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Count me in

The legions of New York opera buffs who now can’t talk about anything but Javier Camarena will be happy to know that there’s now a DVD release of their new favorite tenor in Rossini’s Le Comte Ory available. The performance was actually filmed in 2011 in Zurich, and will be of immense interest not only to Camareniacs, but to Rossini scholars and to fans of Cecilia Bartoli, who limits her staged operatic performances outside her artistic home in Zurich. 

This video of Le Comte Ory differs from the other available versions because it is the first one to use a “critical edition” that includes music that was sung in the original performances in Paris but dropped in later performances. The printed standard score used the streamlined Comte Ory instead of the original Paris edition. This critical edition was prepared by Damien Colas and has been heavily championed by musical scholar Philip Gossett, who made his dismay clear that the Met declined to use the critical edition for its own 2011 production.

There are some noticeable differences: for instance, the Act One finale now is an ensemble with 13 soloists, instead of the septet. This performance also uses period instruments, a change immediately discernible in the overture, which has a somewhat harsher sound. However, the ear adjusts quickly, and Muhai Tang conducts the entire performance with exactly the right amount of sprightliness.

The production is by Moishe Leiser and Patrice Caurier and it’s an update to postwar France, and the village is full of randy girls waiting for the men to return from WWII. The personregie is excellent, but the concept itself is a mixed bag. Countess Adèle is now a rather uptight upper-class lady, and Isolier a horny officer. Le Comte Ory is a “blind” religious shaman who moves from town to town in a trashy trailer.

The concept provides some nice sight gags (such as a gaggle of well-dressed girls participating in an orgy in Ory’s trailer, causing the trailer to shake from the sexual exertions) but part of the joke of the original Le Comte Ory is that the supposedly religious and cloistered Countess Adèle finds herself in a variety of sexually compromising situations. Leiser and Caurier direct Adèle so that she’s already straddling Isolier during their very first encounter in Act One. I also felt like this story might have made more sense if set after World War I? In WWII weren’t the French occupied for the majority of the war?

The second act dramaturgy works better. It’s set in Adèle’s pretentiously decorated house (complete with expensive china sets and grand piano), and Bartoli has a lot of fun acting very much the Lady of the Manor before she succumbs yet again to sexual shenanigans in the famous trio. The duet between Ory and Adèle in Act Two is delightful, as is the wine party amongst Ory’s “nun” entourage. The trio is exceptionally well-directed. It’s not the three-way gropefest of Bartlett Sher’s Met production. Instead, the homoerotic element of Ory being aroused by Isolier is clearly delineated.

The production seems designed to showcase the talents and charisma of Bartoli. Her familiar attributes are all highlighted by the production: her earthy sense of humor, her expressive, radiant face (those eyes!), and of course, her unique voice which has the warmth and duskiness Rossini so adored in mezzo-sopranos combined with a free upper register that allows her to sing roles traditionally assigned to sopranos.

Countess Adèle provides few opportunities to Bartoli to show off her famous machine gun coloratura, and I actually like that. I think that her technique, while awe-inspiring in its ability to squeeze the maximum amount of notes in as little time as possible, can actually sound like a circus trick. When she’s asked to sing a clean adagio line, you can just bask in the unique beauty of her voice. “En proie á la tristesse” shows some delightfully original ornamentations.

However, the fact that this is a Bartoli vehicle causes some unorthodox changes to casting. The trouser role of Isolier is now sung by Rebeca Olvera, a rather high, light soprano. I think the traditional casting of a high soprano as Adèle with a mezzo as Isolier is more dramatically and musically convincing. Olvera’s lovely soprano blends well with both Bartoli and Camarena.

The supporting cast is solid without being spectacular. Ugo Gugliardo (Governor) really should not attempt the trills he doesn’t have—listening him try in “Veiller sans cesse” was painful. Oliver Widmer (Mr. Bartoli) as Raimbaud did a decent job with his second act patter aria “Dans ce lieu solitaire.” Liliana Nikiteanu (Ragonde) has a warm, mellifluous mezzo.

And how is everyone’s new favorite tenor, Mr. Camarena? Well, he’s spectacular. His warm, sweet voice also has an usual amount of flexibility and a secure top up to D. Comparisons to Juan Diego Flórez, who starred in the Met’s Le Comte Ory, and is set to take over the Met’s run of Cenerentolas, are inevitable. Camarena’s voice I think is much more beautiful than Flórez’s, but Camarena doesn’t have Flórez’s effortless coloratura. You hear some aspirating with Camarena. But both are first-rate tenors. Here is a side by side comparison of their opening aria “Que les destines prospéres”:

The two tenors give very different interpretations of Ory. Part of this is the production and direction, but part of it is just who they are onstage. Flórez has a naturally rakish persona. He often strides onstage, smirks, and the audience knows that all the ladies will be cray-cray about him. It’s well-known that he refused to wear drag for the trio in the Met production, which made the trio make less sense dramatically, but did drive home the point that any woman will not mind having Juan Diego grope her.

Camarena looks much more unassuming, and that’s part of his charm—Marilyn Monroe famously said, “If you can make a woman laugh, you can make her do anything.” Camarena is more convincing as the sweet little nun whose hand “accidentally” touches a lady’s breast. He’s less convincing than Flórez as Ory the lady-killer who rips his hermit outfit and makes hearts aflutter. They are both amazing.

Opera video libraries are funny. There are a host of Aïdas available on video and all but a few are dreadful. Yet Le Comte Ory now has three excellent videos available—the old Glyndebourne video with Annick Massis that takes a very traditional approach to the opera, the Met video which has a silly production but excellent singing by its leads (Flórez, Diana Damrau and Joyce DiDonato), and now this video from Zurich. Dump out all those crappy Aïdas and get all three Le Comte Orys: that’s my advice!

