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Welles and Keith Baxter in Chimes at Midnight, 1965
© Peppercorn-Wormser/Photofest 2012
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Petersen as Lulu, 2010
© Beth Bergman 2012

Essential Shakespeare Film: Orson Welles was near the end of his directing career when he made his greatest Shakespeare film, Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight). The film is a melding of elements from the Henry IV plays, plus Henry V, Richard II and The Merry Wives of Windsor, but it has a remarkably unified feel. Watching it is like having a feverish dream about the fifteenth century and waking up to find that you're actually there. The Battle of Shrewsbury is one of the most mesmerizing war sequences ever filmed. There's a marvelous glimpse of Falstaff, in a fat suit of armor, motioning the other soldiers on to battle and then waddling behind them, and there's an unforgettable shot of a white horse that has lost its rider and doesn't know what to do without its master. Welles is a perfect, fatuous, decaying Falstaff. "Banish Plump Jack and banish all the world," he tells Hal (Keith Baxter), who replies, "I do. I will." In that instant, Welles shows us the old man's glimmer of recognition that the pair's childish games may be coming to an end. Still, Falstaff isn't prepared for Hal's final rejection of him. Hearing that the old King has died, Falstaff thinks his moment of glory has arrived. His subsequent response to Hal's dismissal — "I know thee not, old man; fall to thy prayers; How ill white hairs become a fool and jester" — may be Welles's greatest moment as a screen actor. spacer Steve Vineberg ponders how filmed Shakespeare stacks up against filmed opera in "The Big Picture."  

Essential Anna–Elvira– Zerlina Combo: Joan Sutherland, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Graziella Sciutti on EMI, recorded in 1959. Musically, everything is intact here: Sciutti supplies a haunting, sweet tone for "Batti, batti"; Schwarzkopf's "Ah! fuggi il traditor" sounds angry, tremulous and beautiful at the same time; and Sutherland gives about the most authoritative, dignified rendition of "Non mi dir" one could ask for. But this recording also outshines the rest from a dramatic standpoint. Sutherland makes a righteous, womanly Anna; Schwarzkopf gives an eccentric, near insane Elvira, but one who's undeniably human; and Sciutti eschews all possible blandness in the often bland role of Zerlina. Carlo Maria Giulini and the Philharmonia Orchestra seize the dramatic potential as well: the orchestral sound will charm you and also terrify you. spacer James M. Keller puts the women of Don Giovanni in context in "The Women."

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Ziegler and Vaness in Così
© Guy Gravett Collection/ArenaPAL 2012

Essential Carol Vaness Performance: Fiordiligi in Così Fan Tutte (1986 EMI). In the mid-1980s, there was perhaps no soprano more ideally suited to her Fach than Carol Vaness. Early on, she had demonstrated a keen affinity for Mozart at New York City Opera, where she scored successes as Vitellia and Donna Anna. The latter role also served for her Glyndebourne debut in 1982, and she returned to the festival in 1984 as Fiordiligi, shortly before repeating her triumph in it at the Met a few months later. Vaness's soprano not only boasted great focus and finely spun legato; it had body, bite and an appealingly dusky quality, heard to especially keen advantage when exploring Fiordiligi's layers of self-delusion. The Glyndebourne company, reunited for this recording, also features the excellent Dorabella of musician's musician Delores Ziegler and the lucid conducting of Bernard Haitink. spacer William R. Braun interviews Vaness in "Reunion: Carol Vaness."  

Essential Fabio Luisi Repertory Item: Lulu. "Propulsive" isn't often the word that comes to mind at the mention of Alban Berg's Lulu, but we're hard-pressed to describe Luisi's spring 2010 take on the opera otherwise. The conductor and cast (which included Marlis Petersen as a Lulu organically, believably wronged by her circumstances alongside an eerily sympathetic James Morris as Jack the Ripper) paid such fine attention to pacing that the opera unraveled more like a play. Lulu ran for just three performances in May of 2010, but it was one of our favorites of that season. Sometimes, instead of dessert, you want a bitter cordial after dinner. spacer Lisa Mercurio interviews Fabio Luisi in "Staying the Course." 


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