Ernani: Live Recording from La Scala, 1982
Placido Domingo, Mirella Freni, Renato Bruson, Nicolai Ghiaurov
Conducted by Riccardo Muti
Produced by Luca Ronconi
Ernani,Verdi's fifth opera (1844) is melodic from beginning to end. Based on Victor Hugo's play, whose tumultuous reception in 1830 marked a decisive turning point in the development of romantic drama, this violent and somber story of frustrated passion, honor fatally impugned, and ambition thwarted
and rewarded, is set by the young composer to a succession of irresistible tunes, unsurpassed even in his mature works. The opera's dramatic impetus is unstoppable.
For Luca Ronconi's production, which opened the 1982/3 season at La Scala, Milan, four of the world's leading Verdi singers were engaged: Placido Domingo as the bandit, Ernani; Renato Bruson as the scheming, dangerously suave King Charles of Spain; Nicolai Ghiaurov as the proud Spanish Grandee whose implacable sense of honor propels the action to its tragic conclusion;
and Mirella Freni as the gentle heroine desired by these three rivals.
Il Trovatore: Live Recording from The Vienna State Opera, 1978
Raina Kabaivanska, Fiorenza Cossotto, Plácido Domingo, Piero Cappuccilli & José Van Dam
Conducted and Directed by Herbert von Karajan
Chorus and Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera
Il Trovatore was always one of Herbert von Karajan's favourite operas. He conducted it at the very beginning of his career and his first studio recording in 1956 was made in Milan with Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano, but his Trovatore really made its mark in the legendary performances given at the Salzburg Festival in 1962, which formed the basis for this successful revival in Vienna. He once declared in an interview that what he loved about this opera was its archetypal human passions, its compression of highly dramatic situations into the smallest conceivable space and Verdi's genius for translating such situations into music. This 1978 performance is steeped in scandal. Franco Bonisolli was originally cast in the lead role but abandoned the cast during a rehearsal where the public had been admitted entry, and, after throwing his sword at the conductor, left the stage in fury, to be later replaced by Plácido Domingo. Karajan not only conducted the opera, but he was also responsible for the stage direction. The recording was very rarely broadcast and this DVD draws on the original tapes held by Austrian Television (ORF), extensively restored using state of the art technology. Thus this gem from the archives can now be enjoyed on DVD with enhanced sound and picture quality.
Otello: Royal Opera Covent Garden
For those who want a home video that preserves the kind of treatment Verdi's Otello gets in a first-class international opera house, this Solti-Domingo-Te Kanawa production from Covent Garden looks like the best bet. Neither Georg Solti's conducting nor Elijah Moshinsky's stage direction pulls any punches; this is presented clearly and forcefully as a drama of jealousy (Iago's and Otello's) destroying innocence (Otello's and Desdemona's), in which a military man from a primitive background is plunged into situations and perplexities that his life has not prepared him to handle.
What matters most is the casting of the three leading roles. When this production was taped in 1992, Plácido Domingo and Kiri Te Kanawa were the Otello and Desdemona of choice, and in this production they show why with effective singing and strong characterization. The orchestra and chorus are outstanding.