CD and Other Review

Review: Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen (Metropolitan Opera DVD)

Staging Wagner’s epic four-part Der Ring Des Nibelungen is the greatest challenge that an opera house can face. The Met’s latest effort, staged by Canadian director Robert Lepage, has been taken out of the opera house and into cinemas all over the world, and is now available in an 8-DVD set. The live performances have taken a bit of a critical battering so how does the small-screen release stack up? First of all, the positives: this is the best looking, best sounding and generally one of the best sung Ring Cycles that you will find.  The high-definition picture is breathtaking in its clarity, while the sound is beautifully engineered to give a wide, natural perspective. The singers have clearly all been miked and every word comes over loud and clear, regardless of stage position or volume of orchestra. The conducting is of a high level, too, with James Levine’s 40 years of experience paying dividends in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, while Fabio Luisi is a solid substitute in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Lepage’s brief was to produce something traditional enough to satisfy the Met’s conservative support base while utilising his reputation for visual wizardry to realise Wagner’s dream for the…

January 30, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Drama Queens (Joyce DiDonato)

The queen of classical concept albums continues her reign with this collection of Baroque arias, all written for royal women in various states of turmoil and distress. DiDonato’s last Baroque disc, Furore, was all about Handel, but this time the focus is on less familiar composers, whose show-stopping scenas, inspired by the great divas of their era, have DiDonato’s name written all over them. Her warm, down-to-earth persona may not immediately suggest the imperiousness of royalty, but these arias catch queens at their most fragile and human – not to mention their most virtuosic – and DiDonato’s patented blend of vulnerability, visceral energy and sheer agility is precisely what they need. The opening track, Orlandini’s stormy Da torbida procella, finds her in whirlwind mode; but it is the following aria, Porta’s Madre diletta, with its plaintive melismas and gossamer pianissimi, which really sets the seal on this album’s success. As thrilling as DiDonato undoubtedly is at high speed, in this case the disc’s gentler moments are some of its most arresting: Keiser’s simple, radiant Lasciami piangereis a hushed gem, almost eclipsing Cleopatra’s much more familiar lament, Piangerò. Giacomelli’s Sposa son disprezzata– commonly but erroneously credited to Vivaldi, who…Continue reading Get…

January 30, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Ligeti: Le Grand Macabre (La Fura Dels Baus DVD)

It’s been a long time coming but at last Ligeti’s 1978 “anti-anti-opera” Le Grand Macabre arrives on DVD in a revolutionary staging by Barcelona’s innovative urban theatre troupe, La Fura Dels Baus. Nekrotzar, the Grand Macabre of the title, arrives in Breugheland (inspired by the Dutch painter Pieter Breughel’s nightmarish visions), and announces the end of the world.  In the face of a population entirely absorbed with sex, alcohol and petty politics, however, his apocalypse fails to materialise and life goes on as before.  Very much an opera for today, I would argue. This visually compelling production was a highlight of the 2010 Adelaide Festival and has been a hit wherever it has played. We begin with a giant video image of a woman watching TV, surrounded by cigarette ends and gorging on a burger.  A sudden seizure and she falls to the floor, her atrophied body metamorphosing into a giant three-dimensional set. This massive corpse is peopled by Ligeti’s grotesque cast of characters who crawl over her flanks, make love in her eye-sockets and enter her various orifices (even at one point from out of her giant vagina). Most remarkably though, the body is used as a giant projection…

January 14, 2013