|Available at Amazon:|
W. A. Mozart, Mitridate, Rè di Ponto, directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (re-released on April 11, 2006)
|Mozart, Idomeneo, Metropolitan Opera (May 31, 2006)|
|Mozart, La Clemenza di Tito, directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (May 9, 2006)|
The music is beautifully performed, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt leading the Concentus Musicus Wien, and the singing is generally excellent. However, the principal advantage of making an opera into this sort of film is to avoid the stagy nature of opera productions. A good example is Petr Weigl's shockingly graphic film version of Dmitri Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, from 1992. There actors, not singers, mouth the words and create the filmed action. By contrast, Ponnelle's film still looks very much like a staged production, to the degree that it probably would have about the same look if it had been recorded live on an opera theater stage. Pet Halmen's outrageous costumes -- enormous skirts supported by poles, enormous hats, ridiculous wigs -- have nothing to do with the libretto's setting (as I mentioned before, these flamboyant productions were probably the model for Paul Brown's costumes in the Santa Fe Lucio Silla). In a Bonus Track on the DVD, Ponnelle explains (in German -- he spent much of his youth and adult life in Germany), why he made the film in Vicenza, a narration that refers to the legendary acoustics of Palladio's theater (irrelevant, since the sound was recorded elsewhere) and to the possibility that Mozart may have passed through Vicenza on his Italian travels and come into contact with the work of Palladio (intriguing, but not based on any provable fact).
Gösta Winbergh is a potent, vengeful, wide-eyed Mitridate, one of the great tenor roles in Mozart's operas, an unjust predecessor of the perfect ruler lionized in La Clemenza di Tito. Yvonne Kenny is splendid as Aspasia, the woman promised to Mitridate and pursued by both of his feuding sons (the castrato roles mentioned above). This Mitridate is a fascinating visual document of the stylized sort of production that Ponnelle really pioneered in his career, and musically it beats out the only other version of DVD, from the Royal Opera in the 1990s, which is just as odd visually as Ponnelle's. I sincerely hope that one of Ponnelle's other major video collaborations with Harnoncourt, the three operas of Monteverdi mounted by the same team at the Zurich Opera in the 1970s, will soon be released on DVD.