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An opera gala has always been a wonderful excuse to listen to your old favourites and new discoveries, and also to relish listening to the who's who of singers. The 1983 Centennial Gala from The Met is not just an opera gala, this is something well and truly special and you'd be hard pressed to see an opera gala this grand. The whole gala is beautifully shot, and you do feel a sense of warmth and heartfelt emotion in the venue. The orchestral playing is lush, powerful and poignant, and the chorus are beautifully balanced and sing with total commitment. Their rendition of Son Io, Son Io La Vita is outstandingly good. As for the conductors all of them are on great form, but for me the standouts were Leonard Bernstein, who even late in his career still managed to conduct an electrifying performance of Leonore 3, and James Levine, who is really at his peak shown perfectly in Vinci A Te. The Samson Et Dalila Bacchanale ballet was also outstanding.
It is really difficult to single out a favourite among these great singers and renditions, because there are so many that are among the greatest opera moments I have ever experienced anywhere. Eva Marton is in her prime here, with a large rich voice and a subtle and dramatically powerful presence. She is one of the finest Turandots, and her In Questa Reggia does nothing to change that. Kiri Te Kanawa's Dovo Sono is breathtakingly beautiful, her tone is radiant and her musicality positively floating. After a five year long absence, James McCracken still manages to bring the house down with Otello's Dio, Mi Potevi Scagliar Tutti I Mali. Ruggero Raimondi's La Calunnia is darkly comedic and sonorously sung. The Lucia Di Lammermoor sextet has all the pathos and conflict of this particular ensemble that you'd expect, the high notes are sung with ease and the rest of the parts are firm.
Joan Sutherland's colouratura technique and effortless high notes continue to dazzle even late in her career in Bel Raggio from Semiramide. Leontyne Price and Luciano Pavarotti's duet from Un Ballo in Maschera is extraordinarily moving and beautifully sung from both, he with a ringing tenor and she with a sincere soprano. Frederica Von Stade and Judith Blegen's Presentation of the Rose from Der Rosenkavalier is charming in every way. Von Stade also joins forces with Elisabeth Soderstrom and Kathleen Battle in the same opera's final trio, and there are no qualms there either. Catherine Malfitano and Alfredo Kraus' Romeo Et Juliette duet is both passionate and adoring. Nicolai Gedda sings Una Furtiva Lagrima with his trademark intelligence and musicianship. Anna Tomowa-Sintow's Ernani, Ernani Involami is vocally rich and strikes an emotional chord. Placido Domingo and Mirella Freni's Gia Nella Notte Densa is so tender that it brings tears to the eyes.
Montserrat Caballe and Jose Carreras literally blow the roof off with Vinci A Te, two roles that require big soaring voices and both of them do so with gusto. Ileana Cotrubas sings beguilingly. Renato Bruson as Nabucco sings with his usual velvety richness and commanding presence, and Grace Bumbry attacks the killer role of Abaigaille and excels with flying colours. The final trio of Faust with the wonderful voices of Katia Ricciarelli, William Lewis and Nicolai Ghiaurov is both intense and poignant. Even late in her career, Birgit Nilsson's voice is still huge and she couples it with an emotionally complex interpretation as Isolde. The Madama Butterfly duet with Giuliano Ciannella and Leona Mitchell hits the right mark, it makes you wonder why Mitchell didn't make it bigger. Anna Moffo and Robert Merrill's Will You Remember? is nice, though it doesn't see them at their considerable best.
The Happy Birthday part actually managed to be moving in alternative to being potentially corny. So all in all, a truly dazzling experience for any opera fanatic. An easy 10/10. Bethany Cox
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