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Puccini: Gianni Schicchi; Rachmaninov: The Miserly Knight / Jurowski, Corbelli [Blu-ray]

Puccini / Rachmaninoff / Corbelli / Lpo / Jurowski
Release Date: 09/30/2008 
Label:  Opus Arte   Catalog #: 7010  
Composer:  Giacomo PucciniSergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Felicity PalmerAlessandro CorbelliSally MatthewsMassimo Giordano,   ... 
Conductor:  Vladimir Jurowski
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  
Blu-ray Video:  $39.99
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

*** This Blu-ray Disc is only playable on Blu-ray Disc players and not compatible with standard DVD or HD DVD players. ***


PUCCINI Gianni Schicchi. 1 RACHMANINOFF The Miserly Knight 2 Vladimir Jurowski, cond; Alessandro Corbelli ( Gianni Schicchi ); Read more class="SUPER12">1 Zita ); 1 Lauretta ); 1 Rinuccio ); 1 Sergei Leiferkus ( The Baron ); 2 Albert ); 2 The Duke ); 2 Moneylender ); 2 Servant ); 2 2 BBC/OPUS ARTE 7010 (Blu-ray Disc: 162:00) Live: Glyndebourne 7/1/2004

Annabel Arden, the stage director for these July 2004 Glyndebourne performances, justifies pairing the two short operas in a liner note for this Opus Arte Blu-ray release. Both are based on the work of great poets (Dante and Pushkin); both were composed in the first decades of the 20th century, “against darkening political backgrounds.” Both deal with the fallout from rich old men disinheriting their kin. In commentary included as an “extra” on the disc, Arden and Vladimir Jurowski promote their view that Gianni Schicchi is much more than a fabulously entertaining comic opera. The conductor calls it “a very dark and alarming piece,” and Arden wants us to be sure to recognize that “Schicchi is ultimately punished because he’s an artist . . . he’s sent to hell because he imitates God’s creation.” I’m not so sure about these lofty interpretations. To be sure, Gianni Schicchi is no mindless farce—as with Mozart’s comedies, there are lessons to be learned. But this is not Götterdämmerung , and the opera can be thoroughly enjoyed without too much cogitation or soul-searching.

Gianni Schicchi is, of course, very much an ensemble piece, and this production is a continual delight, from the richly detailed sets and costumes to the staging, which has its slapstick elements. (The relatives search beneath the dead Buoso for the missing will and rigor mortis has set in.) The opera makes no great demands on any of the singers, but potential purchasers will be happy to know that the comely Sally Matthews does a fine job with “O mio babbino caro.” Felicity Palmer is a battleaxe of a Zita and Massimo Giordano represents a hunky and vocally virile Rinuccio. In the title role, Alessandro Corbelli’s fun to watch and easy on the ears.

From the cover of this BD, you could miss that there’s another work to be seen other than Puccini’s. It’s only in tiny print that we’re told the disc “also includes Rachmaninov The Miserly Knight (Leiferkus/Jurowski/Arden.)” This will be of no small interest to opera video collectors because, as far as I can tell, there are currently no other commercial videos of Rachmaninoff operas available. The Miserly Knight is surely the most exotic fare offered on Blu-ray to this point.

Rachmaninoff completed three operas. The early Aleko , premiered successfully in 1893 with Feodor Chaliapin in the title role, has had some currency on disc and in the opera house. Francesca da Rimini and The Miserly Knight were both first performed in 1906 with the composer in the pit: the reception of the latter in particular was cool at the time and for the subsequent century. Rachmaninoff was dealing with sacred material here, setting the texts of Pushkin’s play pretty much as originally written, and the opera, a kind of psychodrama, doesn’t lend itself all that well to staged productions. This is too bad, as The Miserly Knight is top-drawer Rachmaninoff. The music is evocatively colored and atmospheric—think Isle of the Dead— without the Big Tunes of the piano concertos or symphonies.

The work runs an hour and consists of an orchestral Prelude and three scenes. In the first, Albert, an impoverished medieval knight, vents his frustration at being unable to afford new equipment—his metal helmet has a hole in it from his last jousting encounter and his gown is pretty shabby. He’s visited by a moneylender who can’t offer much in the way of cash but does suggest to Albert that he poison his wealthy and notably penurious father, the unnamed Baron, to solve his financial dilemma. The young man rejects this idea out of hand and resolves to prevail upon the powerful Duke to force his father to support him. Scene 2 features only the Baron, as he descends to his fortified cellar to ritualistically add a few more coins to his hoard and, with a kind of sexual ecstasy, view the treasure in its entirety. In the final scene, with Albert secretly watching, the Duke asks the Baron to help his son out, but the latter rages that the young man plans to steal his fortune. Albert rushes out from his hiding place and accuses his father of lying. The Baron challenges him to a duel and the Duke, disgusted, chastises them both. From the stress of the encounter, the Baron collapses, asking only for the keys to his chests of gold as he expires.

Albert’s role is executed with the requisite blend of desperation and spitefulness by tenor Richard Berkeley-Steele, and the Duke is robustly sung by Russian baritone Albert Schagidullin (who sounds like a real bass here.) Crucial to a successful performance of The Miserly Knight is the portrayal of the Baron, and Sergei Leiferkus is magnificent. He sustains a high level of dramatic intensity and narrative cogency, not to mention a vocal surefootedness throughout his 24-minute central scene. His character isn’t merely greedy, he’s also depraved; each gold coin he adds to the stash represents human suffering and deceit, and the Baron knows it. Unlike the amiable Gianni Schicchi , this work truly is “dark and alarming,” and director Arden is absolutely correct to describe it as “a psychological study” and “the story of an obsession.”

The set is much sparer and more abstract than that for Schicchi. An inspired touch is the use of a creepy “aerialist,” a dancer/acrobat that hovers like a malignant force around the doomed Baron, typically during purely instrumental passages. The LPO is heard to excellent effect in the Rachmaninoff’s Prelude, and Jurowski is perfectly attuned to the very different vibes of the two operas. The sound is wonderful, especially in surround, and the new format’s high-resolution video does very well with the low-lighting environment of the Rachmaninoff production as well as with the Puccini’s sumptuous stage picture. Subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian. If you’re building a collection of Blu-ray operas, this one’s a must.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
Running time: 162 mins
Region Code: All regions
Picture format: 1080i; 16:9
Sound format: 5.1 and 2.0 PCM audio
Menu languages: English
Subtitles: English/French/German/Spanish/Italian

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Works on This Recording

Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Felicity Palmer (Soprano), Alessandro Corbelli (Baritone), Sally Matthews (Soprano),
Massimo Giordano (Tenor)
Conductor:  Vladimir Jurowski
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1918; Italy 
The Miserly Knight, Op. 24 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Albert Schagidullin (Baritone), Richard Berkeley-Steele (Tenor), Sergei Leiferkus (Baritone)
Conductor:  Vladimir Jurowski
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1903-1905; Moscow 

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