20 Apr 2010
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk on Blu-Ray
Previously released on DVD, the Netherlands Opera recording of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Previously released on DVD, the Netherlands Opera recording of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
(and reviewed at Opera Today) has also been issued in Blu-ray, and this technology enhances further the production values of this particular recording. Visually the Blu-ray video is superior to the DVD release with regard to the refinement of the images and the clarity of presentation. The sharp definition allows the performers to appear immediate and accessible. Without exaggerating any details, the realistic images also reinforce the sense of immediacy, which is already present in the DVD version of this production.
At times, however, the blue-cast of the sets in the first act seems more pronounced in this medium, and this seems to color the resulting images in an unintended manner. At the same time, that blue-cast makes the flesh tones of the actors more prominent, an element which is essential to the gritty, realistic production that has some provocative displays of various sexual interaction. As a filmed opera, some aspects of the staging appear also seem more pronounced in the Blu-ray disc, as with the use of the flashlight later in the act. This detail may not emerge as clearly in the theater, where this effect depends on the distance and elevation from the stage. Here the blurring light of the flashlight has a welcome prominence in drawing the viewer’s attention to the scene. Overall the already fine visual presentation that is available on the DVD is heightened in Blu-ray, as is the sound, which is qualitatively clearer. The fine performance is transmitted with a sense of immediacy that is not always possible with opera videos.
More importantly the sound on the Blu-ray version is more details and clearer than on DVD. Granted, the sound levels on the DVD are excellent, some aspects of the performance emerge with greater clarity on the Blu-ray version of this video. The orchestra has a fine presence, with the dynamic levels nicely distinguished in this recording. At times the sound conveys the sense of a studio recording, an aspect of the release which also commends itself to those interested in an effective recording. Yet this sense of clarity also allows the voices to be heard more precisely, thus reinforcing the sense of immediacy that is part of the visual presentation in this medium. The sound quality is fine throughout the Blu-ray recording, but particularly effective in the final scene in the fourth act (disc 2, tracks 8-17), as the score buildings to its powerful conclusion. This is a part of the opera in which the visual and sonic details are only enhanced through this level of refinement.
The Blu-ray release contains the same supporting materials as the DVD version of this opera. The documentary by Reiner E. Moritz “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk: The Tragedy of Katerina Ismailova”, was already part of the DVD version, and it is included on the Blu-ray release. In fact, all the features of the original recording are found here, and given the qualitative differences in the sonic and visual levels, this version of the video is preferable for those who want to experience the opera almost as if they were in the audience for the production itself.
James L. Zychowicz
For this recording on standard DVD: