A rare chance to experience Cherubini's masterpiece
C. A. Weber | CA USA | 08/13/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Being my favorite opera, I was very excited to see that a DVD was being produced from a recent performance. So as not to bore anybody with my ramblings about the opera itself, I'll only concentrate this DVD's perfoming edition and performance.
The performing edition is based on Carlo Zangarini's Italian version and is similar to the version that Maria Callas made famous back in the 1950's. Zangarini's version is based on Franz Lachner's 1855 version with recitatives replacing the original spoken dialogue. Lachner's version is itself based on Cherubini's 1812 Vienna score with changes and reductions made to the original French Opera Comique score of 1797. The original French Opera Comique version had longer ensembles and spoken dialogue between the musical numbers which, in the hands of good French speaking actors, can come across as more dramatic and fluid then what we have here. But, even in CD recordings, no one has risen to the challenge of giving these spoken parts their true dramatic dimensions (I'm thinking that Minkowski and the singing actors he usually works with could do wonders with the original score).
This performing edition looses some of the musical structures Cherubini had created for the original 1797 French version. The most notable losses are in the fiery duet for Jason and Medea in the first act, the ensemble for Medea, Creon, Neris and chorus in the second act and the finale at the end of the opera. It's a shame the original 1797 French version hasn't yet replaced this Italian version as the most performed.
About the performers, everybody seems to have some talent, if not totally engaged in their performances. The Medea of Denia Mazzola Gavazzeni isn't one of the better performances I've heard, but she holds her own against the draining, emotionally charged version. Although, at times, I fear she was on the verge of loosing any kind of control over her singing. Jason, a role that would test the best singing actor to draw out anything more then a two dimensional character, is performed by Cesare Ruta in a typically flat, deer in the headlights, performance. The Neris of Chiara Chialli looks like she is on the verge of falling asleep, but when she sings, you know that she is truly the pillar of strength for Medea. As Creon, Carlo Cigni sings with an authoritative voice, but sometimes seems to get lost with the stage directions. Elisbetta Scano as Glauce does not iritate like some singers can with the openning aria but seems little concerned about the drama of the piece. The chorus sometimes sounds muffled, whether this is due to the recording, staging or confusion in the chorus itself, I cannot tell. Basically, all of the performers seem to be stretching their talents to their limits but with this music, and dramatic structure, most singers would be.
The DVD itself is what makes me the most disappointed about the whole package. What was with the editing of this DVD? It's obvious it was filmed, then edited, from several different performances (a normal practice) but please while editing an opera try to match up the image with the soundtrack. At times the video was several seconds behind what was being sung or just plain matched up wrong. At one point the editor(s) didn't look closely enough to see that Medea is still singing, yet the music is finished. This was very distracting at times.
The image of the video was good for the close ups, but a little blurry when showing the whole stage. The picture format is in 4:3 (full screen).
The soundtrack was decent and clear (Dolby Digital 2.0), if not up to the standards being set by companies such as Opus Arte.
Kicco should be commended for putting this recording out, even with the reservations I stated above. They may not have the resources to bring out a product with the same quality as the larger companies, but they are at least making an effort, with this release, to give us an opera that is rarely seen or heard.
All in all a good DVD of a great opera, even if it is not the best version of the piece. If you, like me, love this opera, this DVD will be well worth having in your collection to view over and over again. It may be a long wait until we see another performance of this opera on DVD."