"This was the televised (on PBS) gala that turned me from a casual, occasional opera listener into a full-fledged fan. And most specifically, it introduced me to the beauty and splendor of Wagner.
I recorded the gala on video, and have watched it from time to time over the years. While the PAL version referred to by another reviewer may have contained the entire performance, this DVD does not. It comes awfully close, though. There are missing arias which were performed that evening by Alfredo Kraus (Werther's aria), Gwyneth Jones ("In Questa Reggia"), Vladimir Chernov (Figaro's aria from Barber of Seville), and others -- most notably, a wonderful "Va Pensiero" performed by the incomparable Met chorus, and Cherubino's aria by the wonderful Fredrica Von Stade (much better than the selection included here by her). But when you still have close to 5 hours of glorious music like this, these complaints are minor.
To this neophyte opera listener, I knew Wagner as the composer of the rousing music used in "Apocalypse Now". I was not prepared for the astonishing beauty of the prelude to "Rienzi", which opens the gala, nor could I believe the intensity of Waltraud Meier's performance of Isolde's "Narrative and Curse" from "Tristan und Isolde". But it was James Morris' performance of "Wotan's Farewell" which moved me to near tears, and which, as noted earlier, turned me into a devoted fan of this music.
There are many other wonderful moments on this DVD (another personal favorite: Roberto Alagna's and Bryn Terfel's duet from Bizet's "The Pearlfishers"). You probably won't watch this in one sitting, but with each performace, you will be thoroughly won over by the Met orchestra. Incredibly, unlike the Met Centennial Gala, which used many conductors, the entire James Levine 25th Anniversary Gala was conducted by Maestro Levine. May he grace the pit of the Metropolitan Opera for many years to come.
Needless to say, I couldn't recommend a DVD release any more highly."
THE ULTIMATE GALA ---- BUT IT TAKES TWO SITTINGS!
L. Mitnick | Chicago, Illinois United States | 11/01/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am awaiting delivery of this DVD from Amazon, but I happened to see it on a PAL version a friend of mine bought in London a month ago (where it's been available for a few months). Trying to remember every opera star appearing on this gala would be like trying to remember how many famous faces you see being panned by TV cameras at the Academy Awards. Suffice to say, anyone who was affiliated with the Metropolitan Opera in 1996 and before (except for Pavarotti, who cancelled at the last minute) can be seen here. Some of the stars were in their early vocal primes (Alagna, Gheorghiu, Zajick, Hadley, Ti Kanawa, Fleming, Voight, Terfel); others were in the middle of their greatest periods (Ramey, Domingo, Van Ness, Von Stade); and a few whose best singing days were behind them. All of them provide magical and even poignant moments. Whether or not it was wise for Carlo Bergonzi to sing at all is a matter of opinion, but at an occasion like this, it really doesn't matter. There are a lot of Italian and French items sung by all of the above, but, for me, anyway, the standouts included the Wotan's Farewell and conclusion of Act III of "Die Walkure", with James Morris singing a truly monumental Wotan, as well as Waltraute Meier's scorching rendition of Isolde's Narrative and Curse from "Tristan Und Isolde". James Levine, the "raison t'etre" for this bash, certainly deserves the tribute. He made the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra one of the greatest in the world, and his work here fully substantiates that claim. Finally ---- a really big and wonderful surprise comes near the end as the legendary Birgit Nilsson comes out and makes a speech in tribute to Levine. It's all wonderful and certainly welcome. The only problem is that it's so incredibly long - six hours! It's very hard to do this gala in one sitting, though I remember that when it was televised in April of 1996, it started at 6:00 and didn't end until midnight. I happened to have recorded it on VHS (and it has held up beautifully), but I found that the DVD, at least the PAL version I saw, is much clearer and the sound is somewhat better. You can't go wrong with this one. It's one of a kind."
A brilliant evening indeed!
Robert Petersen | Durban, South Africa | 11/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I can only echo what other reviewers have said about this DVD. Brilliant from start to finish. Some the of the greatest singers past and present in their grand splendour. My only minor reservation are the missing extracts, but I cannot recommend this any more than what everyone has said. Thank you DG for releasing this concert on DVD at long last!"
James the great maestro Levine
Farhad | Claremont, CA United States | 02/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is a once in a life time experience to have so much talent under one roof peforming the best of the best. I have been watching it over and over again, time flies when things are made in great fashions. Bravo Mr. Levine and Metropolitan Opera."
A Must-own for any opera fan
Irene Adler | Seattle, WA | 03/17/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first watched this gala a decade ago when it first aired on PBS. I was smart enough to tape the whole thing then, and those tapes got watched many many times over the next few years. I was in highschool then, and, after leaving home for college, have not had many chances to rewatch it, not the least due to the fact that VCRs no longer exist. I wanted a replacement for those much-loved and much-worn tapes, but was uncertain if I should get this DVD, because I had watched the DVD of the older gala celebrating the Met Centennial (?) from the 80s, and was disgusted at the exceedingly poor video and audio quality, though it may have been more than reasonable for the 80s. I was afraid that the recording of this gala would also seem pitiful in comparison to the much more advanced technology of today. However, the video looks great on my 40" LCD TV, and the sound is every bit as glorious as it is in my fond, nostalgic memories.
Now on to the actual performances. Obviously not every selection is going to be the best performance ever, but there are many performances here that I think are notable moments in opera history. My favorite are probably Waltraud Meier's performance of Isolde's Narrative and Curse and Aprile Millo's performance of "Morro, ma prima in grazia." There's also a very charming performance of the Watch Duet from Die Fledermaus by Hakan Hagegard and Karita Mattila. Jane Eaglen pulls off a very enjoyable performance of one of my favorite Wagner pieces, the Immolation Scene from Gotterdammerung. My least-favorite performance, though, is hands-down the slaughtering of "Depuis le jour" by Renee Fleming, with her trademark The Beautiful Voice self-indulgence and over-sentimentality. But, thankfully, most selections on these discs are more examples of artistry than commercial hype.
One other note: This DVD set does not include the complete gala. I think I taped about 7 hours off PBS, and the DVDs only comprise about 5 hours total. I can't remember exactly which selections are missing, but, off the top of my head, I know it's missing: Gwyneth Jones singing "In questa reggia" from Turandot, Maria Ewing singing "My Man's Gone Now" from Porgy and Bess, June Anderson singing some aria I can't remember Frederica von Stade singing... I think "Non so piu" from Marriage of Figaro, but I'm not sure. While I wish the whole gala could have been included here, I'm not totally heart-broken about anything that did get excluded, so I'm happy.
Anyway, long story short, the top-notch technical quality of the recording and the stellar artistic quality of the performances here makes this a pretty essential part of any opera-phile's collection. I think it also makes a good introduction for beginners, because the music performed here are fairly popular highlights from a diverse range of repetoire. It also represents a wide range of voices, from the ultra-light lirico of Dawn Upshaw to the booming power of Debby Voigt's heldensopran.