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Tchaikovsky: Pique Dame
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Obsessive in gambling and in love, the soldier Hermann is the protagonist of Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame, based on a story by Pushkin. He is smitten with the aristocratic Lisa and fixated on learning the winning secret of ‘the three cards’ from her grandmother, the Countess, played by iconic contralto Ewa Podles. This opulent production from Barcelona's Liceu captures St Petersburg in the era of Catherine the Great, while the house's Music Director Michael Boden conducts a large and impressive cast.Press Reviews
"It gives us a thoroughly traditional production from the Liceu but it works because it tells the story so compellingly and because the singing and playing is excellent from everyone...Watching this DVD reawakened me to the dramatic and musical treasures of what must surely be Tchaikovsky's greatest opera (with apologies to Onegin fans). This is an ideal way to introduce the opera to someone for the first time, and a great way for established Tchaikovskians to remind themselves just how great it is." (Musicweb International)
"[Didyk] cuts a fine figure on stage: tall, blond, physically agile, he sings the role of the poor lunatic gambler well. His voice is laser-like in focus and has the familiar Slavic edge...Ataneli's Tomsky is a fine interpretation, his bright voice standing up well...[Podles] is in full control of her considerable resources, the voice booming when it must and scaled back for her lovely ballad " (International Record Review)
"Misha Didyk is both vocally strong and physically striking; his acting is suitably neurotic and ‘on the edge’...[Podles] just about steals every scene she's in. The part is often sung by veteran mezzos somewhat past their prime, so it's refreshing to hear it so well sung by a rich contralto and so well acted. " (Opera Britannia)Cast
Misha Didyk (Hermann)
Emily Magee (Liza)
Lado Ataneli (Count Tomsky)
Ludovic Tézier (Prince Yeletsky)
Ewa Podles (Countess)
Chorus Intermezzo Escolania de Montserrat; Orchestra & Orchestra & Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu; Michael Boder
Company: Gran Teatre del Liceu
Stage Director: Gilbert Deflo
Catalogue Number: OA1050D
Running Time: 180 minutes
Sound: 2.0LPCM + 5.1(5.0) DTS
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic
Subtitles: EN, FR, DE, ES, CA
Label: Opus Arte
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The performers on stage get little help from the musical direction or the stage direction, which are uninspired. Gilbert Deflo's production takes conventional to an extreme, which some will prefer to what is seen on other video versions (none of Lev Dodin's toying with the physical setting, nor Graham Vick's skewed and canted perspectives), but it lacks intensity and focus. The portrayals seem to be taking place in a vacuum; human behavior is not observed and shaped in a way to take the Pushkin/Tchaikovsky drama beyond stagy rhetoric. William Orlandi's designs are generalized opulence, the costumes elaborate but not consistently flattering. Emily Magee can be a striking figure on stage, as in the Robert Carsen TOSCA; she should have been dressed and styled better than here. Panels are used at times to contract the playing area and cover scene changes, and I suspect this detail is mentioned in most of the reviews because there is not much else to say. The forces of the Gran Teatre del Liceu under Michael Boder's direction sound inadequately prepared, and Boder himself can be annoyingly lockstep and unimaginative. There was at least one passage, Yeletsky's beautiful aria in Act II, when I sensed the excellent singer pulling at the reins, wanting to communicate more in his phrasing, but being straitjacketed.
So it all comes down to the voices, and here the news gets better, but not so much better that it can put the show over the top. Misha Didyk (Hermann) reportedly stepped into this production when Ben Heppner canceled. If the Ukrainian tenor had charisma, either vocal or personal, he might rule the operatic world. He is blond, fit, and handsome, and he manages his resources well here, but the voice lacks "face," and the stage presence is wooden. This is a utilitarian performance of a fascinating role. Lado Ataneli sings the far less fascinating role of Tomsky and gets essentially the same review, minus the good looks. This is Ludovic Tézier's second DVD appearance as Yeletsky, and his is the most satisfying performance among the six principals. The last time around, he had Rozhdestvensky's superior conducting framing his utterances; but even under Boder, he manages considerable beauty and elegance, and does all he can to wake things up.
