Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Halevy - La Juive|
Actors: Neil Shicoff, Krassimira Stoyanova, Walter Fink, Simina Ivan, Jianyi Zhang
Directors: Vjetsoslav Sutej, Günter Krämer
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Good performances, boring staging, poor bonuses
F. Behrens | Keene, NH USA | 01/08/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"One of the most popular operas in Europe before World War II quickly became one of the least performed afterwards. "La Juive" was composed by Jacques Fromantel Halevy to give a certain tenor (Adolphe Nourrit) a good part as the lover. But the singer found the role of Eleazar, the Jewish merchant, more to his liking and asked for an aria to soften the character's affect on the audience. It is said that Nourrit even wrote the words to support his request. And so Halevy set to music the only song that remains popular from this work, "Rachel, quand du Seigneur." (Eleazar was said to be Caruso's favorite role and this selection his favorite aria.)
The libretto is by the incredibly prolific Eugene Scribe, whose plays were mocked by many and admired by many more. (Among the latter was Sarah Bernhardt, who was always on the look for a juicy part.) He was master of what is called "the well wrought play" and many a composer turned to him for texts.
Now you can judge the merits of this score on a Deutsche Grammophon DVD (00440 073 4001) in a 2003 production at the Wiener Staatsoper, conducted by Vjekoslav Sutej.
The leads are strong ones. Neil Shicoff throws voice and soul into the role of Eleazar, bringing down the house with his "Rachel" and in general giving a strong and believable performance of a man living in a town in which the citizenry would love nothing better than either drowning or burning him and his daughter. As Rachel, Krassimira Stoyanova sings beautifully but looks a little too old to be Shicoff's daughter, no matter how much they whiten his hair. As her suitor (Leopold, a member of the royal family posing as a Jew), Jiany Zhang sings well but hardly creates a character.
Walter Fink makes the Cardinal a basically good man bound to Eleazar more than he realizes. The end is practically that of "Il Trovatore," if I am not giving too much away.
Since the action takes place in 1414, the director opted for a setting that seems to be around 1900, with the Jewish characters dressed in black suits or dresses and the chorus in Tyrolean garb out of some forgotten operetta. In keeping with the "who cares what the text says" staging today, references to soldiers are addressed to no such characters on stage and so on.
The bare stage consists of a ramp that runs upward from audience's left to right, upon which is a table and chairs with up-ramp legs sawn off so their surfaces can be horizontal. That area represents the court and the streets (complete with table and chairs), while the lower downstage is first the outside of a church and then Eleazar's house. Pretty boring to watch all through a production that clocks in just short of 3 hours.
All of this is a shame, because the performances and the work are certainly of a fine enough quality to make me recommend this set. When else will you ever get to see this important opera? This will do until a more intelligent production comes along.
There is an hour-long documentary that is rambling and seems to be all about a 10-minute film that shows Shicoff singing "Rachel" in an actual synagogue. I stopped watching the documentary shortly after interviewer and interviewee could not resist the current trend to lace their conversation with words for which teachers today can suspend young students. What chance do the teachers have? This is not what opera should be about. The short film is vocally impressive but it seems merely an ego-trip for the tenor.
Grand but demanding
R. P Winthrop | Farmville, VA United States | 03/13/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Grand 19th Centruy operas have been long out of style. Halevy's La Juive deals with the corrosiveness of hate in frank and disturbing way. It isn't an easy opera to like, but it is a significant work of art. It must have been a shocker in 1835. The plot seems to relfect conditions in the modern mmiddle East.
Musically it contains a series of fine arias combined with large choral interludes. All the singers get a chance to show off. All take full advantage of the opportunity. Shicoff is supurb, but all do well. Walter Fink's deep bass is particualrly effective as he tries to avoid the final tragedy.
The sets and production are ordinary and unhelpful. Dressing all the bad guys in white and the good guys in black was an unwise choice. The production confuses rather than enriches the opera.
The opera and the cast deserve a first rate production."
A huge drama with a giant in the center
Kenneth Wolman | Sea Bright, New Jersey United States | 07/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The costuming of this opera, presumably set in 1414, reminds me more of the early 1930s than the turn of the last century. It is chillingly real, especially by acts IV and V. The DVD is, I believe, a record of a 1999 performance in Vienna. I saw Shicoff perform in this same production in New York in 2003--and he was devastating. I don't know if a different tenor would have had the same effect. There were rumors that Domingo was contracted by Vienna long ago to do this, but somehow never got to it. I have no doubt he would have been superb: this is not a case of "you have to be Jewish." After all, Caruso wrapped Eleazar around himself and is still the shadow against whom all tenors measure themselves. For whatever reason, Domingo withdrew and I can guess that Shicoff took up the cause to get this thing mounted. He is a natural. As he explains his working methods on the supplemental "Finding Eleazar," he is a high-strung nervous person (no kidding) who has to use those qualities to deliver his dramatic impact. Use it he does. "Rachel quand du Seigneur" knocks the wind out of you; he is caressing and snarling and vindictive; there is no point when he's onstage that you can't sense his total commitment to the role and the story. Nobody else is bad...Stoyanova is excellent...but I miss the incomparable Ferruccio Furlanetto, who was a tremendous Cardinal Brogni in New Yori"
Richard | Minneapolis, Mongolia | 02/28/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I love Grand Opera. What a kick! And I've always had a passion to see Juive - probably because of the fiery ending. Turns out its not much here - some men in red inquisition robes rush on stage and surround Rachel. Not spectacular, but effective. I finally heard Juive in the Carreras recording. But this is something else again. I was not put off by the unit set. It made sense - the great divide between the Jews and Christians. Vienna created a good performing version of this over four hour work. I followed along with the Carreras libretto - and the choices of Vienna were best - especially losing the ballet which would have broke the tension and plot arc. The singers are quite good. I especially relished the rich bass of Walter Fink. But make no mistake - this is Neil Shikoff's night. And his rendition of "Rachel, quand le dieu" in the fourth act had me breathless and brought down the house. This is the performance of a lifetime - something we see all too seldom. For Shikoff alone this is worth it for any opera lover."