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Subject: The Joys of Video
From: [log in to unmask]
Reply-To:[log in to unmask]
Date:Sun, 31 May 1998 20:54:15 -0500

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We who sometimes feel cheated that we missed out on the great days of
operatic performance featuring such singers as Tebaldi, Milanov and
Corelli can take some comfort in the fact that, just as the post-war
period has been amply documented on "pirate" audio, so many of the
finest opera nights of the past 20 years or so are forever captured on

Some of these performances, such as many early Met telecasts (Boheme,
Lulu, Luisa Miller, Otello, Mahagonny, The Bartered Bride) are not now
generally available, but some other "Sternstunden" can be obtained from
the dealers in "private" or "live" performance, sometimes called
"pirates."  Yesterday I enjoyed a double feature of performances from
about a decade ago, featuring three of my best-loved and most
electrifying divas.

A 1988 performance of FEDORA from the Teatro Liceu in Barcelona stars
Renata Scotto and Placido Domingo in the same staging seen last season
at the Met.  What a difference Scotto's presence makes! An opera that
seemed far-fetched and hackneyed when Freni played it crackles with life
with La Scotto.  From her very first entrance, her whole body vibrating
with tension and indignation, Scotto is the headstrong Princess to her
fingertips.  The look of delighted surprise that lights up her face when
she first glimpses Vladimiro's drawing room convinced me instantly that
she was deeply and sincerely in love, making all her subsequent plotting
seem believable and even sympathetic.  Like all the very greatest
actors, Scotto has the ability to make dramatic choices that are
completely unpredictable, and yet instantly seem inevitable.  In Act 2
she reads the letter that convinces her of Vladimiro's betrayal without
even so much as as trembling:  she is frozen in shock. And then she rips
the letter to shread and flings it to the floor, like something dirty
and contaminated.  And I will not attempt to describe the extended death
scene in Act III except to say that Scotto combines the most powerful
emotion with the most dignified restraint throughout -- except for one
breathtakingly physical coup de theatre whose surprise I will not spoil
for you.

Scotto is in late-period voice, thick-sounding and often wiry, though
the middle register remains sincerely expressive, especially in piano.
For the record, she attempts the phrase rising to high C in Act II,
with, I must admit, not much success. She is partnered by a ferociously
sexy and startlingly young Placido Domingo (could this really be only 10
years ago?) who seems inspired by the full-blooded performance of his
leading lady.  This is one of most passionate performances, with a
dangerous, almost murderous intensity.  And he is in stunning voice, far
more powerful and easy than the recent Met revival.

The second half of this divathon was a tape I obtained about a year ago,
an ELEKTRA from the 1991 Orange Festival, starring that titanic twosome
of Dame Gwyneth Jones and Leonie Rysanek.  I have written about this
performance before on this forum, so I will be brief and simply say that
this is just what ELEKTRA should be:  big-voiced, extravagant,
over-the-top, and viscerally committed.  These two artist leave blood on
the huge outdoor stage.

La Jones takes a few minutes to warm up, but soon is in brilliant form,
with enormous, spot-on high B's and C.  The outdoor venue seems to
inspire her to an even more physical performance than usual, climaxing
with a frantic climb up a huge hill of earth that covers much of the
stage.  Rysanek, in one of her first assumptions of the role of
Klytemnestra, plays her not as the usual burnt-out harridan, but rather
as an overripe sensualist aristocrat, an edgy Auntie Mame in black
chiffon and diamond bangles.  The confrontation of these two giants
lacks only miniature cutouts of downtown Tokyo:  these are
Godzilla-sized passions.

These two tapes originated in telecast for Spanish and French television
(respectively) and are particular attractive because none of the three
featured divas ever recorded these roles commercially either for CD or
video.  The FEDORA I obtained from Legato Recordings, and the ELEKTRA is
from Live Opera:  both are reasonably clean video dubs with very clear

james jorden
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