Emily Magee should be a great fit for Lisa, but she gets the worst of the close miking, often sounding uncharacteristically hard, and seems less dramatically engaged than she can be. I would love to hear her reattempt the part in more stimulating surroundings. This "B" showing is nothing to be ashamed of, and her big, healthy voice is in evidence, but it falls short of the performance I had in my head. The fine mezzo of Elena Zaremba (doubling as Pauline and, in the Act II divertissement, Milovzor) has grown less steady in recent years. She obviously knows what to do with this music, but the beat in the tone never goes away, and this can bother in such lyrical writing as Pauline's aria. That leaves Ewa Podleś's Countess, a performance I looked forward to hearing, but which left me feeling ambivalent, as magnificent vocal means are put in the service of crude, cartoon-gargoyle histrionics. Even aged sopranos and mezzos with half the Polish contralto's voice have told us much more about this character. The melancholy and nostalgia of her lovely solo rumination pass for little; she is one-dimensionally nasty from first to last. On video, turn to Mödl (Ozawa/Sony), Bogacheva (Rozhdestvensky/TDK), or Palmer (Andrew Davis/Image), all so moving. Then try to put up with Podleś naming youthful paramours in a tone more appropriate to a dirty old woman shocking a captive audience with tales of group sex.
Image quality is top-notch, and placement of subtitles alternates between top and bottom of the screen, considerate of the stage picture at a given moment.
The closest analog to this in the existing video catalog is the 1992 Kirov performance conducted by Gergiev, similarly competent but dull, with lots of standing and singing in traditional settings. At least in Barcelona, the physical production is not decades old (and looking it). I cannot strongly recommend either performance, nor can I recommend the Ozawa/Sony, ruled out by almost a half hour of cuts, despite its excellent cast. Where I do not feel any of these three productions does enough with the opera, the Paris one by Lev Dodin (TDK) attempts too much, setting the opera in a mental asylum and freely tailoring the libretto's scenes to conform to the concept. It does boast superb conducting (Rozhdestvensky) and a great cast singing and acting up a storm. But the one great PIQUE DAME on video, to my set of biases, is the Glyndebourne '92, an atmospheric, period-accurate but visually off-kilter psychological thriller (directed by Graham Vick) that is both a musical and theatrical triumph. The stumbling block for many will be a Hermann who sings very unpleasantly -- he has a strange timbre, employs little to no vibrato, is intentionally flat much of the time, and has a way of slithering from note to note like a tenorial snake -- though not without style and a certain logical consistency. If you do not turn him off or flee the room in the first scene, what he does adds up to a memorable portrayal of self-indulgence and madness. The Met's 1999 television broadcast, on which Gergiev had a far better cast than the earlier one at the Kirov, with Domingo scoring a late-career triumph as Hermann, and an Elijah Moshinsky production offering both traditional opulence and astute observation, continues to be a mystifying non-release.
NOTE: This review applies to and was posted *only* to the page for a DVD of a 2010 PIQUE DAME starring Misha Didyk, Emily Magee, and Ewa Podleś. The author is not responsible should it appear on an Amazon page for a performance with different singers.
My collection includes the Philips DVD from the Kirov Opera with Grigorian/Gulegina, which is from 1992. While it is a fine performance, I thought an upgrade to Blu-Ray is warranted. The only version available is from the Barcelona Opera with Didyk/Magee.
As they did a very good La Gazzetta, I thought I give it a try.
Picture is fine, well lit stage, nice colors, vast improvement over the DVD.
Sound is 5.1 DTS MA (or Stereo). Surround is not used that much. Soundstage extents 2 feet beyond the corner speaker, applause is more from the front. It gives you the impression of sitting somewhere around row 12, not exactly my favorite seat.
Orchestra and chorus are well recorded, may be the orchestra could be a tad louder relative to the voices. When all the principals sing together, the underlying music is a bit missing and it sounds more like Babel than melodic bliss.
I had a bit trouble finding the right loudness as some of the louder/higher passages of Magee/Didyk seemed a bit distorted. In one shot you can see a wire on the back of Magee's neck, so there is a body microphone hidden under her hair.
Listening through my ear phones, the difference in the voice recordings is more obvious. While the countess (Ewa Podles) is always very clear, Magee and Didyk distort a few times a bit. It seems to happen when she/he is too close to the front stage microphones.
The other voices are ok as the singers stay away from the front of the stage.
Compared to the sound of the Kirov DVD, it still is quite an improvement.
Overall I can give it only 4 stars due to the limited surround incorporation and the distortion.