I have loved opera and classical music for a very long time. The James Levine 25th Anniversary Gala is just fantastic and one of the standout gala concerts I've seen recently. Not just the varied programme, ranging from Verdi, Giordano to Puccini and Wagner, but also for how well-edited it is.
One or two performances, such as the one for the end of Der Rosenkavlier do feel a little truncated, but how quickly the transitions are from one performance to the next is to be credited. The concert is always shot beautifully and the attire, settings and costumes are handsome and imposing.
The music is superb, and performed with real finesse and feeling by the orchestra and you can tell that James Levine loves his job from looking at his superb and enthusiastic conducting here. The Rienzi overture is just stunning in every regard, and the Chorus also deserve credit for singing so movingly.
I have little to fault the performers either. All of them sang and acted wonderfully and stood out in their own way. Least favourite would probably be Frederica von Stade, still good and characterful if a little shrill sometimes. However, I was very moved by Carlo Bergonzi, Cecilia Bartoli was charming, Renee Fleming's Depuis Le Jour was very expressive, Montserrat Caballe is every bit as impressive as she ever was, Jessye Norman is the most sincere and I too found her tear genuine and Alfredo Kraus is the most gracious and elegant. Plus Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu are simply wonderful together in the Mascagni duet.
Also excellent are Grace Bumbry's seductive Mon Coeur Ta S'Ouvre Voix, Roberto Alagna and Bryn Terfel's beautifully balanced and moving Pearl Fishers Duet, Deborah Voight in Tannhauser and also Placido Domingo in the Faust and Ernani excerpts with Samuel Ramey and Scanduizzi and Sherrill Milnes singing Nemica Della Patria, while vocally it is nowhere near his best, the power of the voice, his musicianship and his outstanding acting are full on display.
The highlights though for me were Thomas Hampson and Roberto Scanduizzi's phenomenal performance of the Don Carlo duet, two excellent voices and man can they act too, Gwyneth Jones' imperiously chilling performance of Turandot's aria-perhaps the most difficult of the Puccini soprano arias- , Dolora Zajick's show-stopping O Don Fatale, Waltraud Meier's riveting Chorus and Curse from Tristan and Isolde and James Morris' monumental Wotan's Farewell. And Birgit Nilsson's speech is not something to forget in the long run either, nor Catherine Malfitano and Dwayne Croft's earth-shattering Eugene Onegin and the magical Don Giovanni Sextet.
All in all, brilliant and unforgettable. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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