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David Reynolds
American Record Guide, November 2017

Though few would award Alfredo Kraus an Oscar for acting, he sings extremely well (he was over 50 at the time) and he certainly knows what to do with himself. Anne Howells and Stafford Dean also sing well and are more specific actors than their better known peers. When Dame Joan arrives on stage for her first scene, one knows one is in the presence of a star. She is in good voice though it takes her a little while to warm up vocally. Her final interpolated E-flat is a long way up by this point in her career, but she nails it and brings the opera to its triumphant, if morbid, conclusion. Richard Bonynge’s conducting always serves his singers well. He deserves a lot more credit for his efforts on behalf of bel-canto than he usually gets. © 2017 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide



James A. Altena
Fanfare, November 2017

Here we have both Sutherland and Kraus at relatively advanced stages of their careers, and recorded live rather than in the safer confines of the recording studio. Not to worry, though; both are in excellent form. I was not just pleasantly surprised but overjoyed to find Dame Joan in such fine fettle; …she delivers the goods and makes one sit up and realize again why she rightly was regarded as such a phenomenon. Admittedly, she is not the most vivid, varied, or passionate of interpreters; restraint was always one of her trademarks. But listening to her toss off one coloratura run and trill after another with impeccable perfection, as if they were all child’s play, one remains dazzled at her sheer ability to communicate with technique alone what other singers need to do with histrionic means. As for Kraus, he sings like a god; Gennaro was always a prime role for him, and here he renders it with the same exquisite tastefulness, immaculate finesse, and silvery ardency of his studio recording of 24 years before. A third plus is Stafford Dean as Lucrezia’s equally Machiavellian husband. While he did not enjoy the same degree of fame as the two leads here, if this is typical of his work he should have, rolling out a powerfully black, saturnine bass with rich legato, immaculate diction, and pointed expressiveness—a star turn of the first magnitude.

In the pit Richard Bonynge is on mostly good behavior; after initially allowing the tempo to drag and elasticizing it to accommodate his wife in “Com’ è bello” (an aria she apparently did not always sing), he kicks into gear and leads an energetic if not highly pointed performance. The chorus and orchestra excel; worthy of mention is the fact that without exception all of the comprimario singers do so as well. © 2017 Fanfare Read complete review



Paul Corfield Godfrey
MusicWeb International, June 2017

…this recording, now reissued by Opus Arte, is one of the best representations we have in video terms of Sutherland in one of the great dramatic bel canto operas. The prima donna at this stage in her career was still in full command of her amazing high register, …She remains a rather aloof and statuesque figure…but the unclear diction of which critics complained in her earlier years is much improved, and the placing of the notes is undiminished in its clarity. For once on video she is given a real challenge in terms of her leading man; Alfredo Kraus was one of the superstars of his day, and he does everything to justify his reputation as Gennaro. Anne Howells made something of a speciality of trouser roles and she makes a believably virile character out of the youth Maffio Orisini. Stafford Dean too is no mean shakes as Alfonso, black as night and rock solid in tone. The sizeable supporting cast includes singers of the stature of Jonathan Summers, Robin Leggate, Paul Hudson, Francis Egerton and Roderick Kennedy, and the chorus sound well if not terribly dramatically engaged.

Richard Bonynge, the almost inevitable conductor of his wife’s performances, has come in for a great deal of critical stick over the years, …but he understands the idiom perfectly, manages the orchestral ebb and flow well when accompanying his singers, and lets them rip dramatically when required. © 2017 MusicWeb International Read complete review



David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2017

Joan Sutherland headed the cast for Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia staged in a new John Copley production for the 1980 season in London’s Royal Opera House. At the age of fifty-four she was already enjoying an Indian Summer in her celebrated career, and was in particularly fine voice for this ‘live’ performance filmed on March 29, her ability to handle vocal acrobatics showing no diminution with age. She had been in the vanguard of the Donizetti revival that we nowadays take for granted, but which has only taken place over the past forty years, and, at the time this was a rare outing for Lucrezia. The composer was himself not overly-pleased with the blood-thirsty story, but in the early 1830’s was composing dramatic works as quickly as possible to meet the deadlines of opera houses anxious to have new works from him. The story, in brief, finds Gennaro, a young officer in the Venetian army, together with his friends and colleagues, enjoying Venice in Carnival Time. A masked woman arrives by gondola, she is the infamous Lucrezia Borgia, the head of the murderous Borgia family, noted and hated by the rest of Italy. The two see each other and Gennaro falls in love with her not knowing her name. Her husband, Alfonso, thinking she is having an affair with him, places a spy among Gennaro’s ‘friends’, who—for different reasons—are wanting revenge on the Borgia family, the spy able to feed Alfonso with the reason they are there. Many twists and turns later, the story finds them all invited to Lucrezia’s party at the the Negroni Palace, where they are entertained and plied with wine, not knowing it is poisoned. Too late, Lucrezia, tells Gennaro that he is her son from of one of her previous husbands, who she has not seen since he was a baby. She gives an antidote to the poison, but he responds he would rather die than be a member of the Borgia family. Vocally Lucrezia is not one of the composer’s most demanding soprano roles, though he expects much of her in the final act, and Sutherland is rock steady in intonation throughout, and—when required—singing with a beautifully rounded tone. The Spanish tenor, Alfredo Kraus, is his usually elegant self, but visually looks far too old to be her son (he was fifty-three at the time of filming), while, in the role of Alfonso, the massive voice and acting of Stafford Dean, seems to have dropped him in from a production of Boris Godunov. Almost ‘stealing the show’ is Anne Howells as the finest Maffio Orsini we are ever likely to hear, while the remaining parts are taken by the Royal Opera’s fine team of character singers. Copley’s production ideally reflects the composer’s intentions, with the costume designer, Michael Stennett, creating a riot of colour for the opening carnival scene. Sadly the enclosed brooklet threadbare. It does not give one word on the composer and where the opera fitted into his career; it does not inform us as to which of the composer’s several versions was being performed—it appears to be a hybrid of two extant versions—nor does it include any biographies of singers who may well be unknown to our younger generation who (hopefully) will buy the DVD. It does not even extend to offering the basic requirement of a track list. Opus Arte have retained the original Standard Definition and 4:3 picture format, the filming just functional in its mix of full stage and close-ups. The audio aspects are certainly not outstanding but reliable, and you have an English translation that you cannot delete. An absolutely ‘must have’ for Sutherland fans around the world. © 2017 David’s Review Corner





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