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Robert Benson, August 2012

This is an exciting performance of Pique Dame, and, viewed on Blu Ray, offers crystal-clear, brilliant video. Audio also is state-of-the art. This is a major operatic DVD. Don’t miss it! © 2012 Read complete review

Charles H Parsons
American Record Guide, November 2011

The Liceu has signed an impressive international cast. Hermann, the principal tenor role, is a voice-killer often undertaken by burley tenors.  There is much luxury in the vocalism of the two baritones, Ataneli and Tezier as well. Not that Emily Magee is going to let the gentlemen be center of attention. She too has the vocal beef to get through a long evening of heavy-duty singing. And she does it with much beauty, style, and grace…here we see one of the most powerful singers of our day and still in her prime. Ewa Podles, she of the Great Earth Mother voice, brings many a nuance to the role, scaling back her massive voice, then lets it rip as needed. She is a most powerful actress too. The rest of the extensive cast fare quite well, but an extra word of praise is necessary for Zaremba’s Pauline.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online

Simon Thompson
MusicWeb International, September 2011

I didn’t have high expectations of this DVD but in the event found it thrilling. It gives us a thoroughly traditional production from the Liceu but it works because it tells the story so compellingly and because the singing and playing is excellent from everyone.

The production takes place squarely in the St Petersburg of Catherine the Great, and she herself makes her famous appearance in Act 2, though her incarnation here is much thinner than the real thing! Gilbert Deflo has spared no expense in evoking the atmosphere, from the outdoor setting of the opening scene through to the seedy card-den of the dénouement. The interiors are all pleasingly lavish too, as are the costumes which not only place the piece historically but lend an insight into each character, especially the Countess’s ludicrously outdated hoop dress and wig. The soldiers all look suitably dashing, and Hermann’s red uniform marks him out as distinctive from the off. Only the Act 2 ballet sequence drags a little, but there is little that any director can do about that!

Far from turning the opera into a museum piece, however, this merely serves as the dressing for a most compelling musical performance. The most striking, and refreshing, thing, is how well the Liceu band impersonates a Russian orchestra. There is plenty of Mediterranean warmth, but more striking is the brooding darkness of the string tone, notable from the outset in the “fate” theme of the prelude. These same strings then pour down benediction on Hermann’s body in the wonderfully moving final bars. Michael Boder’s direction is excellent throughout, pacing each scene with a sure ear for dramatic impetus: witness the nervy energy of the scene in the Countess’s bedroom and, later, the middle scene of Act 3 which seems to be permeated with doom right from the outset.

Each of the singers is excellent too. It seems to be the norm now to give Hermann to a tenor with a low-lying voice. The same is true here: Misha Didyk’s baritonal timbre makes Hermann seem heroic but confounded right from the off, and he sings like a titan throughout. The darkness of his tone comes into its own in the second half of the opera, but even in his first love duet with Lisa he comes across as dangerously unhinged, a character whose inevitable doom is written in his fate from the very start. Emily Magee is a poignant Lisa, singing with a lovely bright tone, though acting more as a passive victim than anything else. She is seldom vulnerable until her final appearance when she evokes the character’s pity very effectively. Ewa PodleĊ› hams it up brilliantly as the Countess, relishing the acting possibilities of the role even more than the vocal ones, though her Grétry aria in the bedroom scene still sounds great. Ludovic Tézier is also very compelling as Yeletsky, again evoking pity as the viewer’s primary response to the character. His great Act 2 aria is wonderfully sung, even if it is nearly ruined by a clarinet fluff from the pit. In the smaller roles, Lado Atanelli has a whale of a time as Tomsky, loving every minute of his two big scenes, and Elena Zaremba gives us a strong, if rather hooty, Pauline.

Watching this DVD reawakened me to the dramatic and musical treasures of what must surely be Tchaikovsky’s greatest opera (with apologies to Onegin fans). This is an ideal way to introduce the opera to someone for the first time, and a great way for established Tchaikovskians to remind themselves just how great it is.

Robert Levine, August 2011

This gorgeous-looking production from Barcelona’s Teatro Liceu was recorded June 30th and July 1st, 2010. Gilbert Deflo is the director. The sets and costumes by William Orlandi are lavish and grand; an ingenious back panel glides smoothly from side to side to expand or contract the playing space behind it and allows for scene changes. And each scene is stunning, from the opening park to Lisa’s room to the Countess’s bedroom (all dark blue brocade against the Countess’ white hair and white nightgown) to the Catherine the Great scene with ballet and pastorale. The Neva scene is disappointing in its mundanity—a sort of black sea that doesn’t even bother to billow—but otherwise it’s all a feast for the eyes; and Deflo, though not filling the action with any new insights, does what he can with the movement.

Ukrainian tenor Misha Didyk, a last-minute substitution for Ben Heppner as Hermann, cuts a fine figure on stage—tall, blond, physically agile, he sings the role of the poor lunatic gambler well. His voice is laser-like in its focus and has the familiar Slavic edge, and what he may lack in sheer volume he makes up for in intensity.

What comes as a surprise is that Emily Magee’s Lisa is a drawback. A wonderful Elsa and fine Tosca, she seems out of sorts with Lisa’s youth, naïveté, and confusion, and her acting is stiff. She sings with remarkable accuracy but is decidedly outside the character, and close-ups reveal a woman at least twice the age Lisa should be; it is difficult to relate to her.

Lado Ataneli’s Tomsky is a fine interpretation, his bright voice standing up well; and Ludovic Tezier as Yeletsky truly shines in his aria. Almost walking away with the show is Ewa Podles as the Old Countess. Today, this part is mostly taken by sopranos on their way out, singing in slim but characterful voices. Podles, on the other hand, is in full control of her considerable resources, the voice booming when it must and scaled back for her lovely ballad. Her stupendous overacting in her death scene is camp of the highest level; helped by the lighting (by Albert Faura), she is a one-woman Halloween party. The rest of the cast is excellent, with Elena Zaremba a particularly fine Pauline.

Considering how good the singing is, it’s amazing that the performance is so unmoving.

Opus Arte’s picture and sound are crystal-clear and subtitles are in English, German, French, Spanish, and Catalan. Italian, anyone? There is no track listing…

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