Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
(Blu-ray Disc Version)
Hermann – Misha Didyk
Liza – Emily Magee
Count Tomsky – Lado Ataneli
Prince Yeletsky – Ludovic Tézier
Polina – Elena Zaremba
Countess – Ewa Podles
Chaplitsky – Mikhaïl Vekua
Chekalinsky – Francisco Vas
Masha – Claudia Schneider
Escolania de Montserrat
Liceu Grand Theatre Chorus and Orchestra
Gilbert Deflo, stage director
Recorded live from the Gran Teatre del Liceu, 2010.
Picture format: 1080i High Definition
Sound format: LPCM Stereo 2.0 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Catalan
Running time: 183 mins
No. of Discs: 1 (Blu-ray)
Michael Boder, cond; Emily Magee (
); Elena Zaremba (
); Ewa Podle? (
); Misha Didyk (
); Ludovic Tézier (
); Lado Ataneli (
); Liceu Th Ch & O
OPUS ARTE OA BD 7085D (Blu-ray: 180:00) Live: Barcelona 06/30–07/01/2010
Generally speaking, the failure rate for opera performances on DVD is far higher than for CDs; they tend to preserve inept to ludicrous stagings saddled with mediocre to intolerable voices. Consequently, it is always a special treat to review an opera DVD that squarely hits the mark with a first-rate production and singing. Last issue I had the pleasure of doing that with the marvelous Glyndebourne realization of Benjamin Britten’s
, and now have the privilege of following it with this excellent version of
, a first-rate performance of Tchaikovsky’s late operatic masterwork that not only assumes pride of place among versions available on DVD but holds its own with the best versions on CD as well. It presents a thoroughly traditional staging, more lavish than the 1983 Bolshoi version under Yuri Simonov on Kultur, more focused than the 1992 Kirov production led by Valery Gergiev on Philips (given a mixed review by James Camner in
26:3), and free from the occasional miscalculations of the 1992 Glyndebourne version conducted by Andrew Davis on Arthaus, or the perverse 2005 Paris production led by Gennady Rozhdestvensky on TDK and Arthaus (properly damned by Henry Fogel in 31:4). Costumes and sets are elegant, stylish, and free from eccentricity (for example, references to madness and death are effectively but unobtrusively made at key moments by the simple use of a black curtain); stage movements, especially the choral scenes, are well managed.
The singing, while not peerless, is extremely solid. The ancient Greek mathematician Eratosthenes was affectionately nicknamed “beta” by his peers for being an excellent second-best in many things but not the best in any one thing. A similar observation applies to the casting here; while in almost any given role one can find a superior singer elsewhere, no other production on DVD except the Kirov possesses a comparably uniform degree of high quality throughout, and the minor caveats that I note are inconsequential in comparison to the impressive whole. The top honors go to tenor Misha Didyk as the tormented Hermann; if his voice is not as weighty in its lower register or as tormented as that of Vladimir Galouzine for Rozhdestvensky, it has a steadier (if occasionally stressed) top, plus more body and variety in tone than Gegam Grigorian for Gergiev and more cultivated vocal technique than Vladimir Atlantov in his various performances, while he sings as expressively as any of them. An added advantage is that he looks the part perfectly, with a virile, well-built physique, ruggedly handsome features, and fine head of blond hair.
As Lisa, Emily Magee does not have the Slavic timbre and edge of Maria Guleghina under Gergiev (some may consider that an asset), the occasional top note is a tad strained, and she does not blend ideally with Didyk in their duets. However, her Russian is quite good, her voice is attractive and steady, and she sings and acts with conviction. As Tomsky, Lado Atanelli has a slight spread in his upper register, but not to a degree that is distracting, and he plays his role convincingly. (He also doubles as Zlatogor/Plutus in the ballet sequence, where he is vocally miscast.) Ludovic Tézier has made a specialty role of Yeletsky; his singing here is suitably warm and gentlemanly, and superior to his effort in the 2005 Paris production, though a slight degree of strain at the very top makes one yearn in his lovely act II aria “Ya vas lyublyu” for the gloriously effortless magic of Pavel Lisitsian (though of course such a voice comes along only once or twice a century). Thankfully, for once the role of the Countess is satisfactorily cast with the famed Polish contralto Ewa Podle? instead of an aged mezzo whose voice went to seed a decade or two before. The Surin (Alberto Feria), Chekalinsky (Francisco Vas), and Prilepa/Daphnis (Michelle Marie Cook) are all quite good; the only failings are in the minor supporting roles of Pauline and Milovzar/Chloë, where Elena Zaremba has a jackhammer Slavic wobble, and Lisa’s maid Masha wields a squally soprano in her few lines. The chorus is excellent; the orchestra starts out sounding a bit thin but soon warms to its task. Conductor Michael Boder guides the forces with a sure hand, ably shaping the lyrical passages with flowing warmth and the dramatic ones with tension and power.
Subtitles are provided in an impressive array of languages: English, French, German, Spanish, and Catalan; however, they are rather small and sometimes difficult to read, especially when the background is light. The recorded sound is entirely satisfactory; the only extra feature is a cast gallery. While not absolutely flawless, this performance is enthusiastically recommended, and is an outside candidate for the 2012 Want List.
Of competing versions on DVD, the 1992 Gergiev and 1983 Simonov performances are worthwhile if visually somewhat inferior alternatives. Both the Davis and Rozhdestvensky versions, particularly the former, suffer from lethargic conducting as well as problematic stagings, and the Davis is also marred by the horribly miscalculated decision of Yuri Marusin to portray the madness of Hermann by singing most of his role deliberately out of tune. Completely out of the running is the 1992 Vienna production on Sony, led by Seiji Ozawa, afflicted by severe cuts and a cast of vocally over-the-hill former stars. I have not seen the 1960 film version issued by Kultur, with actors lip-synching the vocal roles of a Bolshoi Opera cast of soloists led by Yevgeny Svetlanov. I have an off-the-air recording of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1999 Metropolitan Opera production with Plácido Domingo; if not as visually opulent as this production it is musically superb, and one hopes that the Met will soon release it commercially. On CD, out of several adequate to strong contenders I would recommend three: the 1999 recording on the Relief label with Vitaly Tarashschenko, Natalia Datsko, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Grigory Gritsuk, Alexander Verdernikov, and Irina Arkhipova under Vladimir Fedoseyev; the 1992 Kirov/Gergiev performance in its CD incarnation with Grigorian, Guleghina, Arkhipova, Nikolai Putiin, Vladimir Chernov, and Olga Borodina; and the historic 1949–50 Bolshoi production with Georg Nelepp, Evgeniya Smolenskaya, Pavel Lisitsian, and Alexei Ivanov under Alexander Melik-Pasheyev, an excellent version worth acquiring for Lisitsian alone.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
Works on This Recording
Queen of Spades, Op. 68 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Claudia Schneider (Soprano),
Ludovic Tézier (Baritone),
Misha Didyk (Tenor),
Emily Magee (Soprano),
Lado Ataneli (Baritone),
Elena Zaremba (Mezzo Soprano),
Francisco Vas (Bass),
Ewa Podles (Alto)
Escolania de Montserrat,
Barcelona Teatro Liceu Orchestra
Written: 1890; Russia
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