This 1996 Lyon production, designed for video, TV and
CD distribution, became a vehicle for opera’s most famous off-stage
couple, Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu. I say "became"
because it was envisaged well before they were married, an event that
took place only months before production work began. So here we have
two of the more sensational voices of the age in one package. Say no
more. But in purchasing an opera DVD one is entitled to more than that.
Early impressions were mixed for me. The opening scene
has a low budget feel to it with a rather limited crowd of village harvesters
moving with less than imaginative bustle. Alagna’s Nemorino, a good
impression of a simple country bumpkin, enters on bicycle that he immediately
falls off. Then he sings, and any quibbles about the production recede
from view. After this first aria, in comes Sergeant Belcore played by
young Roberto Scaltriti who sounds good but rather overacts the pomposity
of his role. He brings with him his incompetent soldiers - cue for some
hilarious, slapstick stage drill. I, for one, found it embarrassingly
unfunny, but for all I know, some may fall about.
Then there is the focus of attention, an Adina dressed
in immaculate riding gear. Angela Gheorghiu gives a very fine impression
of a "rich bitch" type sporting a crop that she wields rather like
a cattle prod, poking people who displease her. In spite of this she
is rather stiff in the part, looking as if she is responding to some
fine coaching rather than the role coming from within. Fair enough though,
this maybe related to the fact that it was her first-ever comedy role.
But then there is the voice. When she and Nemorino get together alone
in Donizetti’s superbly constructed number at the end of scene 1, we
have a duet rendering to die for – and buy for.
The production gathers strength from scene 2, Dr Dolcamara
entering in a gold vintage car and caravan which helps to make the stage
settings look more up market. Simone Alaimo, in the part of the con
man is excellent both vocally and in his portrayal, adding a delicious
sense of zing to the proceedings. The crowd livens up too. In the following
scenes where Alaimo and Alagna team up, we witness two brilliant, singing,
comic actors at work.
As the love story develops in Act 2 with its complexities
and misunderstandings, a real passion emerges. Without wishing to be
over fanciful, it seems that Alagna and Gheorghiu, a recently married,
deeply in love, couple are bringing to the stage part of their private
lives, very much to the benefit of the production. In this respect,
famous pairings of the past can hardly be expected to compete.
As well as the performance itself, the disc contains
a documentary about the making of the production. Lasting nearly an
hour, it covers not only the preparation of the stage performance (of
which only two live renderings were given, as I understand) but also
that of the CD version which involved recording numbers which were cut
from the staging. There are interesting interviews with the cast, conductor
Evelino Pidò, and the distinguished, mainly British, production
management team. They give an impression of real teamwork, something
that shows in the final result. The documentary is also a salutary reminder
to us consumers of what incredibly hard work it all is.
Overall then a fine DVD production recycled from a
video that for many had already set a new standard. What lifts it to
real world class status is the heartfelt singing of Alagna and Gheorghiu
and some will justifiably buy it for that alone.