110 comments

  • semira mide says:

    Thanks for the review. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing this video.
    Ory has received some pretty silly productions and I think the final trio is really difficult to stage. I actually think Florez was spot-on correct in dumping the nun outfit for the trio. The trio is sublime and not at all comic. It gives the Count a chance to appear genuine in a way that is consistent with Rossini’s wit.
    I’m not sure period instruments make Rossini more “authentic”, a slimmer orchestra with modern instruments would probably work better. But it will be interesting to hear.
    Hopefully some day the historic performance of “Il Viaggio a Reims” with Abbado will be released on DVD. Then we can make the real comparison!
    Thanks for the review

  • A. Poggia Turra says:

    Wonderful review, Ivy.

    Actually, there is a fourth DVD/Blu-Ray -- the 2009 Rossini Opera Festival production DVD was released about two months ago. Yijie Shi and Jose Maria Moreno are the leads, under Paolo Carignani:

    http://www.amazon.com/Rossini-Le-Comte-Ory-Blu-ray/dp/B00HM2D696/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1398431958&sr=8-3-fkmr1&keywords=Comte+Ory+2009

    I saw this production, by Lluis Pasqual, in Pesaro in 2003 with JDF and Bonfaidelli -- the production is staged as a sort-of “parlor game” in which Countess Adele and the ladies are fully aware of who Ory and his men are. It’s quite stylish and a break from the more period-costumed efforts (I also saw the Savary production at Glyndebourne in 1998,and I prefer the Zurich and Pesaro produtions to those at the Met and at Glyndebourne).

    • Poison Ivy says:

      Thanks A. Poggia Tura! How is the singing in the Pesaro production? I like the Glyndebourne video because of Annick Massis — think she’s really a very charming Countess Adele. I also like the all-French-speaking cast.

      • A. Poggia Turra says:

        The Glyndebourne DVD was made in 1997; in 1998 the cast was essentially the same but the conductor was Yves Abel instead of Andrew Davis, and to me the singing was better in ’98 (it may have been partially due to the singers being more into their roles in the second year of the production). I do share your admiration of Massis, and Marc Laho sounded better in house. Tezier was teriffic in both the DVD and in-house -- the only cast change involved the Isoler; Montague in ’97 was better than Hanne Fisher in ’98.

        I recorded the ’09 from the RAI web stream, and was just listening to it in the car a couple of weeks ago. Shi’s voice has a fine, slightly (but not over metallic shimmer, and Moreno holds her own amongst the other Adeles on DVD. Polverelli (once JDF’s girlfriend) was an effective Isoler, blending well in the duets/ensembles.

    • Regina delle fate says:

      That Glyndebourne show was a horror, dumped after one revival which is an admission of total failure in those parts. No revival at all is cataclysmic and money thrown in the rubbish bin (the Peter Sellars Idomeneo, Katie Mitchell Matthew Passion, Richard Jones’s Euryanthe, last year’s Ariadne).

  • armerjacquino says:

    Thanks for this! I’m not sure that changing the setting to post WW1 would have solved the problem- France might have been occupied for most of WW2, but it was pretty much the *venue* for most of WW1.

    Nikiteanu, by the way, is in every Bartoli/Zurich DVD I’ve ever seen and I’ve come across her precisely nowhere else. There’s a career!

    • Poison Ivy says:

      Well Zurich might be one of the last major international houses to have a fairly stable “house” roster? Cecilia Bartoli sings almost exclusively in Zurich although this season she’s singing in Salzburg and Paris, and many of her DVD’s have very similar casts. There’s always Oliver Widmer, of course.

      Javier Camarena’s days of being an almost exclusive Zurich artist might be winding to an end, but I know that for many years he was also a Zurich house tenor. So were Piotr Beczala, Jonas Kaufmann, and, to a lesser extent, Vittorio Grigolo.

      • A. Poggia Turra says:

        Malin Hartelius is another soprano who anchors her career around the Opernhaus Zurich. I think I remember reading an interview in which she stated she preferred restricting engagements to those easily reachable by train or short flights, so as to provide maximum time with her husband and kids.

        • Poison Ivy says:

          Isabel Rey is another Zurich house regular.

          • Krunoslav says:

            I have seen them both in Zurich and neither excited me in the least. Plus Ms. Rey’s vocally wan Goose-girl weakens the KOENGISKINDER DVD in which Jonas is beyond wonderful-- one of the best things he’s ever done IMO.

            • Krunoslav says:

              By them I meant Ray and Nikiteanu, by the way.

              Widmer is “OK’, Hartelius better than that, I think.

              Wish one could splice Jonas into the KOENIGSKINDER CDs with Donath and Prey..

            • Regina delle fate says:

              I saw one of those performances in the theatre, and you are dead right Kruno. The support was not wortjy of the star -- not that the Gänsemagd is a supporting role. Even more reason that Gelb should have marked the centenary of the world premiere at the Met with a slap-up new production for Jonas. An opportunity sadly lost.

          • Rowna says:

            Ryan Speedo Green just signed a contract there -- he was a Lindemann Artist and had a small role in Parsifal. A grand talent and a name to watch.

        • Regina delle fate says:

          There’s been regime change in Zurich and Bartoli still shines in the roster, but Hartelius has all but vanished.

      • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

        Just to clarify: Since 2012 Cecilia Bartoli is the artistic director of the Salzburger Pfingstenfestspiele for five years, succeeding Riccardo Muti. The festival is basically a long weekend (Pfingsten Montag is a national holiday here) so there are usually two performances of a new production of an opera and a bunch of concerts. The operas are now repeated in the summer Salzburger Festspiele.

        In Bartoli’s first year, the opera was “Giulio Cesare in Egito.” Last year, it was “Norma” in a new edition (d’yall remember that?).

        This year the theme is Rossini and the new production (two performances) is “Le cenerentola” with Bartoli and Camarena which will be repeated for five performances in August. Bartoli is also importing the Zurich production of “Otello” for one performance. Joyce DiDonato has a recital, and starry casts are assembled for the Stabat Mater (Stoyanova, Garanca, Beczala and Schrott) and “Petite messe solenelle (Mei, Kasarova, Brownlee and Pertusi).

