s Amelia is well-acted and sympathetic, but sung with a glaring, stressed top and unsteady middle that becomes breathless and underpowered as she moves towards the bottom.  The voice occasionally is beautiful when she isn’t forcing it, but its deficiencies significantly prevent her from making expressive points.

The most compromised voice in the cast though is undoubtedly the Ulrica’s, Elisabetta Fiorillo, whose voice is tremulous and wobbly from top to bottom.  The writhing women in her scene are a campy distraction, but no substitution for quality.

For that we look to Vladimir Stoyanov‘s Renato, which is the best-sung performance of the cast. The highlight is a deeply-felt “Eri tu”, which receives the longest ovation of the evening that he even breaks character to acknowledge.  It is still not an ideal performance, since his smooth, elegant singing becomes dull in dramatic declamation, mirrored by his relatively mild characterization.  These are minor quibbles though in this company.

The same house is responsible for the next performance in this series, La Forza del Destino, which is presented note-complete.  From the outset things seem to be off to a better start.  The slackness and sloppiness of the orchestra in Ballo have thankfully been replaced with energy and incisiveness.  The conductor for both operas is Gianluigi Gelmetti. The production by Stefano Poda is also an improvement, if a qualified one.

The sets are abstract with traditional props and costumes. Distracting stylized stage movements and choreography are assigned to non-singing extras who also serve to move the large, domino-like black and gray edifices which dominate the set and can be configured into various shapes creating, for example, a giant cross in the monastery scene.  The lighting is beautifully done and creates some striking stage pictures.  None of this has much significance, though, since the direction of the principals and their relation with the rest of the production are squarely traditional.  The direction is at least clear though and the characters do not seem to be fending for themselves.

Dimitra Theodossiou, who is made to wear a series of ugly costumes, the worst being a strapless black gown that can only be described as avian-chic, is our Leonora di Vargas.  Perhaps more unfortunate is her wobble, which is worthy of the comment Walter Legge allegedly made to another Greek soprano during her recording of this opera.  Sadly she does not possess the strong lower register of her countrywoman, and many passages which are meant to convey the strength and gravitas of the character fall flat.  This is for me rather unforgivable in this part and coupled with the aforementioned wobble and painfully wiry top, I find that no level of commitment on her part can compensate.

Things are not much better with Aquiles Machado‘s Don Alvaro, whose whiny top had me running to turn down the volume more than a few times.  The middle and bottom are thankfully more pleasant.  Again, in such company Stoyanov is the best singer on stage, a balm for the ears.  He sings Don Carlo di Vargas with beauty and refinement throughout, the voice less dull than in Ballo.  As in that performance, however, his voice is just too soft-grained to deliver much of a punch when the drama calls for it.

Roberto Scandiuzzi‘s woolly and wobbly voice, choppy phrasing, and spotty intonation make for a Padre Guardiano that is anything but the rock that he should be.  The Preziosilla of Mariana Pentcheva is (as she so often is these days) an ungainly, wobbly Slavic mezzo with an iffy top that makes her scenes seem to drag on longer than they already do.  She deserves our pity though since she is the only principal singer who is made to partake in the strange, jerky choreography of the extras.

After these two dispiriting performances, I was not expecting much from Teatro Comunale di Modena’s Don Carlo.  To my surprise, this ended up being the most satisfying performance, musically, of these three.  It is given in the five-act “Modena” version, very similar to what we’ve heard at the Met in recent seasons.

The budget production, by Joseph Franconi Lee, is traditional and utilizes a unit set comprising of wooden platforms, risers, and stairs somewhat resembling the backstage of a theater.  In a different setting I would guess this symbolizes the public-private dichotomy, but the generalized direction does not give any indication that this is the case.  In truth, a bare stage with props would have been just as effective if not more, considering the unattractive set does not serve much purpose other than to occasionally trip-up the singers.

The most interesting singer in any of these three operas is Cellia Costea, the Elisabetta di Valois.  Costea has a distinctive, dark-hued voice with an uncanny resemblance to her countrywoman Angela Gheorghiu‘s, especially in the black-satin middle and bottom.  The top can retain a soft, rounded quality or become more dramatic and cutting when necessary.  She is the only performer here who seems to understand and convey the scale of the drama through both her committed, sympathetic acting and noble, sensitive singing.  And as icing on the cake, she ends the opera with a secure, blazing high B.

