I guess I'll make some enemies, but...
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 09/22/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"...I don't much admire Joan Sutherland. I never heard her sing on stage; most of my impressions come from DVD performances recorded when everyone had begun to excuse her for being past her prime. Reflecting just on the current performance of Lucrezia Borgia, I find her acclaim inexplicable.
First, she can't act. Will even her most ardent fans defend her stage presence? In this production, she moves about like an oversized high-school girl trying to remember her blocking... with all the awkward stateliness of the Queen Mary coming to dock. As other reviewers have remarked, this production was clearly underrehearsed, and many of the cast had to peer anxiously at the prompter's box. Perhaps that's Dame Joan's excuse, also. But her facial expressions are so wooden and inappropriate at times that one might wish the camera-folk had eschewed close-ups.
And now her singing. Bluntly, I don't enjoy it. Her tone seems throttled and fleshy most of the time, struggling to burst out of her oddly grotto-like mouth. Her pronunciation of Italian is atrocious, all shwas, scarcely a pure vowel to be heard, contributing to the throttled sound I mentioned before. Her bel canto ornaments and rapid passages seem much like her postures and gestures, broad rather than agile, stately rather than passionate. Her vibrato is not ornamental, as it should be, but merely an acoustical safeguard for tuning. Her celebrated high notes are harsh and sometimes not quite high enough.
About the rest of the production, it's barely worth writing. It's ragged and stodgy, more a costume parade than a drama. To those who enjoyed it, I apologize for my vehemence. I hope my Australian friends in particular will forgive me. Someone might ask, given my dislike for the principal singer, why I purchased this DVD. Well, I was so surprised by my enjoyment of Netrebko and Villazon in L'Elizir D'Amore that I decided to reevaluate Donizetti as a composer. Right now, I have to say that I can understand why his operas fell out of fashion in the last decades."
Glamorous Old School Donizetti
adorian | 11/24/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a spectacular 1980 performance from Covent Garden starring Sutherland and Kraus. This is the glamorous way opera performances are supposed to be... with lavish costumes. The purple number that Sutherland wears in the Prologue gets us off to a great start. One hopes that the animal pelts in Act One are faux, but they certainly look sumptuous. Her red gown and train for the final scene looks exactly like she's wearing the entire Covent Garden curtain! The outfit Orsini (Anne Howells) sports in this final scene makes him look like he's trying to be Popeye's nemesis Bluto at a costume ball. The wigs are also fabulous. Kraus looks like he has a big ginger tabby curled up on his head. He looks old and ridiculous, but the moment he opens his mouth and starts pouring out that gorgeous aristocratic sound, you realize he is demonstrating one of opera's most bizarre truisms: the older the tenor, the more convincing he is as these Renaissance Italian teenboys in tights (Gennaro here, Romeo elsewhere). This is one of the great Kraus performances, luckily captured on tape. He gets to start the final act with an extra insert aria, and his acknowledgement of the audience ovation is so Old School that it should be shown in music academies as a lesson in subtlety and good taste when milking the audience for more applause. Sutherland is in superb form: the trills, the high notes, the brilliant coloratura. She was often criticized for not enunciating the text, but there are enough consonants for us to tell that she singing in Italian here. And she doesn't just stand there and make pretty bel canto sounds; she is fiery and emotional and involved with the text and her co-stars. The duet with Alfonso (Stafford Dean) is very dramatic, while the ensuing Poison Duet with Kraus is thrillingly fast and propulsive. Donizetti certainly knew how to structure his numbers and manipulate his audience. The cabaletta finale has the proper pathos, and the coda whips the audience up to a frenzy. The audience is quite demonstrative (there's a flower shower at the final curtain), yet we are denied the view of any solo bows. There are a few group bows and that's it. One longs to know what the audience hysteria was like when Kraus and then Sutherland bowed solo. The English subtitles are good, although one does wonder who allowed the possessive form "her's" to sneak through."