        The big “Is (s)he going to show up?/Is (s)he really going to sing?” event is a gala with the announced lineup of Bartoli, Berganza, Caballé, Kasariva, Marti, D’Arcangelo, Camarena, Carreras, Chausson, Corbelli, Flórez, Nucci, Pertusi, Raimondi and Schrott.

    • Krunoslav says:

      I would have thought so too, and yet:

      “Guest performances:
      With Claudio Abbado and Valeri Gherghiev at the Salzburg Festival, in Aix-en-Provence with René Jakobs,
      at the Vienna Klangbogen, the Bregenz Festival, in Edinburgh, La Coruña and Montpellier. With William
      Christie at London‘s Royal Festival Hall. She sang Muse und Nicklausse in Les contes d‘Hoffmann and
      Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier at the Opéra Bastille in Paris; Octavian in Hamburg (in the Peter Konwitschny
      production), in Frankfurt, at the Vienna State Opera and, under the baton of Adam Fischer, in Mannheim;
      Margarethe in La damnation de Faust with Antonio Pappano in Brussels. Guest performances also took her
      to Berlin State Opera, the Bavarian State Opera, the Semperoper in Dresden, the Teatro de la Zarzuela in
      Madrid and the Grand Théâtre in Geneva.
      In 2008 role debut as Fricka in Das Rheingold, her first Wagner role, in Zurich under the baton of Philippe
      Jordan. Also with Philippe Jordan she sang Second Norn in Götterdämmerung and Rossweisse in Die
      Walküre.
      In 2009/10 projects included Hexe in Humperdinck‘s Königskinder, Federica in Luisa Miller and, under
      the baton of Vladimir Fedoseyev, Jezibaba in Rusalka in Zurich, and Marcellina in Le nozze di Figaro with
      Jan Schultsz in St. Moritz; in 2010/11 Eleonora in the world premiere of Marc-André Dalbavie’s Gesualdo,
      Ragonde in Le Comte Ory and “Das Lied von der Erde” in Zurich; in 2011/12 Madame Podtochina in The
      Nose, Ragonde in Le Comte Ory, Emilia in Rossini‘s Otello and Maddalena in Rigoletto in Zurich; Jezibaba
      in Rusalka in Montreal; Ino in Semele concerts in Paris; in the summer of 2012 John Cage’s Europeras 1&2
      at the RuhrTriennale.2012/13 -- See more at: http://www.opera-online.com/en/items/performers/liliana-nikiteanu#sthash.H514LHyQ.dpuf

      • Cocky Kurwenal says:

        That’s a very satisfyingly varied repertoire. Is she any good?

        • armerjacquino says:

          Very pretty, lovely rich voice, good actor, slightly cold. Basically a mail-order Garanca.

          • MontyNostry says:

            I saw Nikiteanu some years ago as Dorabella in Geneva. I remember thinking she was a very good actress physically, but her voice (good, but not knock-out) didn’t reflect the various moods too well.

            Talking of Garanca, I was watching a video of her in a concert performance Carmen’s song from the opening of Act II (very well conducted by Chicon) and, once again, I was asking myself why she does nothing for me. It’s not even as if, these days, I prefer singers who let it all hang out — in fact, I rather like a ‘less is more’ approach. It does seem very ungrateful on my part, because in many ways you can’t fault her.

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              Nobody would know which way was up anymore if you found you liked a current singer unequivocally, Monty. I think with Garanca though it is quite understandable -- I enjoyed her when I saw her as Carmen, but there is no denying there is an element of detachment (as opposed to laudable restraint) which can be a little alienating.

            • MontyNostry says:

              Maybe it’s because I don’t feel there’s anything simmering away under the cool. Isn’t it weird how these things work. When she was on Cardiff Singer of the World all those years ago -- and came second to Marius Brenciu -- Barbara Bonney, who was one of the expert commentators, really got quite moist about her.

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              From the point of view of the technique obsessive or those fascinated by the physiology of singing, Garanca is a perfect poster girl of how to do it -- everything is so relaxed and free and not messed about with. I admit this is why I have always been a bit of a fan of hers, but by the same token took a long time to warm up to Joyce DiDonato. But to really release the voice unimpeded by any tension, you almost have to stay slightly removed from it all emotionally.

            • MontyNostry says:

              … and with Joyce, I just sometimes want more voice!

            • Regina delle fate says:

              Garanca doesn’t seem quite to have reached superstar status in London, despite the raves for her Capuleti Romeo with Nebs and her Carmen. She clearly isn’t bothered that much about singing here. She’s pulled out of a couple of things of course, so maybe the management have gone cool on her. Is she down for more Carmens next season?

            • oedipe says:

              Is she down for more Carmens next season?

              Not in London, only in NY. There is nothing on her schedule in London, AFAIK. But she will sing La Favorite in Salzburg in August, with an ideal cast. That’s very exciting, I think.

            • kashania says:

              Carmen is the only role of Garanca’s which I’ve found a disappointment. Her Sesto at the Met was wonderful. And the sections of her Giovanna that I’ve seen are fabulous. I imagine a Favorite Leonore would be wonderful too.

          • A. Poggia Turra says:

            That matches what I saw/heard in the Konwitschny Rosenkavakier in Hamburg in 2002. She stood out from the other ladies in the cast, Brigitte Hahn and Christine Oelze.

        • Poison Ivy says:

          Here’s her operabase. She does sing primarily in Zurich:

          http://operabase.com/a/Liliana_Nikiteanu/10356

      • Regina delle fate says:

        These days she seems to be doing more comprimario parts than leads. She was Mary when the Zurich Opera brought their recent Holländer with Bryn and Kampe konzertant to the Royal Festival Hall.

      • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

        Nikiteanu will be Emilia in the Salzburger Pfingstenfestspiele “Otello” which I mentioned above. She was also the Clotilde to Bartoli’s Norma last year.

  • Hippolyte says:

    The strangest Adele-Isolier pairing I know was on a broadcast from German Radio (in German, of course) that I used to have on tape. The Adele was Julia Varady and the Isolier Reri Grist. The Count was a German tenor I’d never heard of before or since but amazingly he has a wikipedia page:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adalbert_Kraus

    • Krunoslav says:

      If you collected Bach cantata recordings you’d have heard of the narrow-voiced if stylish Adalbert Kraus; I had no idea he;d appeared on the stage.

  • Poison Ivy says:

    This talk about opera video libraries made me think that a lot of standard warhorses have surprisingly awful video libraries.

    Aida takes the cake. I think I’ve run across more Aidas on video than I care to name, and only two I’ve kept: there’s a video with Chiara, Martinucci and Cossotto, and there’s the old fuzzy Japan performance with Tucci, del Monaco, and Simionato. The others were pretty horrible.

    Madama Butterfly has a disappointing video library, in that some of the best Butterfly’s were never caught on video (Scotto, Soviero) for whatever reason.

    Norma has a disappointing video library. I love the Caballe/Vickers performance from Orange but that’s about it.

    • isoldit says:

      funny, a friend and I were just talking about AIDA on video. I love the Chiara, Martinucci and Cossotto performance from Verona (partially because I was there for it also) and the Tucci, del Monaco and Simionato one is wonderful. but also wonderful is the one with Gencer, Cossotto and Bergonzi from Verona. The private recording from Covent Garden with Gwyneth Jones and Grace Bumbry is fun and the performance with Leontyne Price is a wonderful souvenir of her farewell. This is true despite the fact that she, Cossotto and McCracken were all in the autumns of their careers. I like the one with Millo and Domingo only because I am in it.

      Butterfly is seriously poorly represented, among the commercial video releases the only great one is the one from Verona with Kabaivanska
      There are private releases of very fine performances with Soviero (from Chile), Gollardo Domas (from CG) and a very poor video from Verona of Scotto’s last Butterfly
      The Moffo film is also very wonderful

      Norma, I also recommend in private releases the Barcelona performance with Caballe and Cossotto, the La Scala performance with Caballe and Troyanos and the Berlin performance with Elinor Ross and Mario Del Monaco.

      • Poison Ivy says:

        On the other hand some opera video libraries are unexpectedly wonderful. For instance, I know that casting Tristan is enough to give GM’s the shivers, but the ones that made it to video are all pretty wonderful. The Met one with Eaglen/Heppner is not that strong but the Isoldes of Nina Stemme, Waltraud Meier, Gwyneth Jones, Johanna Meier, and Birgit Nilsson were all caught on video. Imagine that!

        • isoldit says:

          the japan performance with Nilsson and Windgassen is definitely the gold standard here, I find the film with Nilsson and Vickers frustrating in that the soundtrack is of one performance but the film is spliced together from several different performances and the lip-synching does not always work. Also well represented is LA BOHEME, with two MET performances leading the pack. the Scotto-Pavarotti performance and the Stratas-Carreras performance being the gold standard, the performance from San Francisco with Pavarotti and Freni is also a wonderful souvenir
          LA FORZA DEL DESTINO has three wonderful videos. the old kinescope of the video with Tebaldi and Corelli, also the La Scala performance with Caballe and Carreras and the MET performance with Price and Giacomini ( a terribly underrated tenor)
          I always felt Leontyne Price was terribly underrepresented on video, with only the Requiem, LA FORZA DEL DESTINO, and AIDA captured on video. Caballe on the other hand has numerous video documents of her performance. for Scotto, the big hole in her video catalog is a decent MADAMA BUTTERFLY and a decent TOSCA.
          Gencer is really only represented by the AIDA and the film version of IL TROVATORE
          Stella is nicely represented with a FANCUILLA and UN BALLO IN MASCHERA from Japan and an IL TROVATORE from RAI,
          Tebaldi is well represented with two TOSCAS, ANDREA CHENIER, OTELLO AND LA FORZA DEL DESTINO
          Olivero is underrepresented with no live complete operas recorded on video except the film (dubbed) of TOSCA,

          • Poison Ivy says:

            Elisir is also well-represented on video. There’s wonderful videos of Bergonzi/Scotto, the Alagnas (when they were still married), Villazon/Netrebko (when THEY were a couple), two with Pavarotti.

            La Cenerentola is also well-represented. von Stade, Bartoli, DiDonato, all have pretty wonderful videos.

            • armerjacquino says:

              Don’t forget the wonderful cast of Murray, Araiza, Quilico and Berry, with Chailly doing wonderful things in the pit.

            • isoldit says:

              I love the L’Elisir with Scotto and Bergonzi. Scotto is the only Adina who plays the bitch in the role. The Pavarotti performance with Blegen ( a terribly underrated singer) was really wonderful (I was there) agree with you on the others.
              Cenerentola- Agree
              Lucia is also well represented with the Sutherland, Kraus performance and the Scotto Bergonzi performance from Japan

            • armerjacquino says:

              This one, to be precise.

            • Poison Ivy says:

              Thanks for that AJ. I forgot about that video. It’s beautiful. Elina Garanca and Lawrence Brownlee in the Met video are also wonderfully vocally, even if Garanca lacks some of the down-to-earth quality and she and Brownlee make an awkward couple with her towering over him at all times.

          • Clita del Toro says:

            STELLA is also on a RAI Chenier with del Monaco.

        • Porgy Amor says:

          Operas represented well: If I were to name one above all, it would be Der Rosenkavalier. What an extraordinary video library, covering a range of production from the extremely traditional (the film with Schwarzkopf, the two Kleiber performances) to the more idiosyncratic work of Wernicke and Carsen. There is more greatness available than I can justify owning, which is a nice problem to have. The one with Gwyneth Jones’s Marschallin is the most special to me, largely for her and for Kleiber, but I would not want to lose half a dozen others.

