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An Evening with Puccini
Jonas Kaufmann (tenor)
Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala/Jochen Rieder
rec. La Scala, Milan, 14 June 2015
Director: Brian Large
Picture: 16:9
Sound: PCM 2.0 / DTS Surround
Format: NTSC
Region code: All regions
Subtitles: EN/FR/GER/IT
SONY 88875130249 DVD [116:00]

Although I am a great fan of Kaufmann, I approached this DVD with a certain trepidation. Having watched him do little more than bawl his way through some standard arias at the 2015 Last Night of the Proms, I wondered if this concert, recorded exactly three months previously in Milan, would be equally disappointing.

The whole enterprise did not begin well. After an introductory sequence showing our hero wandering about Milan and gazing at the interior of La Scala with a look of wonder on his face, he gives an introductory narration about Puccini which can be listened to in English, German, Italian or French. This really is “Puccini for Dummies”, though there are some interesting pieces of archive film shown under it. What, however, is simply incredible in this day and age is that this narration is delivered over the first item of the programme, the Preludio Sinfonico, written when Puccini was still a student. I had thought that it was just the result of my geriatric technological incompetence that I could not get rid of the narration, but I tried everything I could think of and eventually roped in a younger, tech-savvy friend to help, but to no avail – you cannot listen to the Preludio Sinfonico without the narration over the top of it. That Sony clearly think it is perfectly acceptable to use an orchestral piece as background music to a narration which ends as soon as Kaufmann comes on stage, speaks volumes about how they regard this concert. It may be true that no-one will buy this DVD for the orchestral “fillers”, but to use it like this is insulting to the orchestra, the conductor and to Puccini.

Fortunately, all is well from then on. Kaufmann is in excellent voice and performs with far greater artistry that he did at the Proms. Although the majority of the programme consists of the usual blockbusters, it is a definite plus point to Kaufmann that he begins with arias from Le Villi and Edgar which will probably be unknown to even experienced opera-goers. He performs them with as much care and thought as the standards and makes a very convincing case for “Orgia, chimera dall’occhio vitreo” from Edgar. In the two contrasting arias from Manon Lescaut which follow, his legato is exemplary and his use of dynamic light and shade is an object lesson in “Donna non vidi mai”. In “Guardate, pazzo son” he shows that he can tear a passion with the best of them without ever compromising the music’s line; none of this will surprise anyone who saw him in this opera at Covent Garden last season. In “Recondita armonia” and “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca, we have no difficulty in believing that this Cavaradossi is an artist; both are treated as the interior monologues which they are and contain some ravishing pianissimo singing. In every way Kaufmann is perfect for Dick Johnson in Fanciulla de West. His dark good looks are exactly what are needed and his similarly dark-hued voice is exactly the sort of sound that Puccini must have had in mind as he wrote the role for Caruso. “Or son sei mesi” doesn’t have quite the emotional desperation that it would have had as part of a complete stage performance, but “Ch’ella mi creda” has a wonderful inwardness and tenderness quite unlike the “can belto” approach to which this aria is often subjected.

Personally, I prefer a brighter, more “tenorial” tenor for Turandot, but his “Nessun dorma” is beautifully modulated. It says something for Kaufmann’s lack of self-regard that he allowed the DVD to contain the encore of this aria where he forgets the words, much to the delight of the audience. Among the encores are, strangely, two songs not by Puccini. I was particularly pleased to have the exquisite “Ombra di nube” by Refice which Claudia Muzio recorded so memorably in 1935. He cannot quite convey the morbidezza of Muzio, but it is still a lovely performance. De Curtis’s “Non ti scordar di me” was the song with which Bergonzi always ended his recitals. Again, Kaufmann has not quite the absolute “to the manner born” rightness of the older singer, but still sings it most convincingly.

The orchestral items are very well played and conducted by Jochen Rieder, a name new to me. The filming is exactly what I want from an event such as this – a straightforward, clear reproduction of the concert with no sudden close-ups of the third horn’s left earlobe, bizarre camera angles or constant jump-cutting. Some will perhaps find it old-fashioned, but then so is a concert of operatic arias. The quality of both sound and vision are excellent and despite my initial grumbles I found this DVD hugely enjoyable.

Paul Steinson

Disc contents
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Preludio Sinfonico
Le Villi – Ecco la casa… Torna ai felici dý
Le Villi – Preludio
Edgar – Orgia, chimera dall’occhio vitreo
Edgar – Preludio Atto 3
Manon Lescaut – Donna non vidi mai
Manon Lescaut – Intermezzo
Manon Lescaut – Guardate, pazzo son
Tosca – Preludio Atto 3… E lucevan le stelle
Madama Butterfly – Intermezzo
La Fanciulla del West – Una parola sola… Or son sei mesi
Suor Angelica – Intermezzo
Turandot – Nessun dorma
Encores:
Tosca – Recondita armonia
La Fanciulla del West – Ch’ella mi creda
Licinio REFICE (1883-1954)
Ombra di nube
Ernesto De Curtis (1875-1937)
Non ti scordar di me
Giacomo PUCCINI
Turandot – Nessun dorma

 

 




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