Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Rossini - La Pietra del Paragone|
Actors: Sonia Prina, Laura Giordano, Francois Lis, Jose Manuel Zapata, Jennifer Holloway
Director: Giorgio Barberio Corsetti
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Rediscovering Rossini: An Absolute Charmer!
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 01/10/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"La Pietra del Paragone:
I'm almost embarrassed to say I experienced this dazzling comedy by Rossini
for the first time only last night. But having watched this remarkable DVD,
cannot possibly shout from the mountaintops "Get this DVD!"
Truly, this is - hands down - the most innovative and imaginative staging of
anything in my opera experience, to the point of it being positively revelatory.
The production was designed and directed by Pierrick Sorin - a remarkable
visual artist who fairly found his own medium combining film, optical illusion,
and (according to the accompanying book) "optical theatres, a blend of
ingenious self-invented contraptions and new technologies which enable him to
appear in space, as if by magic, in the form of a little hologram among real
objects." Sorin has done major work/exhibits for a number of galleries and
some of the leading fashion houses. Still, having read all of that in no way
prepared prepare me for what I was about to see.
For this Chatelet production, Sorin created a television studio with a series of
paneled screens above the actors heads. The "studio" is mostly bare and
employs blue screen technology with the "sets" for the production on either
side of the stage. The sets, such as they are, are dollhouse sized models,
which onstage cameras project the images of onto the screens above. The
singers move about the mostly bare stage interacting as they normally would,
but their images are superimposed onto the screens above, placing them in
amazing visually resplendent scenery and impossible situations. As an
example, the Count, appears singing on the burner of a stove - surrounded by
flames only to - during the same aria - appear on a shelf in his refrigerator
complete with icicle stalagmites. Others scenes involve several of the cast
who actually appear to be swimming, diving, floating on rafts in a "real" pool.
All of this is aided by a team of women clad in blue spandex bodysuits,
including their heads and faces who, while visible on the stage are rendered
completely invisible in the images on screen. This device is employed to
create absolutely mind boggling and hilarious effects, such as the slow motion
flipping of a pancake which later even appears to travel on its own through
space to land on an upheld plate of its ravenous recipient clear across the
kitchen. The butler/chef later mixes cocktails with moves that rival those of
the finest mixologists. A tennis tournament played with relish and slow motion
during one of Rossini's most delightful ensembles - all of this and much, much
more to delight and dazzle the eye. The entire proceedings were then filmed
live at the Chatelet by film director Philippe Beziat, who judiciously moves HIS
cameras up and down, dividing the action in what is at first a dizzying and
slightly confusing experiment, but which - if you give it a few minutes -
settles down and only serves to increase the champagne-like high you'll derive
from this exciting production.
None of this, of course, would matter a whit if not in the service a brilliantly
constructed work - which, as it turns out, happened also to be the 20 year
old Rossini's first commission from La Scala. It's inconceivable to me that this
remarkable work has hardly been seen or heard in the last century, a little
online investigating showing that there was a recording in 1972 with a young
Carreras, and in the 60's an abridged version showed up at Glyndebourne -
sung in German, and a few other places revived it, but not much more than
that. Now, there is this vibrant, zany DVD - and another one about to be
released next week of a separate production from Pesaro. (I'm anxiously
awaiting its arrival!) The opera itself is a masterpiece. It does not possess
the depth of story as his most popular comedies, e.g., Cenerentola and
Barbiere - and is, in fact more of an ensemble piece - more so even than
Viaggio. It is absolutely jammed with delightful, inventive and masterful
ensembles putting its cast of 9 into a variety of configurations. All of it is
sung here by a young, good looking cast that would be difficult to improve
The plot - such as it is - involves a visit to the estate of a young, handsome
Count desirous of marriage, but who is pursued by three lovelies, who seem
more interested in his fortune than him. Also visiting are several men friends,
a poet, a newspaper arts critic, etc. and a houseful of servants. The
melancholy Count devises a series of "tests" and we're treated to the usual
buffa traditions e.g., masked identities, including the count's dressing up as a
Turk and his main object of affection pretending to be a soldier, and his
darling's long lost twin. It's all laughable - which is precisely why it works!
Bumping the action up to the 1950's works splendidly and lays to rest any
argument that every work must be first seen in its historical context to be
appreciated. An Italian villa (and environs) in the 1950's helps makes Rossini's
score sound as modern and fresh as if it had been composed last week. This
is made all the more exciting by the absolutely thrilling playing of the Ensemble
Matheus with Jean-Christophe Spinosi putting everyone through their paces -
often at breakneck speeds that the talented cast has no trouble keeping up
with, relishing even, the alacrity with which Spinosi leads them. Indeed, I
don't know that I've ever seen a conductor ever having a better time at his
job than young Maestro Spinosi whose excitement practically leaps from the
podium. Hearing this score played by this original instrument ensemble only
increases my desire to hear them in the entire Rossini oeuvre. The music
tangibly crackles (and yes that's what I mean!) There are at least several
numbers that should increase the concert repertoire and the fugue-like
opening of Act II is one of the most creative things I think Rossini ever
Leading the cast is the handsome, smooth voiced basso Francois Lis (who
looks like a singing Adrian Brody) and the diminutive contralto Sonia Prima.
