Notes and Editorial Reviews
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes – Plácido Domingo
Doña Cayetana – Michelle Breedt
María Luisa, Queen of Spain – Íride Martínez
Charles IV, King of Spain – Andreas Conrad
Don Manuel Godoy – Maurizio Muraro
Martín Zapater – Christian Gerhaher
Festival-Chor KlangBogen Wien
(chorus master: Matthias Köhler)
Emmanuel Villaume, conductor
Kasper Bech Holten, stage director
Steffen Aarfing, stage and costume designer
Jesper Kongshaug, lighting
Nikolaus Adler, choreographer
Recorded live from the Theater an der Wien, 2004.
format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean
Running time: 101 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)
R E V I E W:
Emmanuel Villaume, cond; Plàcido Domingo (
); Michelle Breedt (
Duchess of Alba
); Íride Martinez (
Queen of Spain
); Andreas Conrad (
); Vienna RO
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101 576 (DVD: 101:00
Text and Translation) Live: Theater an der Wien 2004
For those who find the idea of writing an old-fashioned late-Romantic opera in 1986 horrifying,
should probably be avoided. But for those who might be confused as to why an opera would be more highly regarded if the very same notes had been put to paper 75 years earlier, and who refuse to worry about whether a composer followed fashion,
may well prove a gratifying experience. Most
readers probably already have formed an opinion about Menotti, and so the issue for them might be to determine where this opera fit into his legacy. For James H. North, reviewing different releases of the same (and only) audio recording in
16:1 and 31:6, it ranks fairly high in Menotti’s output, and I would agree. I have always felt
The Saint of Bleecker Street
to be his strongest work, but
comes fairly close in terms of consistency of inspiration.
Plàcido Domingo asked Menotti to write an opera for him, and suggested the subject. Menotti took a great deal of romantic license with Goya’s life, so don’t expect historic accuracy. But the result is a passionate opera with genuine melodic sweep, and an extremely juicy role for Domingo. The work has a number of gorgeous arias and duets, and this performance should win it a new and enthusiastic audience. Kasper Bech Holten’s staging is traditional, straightforward, and moving. Emmanuel Villaume’s conducting has sweep, ardor, and firmness of pulse; the music never sags.
Domingo here is a miracle. The opera begins and ends with Goya as an old man, but for most of the work we relive his life (or rather his life as imagined by Menotti) with him. It is simply amazing that the then 63-year-old tenor, after more than four decades of singing, could pour out a steady stream of rich, firm tenor sound. He is deeply involved in the character, and seems to identify with Menotti’s score and libretto completely. The rest of the cast is for the most part up to Domingo’s level, particularly Michelle Breedt as the love of his life (at least in this telling). Together the two of them create real sparks.
The opera was written in English, which is how it is sung here. The Spoleto performance released on Nuova Era and Opera d’Oro is sung in Menotti’s Italian translation. North prefers the Italian, but I must admit to preferring the English. There are subtitles on this DVD, which are useful as not all of the words are clear. The booklet contains a helpful, intelligently written essay by Alexandra Noël. The sound quality is extremely clear and well balanced, the presence of the audience is not a distraction at all, and stage noises are minimal. For anyone who loves the world of traditional, Romantic opera, and doesn’t care if a composer was still writing in that genre in the 1980s,
should provide great satisfaction. It is Menotti at his best, and for many of us, that is very good indeed.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
It so happened that Gian Carlo Menotti invited Plácido Domingo for dinner in Scotland in 1977, when the tenor was singing Don José in
Carmen at the Edinburgh Festival. It turned out that they shared the opinion that in modern music the human voice was treated as an instrument. Domingo once said: ‘You find the most beautiful passages during the scene changes, but as soon as the singers appear, the melody disappears.’ It soon followed that Domingo asked: ‘Gian Carlo, why don’t you write an opera for me?’ Domingo at once saw an appropriate basis for the opera: the life of Francisco Goya, the artist he admired most of all. Menotti accepted immediately and later said: ‘I think it was the only time I accepted someone else’s idea.’ It was almost a decade before the opera was finished but in November 1986 it was first performed in Washington by Washington National Opera. This was Domingo’s debut there, which eventually led to his taking over the post as General Director ten years later. The audience loved the work, the theatre was filled with celebrities, including Queen Sofia of Spain, and the production was lavish. The critics were generally of different opinions. I have read the New York Times acerbic review, where Donal Henahan piles negativisms like ‘Goya ... had everything in its favor except a composer and a librettist capable of dealing in depth with its operatically promising subject’ and ‘Mr Menotti has simply piled platitude on platitude for three acts’. These are comments that could kill any production, but Domingo still had faith in the work and when he was invited to appear at the Theater an der Wien, the stage where
Die lustige Witwe was premiered back in 1905, he chose
Goya as a suitable piece, and the present issue was filmed during performances there in 2004.
