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Great Opera Arias
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust, Prologue (Placido Domingo, Robert Lloyd) [9:21]
Avant de quitter ces lieux (Dwayne Croft) [4:01]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Le Cid, O Souverain (Placido Domingo) [5:28]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen, Parle-moi de ma mere (Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna) [10:01]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni, La ci darem (Placido Domingo, Susan Graham) [3:43]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Don Pasquale, Quel guardo (Leontina Vaduva) [6:46]
L’elisir d’amore, Caro elisir, sei mio (Placido Domingo, Leontina Vaduva) [8:24]
Fromental HALÉVY (1799-1862)
La Juive, Rachel, quand du Seigneur (Roberto Alagna) [6:35]
Teodor GRIGORIU (b. 1926)
Valurile Dunarii, Muzica (Angela Gheorghiu) [3:20]
Ernesto DE CURTIS (1875-1937)
Tu ca nun chiagne (Roberto Alagna) [3:30]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Der Rosenkavalier, The Presentation of the Rose (Susan Graham, Lillian Watson) [8:03]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
L’Amico Fritz, Cherry Duet (Placido Domingo, Verónica Villarroel) [9:08]
Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Gold und Silber Waltz (Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Placido Domingo) [6:33]
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden/Asher Fisch
rec. gala concert, live, Royal Opera House, 12 December 1996
Region Code 0, Aspect Ration 4:3, PCM Stereo only



Experience Classicsonline

This glittering night was recorded by the BBC and is now released by Opus Arte with good picture quality and clear sound, though it’s in stereo only, no surround. Let’s get the gripes out of the way first: there is nothing in the way of extras and we are told absolutely nothing about the music. The booklet has only a list of the tracks with some technical specifications and, perhaps most seriously, we are told nothing about why the gala was mounted. The Royal Opera House doesn’t really do evenings like this any more, so it would have been nice to have been told a bit about the occasion which merited such an event, or why the Prince of Wales deigned to turn up. Anyway, if this doesn’t bother you then you’ll enjoy what you see as well as hear.

The central figure of this gala is clearly Domingo. He sings most often and he even takes over as conductor during the Lehár waltz. Furthermore, while he conducts we are treated to a screen montage of some of his great Covent Garden roles. He is a worthy central figure, however, and this disc merely confirms that 1996 still saw him in his very long prime. He throws himself into roles as diverse as Faust, Le Cid and Nemorino with equal ease and convinces as all of them: his voice still has the burnished ring at the top. Perhaps Don Giovanni was a step too far for him: it lies very low for his voice, and so he misses the ardent yearning which Mozart builds into the Don’s higher phrases. Still, if you’re ever going to try an experiment like this then a Gala is the time to do it. He sounds best in O Souverain, where his wounded hero reminds one of his remarkable Otello. Perhaps his companions aren’t quite up to his standard: Susan Graham is a detached Zerlina, while Robert Lloyd doesn’t have the requisite boom to be the Devil. Leontina Vaduva, on the other hand, is a fantastic Adina: they strike sparks off each other in the duet from L’elisir d’amore. She is also a marvellous Norina, headstrong and coquettish, but utterly secure: her aria from Don Pasquale is tremendous fun and she gets the warmest reception from the audience in consequence. Villarroel is Suzel to Domingo’s Fritz and in their hands the Cherry Duet sounds graceful, elegant and quite charming. 

When I first spotted this DVD I got the impression that it would be good to hear but not so good to see. I was wrong; seeing what you hear really does make a difference here. Importantly for a DVD like this, everyone looks good and there are some nice visual touches such as Nemorino’s wine and Suzel’s cherries. Norina’s book of chivalry is a programme for the Gala, while Faust signs his contract with Mephistopheles on a Royal Opera playbill. The artists throw themselves into the acting of the roles as well as the singing, seen in the discrete facial close-ups. Alagna and Gheorghiu are on the threshold of their international stardom here, and both perform very well. Alagna in particular is free of the excessive portamento which has marred his singing recently and his solo numbers are both highlights. The ardency of the de Curtis song suits his youthful persona, while he sings the aria from La Juive with arresting subtlety as well as strength - save a slightly dodgy top note towards the end. Gheorghiu is right at home in her Romanian song, which the audience go mad for, while the couple blend beautifully in the Carmen duet, despite twice going out of sync with the orchestra. 

Dwayne Croft sings beautifully for his one appearance, and the Presentation of the Rose sounds great, but is dull to watch, not surprising considering the stillness which it is meant to convey in the opera. The orchestra is on stage throughout the evening and we get the occasional close-up of a prominent instrumentalist, such as the cor anglais during the introduction to the Juive aria. Fisch conducts well, but orchestra and conductor clearly take a back seat to the galaxy of singers. There is a big screen behind the orchestra which has a series of images projected onto it during the arias, though they seemed abstract and unrelated to my eye, and the direction of the TV camera means that we rarely get a clear view of them. The auditorium - before the renovation - glimmers golden and looks handsome kitted out in Christmas decorations. 

A good quality production, then, and it’s also inexpensive for what it is. Perhaps there’s not a lot to it, but I enjoyed it tremendously. Everyone on stage is clearly having great fun, and the chances are that you will too.

Simon Thompson


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