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More Opera and Music on DVD

Dmitri Shostakovich, Lady Macbeth von Mzensk, directed by Petr Weigl (1992)
I am still happily working my way through the Netflix collection of opera and other music DVDs. The last DVD I mentioned here (in a post on September 15, Opera on DVD) was Petr Weigl's shockingly graphic film version, from 1992, of Dmitri Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. What Weigl did was take pre-existing sound recordings and create filmed stories to accompany them, in the case of Lady Macbeth, an abridged version of what is probably the best recording of this opera, with Galina Vishnevskaya as Katerina Ismailova, Nicolai Gedda as Sergei, and Mstislav Rostropovich conducting the London Philharmonic (you can buy it from Amazon). His actors, mostly Czechs, lip-synch the action, an effect which can be disturbingly unrealistic, but once that operatic "suspension of disbelief" kicks in (I seem to have an unlimited reserve of it), it's a process that has limitless possibilities, far beyond what is possible on the traditional operatic stage, especially in terms of realistic sex scenes.

Franz Schubert, Die Winterreise, sung by Brigitte Fassbaender, directed by Petr Weigl (1995)
In this strange film, Weigl has German soprano Brigitte Fassbaender sing Schubert's song cycle, Die Winterreise, which is usually performed by a male voice. That performance is the soundtrack to a somewhat mysterious, even discombobulated story of Weigl's invention. (You can buy a CD version of Fassbaender's performance of the song cycle—very cheaply at $6.98—from Amazon.) The film's story is centered around the narrator, played by Fassbaender herself, who sings as a nun in a church, as if she is at her solitary prayers, with a singing book in front of her. As she recalls a story from her youth, some of the characters appear behind her in the church as ghostly apparitions, sometimes real actors and at other times mannequins.
Sergei Prokofiev, The Love for Three Oranges, Opéra National de Lyon, Kent Nagano (1989)
Alban Berg, Wozzeck, Vienna State Opera, Claudio Abbado (1987)
Pete Townshend (The Who), Tommy, starring Roger Daltrey, directed by Ken Russell (1975)
Alban Berg, Lulu, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Andrew Davies (1997)
The story she recalls in images is hard to decipher with only the soundtrack of Schubert's mostly unrelated song cycle as accompaniment. The elderly nun, at a younger age, appears to be one of the characters, torn between the love of two men. The "winter journey" of the song cycle's title is shown here as a coach trip into Prague, the only thing that brings the handful of characters in the film together, during which a young girl, who appears to be a ballet dancer, dies tragically. The only character who is really related to the songs is an organ grinder (played by an actor who also appeared as a minor character in Weigl's Lady Macbeth, the drunkard who discovers the body in the marriage scene). If you are a Winterreise purist, you are likely to despise this movie for its liberties, but once again Weigl has shown how vast the possibilities are for this sort of inventive approach, if you can stand it.

Some other opera DVDs that have recently come through my Netflix queue are this Lyon production of Prokofiev's truly silly opera The Love for Three Oranges, in a zany production. Singers include Hélène Peraguin, Jean-Luc Viala, Vincent Le Texier, and Gabriel Bacquier. The two Berg operas are absolutely crucial operatic listening from the 20th century. The vertiginous world of mental derangement in Berg's Wozzeck is staged by Adolf Dresen in this production and conducted by Claudio Abbado at the Vienna State Opera, with Franz Grundheber (Wozzeck) and Hildegard Behrens (Marie). The Lulu DVD shown here is not currently available from Netflix, but I borrowed it from the Catholic University Music Library, and it is magnificent (it won the Gramophone Award for Best Video in 1997). The cast is excellent, with Christine Schäfer (Lulu), Norman Bailey (Schigolch), Kathryn Harries (Geschwitz), David Kuebler (Alwa), and Wolfgang Schöne (Dr Schon, Jack the Ripper). Finally, there is the first rock opera in history, The Who's Tommy, which I briefly considered teaching in my course on Opera in the 20th Century. I opted against it because a friend convinced me that it was a "concept album" rather than a real, staged work. Ken Russell made a truly odd film version of Tommy, with the lead singer of The Who, Roger Daltrey, in the title role, and Ann-Margret as his mother. Among the incredible list of shocking minor appearances are Jack Nicholson (A. Quackson, a mental health specialist), Tina Turner (The Acid Queen), Elton John (Pinball Wizard), Eric Clapton (Preacher), and Keith Moon (the depraved Uncle Ernie).

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