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Almaviva

Handel: Partenope on DVD

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Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
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I continue to have trouble with Firefox and inserting images. Now I can do it, but they are small.

Anyway, let's focus on the DVD itself.

This was recorded live at the Royal Danish Opera, Copenhagen, in October of 2008.
Lars Ulrik Mortensen conducts the Concerto Copenhagen.

Inger Dam-Jensen is Partenope.
Andreas Scholl is Arsace
Christophe Dumaux is Armindo
Tuva Semmingsen is Rosmira (a.k.a. cross-dressing Eurimene)
Bo Kristian Jensen is Emilio
Palle Knudsen is Ormonte

Technically speaking this is a good product from DECCA, region zero, filmed in HD, with 16:9 anamorphic widescreen, LPCM and DTS 5.0 tracks (one laments that the subwoofer is not fully activated - but the surround effects are good, and sometimes when the singing comes from a corner of the stage it only comes from that side of the surround speakers and the effects are pleasant - oh well, I'm inaugurating my new higher-end set-up - not the highest end but a significant improvement over my old one - with this DVD and I'm very pleased with the sound). Good image definition and colors (although the staging doesn't take advantage of it). There are optional subtitles in numerous languages and a bonus feature (documentary of the rehearsals, 17 minutes-long). The opera running time is 187 minutes.

The Pros:

Exquisite singing by all principals, some better than others (particularly Andreas Scholl, Inger Dam-Jensen and Bo Kristian Jensen) but even the slightly - and I do mean slightly - less good ones (Christophe Dumaux, Tuva Semmingsen) do an excellent job.

Inger Dam-Jensen has good stage presence and is a good match for the role of the proud, powerful and sexy queen - she is an impressive lady although not a beauty.

There is some eye candy for the ladies who like gents or gents who like gents, but not so for gents who like ladies (my case) or ladies who like ladies, in spite of the suggestive cover picture (which is misleading).

HIP in period instruments.

The Cons:

They are numerous, in my opinion.

Unattractive staging with dark scenarios and even darker lighting.

Overacting by many principals - yes, I understand that opera often includes overacting in order to reach the back of the theater but with the frequent close-ups of this camera direction it gets really distracting. And then, with the misguided attempts at humor (see below) the singers seem to be always indecisive between portraying the true complex feelings that the libretto calls for, and making a joke of it all which results in very uneven acting. This is stage direction gone wrong, folks. I don't mind at all updated stagings (this one is done with modern clothing and modern props) but it's gotta be well done. This one is not. It is not Eurotrash. There are no excesses. It's rather a question of guiding the acting into a coherent whole which definitely does not happen here.

It's the kind of product that would be better enjoyed with the TV monitor off, a good candidate for our project of good musical aspects of a DVD (except that I'm less than thrilled with the orchestra so I wouldn't include it there - I mean, the orchestra for me doesn't stand out as a strong positive for this performance as much as some efforts by, say, The English Baroque Soloists or Les Arts Florissants can be). I'm not an authority in orchestras, and maybe someone will say that this Concerto Copenhagen is very good. Maybe I'm just being influenced by the reputation of some other ensembles, but I do think I've approached this performance with an open mind and just wasn't awed like I've been when listening to an opera by some of the other baroque orchestras, when I can't stop dropping my jaw and saying "oh wow!" to myself about the instrumental playing. This awed feeling just isn't there for me, regarding this orchestra. Another way to say this is that conducting and playing in this production, while very good, like brilliance. I'd like to hear the opinion on this from people who know these things better than I do, like emiellucifuge. I'd be willing to reassess my understanding of this orchestra's playing if I'm flat wrong about this, but I repeat, there seems to be something missing for me.

Slapstick kind of humor that falls flat and is detrimental to the enjoyment of this rather dramatic work - case in point the battle scenes which in my humble opinion tried to be clever and ended up being ridiculous. The public seems to have loved it since they can't stop applauding at all little "clever" tricks, which is in itself distracting, I'd like to shout "shut up" when they applaud *during* the singing/playing just because the direction came up with something "clever" like a singer entering the stage by sliding down a rope. Yeah, big deal. Can we listen to the music, please??? Not to say that the laughing at the lame slapstick acting is also distracting since it happens during the singing. I don't know what is wrong with this public. Do they want to watch a comedy? Go to the movies, then, there are plenty of silly Hollywood comedies playing in multiplexes. Do they want to watch dramatic 17th/18th century opera? Then listen to the opera, dammit!!!

Too much stage noise. One would want the sound engineer to have generated some noise cancelling waves to compensate for those, before releasing the final product.

Abuse of close-ups and too many camera cuts that get to be shaky and dizzying. Some of the camera work (fortunately not a lot) is done with handheld cameras. Damn, this trend that spoils so many films is getting into opera as well??? I mean, I like the old efforts started by Lars von Trier and his pals, but the craze of action films with handheld cameras became very annoying and I'd hate to see it penetrate the world of opera as well.

The opera itself:

The libretto is one of the most convoluted ever set to music by Handel, and we know how some Handel operas have a knack for convoluted libretti (while some others - the ones I tend to like more, like the recent - for me - example of Hercule have more clarity and directness). This one overdoes it. There are so many plot twists and so much ambivalence and changes of mind and multiple shifting love allegiances that at one point it all becomes a turn-offish mess, to the point that one thinks - "oh, whatever, let me just listen to the music."

Musically of course the opera is very satisfactory. I'm still to find a work by Handel that I don't like musically. The man was a genius.

So, what is the verdict? It's a tough one. I guess I'd say recommended, given the excellent singing across the board and the formidable performance from Inger and Andreas (the latter is a singer who can't go wrong, he's consistently excellent in everything that he does), plus the good technical quality of the product. So, just the pleasure of listening to and watching two gifted singers/actors in the two main roles justify the buy. But certainly I've seen better in terms of camera work and updated stagings of Handel's operas.

Oh, I forgot to mention the culprits for the weak stage direction and the weak direction for TV: respectively Francesco Negrin and Uffe Borgwardt - so that others who think like me avoid their future works (although obviously there are some who love what they do, given the wild applause from the public - If I were there, it would be hard for me to restrain from booing the stage director - I never do this, but I'd be tempted).
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