PERFORMER: Maria Guleghina, Marina Poplavskaya, Marcello Giordani, Samuel Ramey, Charles Anthony, Eduardo Valdes et al; The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus & Ballet/Andris Nelsons; dir. Franco Zeffirelli (Met, New York, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 074 3426 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16: picture format) ; Blu-ray: 074 3427 (1080i HD; 5.1 dts HD; 16: picture format)
Franco Zeffirelli’s classic 1990s Met production, unashamedly glitzy, crowded and spectacular comes up remarkably fresh in this second video incarnation. Its predecessor starred Eva Marton and Plácido Domingo, no less, with James Levine conducting – follow that! Yet if anything, this overtakes it.
The cast certainly concedes little to the past. Maria Guleghina’s ice-princess is intensely feminine. If she sometimes forces her famously powerful, full-toned soprano a little coarsely, she’s equally unafraid of a melting mezza voce, and strikingly expressive throughout. Marina Poplavskaya sings a delicately restrained Liu, much more credibly slender and vulnerable than her grande dame predecessor. Marcello Giordano’s relatively middle-weight lirico-spinto voice isn’t quite up to Calaf, but Domingo wasn’t at his best either. Even with some scrawny high notes, it’s a pleasure to hear such an idiomatic, Italianate voice. Giordano cuts a charismatic stage figure, and ‘Nessun dorma’ stops the show.
Veteran Charles Anthony’s oddly nasal Emperor is remarkable, given that his Met debut was in 1954; Samuel Ramey is sadly faded as Timur, but Keith Miller’s Mandarin shows real promise. The three Masks are robustly sung. Conductor Andris Nelsons, in his house debut, opens broadly, but develops decent dramatic momentum, using only the truncated Alfano ending. The chorus is in fine form, and the action unusually taut for a staging this old.
What really makes this production is the vividness with which it’s communicated, both in the exceptional high-definition picture and spacious sound. On DVD it’s exciting; on Blu-ray, with richer colour, detail and depth, it’s electrifying. Michael Scott Rohan