          Elektra has done well too. It was only several years ago that the top choice seemed to be the Friedrich film with Rysanek in the title role. Now, that would be no higher than third, as we have since had the superb Lehnhoff/Gatti with that murderers’ row cast (Theorin, Westbroek, Meier, Pape, Gambill), and the classic Kupfer/Abbado (Marton, Studer, Fassbaender, Grundheber, King) came back into print in a much-improved release.

          • Poison Ivy says:

            Mozart operas have also done very well in videos, particularly Nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, and Die Zauberflote. I can’t really even think of a Nozze, Cosi, or Magic Flute video I saw that wasn’t worth owning in some way.

            • Porgy Amor says:

              I need your top choice(s) for Nozze, then, because although I have several, I have no idea what I would show someone who had never seen the opera and wanted to see it that way.

              That said, Mozart has done well, and Strauss and Puccini even better. I can find at least one great choice for every Wagner opera, and in some cases two. Verdi is still a bit patchy. No complaints about what is available for Traviata, but I have to go back farther than I like for a really good Ballo, Forza, Aïda…then suddenly the videography gets highly distinguished again for the last two operas. (By the way, that video recording of the Requiem with Harteros, Garanca, Kaufmann, and Pape, which I tried belatedly, I find extremely well done. I actually have watched it complete several times, which is unusual for a concert. It’s well directed. I love the shots of Harteros standing there looking so serenely confident yet immersed in it. It’s hard to describe. It’s as though she is at the eye of a storm, and she is communicating a lot even when not singing.)

            • Poison Ivy says:

              My top three:

              1. A 1966 film from Salzburg with Claire Watson, Reri Grist, Ingvar Wixell, Walter Berry. Bohm’s conducting is very old-school Mozart though which might not be for modern ears.

              2. A Glyndebourne production with te Kanawa, Cotrubas, von Stade, Pritchard conducts.

              3. Gardiner -- Terfel, Gilfry, Hagley

              4. The Ponnelle film

              The one with Renee from Glyndebourne also good, as is the Covent Garden one with Schrott, Persson, Roschmann, etc.

              Lots of choices. I can’t think of a clunker Figaro.

            • DellaCasaFan says:

              If it is for someone who had never seen this opera, then I personally would go with #2 or #4 on Ivy’s list. Peter Hall’s production would probably be better for a sense of theater (traditional as it may be), but I have to say that I converted a friend to opera after showing the Ponnelle film. If your friend has a more adventurous taste, then I would also like to hear about other, less straightforward, choices.

            • Porgy Amor says:

              Thanks. You have given me some leads; I have not seen all of those.

              Here are a few I do not like, so take these as anti-recommendations: Guth’s at Salzburg is too fussy and micromanaged by half. He does get committed performances from the cast (although Skovhus’s gritty, persistently sharp singing in Mozart or anything else is a trial for me), but around the time in the Act II finale that the writing starts appearing on the wall with the names of the characters and the lines connecting them, creating a diagram of the opera for us, I am mentally checking out. A shame, as the Susanna is one of Anna Netrebko’s best performances; it surprises me it does not get talked about as much as some of the ones I have not liked. She has a lot of chemistry with D’Arcangelo too. They are the most appealing performers here because they seem, in the whole cast, the least in Guth’s tight grip, the most free to be appealing and engaging. Cherubino and the Count and Countess are induced to give sweaty, desperate, extreme-neurosis performances.

              The Scala recreation of a Strehler production, with Damrau and (again) D’Arcangelo, was astutely reviewed here when it was initially released. It plays like an embalming. I like some of the people on stage, but there’s just nothing to which to respond, beyond “What pretty pictures!” Knowing what I know of Strehler, I cannot imagine he would be happy at the rudiments of his work being put on the stage in such a limp, uninspired show, and having it advertised as “the legendary Strehler Nozze di Figaro.”

              The Met’s Ponnelle production, notorious for the alleged backstage Battle/Vaness drama, is better, but kneecapped by some of the worst subtitling I’ve ever seen. It’s fine if you watch it untranslated, but I could not recommend it to anyone who will need the subtitles to make the opera comprehensible and enjoyable. For a while, there are lame forced rhymes in English, and then they just give up on that. A lot of it is not translated at all.

            • armerjacquino says:

              The Schaaf/CG FIGARO is the best I’ve ever seen, and I know it was filmed for TV because I saw it: it must surely turn up on DVD somewhere, someday. A magnificently directed and acted production- Vaness, Allen, McLaughlin and Desderi.

              Here’s some proof of why Desderi was the greatest Figaro of all. The power, the pain:

            • armerjacquino says:

              Oh FFS. That’s CENERENTOLA again. Here’s what I meant- and do please watch it, all of you- it’s phenomenally good.

            • armerjacquino says:

              Right, this is getting embarrassing… Have cleared cookies and will try again *blush*

            • armerjacquino says:

              La cieca: I am being bugged! Could you spare my blushes with a bit of deleting, and instead post this- which I have kept posting, I promise!

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKrcZOSS3ng

            • Hippolyte says:

              Why go for watered-down Strehler when you have have the real thing: a gorgeous live performance from 1980 with all but one of the original cast--Janowitz, Popp (instead of Freni), von Stade, Berbie, van Dam, Bacquier, Moll, Senechal, conducted by Solti.

          • Buster says:

            Next month you can get the Chéreau Elektra on DVD!

            http://tinyurl.com/mtgqcst

      • kashania says:

        I admit that the Met Millo/Domingo/Zajick/Milnes Aida is a sentimental favourite since it was the second opera I ever saw (on TV) and cemented my love of the art form as a teen. But even going back to it now as a seasoned opera lover, I think it’s pretty great.

