This month Naxos releases three outstanding DVDs: two classic operas and an equally classic but little-known film with music by Aaron Copland.
Verdi was justifiably pleased with Macbeth, his tenth opera and his first on a Shakesperean subject. He conducted its triumphant premiere in Florence in 1847, taking thirty calls at the final curtain, and it would long remain his own favourite among his ‘early period’ operas. Eighteen years later, at the invitation of the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris, he substantially revised the score, and it is this version (sung in Italian) which has prevailed and is presented on this DVD. Driven to bloody regicide by supernatural prophecies and his wife’s obsessive ambition, Macbeth is one of Verdi’s most profoundly modern anti-heroes—a political animal doomed by his very success.
Premiered at La Scala, Milan, in 1814, Il turco in Italia is a madcap ensemble opera with an inspired score that boasts music of both comic genius and extraordinary beauty, inspired perhaps by Mozart’s Così fan tutte, which was produced there immediately before Rossini’s drama buffo. Set in Naples, it spins a crazy tale around a poet who uses the romantic entanglements of the inhabitants with a Turkish prince as inspiration for the plot of his next play. Ultimately, life imitates art as all ends happily, but not before a planned abduction leads to a chaotic situation of mistaken identity…
Made for the 1939 New York World’s Fair (“The World of Tomorrow”), The City is a seminal documentary film distinguished for the organic integration of narration (scripted by city planner Lewis Mumford), cinematography (Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke), and music (Aaron Copland). The score, arguably Copland’s highest achievement in film, was also his ticket to Hollywood; it has been called “an astonishing missing link not only in the genesis of Copland’s Americana style but in American music and cinema” (Mark Swed, The Los Angeles Times). As the film contains no dialogue, it is possible to create a fresh soundtrack and discover musical riches inaudible on the original monaural recording. As Copland created no suite from The City, the present DVD at the same time marks the first recording of this music in its entirety other than the original film.