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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Il Trovatore (1853)
Donald Shanks (bass) Ferrando
Cynthia Johnston (soprano) Ines
Joan Sutherland (soprano) Princess of Aragon
Jonathan Summers (baritone) Di Luna
Kenneth Collins (tenor) Manrico
Lauris Elms (mezzo soprano) Azucena
John Durham (bass) A Gypsy
Robin Donald (tenor) Ruis
Australian Opera Chorus
The Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
Set Design Sydney Nolan, Stage and Television Direction by Elijah Moshinsky
recorded in July 2nd 1983 at the Sydney Opera House (DVD)
ARTHAUS 100 276 [142 mins]

 

This is a rare opportunity to savour the glorious Joan Sutherland at her peak in a live performance of an opera which she performed many times all over the world. She is on top form here, and her many fans will be overjoyed to hear and see their heroine in performance accompanied by her husband Richard Bonynge in their natural home in Sydney.

Her standard of singing is at her usual excellence, and if her co-artists are not at quite the same level of excellence, there are no absolute weak links in the cast. There are two shortcomings in this production however and these are the sound and the production. The sound, by normal DVD standards is well below what we have come to expect, without being awful. The main problem is excessive background hiss and this can be tolerated once the production is underway.

What I find difficult to tolerate however, is the staging of Elijah Moshinsky. Throughout the opera, the sets are so dark that it is almost like the cast singing against a black background, and illuminated from above by white spotlights. This is OK occasionally, but to stage the entire opera in this fashion, smacks of obsession. The problem is that the squareness of Joan Sutherland’s chin is accentuated and I find this most off putting.

With the rest of the cast also singing in this black world, how they kept up their standards of performance I am at a loss to understand. The recording was made during a run of the opera in 1983 in Sydney. The opera was given as a series of performances between 5th June and 22nd July, 1983. One performance was broadcast, and another was issued on video, later to form the basis for the present DVD.

Francisco Ortiz had originally been engaged for the part of Manrico, but was substituted at the last moment by Kenneth Collins. One would never realise from this DVD that we are watching a last minute substitution, as Kenneth Collins gives a very assured performance in this key role.

Also, apparently, the programmes were printed in white text on a black background – such was the obsession of those in power. What we poor mortals have to endure in the name of art!

This is one time when I would rather listen to a CD performance of this opera than watch the DVD. This is unfortunate, as there are few enough examples of Joan Sutherland’s artistry on commercially available film.

John Phillips



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