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Prima Donna - Leading Ladies of Opera
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
Ma chère compagne (Don Carlos)
Johann STRAUSS II (1825 – 1899)
Czardas (Die Fledermaus)
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
Fond flatt’ring world, Adieu (Theodora)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio (Madama Butterfly)
Giuseppe VERDI
Toi qui sus le néant des grandeurs de ce monde (Don Carlos)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Dove sono (Le nozze di Figaro)
Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
Hab mir’s gelobt (Der Rosenkavalier)
Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
Senta’s Ballad (Der fliegende Holländer)
Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875)
Les tringles des sistres tintaient (Carmen)
Ah! Du wolltest mich nicht (Salome)
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
Amour! Viens aider ma faiblesse! (Samson et Dalila)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Che soave zeffiretto (Le nozze di Figaro)
Giuseppe VERDI
Ah, fors’è lui che l’anima … Sempre libera (La traviata)
Full track listing with performers at end of review
Picture format: NTSC 4:3 FF & LBX; Sound format: Dolby digital 2.0 stereo
WARNER 50-51442-8586-9-3 [81:00]

Experience Classicsonline

It should be pointed out from the outset that all of these excerpts are from complete DVD recordings. Several of these I have seen, and generally they are well worth seeking out. Anyway, the present selection has a value of its own and those who for some reason prefer to see their favourite singers in isolated scenes will have their fill of morsels here. It goes without saying that we don’t get very much of sets and scenery. Focus is on the artists and only in the Fledermaus scene – and to some extent, the Carmen excerpt – do we get at least a whiff of the staging.

What we are offered is indeed something to savour. Karita Mattila, certainly one of the most attractive sopranos during the last fifteen years or so, is plainly stupendous in the two excerpts from Don Carlos in the production at Théâtre du Châtelet. It’s sung in the original French, and is probably the most recommendable recording of this version available, whether on CD or DVD. Kiri Te Kanawa’s creamy tones are a treat from the Domingo-conducted Fledermaus from Covent Garden although I have heard more fiery Klänge der Heimat. The production is lavish and we also get glimpses of Hermann Prey (Eisenstein) and Benjamin Luxon (Falke) – the latter even cart-wheeling (not shown here) in this most joyful production.

Dawn Upshaw is restrained and subdued in Peter Sellars’ modernist production of Theodora from Glyndebourne – so sensitively sung by this most discriminating of artists. The cherry blossom duet from Madama Butterfly is realistically set in the vast Arena di Verona, notoriously difficult when it comes to intimate scenes. Kabaivanska and Jankovic are not the most ingratiating couple one can imagine but they are more than acceptable.

More to my liking is Renée Fleming as the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro. Her warm tone and charming image makes her an ideal contessa. The trio from Der Rosenkavalier focuses very much on Kiri Te Kanawa’s Feldmarschallin, which was one of her best roles. Few exponents of the role – Lehmann, Schwarzkopf, Crespin and Söderström included - have peered deeper into the character. A further asset is Barbara Bonney, who has had few superiors as Sophie.

I have always had a special liking for the late lamented Hildegard Behrens. Her Salome in the classic Karajan recording is the only real challenger to Birgit Nilsson’s 1960s recording with Solti. I also admire her Isolde in the Bernstein recording. Her Sentan in Der fliegende Holländer from the Savonlinna Festival is deeply sensitive and intense and is further proof that she was one of the foremost dramatic sopranos of the second half of the 20th century.

Maria Ewing’s sexy Carmen – again from Glyndebourne – is well known and she once again confirms that she was one of the superior singing-actors of the last twenty years or so. Even more so is Catherine Malfitano’s horrifying personification of the perverse Salome. She sings marvellously but it is her stupendous acting that remains before one’s eyes long afterwards.

Shirley Verrett, a longstanding favourite of mine, is a seductive Dalila. Her vibrato has widened somewhat but the intensity of her delivery is undiminished and her concluding smile is irresistible.

Back at Glyndebourne Renée Fleming and Alison Hagley are a good Contessa and Susanna in the letter duet from Le nozze di Figaro and Edita Gruberova’s brilliantly sung Sempre libera from La traviata is a fine close to this traversal of a number of standard numbers.

We don’t get more than occasional glimpses of the sets – focus is on the singers, and rightly so – but anyone wanting visual as well as auditory glimpses of his/her favourite singers in their best roles need look no further. I suspect though that seeing and hearing these excerpts one will end up wanting the complete operas and in the booklet the full length versions are listed.

Göran Forsling

Full track listing:

Prima Donna - Leading Ladies of Opera
1. Opening credits
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
2. Ma chère compagne (Don Carlos)
Karita Mattila (soprano)
Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, March 1996
Johann STRAUSS II (1825 – 1899)
3. Czardas (Die Fledermaus)
Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano)
Conductor: Placido Domingo
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, December 1983
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
4. Fond flatt’ring world, Adieu (Theodora)
Dawn Upshaw (soprano)
Conductor: William Christie
Glyndebourne Festival Opera, June 1996
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
5. Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio (Madama Butterfly)
Raina Kabaivanska (soprano), Eleonora Jankovic (mezzo)
Conductor: Maurizio Arena
Arena di Verona, July 1983
Giuseppe VERDI
6. Toi qui sus le néant des grandeurs de ce monde (Don Carlos)
Karita Mattila (soprano)
Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, March 1996
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
7. Dove sono (Le nozze di Figaro)
Renée Fleming (soprano)
Conductor: Bernard Haitink
Glyndebourne Festival Opera, May 1994
Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
8. Hab mir’s gelobt (Der Rosenkavalier)
Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano), Barbara Bonney (soprano), Anne Howells (mezzo)
Conductor: Georg Solti
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, February 1985
Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
9. Senta’s Ballad (Der fliegende Holländer)
Hildegard Behrens (soprano)
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Savonlinna Festival, 1989
Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875)
10. Les tringles des sistres tintaient (Carmen)
Maria Ewing (soprano), Elizabeth Collier (soprano), Jean Rigby (mezzo)
Conductor: Bernard Haitink
Glyndebourne Festival Opera, August 1985
11. Ah! Du wolltest mich nicht (Salome)
Catherine Malfitano (soprano)
Conductor: Giuseppe Sinopoli
Deutsche Oper, Berlin, September 1990
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
12. Amour! Viens aider ma faiblesse! (Samson et Dalila)
Shirley Verrett (mezzo)
Conductor: Colin Davis
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, October 1981
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
13. Che soave zeffiretto (Le nozze di Figaro)
Renée Fleming (soprano), Alison Hagley (soprano)
Conductor: Bernard Haitink
Glyndebourne Festival Opera, May 1994
Giuseppe VERDI
14. Ah, fors’è lui che l’anima … Sempre libera (La traviata)
Edita Gruberova (soprano)
Conductor: Carlo Rizzi
Gran Teatro La Fenice, Venice, December 1992



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