Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Vivaldi - Ercole su'l Termodonte / Il Complesso Barocco Curtis |
Spoleto Festival 2006
Actors: Alan Curtis, Zachary Stains, Mary-Ellen Nesi, Laura Cherici, Luca Dordolo
Director: John Pascoe
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Excellent performance & production of a little-known Vivaldi
Joseph Newsome | NC, USA | 07/18/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Admirers of Baroque opera in innovative stagings must be thankful to Dynamic for giving us this DVD from the 2006 Spoleto [Italy] Festival of Vivaldi's little-known Ercole su'l Termodonte. Whilst one is grateful for every opportunity to hear Baroque operas in committed, fluent performances, the now-standard fare of Händel operas wears rather thin, so it is especially gratifying to have this Vivaldi score given top-drawer treatment in this production by esteemed director/designer John Pascoe.
Musically, the production is in the hands of American conductor Alan Curtis, a renowned specialist in the operas of Händel and Vivaldi, several of which he has recorded with superb casts for Archiv/DGG and Virgin/EMI. More so here than in his major-label recordings Curtis has the distinct advantage of bringing a fresh approach to a score that is familiar neither to audiences nor to record buyers. This perhaps allows Curtis greater flexibility in bringing a personal 'stamp' to the score, and he achieves many fine effects. One aspect of performance in which Curtis rarely fails to impress is the pacing of secco recitatives, which here are characteristically shaped for maximum dramatic continuity. It could be argued that Vivaldi's secco recitatives are a bit overlong, but Curtis' guidance (coupled with the alert declamation of his cast) minimizes this concern. Arias are less successful: often one feels that tempi are just that indefinable fraction too slow or too fast, affecting the dramatic verisimilitude of a particular moment in the text or challenging the singers unnecessarily. Still, in a score as unfamiliar as this and without having access to a printed score (to say nothing of the autograph), there is nothing upon which to base these observations but one's own perceptions, and these differ among all listeners. Curtis paces a performance that builds naturally without forcing, and for this one must applaud his skill in this repertory as much as Vivaldi's skill as a composer for the theatre.
There is likewise much to enjoy among Curtis' cast. Young American tenor Zachary Stains (Tiridate on Curtis' award-winning Virgin/EMI recording of Händel's Radamisto) approaches the vocal hurdles of the title role with considerable finesse and proves a singer of both style and substance, producing superb diction throughout and scaling the heights of Ercole's arias with flair. He also brings off the physical aspect of his scantily-when-clad-at-all character with athletic grace and unperturbed dignity. Young American countertenor Randall Scotting is similarly impressive as Teseo (Vivaldi and his all-purpose libretto are little concerned with fidelity to mythology, incidentally), singing with assurance and generally warm tone. Also singing with great fluidity and attention to the text is mezzo-soprano Mary-Ellen Nesi, 'star' of mdg's series of Händel recordings (Oreste and Arianna in Creta, with Tamerlano due on American shelves in August 2007). Here as elsewhere, Nesi proves herself worthy of inclusion among the finest 'early music' mezzo-sopranos active today, alongside Banditelli, Bartoli (arguably), Larmore, Mingardo, and Prina. Alas, the same level of excellence does not persist among the higher-voiced female roles, with sopranos Laura Cherici and Marina Bartoli singing proficiently but struggling with coloratura and upward extensions. Luca Dordolo and Filippo Mineccia in secondary roles are capable but lack distinction.
Pascoe's production conjures a classical world with a decided phallic fixation with designs that manage to be both evocative of conventional mythology (to the extent that his characters look as one imagines that Greek mythological figures of this vintage would have looked) and strangely contemporary. The phallic imagery is intrusive in the sense that it demands attention throughout, but this emphasizes (without cheapening) the fact that the mythological entanglements among Hercules, Theseus, Admetus, Alcestis, and Hippolyta are essentially sexual struggles. This faithfully reproduces the twists of Vivaldi's score but also 'works' as theatre in a modern sense. Stylistically, nudity is used far more effectively than in several other operatic productions I have seen, the physical nudity in Pascoe's production emerging as a parallel to the emotional nudity displayed by the characters. Pascoe achieves tableaux that are visually and emotionally arresting, providing a superb 'frame' in which to introduce modern audiences to the skill with which Vivaldi depicted the personal tribulations of these cardboard figures of lore.
The [Hi-Def] picture and sound provided by Dynamic are uniformly excellent, giving one the impression during home viewing of having a prime seat in the stalls.
With only small reservations concerning the quality of the sopranos' performances and occasional misfires from Curtis, this is heartily recommended to all those who enjoy Baroque opera, Vivaldi in particular, or rare music being performed by a talented, diligent, and well-prepared cast."
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 07/24/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As it turns out I very much enjoyed this, but wished for a bit more in all areas. Honestly, a lot of the singing was, to these ears, sub-par which is disappointing as I was waiting for this like a kid at Christmas.