        Millo was still at the height of her consdierable powers and Zajick gave one of her most exciting performances. Those two alone make it worth it. Domingo was a bit tight on top but still a satisfying Radames. Milnes was definitely past his vocal best but still sang with authority. Levine is always excellent in Verdi. And the production is very handsome and more dramatically alive with that particular set of singers than it would be in later revivals.

        I think that one is a very safe video choice for Aida.

        • isoldit says:

          both Millo and Zajick were fairly new to the MET at that point. They may look good in the video, but on stage they often looked ridiculous, they both basically were very difficult at that point in their careers, because of all the media hype. They basically told the director to go “f-ck himself” that they were going to do what they wanted to do. Zajick quickly wised up and learned to follow direction. Millo unfortunately was always her own worst enemy in that she always blamed everyone else for her problems and was not a team-player ever. She really was often impossible to deal with backstage and was pretty much hated my many of the people at the MET. Never forget that since 1983, the video performances are rarely of one live performance, rather a cut and paste job of several performances and careful camera work. a good case is the Pagliacci with Pavarotti and Stratas, on video Pavarotti looks good, live on stage the performance was ridiculous, he sang beautifully but basically just stood there. Stratas had to trash the stage and in the ultimate act of ridiculousness had to run into his knife.

          • Porgy Amor says:

            both Millo and Zajick were fairly new to the MET at that point. They may look good in the video, but on stage they often looked ridiculous

            They don’t look good in the video. Well, poor Millo does not, anyway, with her unfortunate big-’80s wig and headband, apart from whatever one could criticize in the histrionics (and there is a lot of criticize there too). However, Zajick I find surprisingly good, less blunt than she tends to be these days, making a lot of the close-up at the end (of which we get a lot, as Large goes for a composite image there).

          • Porgy Amor says:

            “Herself” in this case, wasn’t it? Or was someone other than Sonja Frisell actually overseeing this run? It was pretty early in the production’s history, but it’s quite possible.

            They basically told the director to go “f-ck himself” that they were going to do what they wanted to do.

            • La Cieca says:

              At that time it was an exception rather than a rule for an original director to return to stage a revival. This Aida was first done in the winter of 1988 with Leona Mitchell and Fiorenza Cossotto; it was a year later than Millo and Zajick did the roles for the telecast. So my guess is that the staging was done by a staff assistant director.

              One also has at least to take with a grain of salt the detailed accounts of backstage intrigues related by a super. Unless the “go fuck himself” moment happened when staging the Triumphal Scene, the supers wouldn’t have been around anyway.

        • turings says:

          I like that one too, especially Zajick. And the production is quite fun, as a full-on fake Egypt spectacular.

          • aulus agerius says:

            “Unless the “go fuck himself” moment happened when staging the Triumphal Scene, the supers wouldn’t have been around anyway.”

            I was in a ’77 Aida with Frisell. There were 100+ supers & we were at all stage rehearsals in many scenes. My lover & I were onstage with McCracken for Celeste Aida, e.g. :-)

      • Porgy Amor says:

        Hmm…for me, the Met’s filled a void handsomely with that one. I find the Minghella production an experience of overwhelming beauty, invention, and perception, and if the two leads are a bit utilitarian, they are not at all bad, and more than good enough to put it across. Racette’s dramatic performance goes some way toward bridging whatever gap is left by her wiry, none-too-voluptuous sound.

        Butterfly is seriously poorly represented, among the commercial video releases the only great one is the one from Verona with Kabaivanska

      • Krunoslav says:

        ” the only great one is the one from Verona with Kabaivanska”

        Raina K indeed gives a great performance but the Pinkerton of Nazzareno Antinori is subpar ( though better-sounding than James Valenti or Marco Berti); nor is Eleanora Jankovich among the great Suzkis.

    • Porgy Amor says:

      Aida takes the cake. I think I’ve run across more Aidas on video than I care to name, and only two I’ve kept: there’s a video with Chiara, Martinucci and Cossotto, and there’s the old fuzzy Japan performance with Tucci, del Monaco, and Simionato. The others were pretty horrible.

      The problem with Aïda is that nothing recent is any good, despite all the tries; they keep throwing mediocre DVDs at us. The first of the Met releases of its Frisell production, the ’89 that kashania likes, is decent. It has a way of being better when you watch the whole thing than it is in your memory. But for something really special, I have to go back to your ’81 Chiara/Verona.

      However, on the musical level (certainly not the technical level, with its newsreel look), the earlier (’66) Verona with Gencer, Cossotto, and Bergonzi is as good or better than the performance with Chiara, and to my mind this is a better performance in the “fuzzy” category than the one with Tucci from around the same time. There is yet another Cossotto/Bergonzi from Tokyo ’73 with Orianna Santunione in the title role. That is very good too — de Fabritiis’s conducting is elegant and lyrical, and there we get Cossotto’s Amneris in the vocal prime in a better-looking broadcast than the ’66.

    • Porgy Amor says:

      Puritani is even worse off. I gave up after the dreary one-two-three punch of the respective performances with Gruberova, Netrebko, and Machaidze (the selling point of that last one is really Flórez). I will not be surprised if I never see a performance of that opera that I like as well as the best audio recordings. It seems to be directorial kryptonite, but all three of those have major musical shortcomings too.

      Norma has a disappointing video library. I love the Caballe/Vickers performance from Orange but that’s about it.

      • Poison Ivy says:

        Puritani might be more of a headphone opera? Granted my only live experience with Puritani is the static as hell Met production, but the storyline is wafer-thin, and there’s really very little happening onstage, and it’s stretched over three acts. Musically beautiful but I can listen to recordings.

        I say this because I did recently see a Puritani where Larry Brownlee looked like he was about to pop a vein trying to hit all those D’s and that F but despite the exciting vocal writing the whole experience was just so calm and soothing, it was like operatic xanax.

      • The_Kid says:

        there’s another puritani on amazon: anyone know if this is any good??

