I'm quite good at buying opera DVDs. I am less talented at actually watching them. Lately, however, prompted by an influx of new acquisitions and the demise of practically all quality television, I've been working through the backlog. Work is hardly the word for it. Opera on DVD is my friend.
L'Italiana in Algieri was my first. Slightly odd production, not unattractive but not spectacularly charming either. Kooky furniture strewn across a rather vast and barren stage, probably not the most hospitable set in which to sing. Not that you'd know it, because Jennifer Larmore is magnificent and hilarious. Sometimes Jennifer looks like Catherine Zeta Jones. Here she's more reminiscent of Dawn French taking off Catherine Zeta Jones. And in the midst of all the comedy, she just happens to be able to sing the hell out of the role: stunning. Her male co-stars are variously delightful: Bruce Ford very little and cute (and virtuosic to boot) as her Lindoro, Simone Alaimo stuffy and slightly mad as Mustafa and best of all, Alessandro Corbelli an irresistible Taddeo — barely recognisable as the portly, bald Suplice of Laurent Pelly's La fille du régiment.
the Jonathan Miller production of Le nozze di Figaro from Florence. It's the kind of production which reminds how good straight but lively traditionalism can be, especially with an engaging and vocally strong cast. Patrizia Ciofi is, as we know, an ideal Susanna, especially if you go as mad for that peculiarly lovely voice of hers as I do, and she keeps the offputting facial expressions to a minimum. Eteri Gvazava is a subtle and heartbreaking Countess, one in whom you can still see the Rosina of a few years ago. Giorgio Surian is less distinctive as Figaro, but good, solid fun just the same, and Lucio Gallo is an excellent Count. But the surprise for me was Giovanna Donadini, a Marcellina who actually made me laugh out loud.
Just one more will be enough for now, so I might as well stick to my TDK haul. Another Mozart, but different every respect: the 2003 Salzburg Festival production of La clemenza di Tito. In a sense, I can review this simply by listing the cast. Michael Schade, Vesselina Kasarova, Dorothea Röschmann, Elina Garanca, Barbara Bonney and Luca Pisaroni. Led by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. And it's (musically) just as fantastic as the names suggest: maybe more so. My admiration for Dorothea Röschmann grows and grows, and the transformation from radiant Pamina to complicated Countess to this ferocious, seductive Vitellia is a bit mindblowing. Vesselina is captivating and drop dead gorgeous, something which comes across much better on film than in photos. Elina's Annio is velvety perfection, and Barbara Bonney as Servilia? That's luxury casting and then some. Surrounded by so many fascinating women, Michael Schade nevertheless lives up to his title role status, with a compellingly neurotic Tito. His singing is superb, soft edged and smooth yet full of electricity, and dramatically he achieves the near impossible, turning an unbelievable character into a believable one. The fractured, occasionally explicit modern staging won't be to everybody's tastes, but it has a certain appeal; and however you feel about the liberties taken, I think you have to admire the extent to which this production injects some kind of life and recognisable human feeling into what can so easily be a dreary, static piece of emperor-worship.