Italian Operas - 4-DVD box set
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il barbiere di Seviglia [161:00]
Il Conte d'Almaviva: Reinaldo Macias 
Bartolo: Carlos Chausson 
Rosina: Vesselina Kasarova 
Figaro: Manuel Lanza 
Basilio: Nicolai Ghiaurov 
Berta: Elizabeth Rae Magnuson 
Fiorello/Un uficciale: Valeriy Murga 
Ambrogio: Kenneth Roberson
Zurich Opera House Chorus and Orchestra/Nello Santi
Grischa Asagaroff, stage director
rec. live, Opernhaus Zürich, April 2001
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La traviata
Violetta Valéry: Kristiane Kaiser 
Flora Bervoix: Magdalena Anna Hofmann 
Annina: Stefanie Kopinits 
Alfredo Germont: Jean-François Borras 
Giorgio Germont: Georg Tichy 
Gastone: Michael Kurz 
Barone Douphol: Daniel Ohlenschläger 
Marchese d'Obigny: Dieter Kschwendt-Michel 
Dottoer Grenvil: Alessandro Teliga 
Giuseppe: Ladislav Hallon 
Un commissionario: Eugen Gaal 
Un domestic: Attila Galács
Slovak Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra/Ernst Märzendorfer
Robert Herzl, stage director
rec. live. Römersteinbruch St. Margarethen, 11 July 2008.
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Tosca [121:00]
Floria Tosca: Maria Guleghina 
Mario Cavaradossi: Salvatore Licitra 
Il barone Scarpia: Leo Nucci 
Cesare Angelotti: Giovanni Battista Parodi 
Il sagrestano: Alfredo Mariotti 
Spoletta: Ernesto Gavazzi 
Sciarrone: Silvestro Sammaritano 
Un carceriere: Ernesto Panariello 
Un pastore: Virginia Barchi
Milan La Scala Chorus and Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
Luca Ronconi, stage director 
Margherita Palli, set design 
Vera Marzot, costume design
rec. live, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, March 2000
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur
Maurizio: Sergei Larin 
Il principe di Bouillon: Giorgio Giuseppini 
L'abate di Chazeuil: Mario Bolognese 
Michonnet: Carlo Guelfi 
Poisson: Ernesto Gavazzi 
Quinault: Marco Camastra 
Un maggiordomo: Giuseppe de Luca 
Adriana Lecouvreur: Daniela Dessi 
La principessa di Bouillon: Olga Borodina 
Mlle Jouvenot: Adelina Scarabelli 
Mlle Dangeville: Annamaria Popescu
Milan La Scala Chorus and Orchestra/Roberto Rizzi Brignoli
Lamberto Puggelli, stage director 
Paole Bregni, set designer 
Luisa Spinatelli, costume designer
rec. live, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, January 2000
Picture format: NTSC 16:9 
Sound format: Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 / DTS 5.1 (Il barbiere, La traviata
PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1 (Tosca, Adriana Lecouvreur
Region code: 0 (worldwide) 
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian (La traviata Italian, English, German only) 
EUROARTS 2057928 [4 DVDs: 554:00]

In this release Euroarts offers an intriguing set of recordings from its admirable catalogue. It is simply entitled Italian Operas. Yet the description on the carton offers a clearer explanation of the contents: the works are, by modern standards, some of the most popular examples of the genre. The selection is arguable, with the pieces including two examples of verismo, one performed infrequently, the other all too often; with Verdi and Rossini each is represented by a single piece from their substantial contributions. A more compelling reason for the collection is the repertoire of La Scala, which is strongly featured in this selection. Two of the four productions are part of La Scala’s recent legacy and were recorded in that famous house. All four performances date from between 2000 and 2008.
