Teatro La Fenice Venice - New Year's Concert 2004
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Cavalleria Rusticana - Intermezzo [3.15]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La gazza ladra - Overture [10.27]
1l barbiere di Siviglia - Overture [7.32]
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886).
La Gioconda - Dance of the Hours [8.13]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Otello - Ballet Music 6.41]
La Traviata - Prelude to Act III
Aida - Dance of the Little Moorish Slaves [1.48]; Ballet Music [4.52]
Nabucco - Va pensiero [6.37]
La Traviata - Libiamo, ne' lieti calici [3.56]
Stefania Bonfadelli (soprano); Roberto Aronica (tenor)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice/Lorin Maazel
rec. live from the reopened Teatro La Fenice
Il Balletto del Sud choreographed by Fredy Franzutti
TV Director: Patrizia Carmine
Sound Format: PCM Stereo. DD 5.1. DTS 5.1.
Picture Format: 4:3. Region Code: 0. DVD 5/NTSC
ARTHAUS MUSIK 107 081 [59:00]

Around the spring of 1994, with sunbathing forbidden for my wife following radiotherapy we decided on a City Break and a visit to some of Europeís tourist honey-pots. There is none bigger and for which the description better fits than Venice, known as La Serenissima. The buildings along the Grand Canal are quite magnificent as is the Rialto Bridge and the view across the lagoon to St Marks Square. All featured during this concert, but as a long time opera-lover my mind was fixed on a visit to the renowned opera theatre of Venice, the famous La Fenice. There was no opera season, but I thought I would still like to see the renowned theatre interior. No such luck. I entered the foyer and looked around. It was like a funeral parlour, but with neither dead nor alive bodies. Ah well, given the Venice experience I would perhaps return another year soon. It was not to be any time soon as the theatre was gutted by fire in 1996. They say that lightning never strikes twice. It did at La Fenice with a similar devastating fire having happened on the night of 12-13 December 1836. The Theatre at that time was situated elsewhere; it was rebuilt according to the original plans. It stands resplendent again and for several years a charred faÁade reminded visitors of the second fire on the night of 29-30 January 1996. La Fenice isnít just any opera theatre. It was at the Gran Teatro della Fenice (La Fenice) that five of Verdiís operas received their premieres. Piave, the composerís most favoured and used librettist was a native of the city. The older theatre had seen the premieres of Vincenzo Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi and Rossiniís Tancredi. Operatic history was made in this theatre.

On the day immediately after the 1996 fire, the mayor said Com'era e dov'era (As it was and where it was) words first spoken in 1902 when the Campanile (the magnificent bell tower) collapsed into Piazza San Marco. Progress was slow and painful but on 14 December 2003 the Gran Teatro della Fenice reopened with a Gala Concert conducted by Riccardo Muti. Further concerts followed concluding with a New Year's Day Concert under Lorin Maazel and carried live on television by RAI; the latter is the source of this disc. Many regarded the concert as a challenge to the Vienna Philharmonic whose traditional New Year's Day Concert in 2004 was being conducted by Muti. After the concert the theatre closed for almost another year whilst the new modern stage facilities were commissioned, reopening properly, in November 2004, appropriately with Verdi's La Traviata which had been premiered at the theatre on 6 March 1853. This took place regrettably without the Music Director designate, a renowned and sensitive conductor of opera, who had died.

The interior of the reconstructed theatre can be seen in all its magnificence at frequent intervals in this concert. If the patina is brighter than in the old theatre, well the newly painted always is. But what a beautiful interior with its acoustic improved by the replacement of the old dark carpet by a wooden floor as per the original. The concert opens with Lorin Maazel playing the famous Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana. If his playing lacks some lustrous tone and spirituality the same is true of his conducting of the pieces here. The absence of these qualities is not lessened by his theatrical gestures and conducting without a score. The ballet pieces follow the Vienna traditions with the miracles of modern technology allowing the dancers to perform in other unspecified elegant venues including the jetty on the other side of the lagoon from St Markís square for the Aida Ballet Music (CH.6); the winter must have been mild! Despite my reservations it is pleasing to hear the Ballet Music from Verdiís Otello, often omitted in performances (CH4).

The chorus sit behind the orchestra on the stage, but only get what many think should be the National Anthem of Italy, Verdiís sonorous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, Va pensiero, sullíali dorate (Fly, thoughts on wings of gold) from Part 3 of Verdiís third opera, Nabucco (CH.9). It is always a pleasure to hear the particular squilla of an Italian chorus in this and other examples of the composerís works. I am sure it would have come over with more impact and feeling in an actual performance of the opera and with the chorus on stage and the orchestra in the pit. It being a New Yearís Day Concert champagne had to feature. It being Venice and Italy rather than Vienna, the younger Strauss was out and there is none better to replace it than the Brindisi from act 1 of Verdiís La Traviata. The two singers do their best without setting the world alight; they do not get the champagne but, again the miracles of technology allow us to see a group of smartly dressed men drinking and giving a toast in a very smart venue somewhere in Venice (CH.10). The audience who must have got short measure without the visuals are polite rather than enthusiastic.

Robert J Farr

Lacking verve and vitality this is also rather short measure for a New Yearís Day Concert.