Mozart: Die Zauberflote

LABELS: Arthaus
WORKS: Die Zauberflote
PERFORMER: Ludwigsburg Festival/ Wolfgang Gonnenwein; dir. Manthey
Just as in our opera houses, so in today’s DVD market, traditional stagings vie for attention with more modernist approaches. Both have their place, though it’s perhaps as well to know which side of the line a production is coming from before investing. Vivaldrs ORLANDO FURIOSO appeared at the San Francisco Opera in 1989 in a production by Pier Luigi Pizzi. It’s a visually sumptuous affair, with its tongue regularly in its check as it sends up the modes of opera seria. Vocally, too, this is an opulent occasion, with Marilyn Home empowered in her approach to the notes, Kathleen Kuhlmann an Alcina both glamorous and articulate, and


Susan Patterson a charming Angelica. The score is full of characterful music, and demonstrates that Vivaldi’s vivid orchestral imagination was by no means confined to his concertos.

The MACIC FLUTE from the 1992 Ludwigsburg Festival is a good deal simpler, with the bright colours and pop-up book manner of Axel Manthey’s staging providing an enjoyable balance of simple magic with sophisticated symbolism. Wolfgang Gonnenwein’s conducting is more than acceptable, while individual performances range from the vigorous Fammo of Deon van der Walt to the workaday Sarastro of Cornelius Hauptmann by way of the likeable Papageno of Thomas Mohr.

The cardboard sets and interminable beards in Sandro Sequi’s 1978 NORMA for the Australian Opera add up to a pretty cheesy account of Bellini’s masterpiece from a visual point of view. Still, there’s the singing, though some of that is weak, too – Clifford Grant’s monochrome Oroveso, Ronald Stevens’s coarse-grained Pollione. Margreta Flkins’s Adalgisa is imaginatively sung, and in the title role Sutherland performs some marvellous feats even though ultimately she’s a rather earthbound priestess. Richard Bonynge’s baton

bounces the score along.

For traditional staging at its most well observed, there’s a 1988 Peter Hall TRAVIATA from Glyndebourne that looks lovely. Musically, however, this is not a very Italianate account, with Haitink correct but plodding in the pit, and Walter MacNeil a healthy sounding but desperately un-Latin Alfredo. Marie McLaughlin is personable but there are rather too many vocal uncertainties in her less-than-grande-dame Violetta. Brent Ellis is the dignified Germont.

Again solidly traditional is Nicolas Joel’s 1981 SAMSON ET DALILA from San Francisco, which even manages the final crashing down of the temple with Cecil B DeMille panache. With Julius Rudel in firm musical control, the performance has two tremendous assets in Domingo’s ardent Israelite warrior and the grandly sensual portrayal of his seductress from Shirley Verrett.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is DES CONTES D’HOFFMANN (not ‘Les’, note) from Lvon {1993), an unusual version of Offenbach’s opera musically founded on Michael Kaye’s edition. Producer Louis Erlo makes free with the piece in a stark staging that concentrates on the sinister while avoiding the picturesque – there’s nothing remotely Venetian about the Venice

scene – though it loses its impetus towards the close. The cast is top-quality, featuring such notables as Nathalie Dessay (Olympia), Jose van Dam (the four villains), Gabriel Bacquier (Spalanzani/Crespcl/ Schlemil) and Barbara Hendricks (Antonia). Spanish tenor Daniel Galvez-Vallejo sings a creditable Hoffmann. Kent Nagano conducts.

Back to tradition for a MADAM BUTTERFLY in broad brush strokes from the Verona Arena (1983), with rather rough orchestral playing and a routine account from conductor Maurizio Arena. There’s a personable Pinkerton (Nazzareno Antinori) and a relaxed Sharpless (Lorenzo Saccomani), but interest naturally centres on Raina Kabaivanska’s deservedly famous Butterfly, her artful performance a blend of passion and expertise.

One of the most remarkable creations of our time is that of Anja Silja as the Kostelnicka in the Nikolaus Lehnhoff production of JENUFA from Glyndebourne (1989). Her poker-backed foster-mother is matched by the tenderness of Roberta Alexander in the title role, and contrasted with the purposeful Laca of Philip Langridge and the vivid Steva of Mark Baker. With the versatile Andrew Davis conducting, this is the kind of DVD one might use to demonstrate opera at its best.

The Brecht/Weill RISE AND FALL OF THE CITY OF MAHACONNY made a somewhat surprising entry into the repertoire of the Salzburg Festival in Peter Zadek’s 1998 production. It’s delivered very much in the Brcchtian tradition of epic theatre, nimbly conducted by Dennis Russell Davies and contains some wonderful performances – Gwyneth Jones’s gloriously businesslike Begbick, Catherine Malfitano’s raunchy Jenny, Jerry Hadley’s breezy Jimmy Mahoney. With some of Begbick’s girls nude in the brothel scene, the bitterly ironic parable comes over with seedy verve amidst the body blows.


Andre Previn’s setting of Tennessee Williams’s A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE was taped during its premiere run in San Francisco in 1998. Renee Fleming’s blowsy, broken Blanche is a tour deforce- it’s an enormously long and demanding role — but she’s apt to croon rather too often. Anthony Dean Griffey creates a credible portrait of the shy, gentlemanly Mitch, while anyone following the Neanderthal Stanley of Rodney Gilfry has a lot to live up to. Previn’s score is atmospheric though many sections are musically unmemorable, and he himself conducts this major occasion for American opera.