        Bellini: I Puritani (Nederlandse 2009) (Daniel Borowski/ Riccardo Zanellato/ John Osborn/ Francisco Negrin/ Giuliano Carella) (Opus Arte: OABD7111D) [Blu-Ray]

    • The_Kid says:

      well, turandot isn’t too shabby, either, in terms of the existing video library; there’s the eva marton one, the ghena dimitrova one, the gwyneth jones one, and the corelli/udovick one….also, Birgit Nilsson’s big scenes (the enigmi scene and the ‘in questa reggia’) are on YT, so i wonder if those are part of a complete recording….
      tons of maria stuarda videos out there, too; the janet baker/rosalind plowright one (ENO, in English) is the one that i like the best.
      oh, and there’s a live ‘barber of seville’ video on YT with prey/koth/wunderlich….in German. again, nice recording, excellent picture quality.
      similarly, ‘macbeth’ seems to have been captured on video a lot, too.
      i usually buy one DVD per opera (all i can afford, really, and space is an issue for me….). For AIDA, i bought the adina aaron/kate aldrich/ scott piper ‘itimate aida’; the movie, with tebaldi, a late-career stignani, and whatshisface is on YT.

      • Gualtier M says:

        Birgit Nilsson in the late sixties did a post-synched RAI tv filming of “Turandot” with Gianfranco Cecchele and Gabriella Tucci. It is filmed in a rather cramped studio (similar to the Udovick/Corelli filming). Vocally it is quite good but dramatically it just looks like statues waving around in papier-maché scenery.

        Giuseppe Campora sang Radames on the soundtrack of the Loren/Tebaldi movie.

  • operaassport says:

    Some news:

    Ben Heppner’s manager has put out a statement that he is now completely retired from singing. He’s 58. “Thanks to everyone who bought a ticket.”

    Alan Gordon has invited the press to MET negotiations and says if anyone tries to stop he’ll “fight it all the way to SCOTUS.”

    Just when you thought he couldn’t be a bigger thug.

    • steveac10 says:

      Again, one has to wonder what Gordon’s end game is. Does he want to ensure a strike and close the Met for a half a season or more? ep, the Met’s got issues, but they are largely NOT the issues Gordon has been throwing out in his press releases. Throwing spending on new productions under the bus is not going to keep the Met a viable institution in the future. If anything, it will doom it. He seems to posit that returning to an era when Forza was presented in sets and costumes from half a season’s worth of productions and Boheme, Butterfly, Onegin and others were presented in infinitely repainted revivals “staged” by junior birdman “directors” is going to solve all of the Met’s financial woes. Two things keep people coming to the Met on a regular basis -- exciting singers and exciting productions that draw in audiences (and that includes the Zef Boheme and Turandot -- neither of which were cheap by the way). his arguments also neglect to acknowledge that most new productions and major revivals are paid for outside the general budget.

      These negotiations are likely have little effect on what the Met is willing to pay the latest hot star. Renowned solo singers are largely paid well past union minimums at the Met. Whatever transpires will have little effect on them, but they are the major factor in keeping the Met viable. The only thing that can sell out a house besides a star singer is a brilliant production -- and AGMA seems to think a brilliant production is a waste of money.

  • Poison Ivy says:

    Holy shit Camarena got an encore tonight! Amazing night at the Met, thanks so much to Jamie for giving me a chance to be at such a great performance!

    • KennethC says:

      Camarena? Oh my god. What a gorgeous voice. Indeed, an astonishing night at the Met. DiDonato, too, just wonderful. If this wasn’t Golden Age singing, I don’t know what is. An encore? Thrilling. Have never experienced an encore at the Met, after hundreds of performances. Thank you, Maestro Luisi. Thank you, brilliant singers.

      • Poison Ivy says:

        Yes, Camarena just has to open his mouth and the audience is practically orgasming. It was so amazing to see him running downstage. Even I didn’t expect an encore though. So happy for this amazing singer.

        BUT I thought Pietro Spagnoli and Alessandro Corbelli also gave a master class in opera buffa tonight. Luca Pisaroni sounded MUCH better than he did opening night. Joyce DiDonato sang wonderfully. She was a little less perky than I expected, but again, a master class in Rossini singing.

      • oedipe says:

        If this wasn’t Golden Age singing, I don’t know what is.

        But we ARE living in a Golden Age of Rossini singing; and this has been the case for some time now. It’s also a Golden Age for baroque singing (at least in some parts of the world).

        The areas that are doing worst and suffering most from mediocre, unidiomatic, uninspired singing are Verdi, 19th century French opera, and Wagner, IMO.

        A propos of nothing, here is a nice interview with Luca Pisaroni, with comments on Verdi versus Mozart or Rossini singing, modern productions, his love of Verdi roles, etc. (And you get to see and hear Tristan too.)

    • Krunoslav says:

      Just want to point out that such an encore (it was the exciting final section of his Act Two scena) was planned by management at least as a possibility and was in no way spontaneous. It involved not only the conductor and orchestra but the chorus (not to mention the stagehands). Any spin effort to make it sound like the audience demanded it will be false. (Not that they didn’t love it and holler approval!)

      Clearly the “rock star” business is being carefully scripted, and clearly someone doesn’t mind lighting a fire under JDF.

      • suzyQ says:

        I suppose the encore was planned but it sure was a fabulous night to be there at the Met!

        • Krunoslav says:

          Oh, very glad I was there, though the ‘comedy’ the poor stepsisters have to do is pretty lamentable.

          • Poison Ivy says:

            I thought that much of the ad-libbed (I think) comedy of Spagnoli and Corbelli was genuinely funny and amusing though. These two singers understand what opera buffa is about.

    • parpignol says:

      the encore was wonderful fun! Camarena has a really brilliant top; and I thought that Di Donato’s top also sounded more free, more beautiful than it has in the past; can she be getting even better? Corbelli was like giving an amazing performance that came from some Rossinian golden age in the Italian past. . . great night at the Met!

