Aug 14

Messa da Requiem, by Verdi, conducted by von Karajan ?????

This is a staged piece with an empty audience, performed by the Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1967. This was a time when Karajan, and many of the performers, such as Leontyne Price, and Nicholai Ghiaurov were truly in their prime. Luciano Pavarotti is very young in this production and appears a touch insecure, though Verdi gave the tenor a minor solo part in this work. The work itself is a compositional masterpiece, stylistically being very operatic. Karajan’s conducting is also demonstrative of the best that this piece could possibly be performed. Interestingly, he is usually found with his eyes opened during the conducting, a characteristic I find peculiar to Karajan conducting choral works. The filming is a little problematic at times, since the camera seems to stray off of the performers, and the view is often obstructed by microphone poles. All in all, this is one of the best performances of Verdi’s Requiem, and a must have by any music lover.

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Feb 15

Rigoletto – with Placido Domingo, Ileana Cotrubus, Cornell McNeil, James Levine conducting Metropolitan Opera ?????

Rigoletto – with Luciano Pavarotti, Edita Gruberova, Ingard Wixell, Riccardo Chailly conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker ?????

This is my favorite Verdi opera, so it is hard for me to be easy in criticism of a production of this opera, yet, both of these productions receive 5 stars, though they are much different operas. The first was filmed in 1977 with Domingo, Cotrubus, and Levine in the early years of their career. Domingo is magnificent. Cornell McNeil wins the day though, as a first-class Rigoletto, with excellent acting, and a superb voice, blending perfectly with Cotrubus.  The second film was recorded in 1983, though is presented as a film, that is, it is filmed in Mantua, the actual site of the opera, with the opera singers lip-synching. Some Amazon reviewers can’t get past that, yet, I think that is what 19th century opera composers would have had if the technology had existed back then. This technique does produce a clearer sound track, since the sound is recorded in a studio, and the audience applause is eliminated. After having seen the Domingo version first, Betsy and I both thought that Domingo would be a tough act to follow, yet, Pavarotti actually was in many ways the better actor and the better voice. La Donna Mobile was meant for the voice of Pavarotti. Wixell was a very convincing Rigoletto, and Gruberova had the voice of an angel, absolutely in control, and clear. Either opera would be quite appealing to the novice to operas, though the Pavarotti version could persuade some to take up opera-watching as a life’s secondary passion.

Regarding the opera itself, this is one of Verdi’s middle operas, which include some of his greatest operas, such as la Traviata and il Travatore. His early operas are to me a touch tedious, and his late operas, including Othello and Falstaff, while masterpieces, are not the lovable gems of his middle-years.  If you are deeply interested in the life of Verdi and his music, I recommend the Greenberg series on Verdi by the Teaching Company .This opera is similar to many Italian operas, especially the newer Puccini works, manifesting verismo, or realism, rather than the German tradition in opera of depending on myth and the miraculous. This opera has a tragic ending for several reasons, in that the innocent or deformed people suffer the curse, and the rich, wealthy and wise person escapes the curse though manifesting the most flagrant violations of moral behavior. Unlike German opera, nobody is ever saved in Italian opera. Tannhäuser experiences redemption in the last few moments of the opera and dies together with his lover in her arms. Rigoletto is not so lucky, and dies of tragic heartbreak in a boat with his slain daughter.  Such are the Italians, always mushy, gushy and brutal to the end. I only regret that nobody has done a filmed version of Tannhäuser. In summary, either of these operas is a must-see, and should be in every music aficionado’s collection.

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