I may have a partiality for platitudes and thus I am not in the least offended by such in this libretto. Musically Menotti has almost throughout his life been criticized for this and that, mostly for being out of phase with his time. Still several of his operas were not just successes with the public but also rendered him awards, for instance the Pulitzer Prize twice in the 1950s. I have lately had opportunities to review some of his best known operas and have to admit that they are much to my liking.
Goya, is, compared to
The Medium and
The Consul, more uneven but there is a lot to admire. Most of all Menotti is strong in his handling of the orchestra and the interludes are certainly of high quality. Large parts of the opera consists of recitative that is more routine than inspirational and when the composer at emotional high-spots lets loose his creative vein these moments reach heights on a level with his best music from several decades back. In the opening of the opera there is Spanish colouring with a guitarist on stage and there are some ‘arias’ of great beauty -
Paradise of flying angels (Act I, scene 1, Ch 4) - and the strongest scene is undoubtedly Goya’s long final monologue. This is powerful and deep-probing music and the appearance of the Duchess is balm for the torn soul of the old painter.
I won’t deal in depth with either the story or the message of the opera. Goya is, however, ‘a symbol of the freedom and constraints of the artist. For Menotti, the main focus was on the dualism between Goya the artist and Goya the man.’ The sets are spare and Kasper Bech Holten puts the characters in focus in what can be described as a timeless world. The life of the artist is largely the same in any historical time.
Centre-stage is naturally Goya himself and, having chosen the subject for the opera, Placido Domingo is a deeply involved artist. I have always stated that Mr Domingo could have had a great stage career also without his singing voice - though Mr Henahan of the
New York Times found him ‘not a graceful actor’ but admitted that he ‘lent his famously robust voice to his evening's task like a tenor who genuinely believes in what he is singing.’ Of course I don’t know anything about his acting at the Washington premiere, but eighteen years later in Vienna his portrait of his great compatriot is certainly all-embracing and I don’t believe that anyone - unless one has a heart of stone - can be unmoved by his depiction of the ageing deaf and blind painter. Domingo is truly magnificent here - and it is the actor, not the singer, who impresses most. Michelle Breedt as his muse, the Duchess of Alba, is a marvellous singer, visually appealing and dramatically convincing. As Martin Zapater, Goya’s close friend, Christian Gerhaher sings and acts excellently and Maurizio Muraro as Don Manuel Godoy, Queen Maria Luisa’s lover, is very good too, while the Queen herself, Iride Martinez, is a lively actress but vocally a scream.
I must agree that
Goya isn’t Menotti at his most inspired but it is on the other hand not a write-off. Platitudes or not there is enough substance in the score and the libretto to make it worth seeing. With some excellent singing and Domingo in splendid shape rather late in his phenomenal career it can’t fail to move appreciative and sensitive opera lovers.
-- Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Goya by Gian Carlo Menotti
Iride Martinez (Soprano),
Michelle Breedt (Mezzo Soprano),
Maurizio Muraro (Bass),
Christian Gerhaher (Baritone),
Placido Domingo (Tenor),
Andreas Conrad (Tenor)
Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1986; USA
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