can be seen from the heading, Arthaus have gathered some of
the foremost opera stars of today and yesteryear in a collection
of well-known arias, culled from actual performances. The gimmick
– if that is what it is – is that the singers also give spoken
introductions to their excerpts, in several of the cases recorded
much later. The booklet gives no clue as to when the excerpts
were recorded, the copyright years presumably relate to the
introductions. They are of variable quality but it is of course
nice to get to know the person behind the character. Real charmers
are Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, who really communicate,
not only with the viewers but also between themselves, warm,
infatuated and tongue-in-cheek, sometimes teenager giggly. Their
vocal and scenic contributions are also among the best, Alagna’s
sulky country boy to a T and Gheorghiu fresh and alluring in
red 1950s polka-dot dress. Alagna sings Una furtiva lagrima
in the original key and also embellishes it quite extensively
Horne opens the programme with the one rarity, Vivaldi’s Orlando
furioso, and she sings magnificently with her breathtaking
technique at breakneck speed. The acting is old-fashioned with
sweeping gestures, maybe trying to recreate baroque practice.
Ann Murray is of course a very different mezzo: light and elegant
and giving a lovingly nuanced reading of Cinderella. Her coloratura
technique is just as assured as Horne’s.
Sutherland introduces her three arias in extremely well articulated
Queen’s English; a contrast with her largely consonant-bereft
singing. She is deeply involved in two of her signature roles,
Lucia and Norma and her technique is as superb as ever. That
beat that crept into her voice with advancing age is a bit annoying.
Her Trovatore Leonora is less well-known and others have
been more natural exponents of this role. That said, she has
a trill to put most others in the shadow.
are three excerpts from Gergiev’s Kirov production of La
forza del destino in the original version as it was first
presented in St Petersburg in 1862. Galina Gorchakova is an
exciting Leonora and the sturdy-looking Gegam Grigorian is an
involved and very nuanced Alvaro. The otherwise so reliable
Nikolai Putilin unfortunately sounds worn but no one can deny
that he has stage presence.
final number, Suicidio! from La Gioconda, is a
knock-out with Eva Marton letting loose her turbo voice. This
is among the best singing I have heard from her.
is a volume 2 waiting in the wings and ideally I would prefer
more real scenes with action and interaction between the singers
instead of monologues as here. The duet that concludes Angela
Gheorghiu’s aria is by some distance the most engaging part
of this DVD. Still it is nice to have these excerpts with favourite
singers when I am not in the mood for a full opera. I will not
want the spoken introductions every time.