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The Opera Gala — Live from Baden-Baden
16 Mar 2008

The Opera Gala — Live from Baden-Baden

As evidence of Deutsche Grammophon's proud status as a classical record label of the "old school," there appears this CD document of a typical opera gala affair, from July of 2007 in Baden-Baden.

The Opera Gala — Live from Baden-Baden

Anna Netrebko, Elina Garanca, Ramón Vargas, Ludovic Tézier, SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, Marco Armiliato (cond.)

Deutsche Grammophon 477 7177 [CD]

$15.99  Click to buy

A DVD of the same event is advertised on the inside of the back cover of the CD booklet, with the tag "the complete concert." So for a few dollars more, one can see the gowns and jewelry of the female stars (credited in the CD Booklet to ESCADA and Chopard), and even, as a bonus, have more of the performance. Apparently there are enough customers who want less of the performance and no visual distraction. Thus this CD.

Without the sense of celebratory fun that the actual event ostensibly provided, the CD feels unnecessary. Stuffed with all too typical gala repertory, the only real highlight comes with mezzo Elīna Garanča singing a "caraceleras" from Ruperto Chapi's Las Hijas del Zebedeo. A sweet zarzuela-type number, it comes as quite a relief after the forced fun of such ubiquitous fare as "O soave fanciulla" and "Una furtiva lagrima." The short booklet essay, greasily oozing with publicist's jargon, contains not a word as to the origin of the Chapi piece.

Ramon Vargas sings in half the tracks, with solos in the above-referenced Donizetti and the Luisa Miller act three aria. The tenor warms up in "Una furtiva lagrima," straining on the higher notes. He sounds much better partnering with Ludovic Tézier in the duet from The Pearlfishers, which seems to provoke the most honestly pleased reaction from the audience (yes, applause is included, sometimes fading out quite abruptly). The CD opens with Anna Netrebko and Ms. Garanča in a pretty run-through of the Lakme duet. Netrebko's next appearance finds her essaying Norma's "Casta Diva" scene. Online opera chat forums buzzed with negative responses to this rendition when clips appeared not long after the European telecast. Indeed, Netrebko doesn't sound near her best, and she cancelled a few performances not long after this Baden-Baden performance. Despite the hint of hoarseness and some inattention to detail, the performance still has enough that is attractive about it to suggest that she could, with better health and preparation, deliver a quality performance of the piece.

Tézier does a nice job with Rodrigo's death scene from Don Carlo, a piece that in the context of a gala almost counts as a rarity. Later he delivers a merely competent "Toreador Song," and the same can be said Garanča's Dalila aria. The ensembles for all four performers (the Rigoletto quartet and, yes, the Traviata "Brindisi" as a finale) feel very routine.

Marco Armiliato and the Baden-Baden forces support the singers with efficiency if not much distinction. If star power sells CDs, DG may do well with this CD. The DVD would at least add the element of suspense, as the many photographs had your reviewer wondering if Netrebko's strapless gown contained her — well, herself — throughout the entire evening.

Chris Mullins

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