Of the four works, the oldest is Rossini’s comic opera Il barbiere di Siviglia in a production from 2001. The cast includes a number of performers associated with La Scala, including Reinaldo Macias as the count and Manuel Lanza as his barber. The internationally acclaimed soprano Vesselina Kasarova plays Rosina, in a performance that shows her fine style with Rossini’s music. Kasarova’s approach to the aria “Una voce poco fa” is appealing, as are the various ensembles in which Rossini gave voice to the comic elements in his plots. A modern setting is chosen with the milieu being the 1950s. The staging makes use of a revolving clamshell that allows the production to move swiftly between scenes. The video gives a sense of the performance which realistically captures the action on stage. Most of all, the excellent engineering of the DVD contributes a vibrant sense of the live performance.
As challenging as it may be to find a single representative opera by Verdi, it is difficult to argue with the selection of La traviata.. Presented in the outdoor amphitheater in St. Margarethen in Austria, this unique staging makes full use of the available space. It is possible to see the house’s boxes over the stage. While it has nineteenth-century costume in its design, the production reflects modern thought in its use of the entire stage, including entrances from the audience. The sound benefits from the outdoor setting, even though it was mixed for television. As such, the recording levels emphasize the voices strongly, with any audience sounds or ambient noise eliminated. In some passages, the audio seems almost amplified, a daring effect since it is akin to applying a magnifying glass to the voices. After all the video reveals that the body mikes were attached to the singers’ foreheads, an unusual decision when filming close-ups. Yet the principals are quite effective and well worth hearing in this regional production. Kristiane Kaiser is a vibrant Violetta, with Jean-François Borras as Alfredo. Georg Tichy is a solid, convincing Germont, and the entire cast addresses the score with style and enthusiasm.
The La Scala production of Tosca stands out for its exceptional cast, production, and conducting. Muti’s sense of drama and musical line is apparent in the recording, which includes Maria Guleghina as Floria Tosca, the late Salvatore Licitra as her lover Mario Cavaradossi, and Leo Nucci as Baron Scarpia. This is a particularly effective filmed opera, which conveys the live performance well and also brings the viewer closer to the action on stage than is possible in the theater. The production itself resembles the one created for Callas when she played the title role at Covent Garden, an element in this video which calls to mind such fine performances. Guleghina offers a commanding Tosca, whose tragic flaw is being duped by Scarpia’s ultimate deception. Licitra was an excellent Cavaradossi, with an exemplary account of the aria “E lucevan le stelle” preserved on this DVD.
A similarly strong cast is part of the DVD of Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, a verismo opera which deserves to be heard more often. With a plot that hinges on the rivalry between Adriana and the Princess di Bouillon, the casting of Daniela Dessi and Olga Borodina in those roles is a key to the success of this version. As the Maurizio, Sergei Larin is memorable for the sense of passion that emerges easily. Based a television broadcast of Adriana Lecouvreur from January 2000, this video of Cilea’s opera adopts a straightforward view. While some close-ups are part of the video, most of the shots come from slightly above the stage, which introduces a bit of distance into the presentations of various scenes. As much as the production is worth seeing, the resolution is imprecise, with the default color appearing washed out. It helps to reduce the brightness, if possible, to obtain more realistic skin tones. The audio side is not a problem, but favors the voices over the orchestra, which can be sometimes sound unusually distant despite the rich orchestration. Nevertheless, this merits attention for Borodina’s characterization of her role as the Princess, especially her solo numbers at the opening of act two. Borodina’s precision intensifies her fine performance, and it is matched well by the other principals in this drama about intrigues among the nobility in early eighteenth-century France. With a story that makes use of the theatrical setting, this production makes good use of the stage to reflect the performances within the opera and, thus, reflect fully the work as a whole.
While more operas could be added to a list of memorable ones in the Italian tradition, the present set is a fine selection priced affordably, and chosen well from the performances currently available. As much as opera is best experienced live, these videos offer solid performances. Those familiar with the repertoire may wish to purchase this collection, while individuals who may be new to the art-form will also appreciate the virtues found here.
James L Zychowicz
A fine selection priced affordably and chosen well.