by BRIAN KELLOW & TRISTAN KRAFT
Meier and Ventris in Lehnhoff's Parsifal staging
© Kremper/Melchert 2013
Essential Luca Pisaroni Primer: Ercole in De Nederlandse Opera's 2009 staging of Francesco Cavalli's Ercole Amante (Hercules in Love). Pisaroni proves to be a very good sport in this staging; director David Alden has him dressed as a life-sized plastic wrestling doll, and he traipses through a set that looks like an acid-trip version of Louis XIV's court. Other production highlights include monochrome bright-yellow Baroque-court clothing, dancing mummies and the creepiest dancing baby doll you may ever see on an opera stage. Pisaroni turns Hercules into part Neanderthal, part maniacal, Don Giovanni-like sex freak — and his sweet, dark bass-baritone makes the characterization as interesting to listen to as it is to watch. The production itself doesn't quite cohere — it doesn't help that the opera clocks in at 261 minutes — but there are some entertaining non sequiturs from Alden and some fine playing by Ivor Bolton and Concerto Köln. Luca Pisaroni is the tour guide of this month's "Road Show: Luca Pisaroni in Santa Fe."
Essential Recorded Violetta: Licia Albanese, in a live NBC Symphony Orchestra performance conducted by Arturo Toscanini in 1946. Comedian/ opera buff Charles Nelson Reilly once observed that Albanese may have cheated the music now and again, but never the word. Here, she does neither. Her characterization is a living, breathing creation every step of the way; at the end, Albanese's "Addio, del pass ato" has a passion and urgency perhaps unequaled by any other singer, and the fast clip that she and Toscanini choose powerfully conveys a sense of breathlessness, of time running out. For broadcast coverage of the Met's Traviata, see page 44.
Essential Assassinio nella Cattedrale Recording: Decca's video recording with Ruggero Raimondi and conductor Pier Giorgio Morandi. As far as we can tell, this is the only video recording available of Ildebrando Pizzetti's Italian-language take on T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, but the performance stands out for its profound intimacy. In a way, onstage musicians and 2006 audience members break the fourth wall, but the fact that everyone is enclosed in Bari's twelfth-century Basilica di San Nicola (completed twenty-seven years after Thomas Becket's death) rebuilds it completely. Raimondi makes a stately figure in bishop's robes. (He bears a strong resemblance to Paul Scofield as Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons.) As Becket, Raimondi is austere of gesture and rigid in posture — yet we hardly notice, since he emotes so well with his voice and facial expressions. "Christian martyrdom never can be an accident nor yet the design of man" seems as revelatory as it is plangent in Raimondi's voice. The video includes some campy postediting — waves breaking, horse hooves on the street, a pensive Becket in his private chamber — that plays over the live performance, advancing the plot. The native-Italian chorus also helps move the action along; it's especially touching when — as Becket dies — they sing "Your lordship must not be absent; you must be at vespers." Marjorie Sandor discusses Assassinio nella Cattedrale in "Once More to the Cathedral."
Essential Parsifal Video: Nikolaus Lehnhoff's staging from Festspielhaus Baden-Baden (Opus Arte). This staggering rendition of Wagner's most emotionally complex work — a coproduction with English National Opera, San Francisco Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago — riled traditionalists when it was unveiled in 1999. Why? Lehnhoff gives us a stunningly bleak vision of the world occupied by the Knights of the Holy Grail — a world that seems left over from a holocaust, a place where no hope seems to grow. It's hard to shake off the moment when Kundry (Waltraud Meier) kisses Parsifal (Christopher Ventris), enfolding him in her bat wings like a Venus flytrap until he screams Amfortas's name, then shedding her cocoon and flailing on her back, helplessly. Thomas Hampson may ring a bit false as Amfortas — we're always aware that he's watching himself — but Matti Salminen is a matchless Gurnemanz. See broadcast coverage of the Met's Parsifal.
BRIAN KELLOW, TRISTAN KRAFT
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