This DVD is perfectly fine as long as it is accepted
for what it is – not the ‘slightly abridged’ version of Gounod’s
opera mentioned in the booklet, but a heavily truncated version
that leaves it, effectively, as the Roberto and Angela show. Some
readers may already be familiar with it, as it was broadcast on
Channel 4 last year. As the above timing indicates, Gounod’s 150-odd
minute five-acter is telescoped to roughly half its length. Actually,
this is not as bad as it first appears, for given the nature of
the project (ie. a location feature film) it is probably best
to streamline events and help dramatic flow and interest for the
viewer. Petr Weigl did a similar thing with his Eugene Onegin
which, though not cut as heavily as this, was ‘trimmed’ here and
there to keep (supposedly) a flow of plot and tension.
As with Weigl’s Onegin film, what tends
to dominate here is the gorgeous location scenery. The medieval
castle at Zvícov in the Czech Republic, has provided a
sumptuous and evocative backdrop to the tragic events of the famous
story, and on more than one occasion I was left thinking of a
holiday there instead of what was happening to the ill-fated lovers.
There is also the problem of filming outdoors and then lip-syncing
the soundtrack. I didn’t like it in the Onegin film, and
I’m not too convinced here. The director, Barbera Willis Sweete
has decided she must keep everyone constantly on the move, in
case the audience gets bored. So the whole thing starts with a
formal, stylised procession for the whole cast (quite effective)
but then has every scene dominated by walking or, in some cases,
running. Maybe she likes the use of a steadycam, but we constantly
follow the two main protagonists as they breathlessly wander the
ramparts and surrounding countryside, either together or in search
of one another. As they are usually singing arduous duets or arias
at the same time, it jars the believability somewhat. I longed
for some respite from the restless camera work, which is possibly
why the lingering shots of the castle were a relief.
On the musical side, there is much to enjoy.
I don’t like singers miming, even to their own voices, but when
the singers are in great voice, as here, it is some compensation.
Alagna and Gheorghiu made their Metropolitan debut in this opera,
and it is superbly suited to their looks and talents. This piece
has rather mischievously been described in the past as one long
love duet with interruptions, and that is more or less what we
have here. The two leads have all the great melodies, and in this
version they are basically strung together. Plot inconsistencies
almost cease to matter as we get tune after tune, delivered with
style, feeling and sensitivity. It is a case of ‘sit back and
enjoy’, and forget any worries about scholarly adherence to text,
be it Gounod or Shakespeare.
The orchestra appears to be a chamber group from
the Czech Philharmonic, and certainly sound well enough, though
the conducting comes over as solid and workmanlike rather than
inspired, which is not surprising. Straight actors are used for
the minor roles, with different singers then dubbed. It is not
terribly effective, but as these characters are very much on the
periphery, neither is it too distracting.
There are no extras included on the disc. Booklet
notes are minimal and more or less what you would expect, praise
for the two leads and a justification for the cinematic approach.
If you like this sort of thing (and given the state of classical
music, there is presumably a ready public) don’t let me put you