Comparison DVD Recordings of
Barbieri di Siviglia:
Abbado, Prey, Alva, Berganza. staged
by J.P.Ponnelle DG DVD 0730219GH
Keilberth, Prey, Wunderlich, Köth,
Hotter, 1959. Bel Canto Society VHS
Zedda, Malis, Croft, Larmore, Netherlands
Opera and Ballet, RM Arts ID5779RADVD
My one viewing of this
opera live was with the New York City
Opera touring company starring Beverly
Sills, but other than the fact of my
being there, all memory of that performance
has been erased by superior video performances
seen since. This recording is overall
the best performance and staging of
the opera Iíve ever seen!
I had an odd difficulty
when first playing this disk, a problem
Iíve never had before. The sound and
picture were desynchronised, giving
the impression that the actors were
speaking, say, in German but the sound
had been dubbed in Italian. The problem
was cleared up by pressing first the
>¶ then the ¶< key.
To say that David Kuebler
with his habitual bug-eyed grimacing
is no Alva, no Wunderlich, no Araiza,
is not to be taken as a problem. Heís
a fine singer with a unique vocal quality,
a terrific actor, and he contributes
a great deal to this performance. But
the star is Bartoli, and she is exceptional
in every way. Feller and Lloyd in their
roles are a couple of highly intelligent,
cynical, and self-righteous conspirators,
who make you feel genuine menace and
disgust, so the drama is urgent and
the ending all the more satisfying.
If they were to be presented as imbeciles
or buffoons, easily diverted by a half-hearted
effort, the opera would lose much of
its drama. Figaroís first big aria is
the first show-stopper, of course, but
Robert Lloydís La Calunnia is
deservedly the second. Prey and Quilico
are both excellent as the Barber, but
I think Quilico is the better actor
by a slight margin; his character is
more shrewd, better matched to Fellerís
capable and determined Bartolo.
The audience is perfectly well behaved
and very quiet when they need to be.
Set design and video direction are conservative
and we spend most of our time looking
at the full stage with mid-close-ups
only when appropriate. Sound is very
clear and forward.
The Ponnelle version
from La Scala was originally filmed
on a studio set (I am familiar only
with the laserdisk version) and takes
advantage of that medium for some optical
special effects, whereas this Schwetzingen
version is live video from the stage
and hence more immediate and realistic.
But you may well prefer the Ponnelle
version which also features exceptional
singing, acting, and staging. This director
has staged a number of very fine opera
The Keilberth version
is poor B/W kinescope recording video
quality, sung in German, no subtitles,
cut to 140 minutes, but the power of
the performance comes through anyway,
a document of Wunderlich ó and the other
excellent singers as well.
The voices in the Netherlands
opera version are all young, bright,
and agile (including Basilio, Fiorello,
and Berta) and everybody concerned is
having a great dal of fun. Jennifer
Larmore is a charming Rosina and she
embellishes her part handsomely, showing
off her powerful high range. I donít
recall that Rossini included a saxophone
in his orchestra, but this is a newly
published critical edition by this conductor;
he must have his reasons. From the beginning
of the overture to the end of Scene
1 the stage is filled with leaping dancers
performing a Spanish street fair with
lots of gaudy props. While Figaro is
reading Rosinaís dropped note to the
Count and to the audience in Italian,
costumed street players come on stage
and display a large poster with the
text of the note on it in Spanish, a
gag repeated at several other places
in the opera. For a Dutch audience...?
During the countís first act Lindoro
song, he poles himself along on a moving
platform with the stage covered with
flapping fabric to simulate a gondola
on the water. In a street in Seville?
The dancers of course are also the stagehands
who change the sets without lowering
the curtain. La Calunnia turns
into a ballet of black-suited men running
about the stage with white umbrellas.
The entire ballet troup appear as soldiers
and servants for a truly chaotic first
act finale ó but how did that horse
get into the house and why is Bartolo
riding it in a Don Quixote costume?
Et cetera, et cetera... Youíve been
Rossini always spelt
his first name with one C but almost
nobody grants him that courtesy, whereas
no one seems to have any problem with
George FRIDERIC Handel, or JEAN Sibelius,
other cases where composers have insistently
used variant spellings of their first
(1792 - 1868)
LíItaliana in Algeri (1813)
[147.00] Text by Angelo Anelli
Mustafá - Günther
Elvira - Nuccia Focile
Zulma - Susan McLean
Ali - Rudolf A. Hartmann
Lindoro - Robert Gamgil
Isabella - Doris Soffel
Taddeo - Enric Serra
Bulgarian Male Chorus, Sofia
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ralf
Director Michale Hampe; Staging and
costumes, Mauro Pagano.
Recorded at the Schwetzingen Festival
Notes in Deutsch, English, Français.
Track list, plot synopsis. No texts.
Format PAL 4:3. 2.0 PCM stereo. Region
0 All regions
Subtitles in English, Deutsch, Français,
Menus English, Deutsch, Français,
NTSC Region 0 version also available.
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 120 [147.00]
Callegari, Di Mico,
Pertusi, Matteuzi, Praticò. Bel
Canto Society VHS BCS 0674 from Italian
television, available at www.belcantosociety.com
Levine, Horne, Montarsolo, staged by
J.P.Ponnelle, N.Y. Met. Orch. and Chorus,
broadcast January 11, 1986.
This Schwetzingen Festival
performance seems to be the preferred
version now, indeed the only one available
on DVD, and itís a pretty good show
all around. Picture and sound are very
clear. Isabella has a bright, precise,
agile voice and the perfect imperious
manner. The singing, acting, staging
and costumes are generally very good.
But I have a quarrel with the subtitles:
"Sarà quel che sarà"
should not be translated into "English"
as "Que será será,"
Doris Day notwithstanding.
Of our three Mustafas,
Montarsoloís is the best sung and acted,
but von Kannen has the girth and the
"muso." What a pity he doesnít
have the voice, too; he has a resonant
lyrical voice, but no agility in the
coloratura passages. On the Met
version the other singers are excellent,
the sets are OK, the staging is energetic
and imaginative; that Met version is
certainly the best performance of the
opera Iíve ever seen.
You know how I like
mysteries, so here is one: Of all the
Metropolitan Opera broadcast performances
of this period, certainly all the Ponnelle
stagings, this is the only one not yet
released on commercial video. If I hadnít
been watching that night and turned
on my recorder (unfortunately I ran
out of tape for the last half hour)
I would have no record of it. If you
love opera on video, write everybody
you know and demand to see this tape
released. Somebody with "approval"
in his-or-her contract must be holding
it up. Letís not even think that maybe
the master tape might not have survived.
The heavily advertised
Bel Canto tape is available in both
NTSC and PAL, is in colour and in stereo,
but the production is awkward and amateurish.
The settings and costumes are interesting,
although they set the opera in Istanbul
instead of Algiers, the stage business
inventive and convincing, and the extras
were selected for their physical beauty
so there is always something pretty
to look at, male and female. This is
the only Taddeo young enough to plausibly
interest the finicky Isabella; the others
are obviously rich dirty old men. Zulma
has a strong, clear, voice but the other
voices in the cast are unfortunately
thin, unsteady, and off pitch, the makeup
flat, the sound unbalanced, and the
overall effect tiring.
see also review
by John Philips