The great Placido Domingo stars as the passionate explorer Vasco de Gama in Lotfi Mansouri's colorfully exotic, critically-acclaimed production for the San Francisco Opera, conducted by Maurizio Arena. Enormously popular i... more »n the 19th century, "L'Africaine" is set in the days of the great explorations. Shipwrecked on the African coast, de Gama returns to Portugal with two captives and falls in love with one of them, a beautiful East Indian queen (the spectacular Shirley Verrett). However, their relationship is threatened by the re-emergence of de Gama's former love, Lines, when a new expedition launched by the explorer's rival is shipwrecked.« less
Top notch hokum - peel a grape, recline and enjoy.
Julian Grant | London, Beijing, New York | 05/03/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This was a 1988 revival of a 1971 production (available on a live CD) that teamed Domingo (Vasco da Gama) and Verrett (Selika - both then very much in their prime) in Meyerbeer's discursive swan-song. Seventeen years on, they are more statuesque than sexy, but both give larger-than-life performances that contain moments of completely thrilling vocalism. That is the only way to do a piece like this - which is leisurely, structurally broken-backed (though the many cuts exacerbate this) and contrasts music of real prophetic power (Verdi certainly took several ideas over into 'Aida') with some of mind-numbing banality, that is almost unintentionally comic - but that was Meyerbeer's problem, no quality control and a short breathed melodic invention that shows him wanting next to the real masters of 19th century opera. However, this traditional and opulent production makes the best possible case for the piece and it is thoroughly enjoyable in a slightly camp way. The casting is very strong, with the exception of Justino Diaz's Nelusko, which has strong presence but not much vocal allure. As Inez, Vasco da Gama's fiancee and rival for Shirley Verrett, Ruth Ann Swneson sings with great beauty and has impressive stage presence, very much holding her own in the confrontation with Verrett in the last act (precursor of Aida and Amneris here). Domingo is refulgent of tone and dramatically convincing, and he and Verrett strike sparks. She really comes into her own in one of the most preposterous mad-scenes in all opera, where she is slowly poisoned by the scent of a giant tree, contriving to make this dramatically truthful and even moving. Bravos all round for a good old-fashioned night at the opera."
"I've got to say, I am a Meyerbeer fan, as well as a fan of Grand opera in general. When I listened to "Les Huguenots", it was for me a real revelation. Thus, I had high hopes for this opera, which is Meyerbeer's last work, his swan song. I was in no way disappointed, though this work has a very different feel to it than Les Huguenots. While Les Huguenots is a very somber story, with persecution, impossible love, religion, and martyrdom, L'Africaine is entirely a love story, and manages to be sometimes very intimistic, despite it's use of chorus and grandiose effects.If I had to compare this work to any other work of the romantic era, I would compare it to Verdi's "Falstaff". Of course, both works have, esthetically, pretty much nothing in common (if this work is musically similar to a Verdian work, it is Aïda, for it uses similar orientalizing elements), it's only that L'Africaine seems to have a bit of Verdi's last opera's atmosphere. For both composers, throughout their lives, composed melodramatic love stories, more or less in the spirit of their time. While Verdi ends with a comedy where he makes fun of all his teary-eyed tragedies, Meyerbeer gives us a last tragedy, but seems to approach it more philosophically. As if, used to this atmosphere, he tries to find a moral to the ensemble of the operas he ever composed, giving the sentence it's period, the sundae it's cherry. He approaches the cast's misfortunes with a tender eye, instead of over-dramatizing, and gives the world a somewhat lighter work than his previous Grand operas, which doesn't stop him from giving a worthy rendition of the characters' feelings, and being pathetic when need be (especially at Selika's death scene). Aside from Don Pedro, who is all evil, and Ines, who is all good, all characters have good and bad points, and overall, the moral of this work is pretty much that love smiles on everyone, but only your luck decides wether it will make you happy or sad. This is pretty much the moral of all melodramas.From a musical point of view, I have trouble finding the famous downsides other reviewers have pointed. Regarding the lyricism, it is maybe less direct than Verdi's, but equally expressiveand effective. The arias are more elegant, have a more french aesthetic. But it in no way means that his lyrical invention is inferior. As I said, this work is not as passionate as Les Huguenots. As for the famous "broken-backed" act formation, I just don't see what it may be about. This is not because an opera doesn't have the musical continuity of Wagner's lyrical dramas that it lacks good structure. After all, despite Meyerbeer's success, the music critics of his time wouldn't have acclaimed the work as they did if it wasn't well-built. For me, an act is ok from the moment the story and the action make sense.Regarding the cast, everyone is very good. Placido Domingo is thoroughly chilling as the intrepid explorer. He shows well that back then, the aria "O paradis" was a party-stopper. Shirley Verrett sings her second-act sleep aria very well, and is very moving at the opera's end. All of the supporting cast is also top-notch. The famous "workhouse" sounds are mostly when the music is "piano", soft. Most of the time, however, I've had no problems with this recording. The Dolby digital sound is very ok.Finally, if you must make a choice between this work or Les huguenots, I'd say this dvd may be a surer bet than the Australian dvd of "Les huguenots", since the cast here is of greater quality. However, Les huguenots has, I think, a "grander" subject, and it's emotional impact is greater, I feel, than L'Africaine. Still, I would recommend you to buy both instead of making a choice, since each one has such a great musical and dramatic value."
Beautiful, powerful, and noisy.
Juan Lleras | Bogotá, Colombia | 01/09/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Both from the musical and scenical points of view, this is a great performance of Meyerbeer's opera with the elegant and beautiful Shirley Verrett, the powerful Domingo and Ruth Ann Swenson.
However I should have prefered to have much less noise in the recording. Sometimes I am tempted to turn off the DVD for it sound more like a workshop than an opera house. This is a minus five star performance of the sound engineers, in an otherwise great opera recording."
Grand 19th century opera, very well done
C. Harbison | Montague, MA United States | 07/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The singing of all the principals is excellent, especially Verrett, Domingo and Swenson. The production of this complex, multi-scene work is fine, the conducting a little leaden. But all in all, it is surely the best available recording (3 other live performances on CD) of an archetypal mid-19th century cultural experience (with all it non-politically correct moments). Wonderful, if very carefully constructed melodic lines--this is where Verdi's great Don Carlos comes from. An essential operatic DVD."
A great DVD of a rarely heard opera
A. BOSS | Mountainside, NJ United States | 09/15/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a excellent performance of a very good opera. The only complaint I have on this DVD is that the background noise from the live performance was not adequately removed. In spite of that, I would highly recommend it."