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Highlights from The Royal Opera
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819 – 1880) Les Contes d’Hoffmann: Olympia’s Aria: Barcarolle
Luciana Serra (soprano) – Olympia; Robert Tear (tenor) – Spalanzani); Claire Powell (mezzo) – Nicklaus; Agnes Baltsa (mezzo) – Giulietta
Conductor: Georges Prêtre
Director: John Schlesinger
rec. January 1981
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924) La Bohème: Quando m’en vo’
Marilyn Zschau (soprano) – Musetta; Thomas Allen (baritone) – Marcello; Ileana Cotrubas (soprano) – Mimi; Neil Shicoff (tenor) – Rodolfo; Gwynne Howell (bass) – Colline; John Rawnsley (baritone) – Schaunard; John Gibbs (bass) – Alcindoro
Conductor: Lamberto Gardelli
Director: John Copley
rec. February 1982
Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949) Der Rosenkavalier: Hab’ mir’s gelobt
Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano) – The Marschallin; Anne Howells (mezzo) – Octavian; Barbara Bonney (soprano) – Sophie
Conductor: Georg Solti
Director: John Schlesinger
rec. February 1985
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901) Don Carlo: Dio che nell’alma infondere amor volesti; Ella giammai m’amò!
Luis Lima (tenor) – Don Carlo; Giorgio Zancanaro (baritone) – Rodrigo; Robert Lloyd (bass) – Philip II
Conductor: Bernard Haitink
Director: Luchino Visconti
rec. April 1985
Giuseppe VERDI Falstaff: Bocca baciata non perde ventura; Alfin t’ho colto
Barbara Hendricks (soprano) – Nannetta; Dalmacio Gonzales (tenor) – Fenton; Renato Bruson (baritone) – Falstaff; Katia Ricciarelli (soprano)
Conductor: Carlo Maria Giulini
Director: Ronald Eyre
rec. July 1982
Giacomo PUCCINI Manon Lescaut: Ah, non vi avvicinate; Gelo di morte!
Placido Domingo (tenor) Des Grieux; Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano) – Manon Lescaut
Conductor: Giuseppe Sinopoli
Director: Götz Friedrich
rec. May 1983
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
WARNER 50-51011-2324-2-8 [61:00]

This hotchpotch compilation of excerpts from performances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden from the early 1980s can be regarded mainly as an appetizer for those who have not yet decided whether to buy the complete sets. I am not sure that this is the best method to recruit proselytes, the problem being that as soon as one gets involved in the proceedings the scene comes to an end and is tantalizingly faded out. Maybe that is the point. Anyway there is a plethora of good singing even though the choice of scenes does not very often result in thrilling action. Of course there is a certain thrill in seeing as well as hearing great singers perform favourite bits and pieces, and browsing through the heading to this review is like skimming through opera’s Who’s Who.
Luciana Serra, for instance, is a perfectly mechanical - this is praise! - Olympia and her make-up gives her a wax doll look. The otherwise unknown Marilyn Zschau is a Musetta with charisma and it is a pleasure to see the very young Barbara Bonney in her signature role as Sophie. Anne Howells sings well as Octavian, but the close-ups are very revealing and there is no mistaking her for a young man, when in the theatre she was probably a believable male character.
I reviewed the complete Don Carlo a few months ago and also saw the production just a few days before the film was shot. I still regard this as a truly great performance, which is also confirmed by the two excerpts here with Lima creating the role of his life. Zancanaro, although fairly wooden as an actor, was possibly the best Verdi baritone of the 1980s and early 1990s. Best of all, there’s Robert Lloyd’s deeply-felt Philip II. His monologue is, to me at least, the best reason for acquiring this DVD. Better still, though, is to get the complete set.
The other Barbara, Hendricks of course, is a charming Nannetta and Renato Bruson’s Falstaff is really spectacular. He sings better than most Falstaffs.
Kiri Te Kanawa’s Marschallin is a well-known impersonation but as Manon Lescaut she is almost unrecognizable in the death-scene. Domingo is great, both as a singer and an actor and there is also a glimpse of him in the Hoffmann excerpt.
I have no complaints considering the quality of sound and pictures. All in all seeing through this DVD offered an hour of entertaining morsels. I am sure it will be liked by opera lovers but I still think the complete sets are better propositions.
Göran Forsling


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