The rest of the singers are not at this level, but are solid enough.  Mario Malagnini as Don Carlo has a substantial, distinctly Italian tenor sound that is quite beautiful and secure, but he has little chemistry with any of the other performers.  His acting is generalized and disconnected from his singing, and he glances at the conductor a bit too often.  The Rodrigo, Simone PIazzola, has a solid if faceless voice that is equal to the part, but it is delivered in a plain and obvious way that is at odds with this complex, ambiguous character.

As Filippo II, Giacomo Prestia has all the right intentions but his voice is too wobbly and worn, fading into the background until Act 4 where he sings a sympathetic and fragile “Ella giammai m’amo!”.  He is a convincing actor and gives a menacing, yet vulnerable account of the king.  Luciano Montanaro‘s Inquisitore conversely sounds a bit too healthy, a rich true basso that unfortunately loses color at the top when pushed.

Alla Pozniak as Eboli has an engaged and alert stage presence and offers a big, fruity Slavic voice with plenty of chest and predictably cloudy diction.  The top, however, goes off the rails in a quivering, exciting Waltraud Meier-esque way, but is too often unacceptably disconnected and out of tune, most egregiously in “O don fatale”.  Fabrizio Ventura‘s conducting is square, lacking shape and momentum.  The orchestra plays well but without brilliance.

In summary, with the exception of Costea’s Elisabetta, none of the performances in these three operas are those which I will be returning to.  All of these operas are better served on video elsewhere.  My top picks for filmed versions would be David Alden‘s Ballo (floating around the YouTubes somewhere), the Tebaldi or Caballe Forzas, and Pappano’s Don Carlos or either of Levine’s Don Carlo performances.

  • Opera Teen
  • I never understood the allure of Theodossiu. Even on her Lucia dys I found her voice ugly Ns the vocal production more based on pressure and pinched notes than anything.

    • MontyNostry

      Theodossiu did a rather life-sapping recital in London some months ago. Everything was very slow and ‘expressive’ and she had obviously been listening to too much latter-period Caballe …

  • zinka

    Kristine Lewis ruins this show..and the audience seems to agree.Unpleasant tone.

    • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

      Cara Zinka, I am really surprised to hear that. I heard Lewis (and by the way, it is Kristen, not Kristine) in recital and her Wiener Staatsoper debut this season as Aida, which was a total success (also given that she had to compete with the debut of Olga Borodina on the same night, and had to sing to a different Radames every night of the run!). They return for more performances in the fall.

      I haven’t heard/seen this “Ballo” (I tend to avoid opera on DVD since I see so many live performances), but I have always enjoyed Lewis’s voice. I specifically recall a heavenly “Deupis le jour” which took me back to the young Leontyne Price.

      I find her greatest shortcoming to be her acting. She is an attractive woman, but needs to get her characters more under her belt so it’s not so obvious how hard she is working to sing. Maybe she has hit the heavy Verdi rep too soon…

      I have a friend who at the final dress of this “Ballo” and he raved about her.

      • Shocker Charlie dislikes an African American soprano.

        • zinka

          Ivy is a sick sick sick person…not worth even writing this line..she needs SERIOUS therapy….

        • zinka

          I think I will send Poison Ivy’s post to my friend Grace Bumbry..she would laugh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • MontyNostry

        I watched Lewis on this YouTube clip the other day and was really disappointed. The singing is not exactly throat-grabbing, though the basic material seems good, if a bit uneven. The clip’s a couple of years old, so maybe she’s become more interesting since then.

        • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

          While I hear some ravishing singing in this YouTube clip, Lewis seems rather unsure and nervous, constantly looking up at Mehta and her head in the score (perhaps the stress of the telecast didn’t help), and the voice sounds thinner than I recall. The top forte notes are also not so great. Based on my experiences with hearing her live, the voice is more substantial, more evenly-produced, and the top under control. I believe she’s sill rather young (early 30s?) so maybe she is still finding her way into the right roles and repertoire. And let’s not forget: EVERYBODY has an off night now and then.

