If this film were advertised on daytime television, it would be called: Absolutely The Best Opera Gala Film Ever. And I would not argue. Apparently, the original television programme lasted eight hours but the film currently being shown on the UK Artsworld channel is a three-hour edited version. On the one hand, we lose many wonderful singers. Image a programme that is so full of talent that Cecila Bartoli, June Anderson, Gwyneth Jones, Teresa Stratas and Monserrat Caballé end up on the cutting room floor. On the other hand, we do not get the problem of most gala concerts that give us more applause than music. We get a manageable three hours of tightly-edited operatic excerpts. At the end of each piece, the singer bows to Levine, Levine blows a kiss or clutches his heart, the singer walks off as another walks on, ready for the next piece.
Nor is the repertoire typical gala fodder. We only get one old warhorse, the Pearl Fishers duet, and since that particular warhorse is ridden by Roberto Alagna and Bryn Terfel, I am prepared to excuse it. Alagna also does a duet with Angela Gheorghiu from Mascagni's opera L'Amico Fritz. If, like me, you suspected that Mascagni only wrote one opera, this will be a pleasant surprise.
The other stand-out item was an extended duet from Don Carlo, featuring Thomas Hampson and Roberto Scandiuzzi. There was no hint of a gala performance here. Both men were acting their socks off in a semi-staged performance using one of the Met's opera sets. This was a revelation to me since Don Carlo is an opera that I do not know well. The only time it came to Birmingham I had to leave at the interval because Mrs G feigned a headache.
Otherwise we get Wotan's farewell, Brünhilde's immolation, the end of Der Rosenkavalier and the end of Eugene Onegin. Some of these scenes are a bit truncated. I was not sure whether the performances themselves had been edited. One really needs the last 20 minutes of Götterdämerung rather than the last 5 minutes but that would bring us back to the problem of how to squeeze so many plums into a 3 hour pudding.
During Jessye Norman's performance of an aria from La Damnation de Faust, the camera zooms in on a tear rolling down her cheek. I am inclined to believe that this was genuine. If these performances can bring tears to the eyes of the listener, why not also to the performer?
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