Saturday, January 29, 2011

January '11 Music on Disc


Die Vogel/The Birds (Arthaus Musik Blu-ray), the second release from the L.A. Opera’s valuable series “Recovering Voices” which returns to audiences many neglected composers who were silenced by the Nazis, brings Walter Braunfels’ delightful comic tale based on Aristophanes’ classic play to the stage. An always-tireless advocate for this music is James Conlon, who conducts the superb L.A. Opera Orchestra and Chorus with a sure and steady hand, while his large cast gives Braunfels’ wonderfully Strauss-like score a real workout. The luscious visuals of Darko Tresnjak’s production that give this flavorful comedy its uniquely colorful look are reproduced faithfully on Blu-ray, and the surround-sound audio is excellent. Once again, the lone flaw with this release is that such a superb operatic find is not given more context by the endlessly talkative Conlon in an accompanying interview piece; at least an essay that he’s written about Der Vogel is included in the booklet.

Cherevichki (Opus Arte Blu-ray), a lesser-known Tchaikovsky opera, is given a ravishing fairy-tale production by The Royal Opera in 2009 with authentic Russian singers in the leads (lone extra: 3-part making-of featurette); Richard Strauss’ bludgeoning tragedy Elektra (Opus Arte Blu-ray), filmed onstage in Munich early last year, gains considerable power from the fierce portrayals of Linda Watson in the title role and Jane Henschel as Klytamnestra (lone extra: making-of featurette); Puccini’s cowboy opera La Fanciulla del West (Opus Arte) contains many memorable melodies, and in this 2009 Amsterdam staging, soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek carries off the heroine Minnie charmingly (lone extra: cast interviews); The Bolshoi’s exhilarating ballet about the French Revolution, The Flame of Paris (Bel Air Classiques Blu-ray), is seen with a top cast from its home theater in Moscow in 2010 (lone extra: interviews and rehearsal footage); filmed in its 2000 Houston revival, Mark Adamo’s opera Little Women (Naxos Blu-ray), though beautifully sung by Stephanie Novacek, Chad Shelton, Margaret Lloyd, Stacey Tappan and Joyce DiDonato, lacks dramatic propulsion (lone extra: Adamo interview); Katharina Wagner’s ill-fated update of her great-grandfather’s comic epic Der Meistersinger von Nurnberg (Opus Arte Blu-ray) created a scandal at Bayreuth in 2008: many of her ideas are foolish, but she sticks it out, and the result, though wrongheaded, is fascinating, with splendid vocal performances from her leads (lone extra: making-of featurette); Sam Taylor-Wood’s exploration of a teenaged John Lennon, Nowhere Boy (Sony) has its problems, but the forceful performances of Aaron Johnson (young John), Kristen Scott-Thomas (straitlaced Aunt Mimi) and Anne-Marie Duff (carefree mom Julia) are not among them (best extra: making-of featurette); beloved tenor Placido Domingo finally essays the baritone title role of Verdi’s monumental Simon Boccanegra (EMI Classics) in this 2010 revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s classic staging: along for the ride are soprano Marina Poplavskaya and conductor Antonio Pappano (best extra: Working with Placido Domingo featurette).

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