          And let me correct my earlier correction: it is Kristin Lewis, not Kristen as I previously wrote, attempting to correct Zinka referring to her as Kristine.

        • zinka

          Careful with your critique..The sicko Ivy will accuse you of racism…..i guess the audience at the also racist..she gets a tiny bit of applause.Well,any of us who belong to forums know over the years that we cannot all be normal…CH

          • manou

            Zinka, it would be nice if you could refrain from calling Ivy a “sicko”. Thank you.

          • Charlie you have a history of denigrating minority singers in various forums over the years. As I said you called Jessye Norman “Lincoln’s Great Mistake.” Who’s the ‘sicko’ here? And thank you manou.

    • Nerva Nelli

      Nonsense--Lewis is here quite good vocally, and both arias win considerable applause; it’s true that the dramatic commitment is somewhat generalized.

      Of course your pal Marisa sang it MUCH better, with interpolated high Fs, in a basement cafeteria in Ho-Ho-kus in 1969; and of course Milanov’s excerpts with Mitropoulos leave a deathless legacy of tonal poise and legato phrasing.

      • zinka

        So EASY to see who the idiots are..fortunately a rarity in a great group of people..The jerk who MUSWT MENTIOn “my divas’ to “get back at me’..sounds like a n old [person with a mentality of Franco Bonisolli..sad…sad..but i go on and on and on….Helluva Nervi..but it is expected.

        • Hippolyte

          “..but i go on and on and on…”

          Truer words….

        • grimoaldo

          “sounds like a n old [person with a mentality of Franco Bonisolli”

          Wondering idly if this means anything and if so, what.

  • thenoctambulist

    I loved Cellea Costea when I heard one of her recital youtube videos. I eagerly searched for schedule in and there was nothing. I thought she was one of those provincial singers who has not yet begun her professional singers. I am thriller to find she has good engagements and they are recorded. her voice is as beautiful as Gheoghiu’s and I still do not know why she is not more famous.

    • luvtennis

      Yes. She is quite good in the Don Carlo aria. There is just a hint of unsteadiness at times, but the breath control is admirable and she possesses a real legato. She muffs the words a couple times I think, but really exciting as a piece of singing.

  • zinka

    A few..thankfully a few people here remind me of those meanies on which i left to join the normal people like me on Facebook..but it is laughable.Happily, most of us are respectful and so we can see easily those who belong on another forum.maybe Jehovah’s Witnesses…..

    • Uh, zinka, on you also made “jokes” of the sort like calling Jessye Norman “Lincoln’s Great Mistake.” You make cheap jokes about Chinese surnames on parterre. You relentlessly bash certain African American singers with a gleefulness that is creepy. Maybe you grew up in a time when these jokes were considered “funny” but they aren’t anymore (not that they ever were funny or acceptable).

      • stevey

        …not to mention poor Mara Zampieri!! :-)

      • luvtennis


        Was that remark really made about Jessye???? Really??? That is pretty despicable in my opinion.

        I never knew that the North American slave trade was source of humor anymore. Seeing as how so many millions perished in the terrible crossing and rest were treated as chattel by a country that professed to be “free” and founded on the principles of universal human (or at least male human) equality.

        Nope, I just can’t find the humor in that??? Am I missing something…

        • Batty Masetto

          Luvtennis, Zinka has vehemently denied ever making the remark, and a Google search shows no hits at all for Zinka + Norman + “Lincoln’s Great Mistake” except for Ivy’s quote in this very thread.

          I think it’s possible Ivy may have misunderstood something.

          • grimoaldo

            In the interests of truth, please see this thread, entitled “Lincoln’s BIG Mistake” by “Charlie” (which is “zinka’s” real name, or at least the name I knew him by when I was a participant in rec. music opera)


            I have studiously avoided re-opening old quarrels from rec music opera at this site and have no wish to do so again, but as the subject has arisen, here is the matter that Ivy referred to.

          • Batty Masetto

            Oh dear.

          • Thank you, Grimoaldo. I was prepared to give Charlie the benefit of doubt though I was curious about Ivy’s remark about “Lincoln’s mistake”. But reading his post, how can one not call him a racist (despite his protestations that he is Grace Bumbry’s “friend”)? There are many ways to make fun of an overly-demanding diva, but to zero in on her race and take it a step further by making the joke about Lincoln and slavery is despicable. It tells me all I need to know about him.