    • Jack Jikes says:

      I was particularly impressed by the beauty of the DiDonato/Camarena vocal blend. Virtually all of the audience stayed till the end of curtain calls -- a rarity.
      Hateful production.

        • Krunoslav says:

          Wonder whether Mr. Cooper wrote the article before the show.

          “Now, given Mr. Camarena’s reception, there may be suspense about whether Mr. Flórez will return, as scheduled, to sing the three final performances of the opera, including a May 10 matinee that will be transmitted to movie theaters around the world as part of the Met’s “Live in HD” series.”

          Gee, WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THEY’D PLAY THAT ANGLE? And in THE NEW YORK TIMES??

          I’m sorry, this is too “This Way to the Egress” for my tastes.

          • armerjacquino says:

            “there may be suspense about whether Mr. Flórez will return, as scheduled, to sing the three final performances of the opera”

            Just reporting what’s happening, though, isn’t it? There’s been ENDLESS speculation on that very topic round here.

            • Krunoslav says:

              No, it isn’t.

              If it were reporting on PB and agitation here it would hardly,say “may be” since as you say it has been doing so already.

              This piece is, rather, creating what’s happening outside the context of PB and very limited circles.

              I know you almost always have to posit that I’m wrong, armer, but I don’t think you begin to understand how the TIMES (generally termed “THE” paper) functions in NYC in terms of creating-- not reporting-- opinion. Very different to London with its multiple press outlets.

            • armerjacquino says:

              I keep having to say this, but I wish you’d drop this whine that I ‘like’ to disagree with you. It really is staggeringly arrogant of you to suggest that my opinions are based on what you think; they’re based on what I think.

            • Krunoslav says:

              Not the content--I know you have your own opinions--but the tone and the timing. Or maybe you are as morally superior to everyone else and i just don’t notice it.

            • armerjacquino says:

              Ah, so now disagreeing with you represents a claim of ‘moral superiority’? Mindblowing.

              I don’t make any such claim. I just think that when people are speculating as to whether Florez will perform, it’s fair enough to say that there’s speculation as to whether Florez will perform.

            • Krunoslav says:

              once again it’s a question of tone, as your reply makes plain!

              many posters here manage to disagree with me and with others without the bantam roostering

              he didn’t say there had been speculating=--which would have been reporting--but that there”may be” speculating, which is an open invitation

              Of course: “Whatever is, is right.”

          • FaustinaBordoni says:

            I’m with you, Krunoslav. The so-called spontaneous encore combined with the published question about whether Camarena’s overwhelmingly positive reception will cause Florez not to return for the final 3 performances leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

            • Poison Ivy says:

              It’s called publicity. So sorry you have to endure it.

            • oedipe says:

              Faustina,

              You are not implying that the press is, Gods forbid, EVER biased, are you?

            • kashania says:

              Ivy: Imagine an opera company getting PR that might drive up ticket sales and keep the company thriving and in the public eye. It’s scandalous, I tell you, scandalous!!!

            • Poison Ivy says:

              I do think though that this strategy will make Florez absolutely kill this role when he sings it. Should be fun to see! :)

            • operaassport says:

              It may be publicity but I think it’s disgusting to play one singer off against another especially when one has given glorious performances at the MET for the better part of a decade. Shameful.

            • Guestoria Unpopularenka says:

              Typical American corporate approach.

            • La Cieca says:

              Who says anyone is playing one singer off against another, besides the biddies in the comments section here? Camarena has made a huge hit this season and the Met has big plans for him; shouldn’t the company get the news out there there here’s the next big thing?

              But no, nobody in the business works out of any positive motives whatsoever: it’s all manipulation and conspiracy via Peter Gelb’s puppetry of the New York Times, a medium utterly in his thrall because his father used to work there 25 years ago.

              Christ, something exciting finally happens in opera in New York and the pearl-clutching is utterly frantic.

            • armerjacquino says:

              La cieca- I couldn’t agree more. All this talk about how the Met needs to create new stars, get itself talked about etc and then when it does so there’s a cacophony of whinging.

            • Krunoslav says:

              Camarena’s *performance* was exciting.

              To this biddy (why does this make one female?) The massaged “public demand” encore was a stunt.

              Are they going to do it every night from here on, like the “surprise” encore of “Va, pensiero” we were stuck with for years? If JDF returns, will he do it nightly too? Can the leading lady singing the title role do one too? Will they start arranging encores and NYT coverage within the hour for Grigolo and other “stars” they are valiantly trying to make?

              How would the Regie directors we are asked to admire feel about encores inserted in their shows for ballyhoo purposes?

  • Spen says:

    As someone who loves Rossini I was a bit bored with this opera. But I bought it for Bartoli anyway and she was great. I hope you will review Rossini’s Otello too, with Bartoli, Osborn and Camarena. Now that is a spectacular opera!

    • semira mide says:

      Otello is indeed a spectacular opera. I had my doubts about a production in which Desdemona hugs a refrigerator, but Bartoli made it work. There were other aspects that were gratuitous,but it was sung so well it almost didn’t matter.
      However Otello really shows that although we have 3 amazing tenors in town ( and I could just imagine a 3-tenors concert!) none of them really fit the role of Otello -- yet. It will be interesting to see if any of them ever do. It is not quite the return of the golden age of Rossini singing to the Met.

      • Camille says:

        What would you think of Michael Spyres, who calls himself a “baritenor”, at least he did somewhere in an interview I read online.

        Supposing that Brian Hymel is already too much engaged by and invested in heavier and French repertory.

        I most certainly agree about that production of Otello, starring La Bartolina. I could hardly believe it was so she for a while as all those twitchy mugging trademarks were not present. The Willow Song was absolutely beautiful, I know, as I watched in three times.

        It would be absolutely wonderful to see this at the Met—some day.