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Casta Diva - Famous Italian arias and scenes
Sound Format: PCM stereo
Picture Format: 4:3 / 16:9
Subtitles given for introductions in English, German and French when introductions are not spoken in English
No subtitles provided for the sung items
rec. no original recording dates given
Also available as DVD 109242
ARTHAUS MUSIK Blu-ray 109243 [136:00]

For some time now the Arthaus Musik label has been issuing back-catalogue operatic recordings in both Blu-ray and DVD formats at mid price. Often the Blu-ray versions are firsts for the performance in that format. The discs come in a folding cardboard sleeve with coloured photographs and a synopsis in English, French and German, but no chapter list. These re-issues have not been made available for review. When this present series came out I thought it was a change of policy in the latter respect. In fact there is more to it than the contents being extracts from previously issued material and that too is part of the story. The Blu-ray discs come in normal plastic cases, but also within a card slipcase. The Arthaus logo is given the same status as that of Monardo Arts. The supporting documentation is even more sparse in important respects than the matters referred to above: actual dates of recordings are omitted altogether, with the copyright symbol of Monardo Arts featuring alongside various 1990s dates. Playing the disc, and knowing some of the recordings from earlier formats I noted improvements in sound and picture. I dug deeper. It seems Monardo are a technology company operating in Halle in Germany who have access to original TV material and Film Archive. Along with Arthaus Musik, they present the contents of this collection in a manner that I have not met before. A major difference involves the singer who is performing the extract giving a verbal introduction to the aria concerned and, in the case of item 7, we are also given details of the background and set for the first production. The first four items and those sung by Eva Marton are in 4:3 visual aspect, the remainder in 16:9.

The first three items involve recordings of Joan Sutherland made when she performed the three roles with Opera Australia. The dates of the recordings are betrayed as much by her aging facial features as by her singing. Some research on the internet reveals that the performance of Norma (Chs. 7-9) was from a 1978 production by Sandro Sequi who is identified - as are all the stage team - in the credits given in the last Chapter of each operatic extract. The extract from Il Trovatore dates from 1983 whilst that of the Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor is from John Copley’s production of 1986, all for Australian Opera. The aria Casta Diva (Ch. 8) shows the singer at near her best. That said, I cannot erase from my mind's ear seeing her Lucia in 1968 alongside a young Pavarotti where her coloratura was outstanding in clarity, vocal divisions and characterisation; it brought the house down.

Yvonne Kenny seems a little stiff in demeanour as she recounts the opera and the place of the aria featured. She sings delightfully (Chs. 10-12). Ann Murray talks rather too fast in her spoken introduction but the scene where Rossini experts Francisco Araiza, Gino Quilico and Walter Berry join her, is a delight (Chs. 13-16). The modern dress L’elisir d’amore is less so with Alagna failing to caress Donizetti’s beautiful phrases with much honeyed tone. Angela Gheorghiu on this occasion is somewhat penny-plain. They give the introductions to their contributions together, the one speaking in Italian about their own item whilst the other looks on. Frankly its rather like the worst breakfast-time TV. She, in particular, looking utterly bored as he speaks (Chs. 16-22).

The formality of some of the introductions is broken by the informal dress of the male Russians in the extracts from this renowned performance of the 1862 original version of Verdi’s La forza del destino (Chs 24-28). The men give their introductions in Russian. In the tenor role Gegam Grigorian speaks like a baritone but sings his aria with expressive lyric tone. Galina Gorchakova speaks in good, but accented, English and includes brief reference to the original sets in use. Vocally she effortlessly soars whilst Nikolai Putilin shapes the Verdian phrases with care and vocal elegance. Every Verdi lover should have a video of this complete performance of the opera. In my review of the full performance from which these excerpts are taken I give fuller details of the version and its creation. I am not aware of a Blu-ray version.

For the items sung by Eva Marton (Chs 36-41) it is back to 4:3 aspect. The soprano’s singing and acting in the extract from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda is a veritable tour de force and among the best in this collection (Chs. 36-38). If the Puccini is somewhat more anaemic in comparison then Alberto Erede’s rather placid conducting and John Shaw’s lack of venom as Scarpia are to blame (Chs. 39-41). The concluding items feature Thomas Hampson as the eponymous Macbeth and Paoletta Marrocu as his Lady in a modern dress and scantily staged production from Zurich Opera. Hampson sings with vocal elegance but lacking much in the way of Italianate tone and without seeming to get under the skin of the role. Marrocu sings with somewhat occluded tone, which might have suited Verdi who did not want a pure voice for the role. She is an effective actress and manages to hold her capacious bosoms within the strange costume provided. Franz Welser-Möst's conducting does not strike me as that of a natural Verdian.

A serious failing in this series is the omission of titles during the sung performances. The singer introductions are not an adequate substitute in many cases.
Robert J Farr
1. Joan Sutherland (soprano)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il trovatore.
D’amor sull’ali rosee
Australian Opera. Dir. Elijah Moshinsky
Cond. Richard Bonynge
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor
The Mad Scene
Australian Opera. Dir. John Copley
Cond. Richard Bonynge
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Casta Diva
Australian Opera. Dir. Sandro Sequi
Cond. Richard Bonynge
2. Yvonne Kenny (soprano)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Cosė fan tutte
Per pietā, ben mio, perdona
Australian Opera
Dir. Göran Järvelt
Cond. Peter Robinson
3. Ann Murray (mezzo)
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Cenerentola
Nacqui all’affanno
Salzburg Festival
Dir. Michael Hempe
Cond. Riccardo Chailly
4. Roberto Alagna (tenor)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
L’elisir d’amore
Quanto č bella, quanto č cara and Una furtiva lagrima
5. Angela Gheorghiu (soprano)
Prendi, per me sei libero
Opéra National de Lyon
Dir. Frank Dunlop
Cond. Evelino Pido
6. Gegam Grigorian (tenor)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La forza del destino
La vita č inferno all’infelice
7. Galina Gorchakova (soprano)
Son giunta! Grazie, o Dio!
8. Nikolai Putilin. (baritone)
Morir! Tremenda cosa! and Urna fatale del mio destino
Dir. Elijah Moshinsky in copies of original sets
Cond. Valery Gergiev
9. Eva Marton (soprano)
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)
La Gioconda
Vienna State Opera
Dir. Filippo Sanjust
Cond. Adam Fischer
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Vissi d’arte
Australian Opera
Dir. John Copley
Cond. Alberto Erede
10. Thomas Hampson (baritone)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Mi si affaccia un pugnal? and Pičta, rispetto, amore
11. Paoletta Marrocu (soprano).
Vieni! t’affretta! and La luce langue
Zurich Opera
Dir. David Pountney
Cond. Franz Welser-Möst



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