Awful production, awful storyline, good music, great singing
Ivy Lin | NY NY | 04/27/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is the first dvd of Pia di Tolomei, one of Donizetti's lesser known tragic works. The production was filmed in Venice, and stars Patrizia Ciofi, who in recent years has established herself as a bel canto artist of not only great vocal accomplishment, but dramatic intensity. Dario Schmuck plays Ghino, who carries a torch for Pia, and Andrew Schroeder plays Nello, Pia's husband. And Laure Polverelli is in the travesti role of Rodrigo, with whom Pia exchanges loving letters.
First things first: the production is seriously one of the stupidest I have ever seen. Not untraditional (people are dressed in vaguely period style clothing), but the genius director had the great idea of indicating scene changes by huge panels that describe the scene in huge block letters. For example, Pia's garden is indicated by a huge panel that goes from the top to the bottom of the stage, and it says, in ginormous block letters, PIA. For the more complex scenes, even bigger panels and block letters. Sometimes multiple block lettered panels. Sometimes there are flags and banners hanging down with letters presumably describing the scene change. Whatever. It is simply mind-boggling. The rest of the production veers between the vaguely traditional (Pia's house, Rodrigo's prison) and mere panels to express scene changes.
I think this opera never gained much traction becaus of the bait-and-switch nature of the libretto. We think Pia has a lover (Rodrigo), but after a bunch of love letters and arias turns out Rodrigo's just her brother. And for this she gets poisoned? A bit silly, even for bel canto. Donizetti's music is also not at its most inspired. He writes beautiful arias for Pia, but music for the rest of the cast is somewhat by-the-numbers. Originally, the censors wanted a happy ending, so Donizetti supplied one, but this production goes back to the traditional tragic ending.
The singing, however, is fantastic. Patrizia Ciofi is one of those artists that just gets better every time I see/hear her. The first time I heard her, I thought her a bit screechy, but now I really appreciate her emotional intensity, and how she can color her voice to express so many different moods. Her final scene (of course, like all dying heroines, she has one last long aria before she expires) is beautifully sung. All the singing is excellent, and its a really large cast. I've never heard of must of them but they are all very idiomatic and intense, and act very well. But I just wish the directors had given just a wee bit of thought to this production, and come up with a better idea than block letter panels. After all, dvd's of Pia don't exactly grow on trees."
RARE DONIZETTI IN A MODERN PRODUCTION
R. Olsavicky | Butler, Pa. USA | 01/18/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Donizetti - Pia De Tolomei / Ciofi, Schmunck, Schroeder, Polverelli, Arrivabeni, La Fenice Opera
After reading the previous review I did not expect to enjoy this opera or performance. I found myself especially liking the music and not minding the production. It is quite modern but at least it's not some HORRIBLE EUROTRASH! I have seen a lot worse live and on DVD.
First to the singing and music making. This a fine to excellent singing and acting cast. The men are very fine to excellent especially the baritone. The mezzo is fine also. Ciofi is dramatically alert to every opportunity given her and there are many. I don't love her voice; yet I don't dislike or mind it either. She does some very lovely soft singing; however her high notes can get a little squally when she goes for drama and volume. She never wobbles of goes out of tune just some edge creeps into the voice when pushed. She reminds me a little bit of Renata Scotto in this respect. The conductor, orchestra and chorus all do a very fine job.
Next, the composer. There are many lovely lyrical moments in this score. The Soprano arias are well crafted. The duets are excellent. the melodies flow and there are many moments of dance rhythms in the orchestrations. The orchestrations are pure Donizetti. We hear clarinets in harmony, flutes in harmony, and the wonderful French Horn ensemble. All very typical Donizetti orchestral sounds. There is even some foreshadowing of LUCIA.
Finally, the production. This is a modern minimalistic set. There are arches or huge windows everywhere and constant use of bold colors with the ever present cyclorama. There is also much use of colorful banners.
The costumes are quasi historical. Again great use of color contrasts. The panels in Italian only are used (THANK GOD) sparingly. Any more use could ruin the production. AGAIN MODERN, BUT NOT EUROTRASH!
Now to sum up. We get to see and hear a very rare early Donizetti Opera that is very well sung and played. The stage directing is okay. The production is modern and not lavishly expensive; but it works. I expect to watch and listen to this performance every so often. The music and singing are beautiful. I MAY ONLY LISTEN TO IT AT TIMES. It is much less expensive than the OPERA RARA CDS or a hard to get alternative. recording. Those cost $65.00 to$85.00 on amazon. This DVD costs much less money and is well sung and played. This is an excellent alternative! I believe LA FENICE very badly wanted to do this opera with a very fine cast; yet, not spend great amounts of money on a production of a rarity that may not be used all that much."