          • antikitschychick

            OMG srsly, that joke was in such poor taste, I can’t even…

          • armerjacquino

            I can’t get grim’s link to work. What does it link to?

          • Feldmarschallin

            The link works. Ivy didn’t misunderstand anything.

          • luvtennis

            It’s Lincoln’d BIG Mistake, Batty. That is probably why you didn’t catch it.

            I feel awful…

          • Rory Williams

            Wow. Just … wow.

          • zinka

            Ive made it all up…It is too “clever’ to be me…..She is dangerous..and if this were opera-l Bon Kosovsky would put her on masturbation..Thanks you are NOT Batty.

            People like Ivy do not belong on a forum of normal people like us..what have i said?????

            I DARE anyone to find one single racist post anywhere anyplace anytime.

            But two of my friends did get a laugh out of it..and they ain’t exactly white..they know me and know who and what i am..Ivy needs to be censured..I already reported her to the ASPCA

  • zinka

    Why would a legend like me associate with a couple of pheasants? My fault….

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

  • zinka

    Wasting my time again..I NEVER EVER caslled Norman “Lincoln’s Great Mistake.” That is a horrendouslie..but remember from whence this comes…..from a sad case…and very sick……

    • grimoaldo

      “I NEVER EVER caslled Norman “Lincoln’s Great Mistake.”

      “Lincoln’s BIG Mistake
      Anyone who is planning to have Jessye as a house guest, please take
      note. Brazilian newspapers report today on Jessye Norman’s requests
      prior to her arrival in São Paulo this week.”

      • zinka

        NEVER said this….Do not listen to sickoes …My life has been dedicated to stamping out prejudice and i DARE anyone to accuse me..but you are dealing with a total nutcase..who should leave this forum…

        • you are dealing with a total nutcase


        • grimoaldo

          I know perfectly well that the person who posts here as “zinka” is the same person who posted on rec music opera as “Charlie” and titled a thread about Jessye Norman “Lincoln’s BIG Mistake” as those who can follow the link ( do not know why it doesn’t work for aj) can see.
          It was years ago now, I did not bring up the subject, but it would be nice if this forum did not descend into the sort of offensive name calling that rmo did.

  • Clita del Toro

    And I would never call “Zinka,” the Borscht Belt’s Big Mistake!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    • zinka

      That is right..Keep talking about “my diva’ like a little fucking baby….

      • Everyone, and I mean, everyone, needs to back off this particular issue. It’s totally become personal and, worse, unproductive.

        Shall we move on?

        • grimoaldo

          Sorry La C feel free to remove my last post which crossed with yours.
          I will say no more about it.

        • zinka

          Thank you Cieca..I appreciate your input..CH

    • luvtennis


      Miss you. But not in a creepy stalkery way….

      • Clita del Toro

        Sorry luvtennis, but do I miss you in a completely creepy, stalkery way. LOL

  • zinka

    WOW!!!!!This was made up…with my opera ad at the bottom..TERRIBLE…….I guess someone down there hates come??Here is the article attributed to me which i NEVER EVER wrote….

    * Air conditioning must be turned off on her entire floor as well as the
    hallways where she will be expected to transit at her hotel. No smoking is
    to be permitted in these same areas

    * Humidifier in her hotel suite, to be turned on three hours before her

    * Her suite must be disinfected, but not using products containing ammonia

    * A special wooden support is to be installed on her bed

    * A supply of room temperature Evian is to be available at all times

    * Elevator access fromm all other floors must be turned off when Ms. Norman
    is riding it

    * For decoration, she wants a historical imperial dress from a Japanese
    princess displayed in her suite.

    * As far as flowers, only orchids and roses are to be used

    Miss Norman will be giving three recitals in São Paulo (including one for
    charity) beginning Feb. 26
    My best, Charlie. Check out my website dedicated to the wonderful world
    of opera, and request my huge free catalogue of live opera tapes.


    If this were taken to be is terrible..but it is NOT me..I swear on La Cieca’s Callas tattoo.

    So you know that I was upset at the idea..but this is horrendous