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Bruce Surtees
The WholeNote, June 2009

TDK has issued a reasonably priced DVD package of Mozart operas recorded live at the Salzburg Festival, all with The Vienna Philharmonic, featuring distinguished soloists of the time (DVWW-GOLDBOX5, 6 DVDs). These were all recorded by the ORF and licensed by them and issued with the official Salzburger Festspiele Dokumente logo.

We begin with Die Zauberflõte from 21 August 1982 conducted by James Levine with an all-star cast including Martti Talvela, Peter Schreier, Walter Berry, Edita Gruberova, Ileana Cotrubas, Edda Moser, Ann Murray, and Horst Hiestermann. From the very first bars of the Overture, there can be no doubt that this will be a towering performance…which it is. The sets, costumes, and stage direction are by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle who did not load the stage with Zeffirelli opulence but created striking and original sets that were ahead of their time with costumes to match. Mozart is well served and there no question as to the choice of singers who, even in the spoken dialogue are naturally convincing.

Cosí fan Tutti, Mozart’s delightful comic masterpiece is conducted here by Ricardo Muti who maintains the giocoso spirit throughout. The pseudo-tragic moments are also depicted musically to good effect. This 1983 production has, as usual in Salzburg, an international cast with Margaret Marshall (Fiordiligi), Ann Murray (Dorabella), James Morris (Guglielmo), Francisco Araiza (Ferrando), Kathleen Battle (Despina), Sesto Bruscantini (Don Alfonso), and Gerhard Paul (a landlord). These seasoned and experienced Mozart singers who are veterans of the Festival for many years assume their roles with confidence. The staging of this opera is very critical in maintaining the comic aura but here it is rather two dimensional and surprisingly unimaginative. The acting is sometimes static, lacking vibrant direction in comparison with other productions. It is, however, useful and enlightening for listeners who have not seen this opera live. In spite these small reservations I am pleased to see this performance released.

The production of La Clemenza di Tito from August 2003 moves Mozart’s last opera into the 21st Century. And it works to perfection. La Clemenza was completed in 1791 shortly before Mozart’s death and history has eclipsed the event with the stories of the commissioning of the unfinished Requiem. The opera was written for the coronation of Ludwig II of Bavaria and has always been controversial, deemed unperformable by many. I don’t believe this opera is mentioned, even in passing, in the movie Amadeus that so painstakingly dwells on Mozart’s last year. All misgivings have been removed since this spectacular staging in 2003 here presented in wide screen and surround sound. The cast will be familiar: Michael Schade brings Tito to life; Vesselina Kasarova, Sesto; Dorothea Röschmann, Vitellia; Elina Garanča, Annio; Barbara Bonney, Servilia; and Luca Pisaroni, Publio. None of these singers is less than astonishing and all are beyond criticism. Canadian Michael Schade needs no introduction and those of us who saw Le Cenerentola live from the Met recently will well remember Elina Garanča, here cast in a most unusual role. Nikolaus Harnoncourt keeps a steady pulse and succeeds in turning in a performance that, together with every aspect of this production, makes La Clemenza di Tito the most captivating of the three in this package.

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