Adorable is the only way to describe Ms. Prima. A cross between the young
Imogene Coca and Carol Burnett, she is a naturally hammy comedienne with a
face of pure rubber, contorting her face from hilarious mugging to seductively
cute in the blink of an eye, all the while hurling out Rossini's nearly impossible
cascades of notes in a variety of coloratura styles; sometimes with
smoothness and élan, and other times more muscularly and aspirated - varying
to suit the needs of the music. It is nothing less than a perfect performance.
Mr. Lis is new to me and, save a small hurdle there and here, he is a delight.
All are attired in stunning 50's haute couture, including some really creative
bathing suit ensembles for the poolside scene.
The balance of the outstanding cast is: Jennifer Holloway, Laura Giordano,
Jose Manuel Zapata, Joan Martin -Royo, Christian Senn and Filippo Polinelli -
and what an delightful ensemble all of them make!
Rossini's opera is an undiscovered delight and the Chatelet audience went -
quite rightfully - mad with applause several times, the laughter from the
visuals serving the master's sparkling, infinitely inventive score. I only hope
this charmer finds itself being produced stateside - and soon!
Everything about this is first class, including the housing of the DVD(s). The
opera is on a single disc (running a little over 2:40) with a separate disc
including interviews. The discs are housed in a hardcover bound 116 page
book loaded with production photos, plot synopsis, articles about the opera
and Rossini, interviews with conductor, designer, and biographies of everyone
involved (it weighs over a pound!). The product is put out by nave label and
is perhaps the most fun I never expected to have from a DVD! I cannot
recommend this highly enough!
Bravo, Bravissimo to all of the forces involved in recreating this "lost"
masterpiece at the Chatelet!
Wild, inventive, brilliant
madamemusico | Cincinnati, Ohio USA | 12/25/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you're a fan of Rossini comedies in general, or particularly a fan of inventive modern productions, this DVD is for you. Directed by Pierrick Sorin, who had previously created imaginative, moving scale-model sets for department store windows, this production split-screens the action with the aid of six cameras, props manipulators in blue suits against a blue background, and scenery that changes as rapidly as the frame-by-frame backgrounds of a Krazy Kat cartoon. If this seems a bit much for you, then by all means stay away; but I for one laughed uproariously at the incongruity of the changing scenery, in front of which a cast of mostly young and not well-known singers cavort like cartoon characters themselves.
The entire cast is superb, but pride of place goes to Sonia Prina, who sings Marchese Clarice. She is a pip and a half...a small woman, she appears to be no taller than 5 foot 3, and she looks a little like Imogene Coca, but omigod what a voice!! She has a fluent contralto that rattles through Rossini's most tongue-twisting cadenzas with lightning speed, interpretation, humor, and a tone that stays perfectly even from top to bottom. But tenor Jose Zapata and baritones Christian Senn and Joan Martin-Royo are right behind her, and bass Francois Lis as Count Asdrubale has a wonderfully distinctive dark timbre that is quite unusual for this kind of music.
If you enjoy the films of Jacques Tati or Georges Melies, you'll love this one. Don't, don't pass it up!! Get it now, put it in your DVD player, and get ready to be amazed as well as to laugh til you drop!"
A magical fantastical ride
Richard | Minneapolis, Mongolia | 12/30/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rossini and Corsetti take flight. This was Rossini's real debut, as a full opera at La Scala. It has been pretty well forgotten until now when not one but 2 DVDs are appearing. Previously it was only represented on CD by a recording with Carreras and Diaz. Rossini here is in full comic flair. Everything we love in his comedies is present in abundance. He may perfect his many tricks, but he will never be as fresh as in this youthful farce. The cast and conductor are on top of it. And the director Corsetti makes it literally take off. He mixes live and video here to magical effect. Below the singers are in front of bluescreens; above they frolic in the many scenes - raninging from swimming pool to desert. The plot is flimsy and very complicated. So lay back and let Rossini tickle you and Corsetti leave you gasping - how can he do that? All the tricks are right there in front of us, but they are still breathtaking. You've never seen anything like this before. And you'll probably never see an opera done like this again. I don't know what the other recording is like. But I'm sure unlike this production, it is earthbound."
Duck Soup Bel Canto
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 05/11/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Only the Marx Brothers have ever before put anything as whacky and madcap as this on screen! I expected it to be fun, but it transcends any opera buffa staging I've ever seen for novelty, for incredible ensemble acting, for visual surprises, and for stunning vocal athleticism. Sonia Prina, the leading lady and briefly her own twin brother, is a miracle. I've heard her often enough in oratorio and cantata performances, especially of Alessandro Scarlatti, but I had no idea she could ham it up on stage and on overhead projection simultaneously while singing bel canto with consummate precision. If you've heard Rossini, you know you'll get at least one quartet or quintet with one singer expectorating 500 syllables a minute, another soaring in coloratura, a bass exclaming vehemently, and a tenor rhapsodizing eloquently. In this opera you get five such ensembles, each more improbable and magical than the last! Now that this gem has been rediscovered, believe me, it will be coming to an opera house near you soon.
The previous reviewers have done La Pietra del Paragone justice with unanimous praise, and offered plenty of detail to help you realize that you NEED to order this DVD before bedtime tonight. I watched it on my first evening back from an expedition into the glaciers of Chile. You might expect that such a frivolous bit of old Europe wouldn't make a proper homecoming from weeks of solitude and exertion, but if you haven't noticed yet, I'm jazzed! Welcome home, me!"