|Index||3 reviews in total|
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?
Though this event lasted virtually eight (8) hours, I consider the
appearance of four (4) outright opera legends of the 20th century as the
highlight of this most amazing day of my life. These artists
CARLO BERGONZI - He stopped the show flat out. He sang here at an alarming 72 years of age! An age when most singers have long since retired. But not Bergonzi. His voice and his charm rang out through the Metropolitan Opera House with all of the experience of his long career and the audience was most appreciative. Most singers this night received two (2) curtain calls. The audience kept calling him back. When you thought enough was enough, the audience clamored for more. This is a singer for the ages.
BIRGIT NILSSON - The reigning Wagnerian soprano of many years sadly only sang a few token bars from "Die Walkure" along with her Scandinavian panache in a spoken tribute to James Levine.
ALFREDO KRAUS - Was greeted with an immense reaction from the audience as soon as he appeared on the stage. This singer who left us in 1999, was almost 70 years old when he appeared for this tribute. He stole the audience's heart with his patrician, refined way of singing made famous many years ago. He was called back by the audience for several calls. A more elegant singer has never appeared on stage.
GYWNETH JONES - Let's call her Dame Gwyneth for these proceedings. She was 60 years old when she stepped on the stage to sing one of the most demanding arias in all of the literature from Turandot. Her voice vibrant, powerful and exciting still after such an illustrious career. I can still hear those high notes ringing in my head. What a marvelous singer! The audience was beside itself....even the orchestra percussion banged on their drums in tribute to her amazing singing drove the audience crazy. Not to mention an elegant knock-out of a woman at any age.
Ah...one can see why one might very well believe these were among the last of a golden age of singing that will not resurface for many years.
There were many other great singers that night as one can see by the listing on the main page. It is not necessary to mention them all. Yes, Placido...Yes, Jessye...Jane Eaglen, Kiri Te Kanawa..OK...I'll stop.
But surprisingly Pavarotti who was ill that night - didn't even show up! He could have showed at least to say thanks. But no. Sigh. Don't hate me. There is no excuse for that man's vanity...I won't say more since I met him twice many years ago. The less said the better.
It is sad that we don't see and hear any more broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera on television. I am fortunate to have recorded some of these which are still not available. And I can understand why -- the pesky business of musician's residuals can be a daunting task considering the many hundreds of people that it takes to put these wonderful shows on.
ALL IN ALL -- this was a night to remember. The singular DVD/VHS of this evening falls short of the wonderful collection of singers that were assembled that night. There were only 20 of the actual 43 selections on the item on sale.
Let's not forget the most amazing opera orchestra in the world, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra played for all those hours on end! Switching from one musical style to another with the aplomb and skill that boggles the mind with its virtuosity and greatness.
Alright, alright...yes, there's James Levine...who stood there and brought us this entire tribute...to himself! Rather ironic when one has to work for one's own tribute! Ha! James Levine has changed the face of opera in America like no other man in my memory. He deserved this tribute...too bad he couldn't have sat this one out and enjoyed it from an orchestra seat. But then we might not have had his unique and thrilling interpretations of some of the greatest music every composed.
No other opera company in the world could have pulled off this astounding evening.
Do I recommend this? There is no question.
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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