Zachary Stains - who I'm a growing fan of, meets with some pretty rough vocalism in his first bravura aria - the voice getting coarse and reedy in some of the lower coloratura, and some of that smudged, to boot. (I just listened to him in the Christie led "Ulisse" - and god he sounds beautiful there!) I must say, Mr. Stains looked more comfortable than I've ever seen anyone naked on stage for more than a second. As most are by now aware, Stains is, (save a cape and a lion skin slung over his shoulder) completely nude for almost the entire opera. Physically, the boy's got nothing to be ashamed of, great abs, great legs, great arms - he looks exactly like Hercules should. (Handsome as all get out, he could also probably play Herc in a movie.)
Fortunately, his later arias are dispatched with far more attractive tone (there is an unusual beauty to his upper mid range and higher notes (though the role doesn't offer showy "high" notes) and the fierce coloratura in Act III seems to pose less of a problem for him. He makes the most out of the recitatives and along with his athletic physicality brings an almost cardboard character strongly to life. A very likeable Hercules, indeed!
For me, (as I believe the case was with Jim and maybe some others) the most beautiful singing came from Randall Scotting - an absolutely gorgeous vocal performance. A verile, handsome, beefy looker of a countertenor, I found his early physical gestures a wee bit fey for such a strong character (especially coming from such a big feller). However, soon afterward, when alone onstage, he projects a most assured masculinity and his two big arias are absolutely swoon inducingly gorgeous. He has much more of a female mezzo soprano sound than typically heard from countertenors, and I loved it. Rich and smooth, yet moving through Vivaldi's virtuoustic writing with ease. I want to hear a lot more from this one!
Mary-Ellen Nesi's Antiope wins top female honors, offering thrilling, hair raising singing and never letting her intensity flag for a moment, ending with her big aria before the curtain and bathed entirely in the blood red light of hell. It's one of the best moments in the entire show.
Laura Cerchi's Martesia got a little too thin-toned for my liking, but got the comic aspects of the character just right.
Luca Dordello presented a vocally inconsistent Alceste, sometimes a lovely tone and other times acid. Also waaaaay too much of his coloratura was inadequate . . . inaccurate.
I liked the Italian countertenor Filippo Mineccia's Telemone. Not a big role, but nice presence and he made something fun out of it.
Marina Bartoli had me at first, but then the voice sounded a bit tired and offered more smudged fioriture and some acidy higher notes. She looked lovely and she and Mr. Scotting make a most attractive pair of lovers.
I have to admit to being pretty let down by the production and direction by John Pascoe. The female characters' costumes had me wondering "what if the old Star Trek series had done Die Walkure." Despite all the nudity, severed phalluses and mirrors, the whole thing had too much of a pastoral "nymphs and shepherds" air to it. Battle scenes were especially disappointing. I think Vivaldi's opera could stand - nay, demands a little more blood-filled passion, and I daresay, nastiness (I mean look at the characters we're dealing with!) Too, the production seemed to want to stay mostly "lite" as too much of the darker moments felt as though passed too lightly over. (In an interview I think it's Pascoe who says he feels this is the closest thing Vivaldi has to opera buffa - and that's where, for me, the mistake was made.)
Alan Curtis leads a mostly sparkling performance from the 20 or so members of Il Complesso Barocco, catching the moods nicely though perhaps rushing through some numbers (and probably contributing to some of the sloppy singing in the bravura arias).
I did have to laugh a bit when ol' Hercules strips done 100% then dons a simple tunic - why they couldn't find one long enough to cover his junk!
I would have loved to see what the audience looked like as from the smatterings of applause it sounds as though there were only about 30 people in the house!
I'm glad to have this and look forward to getting better acquainted with this "rediscovered" work, and even despite my minor gripes with the production - really did enjoy it and recommend it to all baroque enthusiasts.
Heather R. Cobden | Hinesburg, VT USA | 07/21/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Okay, I'm biased because Zak is one of my best friends, but I've gotta say, this opera is beautifully done. John did a wonderful job with the direction and the singing was beautiful. Yes, there is nudity in this opera but it's easy to get past because it just seems natural to this opera. Besides, I was too busy reading subtitles to be noticing bare body parts."
You'll never forget this one!
David | North Carolina, USA | 11/20/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you are fortunate enough to find this difficult-to-find dvd, grab it now, as it's now out of print! This is an exciting performance of a very rare Vivaldi opera. Zachary Stains sings the title role, mostly in the nude. As one reviewer noted, Stains easily passes for the manly Hercules, and he lets it *all* hang out in this performance! I first fell in love with this singer in the Curtis recording of Handel's RADAMISTO. Stains possesses an exciting voice, and he gives a thrilling performance here. I bought the dvd mainly for Stains, and he did not disappoint. While this Vivaldi opera is not at the high level of Handel's operas and oratorios, it's quite interesting and worth getting to know. Highly recommended to anyone into rare baroque operas."