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Three operas and a Shakespeare classic make up our audiovisual releases for August.

Puccini's Gianni Schicchi is a high-spirited farce, received with “uproarious delight” by the critics at its premiere in 1918, while Donizetti's Don Pasquale (1842) is another sparkling comedy that represents the high point of the Italian buffa tradition. In contrast, Glyndebourne's classic production of Dvořák's Rusalka (1900) presents a passionate tale of love against the odds in a magical, contemporary reimagining of a much-loved fairy-tale.

Completing our set of new releases is the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of As You Like It, directed by Kimberley Sykes in a playful and passionate version of Shakespeare's much-loved romantic comedy.

DONIZETTI, G.: Don Pasquale [Opera] (Sung in German) (Vienna State Opera, 1977) (NTSC)
2.110659 [DVD]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
Don Pasquale
Libretto by Giovanni Ruffini and
Gaetano Donizetti after Angelo Anelli
German version adapted by Joachim Popelka

Edita Gruberova, Soprano
Luigi Alva, Tenor
Hans Helm, Baritone
Oskar Czerwenka, Bass
Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper
Héctor Urbón, Conductor
Helge Thoma, Stage Director

Donizetti’s Don Pasquale represents the high point of the Italian buffa tradition, a sparkling comedy using characters from commedia dell’arte in ways that are entertaining, witty and playful. It was the work selected by the Vienna State Opera for its 1977 tour through Austria. Starring famous singers like the bass Oskar Czerwenka, the great lyric tenor Luigi Alva and, on the cusp of international fame, Edita Gruberova (soon to become the ‘queen of bel canto’) – this filmed performance, in colour and sung in German, showcases an outstanding ensemble at the height of its powers.

PUCCINI, G.: Gianni Schicchi [Opera] (Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, 2019) (NTSC)
37874 [DVD]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Gianni Schicchi
Opera in one act
Libretto by Giovacchino Forzano

Bruno de Simone • Anna Maria Chiuri
Francesca Longari • Dave Monaco
Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Florentino
Valerio Galli, Conductor • Denis Krief, Director

When Il trittico premiered at New York's Metropolitan Opera in December 1918, Gianni Schicchi became an immediate hit. The libretto is based on an incident mentioned in Dante's Divine Comedy. The action in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi takes place in Buoso Donati’s bedroom in 13th-century Florence, immediately after his death, as his greedy relatives feign grief and search for his will. The mood shifts to anger when the relatives discover that they have been disinherited. They seek out the clever and resourceful Schicchi to make a counterfeit will. Schicchi, however, turns their scheme against them, bequeathing most of the dead man’s fortune to himself while the relatives, all parties to the crime of forgery, are forced to sit by silently.

The aria O mio babbino caro is one of Puccini's most popular arias for soprano. Bruno de Simone plays the character of Gianni Schicchi. As Italy's finest basso buffo, he is perfect for this role. Puccini completed the score on 20 April, 1918, eight months before the scheduled premiere. At that performance it was presented as the third part of a trilogy of newly written one-act operas by Puccini billed as Il trittico (The Triptych); the first two were Il tabarro (The Cloak) and Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica). Il tabarro was a dark tragedy and Suor Angelica a sweet one, so by closing with Gianni Schicchi Puccini rounded off the night with a high-spirited comic farce. Critical reaction at the time judged that Gianni Schicchi was “an uproarious delight”, and it was the most favourably received of the three.

Also available in Blu-ray Video (57874) and Digital Exclusive (7874)

DVOŘÁK, A.: Rusalka [Opera] (Glyndebourne, 2019) (NTSC)
OA1302D [DVD]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841–1904))

Sally Matthews • Evan Leroy Johnson
Alexander Roslavets • Patricia Bardon
London Philharmonic Orchestra • The Glyndebourne Chorus
Robin Ticciati, Conductor • Melly Still, Director

Praised by critics as “magnificent”, “breathtakingly theatrical” and full of “zestful imagination”, Melly Still’s “spine-tingling” Rusalka is a Glyndebourne classic – a magical contemporary reimagining of a much-loved fairytale. Light and darkness, beauty and danger come together in this passionate tale of love against the odds.

At once evocative and unsettling, this production collides two contrasting worlds in Rae Smith’s elegant designs made of “brilliant stage-pictures”. Rusalka’s forest home is a dappled space of sunshine and shadows, full of strange woodland creatures, while the Prince’s court is a world of sleek modernity and sophistication – a world of man.

Also available in Blu-ray Video (OABD7266D)

SHAKESPEARE, W.: As You Like It (Royal Shakespeare Company, 2019) (NTSC)
OA1306D [DVD]

William SHAKESPEARE (1564–1616)
As You Like It

Lucy Phelps • Anthony Byrne • Sophie Khan Levy
Sandy Grierson • Emily Johnstone • Graeme Brookes
Leo Wan • Aaron Thiara • David Ajao
Patrick Brennan • Charlotte Arrowsmith • Tom Dawze
Royal Shakespeare Company • Kimberly Sykes, Director

‘Love is merely a madness’

Rosalind is banished from Court. With her best friend Celia by her side, she journeys to a world of exile. But not before catching the eye of love-struck Orlando, who is also forced from the Court into the Forest.

What ensues is a riotous combination of a feisty cross-dressing heroine, a tartan-clad fool, melodic songs, questionable poetry and laughs aplenty. Will love conquer all, or is it merely a madness?

Kimberly Sykes directs this playful and passionate version of Shakespeare’s much-loved romantic comedy.

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