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DVD: Crotchet AmazonUK


Opera and Ballet Favourites
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Snow Maiden - Dance of the Comedians [4:42]
The Nutcracker - Snowflakes [7:29]
None but the Lonely Heart (Placido Domingo) [3:32]
Pas de deux [10:28]
The Queen of Spades - Ya vas lyublyu (Dmitri Hvorostovsky) [6:00]
Akh - istolimas’ ya gorem’ (Anna Tomowa-Sintow) [6:23]
Iolanta - Gospod’ moy - yesti greshen ya (Paata Burchuladze) [4:35]
The Nutcracker - Grand pas de deux [12:29]
1812 Overture [17:23]
Anastasia - Pas de deux [6:56]
The Sleeping Beauty - Pas de deux [11:23]
Eugene Onegin - Kuda - kuda vi udalilis (Placido Domingo) [6:31]
Madme Larina’s Ball [8:19]
Sergey RAKHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Vocalise (Kiri te Kanawa) [5:31]
Aleko - Ves tabor spit [7:18]
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Sadko - Song of the Varangian Trader & Song of the Venetian Trader (Paata Burchuladze & Dmitri Hvorostovsky) [9:18]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Bohème - Quando me’n vo (Kiri te Kanawa) [2:50]
Darcey Bussell; Irek Mukhamedov; Leanne Benjamin; Lesley Collier; Tetsuya Kumakawa (dancers)
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden/Stephen Barlow; Placido Domingo; Edward Downes; Barry Wordsworth
rec. live, gala performance, Royal Opera House, 1 December 1993
Region Code 0, Aspect Ration 4:3, PCM Stereo only
OPUS ARTE OAR3110D [137:00]
Experience Classicsonline

The real title of this DVD is “Winter Gala: Tribute to Tchaikovsky”. That was the title it was originally given on its Covent Garden premiere release. It was recorded in 1993, the centenary of the composer’s death, and is Covent Garden’s contribution to the commemorations.  Consequently Tchaikovsky is the composer most represented here, with a few guest appearances from his compatriots Rachmaninov and Rimsky-Korsakov. What on earth is Puccini doing here?
The disc gets off to a rollicking start with the dance of the comedians from The Snow Maiden.  It’s great crash-bang-wallop stuff, conducted with unbelievable vigour by the ever-young Sir Edward Downes.  Impossible to believe that he was nearly 70 when this was recorded: the years simply fly off him when he’s on the podium.  After that the disc consists of a selection of scenes and arias from operas and ballets, and the ROH throws all of its most lavish, traditional resources at the stage to make it a night to remember.
The ballet scenes are all samples of classic choreography from the likes of Ivanov (The Nutcracker), Balanchine (Pas de deux), Macmillan (Anastasia) and Petipa (Sleeping Beauty).  All are ultra-traditional, tutus and all, but they are very pleasing on the eye and are quite befitting a gala occasion such as this.  The sequences of Pas de deux are all lovely, matching symmetry and poetry with lavish costumes.  The Nutcracker and Sugar Plum Fairy, for example, dance in fabulously ornate finery.  They in particular are beautiful to watch, but they dance against a hideous bright pink backdrop which is reminiscent of an LSD-induced trance.  The Snowflake scene from The Nutcracker features the full corps of white tutu-ed ballerinas, and we are even treated to Clara and the Prince’s chariot being drawn across the stage although what draws them is invisible. No lover of ballet will be disappointed by this selection.
The vocal numbers are taken just as well, if not with even more character.  Domingo brings a Mediterranean warmth to None but the Lonely Heart, in which he is accompanied by solo cellist Christopher Vanderspar.  He leans into every phrase expressively, conveying the longing which the song captures so well.  He also makes a poignant Lensky, balancing the virility of his youth with the sense of loss at a life cut short.  Kiri’s rendition of the famous Rachmaninov Vocalise is a bit dull to watch, and not much more interesting to listen to: she is not so pure-toned as one would like in this music, and the same is true of Musetta’s waltz which presumably is included for no better reason than giving her something else to do.  The young Hvorostovsky, on the other hand, is fantastic in his two numbers.  He makes a virile, intense Yeletsky in the love aria from The Queen of Spades, while conjuring poignancy at the end.  The Sadko serenade is overblown, but so it should be. Likewise, Burchulaadze has a booming resonance quite appropriate for Iolanta’s father, while his Sadko song carries a rousing majesty.  He gives the impression of an immovable rock, while Hvorostovsky is much more agile, not least in the way he takes the curtain calls.
Anna Tomowa-Sintow is a fantastically powerful yet sympathetic Liza, while Sergei Leiferkus is wonderful in Aleko’s cavatina: the camera focuses on his marvellously expressive face throughout the aria and it works very well indeed.  The final ball scene, the opening of Act 2 of Eugene Onegin, sounds very good and the ballet dancers look great at the front of the stage, though the rest of the chorus are pretty static as they stand at the side in their finery.
The longest number on the disc, and the most unusual, is the 1812 Overture conducted by Domingo.  The unusual things is that it is semi-staged: brooding, hooded members of the ROH Chorus come forward holding lighted candles singing the old Russian hymn at the beginning, while during the Russian folk music we see a family of Russian peasants dancing to the melody against a background of Russian landscapes.  Then at the end there is a mass chorus with uniformed military band and working cannons to punctuate the final moments.  It’s effective and enjoyable and, while not enough to recommend the disc on its own, it’s an interesting novelty and good fun.  Domingo keeps up the exciting pace but broadens the tempo expansively at the end so as to provide a satisfying climax.
Musically speaking, then, this disc is very good.  The lighting isn’t too flattering to the solo singers, and they often have an unappealing orange glow to them, but the ballet scenes are pleasing to the eye so on the whole it doesn’t look bad.  The 2.0 stereo sound is fine too, but a pressing question for Opus Arte: like many of the old Covent Garden Pioneer DVDs in this series (Otello, Stiffelio, Romeo et Juliette), when this disc was originally released it had various different sound options, including DTS 5.1.  Why is PCM the only option now, when we could easily have chosen that for ourselves from the other options?
Simon Thompson


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