This is a brilliant reading, full of sunlight and very strong rhythms, with quick tempos, no sentimentality, and a string section that slashes away maniacally during the Gypsy Song and third-act knife fight, but caresses Carmen's Habanera and José's Flower Song... The singing is pretty razzle-dazzle too. Elena Obraztsova, even with her covered vowels and outrageously off-key singing in the Gypsy Song, is a splendid Carmen. She offers singing alternately sultry and sarcastic ("Bel officier") and mostly alluring, until she turns gloomy and vicious in Act 3 and unleashes her chest voice. She's never actually subtle, but she's very convincing and always full of personaility. And it's likely that Placido Domingo has never been better. He looks handsome, the voice is absolutely free and intensely expressive, and he gets a three-minute ovation after the Flower Song. He and Kleiber clearly inspire one-another. Yuri Mazurok is a weakish Escamillo, singing well but looking awkward and poorly wigged (or coiffed). Isobel Buchanan's Micaela is just about perfect--innocent without being cloying--and her silvery tone is ravishing. The supporting cast is well-drilled, both musically and dramatically, with no rough edges or inept moments. Needless to say, the orchestra plays gorgeously... This is a remarkable release.
-- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com [reviewing the original release,
Mirella Freni embodies Fedora’s character with enormous authority. Her acting is not only brilliant, her great personality on the stage adds an extra dimension to the whole opera, which stands or falls with the protagonist’s role. This time it stands! Although, I have to mention that by 1993, Freni’s voice had lost much of its freshness. Her vibrato gets wobbly at times, her projection a little forced. Plácido Domingo’s performance is one of great conviction; dignified, but at the same time lush and abundant. His singing is marvelously concentrated and ideally suited for this music. The rest of the cast is very satisfying as well; to name just a few: Silvia Mazzoni as the young boy Dimitri, and Alessandro Corbelli as De Siriex the diplomat.
Gianandrea Gavazzeni keeps control over singers and orchestra with a calm and lyrical Italian hand. The music flows gently out of his baton, and the Scala orchestra responds with warm singing and full-bodied sound. The stage design and costumes are not really breathtaking, rather traditional, but they contribute very well to the “whipped cream and chocolate” atmosphere of the work.
-- Bart Verhaeghe, FANFARE [reviewing the original release,
Franco Bonisolli had been scheduled for Manrico, but late in rehearsals he walked out because of vocal problems. Domingo stepped in at the nick of time to sing a role he was born to sing, and he does so with complete confidence, as if he’d always been slated for this production... Of course, Cossotto’s Azucena sweeps away everything in its path. Eye-popping and scenery-chewing, she steals the show...José van Dam is a strong, authoritative Ferrando...There is fine playing from the orchestra, but with this conductor on the podium, did you expect otherwise?
Georges Wakhevitch’s costumes are attractive, and the sets by Teo Otto are evocative without being overly literal. The staging is by Karajan himself. Typically for Karajan, there’s not a lot of movement on the stage, but he was a genius for making little things mean a lot. And that describes his conducting too. This is not one of those self-conscious Karajan performances in which ego and concern for sound per se overwhelm everything. Instead, he simply pours his enthusiasm over the music, while giving the nuances implicit in Verdi’s score their due.
The sound is excellent—the usual three formats are offered—and not overly processed; one gets a feel for the acoustics of the Staatsoper itself on these DVDs... The playing time of 151 minutes is long for Il trovatore, and the explanation is that there are curtain calls after every single scene. Nevertheless, why two DVDs were needed is unclear to me, as a single disc can accommodate even more material. Never mind: even with the extra outlay, and the minor technical faults mentioned above, you miss adding this exciting production to your collection at your peril!
-- Raymond Tuttle, FANFARE [reviewing the original release,
Sound: DD 5.1, DTS 5.1, PCM-STEREO
Subtitles: English, German, French, Italian
Region: 0 (all)