Anyone with a nose for a bargain should soon sniff
this one out. Here we have two complete opera DVDs each in the covers
in which they were originally marketed and put into one box. Pity those
who have bought them separately already because there are internet sites
now selling the double pack at about the same price that other sites
are still advertising each single DVD. The fact that as I write Amazon
is out of stock suggests it is doing well.
These two performances date from the later 1980s. Of
the two, the San Francisco, Pavarotti/Freni La Bohème
is the finer. The La Scala Butterfly under Maazel,
aiming at a form of authenticity by fielding a Japanese cast in
the two lead female roles as well as having Japanese in charge
of sets, costumes and direction, has not received the
same degree of acclaim. Cynics might believe Arthaus
to be using the double-pack ploy to shift copies of the Milan DVD on
the back of the San Francisco production with its Pavarotti brand name.
Whatever the case, the consumer wins.
How much you like the Butterfly is a matter
of taste rather than quality. All round it is a very fine production
but those who like their Cio-Cio San portrayed with meekness and sentimentality
will not find that in Yasuko Hayashi’s rendering. Her interpretation
is matched up to a point, with the kind of extrovert conducting that
you might expect from Lorin Maazel. This seems to me to be quite legitimate
but there are bound to be those who would prefer, for example, Mirella
Freni both interpretatively and vocally. However, all the cast sing
well and Peter Dvorsky is a magnetic Pinkerton. For me, the performance
particularly scores on the sets and production. There are some scrumptious
colours and I particularly loved the display of a series of pastel shades.
There is some very effective use of figure silhouetting, something that
can often be a gratuitous stage ploy but the Japanese team here clearly
know how to do it properly. The picture quality is good, better than
that in the Bohème production, as is the recorded sound.
As for La Bohème, even if the production
were not a fine all-rounder, it would still be worth having just for
the Pavarotti/ Freni Partnership. The two singers were already veteran
interpreters of the roles of Rodolfo and Mimi, both separately and together
(it was 26 years since Freni first wowed Rome with her Mimi) and are
vocally magnificent. There are those who think that Pavarotti’s Rodolfo
for Karajan on Decca was the finest role he ever recorded. But on the
DVD we can see that Rodolfo’s role must have meant something special
to him because he makes a well above average effort with his acting.
This is not your stand and deliver Pavarotti but someone who can approach
Mirella Freni in his power to move the audience. With the two of them
combining committed interpretative powers with supreme vocal excellence,
I defy anyone not to have their spines well and truly tingled, especially
throughout their sustained double act in the last quarter of an hour
of Act One.
The rest of the cast act and sing well, Sandra Pacetti
making a particularly extrovert and voluptuous Musetta. Sets and costumes
are splendid and very much in the verismo spirit. Act Two provides one
of the most effective street scenes I have seen on stage. Even the snow
in Act Three looks pretty authentic and Freni’s Mimi really does look
Both DVDs have booklets with decent articles (although
La Bohème does not include a synopsis and all its 30 cues
are one out of sync throughout).
So if you do not own videos/DVDs of these two operas
you really cannot go wrong with a bargain like this. If you entertain
doubts about the Madama Butterfly and would prefer to see and
hear Mirella Freni in the eponymous role as well as Mimi in La Bohème,
then you could splash out on the Decca DVD of her 1974 performance with
Karajan. You would still get three DVDs for the price of two!