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By Joel Kasow

NEW YORK, 31 AUGUST 2011 — I can understand why PBS’s Great Performances series is geared to a public more attuned to the world of "people" or an LCD (lowest common denominator) audience. Andrea Andermann has already given us Tosca and La Traviata, filmed live in the authentic settings and at the times of day specified. He has now attacked "povero" Rigoletto (check local PBS listings) with the sterling idea of encouraging Plácido Domingo in his new career as baritone. Jeez, the guy is already past 70, has enjoyed a lengthy career as leading tenor, and now he wants to take on some of the baritone roles that are admittedly far more interesting from a dramatic point of view than most tenor roles, but why doesn’t he let others have a chance. This late career as baritone, in addition to conductor, impresario, company manager, etc., is a pitiful end to a sterling career. Domingo is NOT a baritone, thus the music takes on different shadings as he far too easily takes on the new tessitura. Ruggiero Raimondi is another septuagenarian who might consider easing into retirement, his Sparaducile vocally in shreds. Julia Novikova is a delicious Gilda and is fortunate to have Vittorio Grigolo as her love interest, the Duke. Both are at home both dramatically and vocally, as is the mezzo Nino Machaidze as Maddelena. While the principals are singing live, with Zubin Mehta and the orchestra elsewhere, it appears that the chorus interventions were recorded earlier. Mehta is an old hand at this type of event, and he does his best, but is this really a true representation of Verdi’s masterpiece?

Even more pathetic is the filming of the Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night concert, with camera work that barely stays in place for more than five seconds. Someone should tell the producer that people who might want to watch the concert might prefer to be able to listen to the music without distraction, as the multitude present in the gardens of the Schönbrunn Palace was able to do thanks to the many screens scattered throughout the public. The program is geared to a wide public that one hopes occasionally attends a live concert in a concert hall, but I seriously have my doubts. Liszt’s Les Préludes is a rousing opener, but why offer the first movement only of Paganini’s First Violin Concerto in Fritz Kreisler’s adaptation when the original is far more interesting. And Benjamin Schmid, despite his 1731 Stradivarius, lacks the fire that should be an essential element of any performance of Paganini. Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in the Ravel orchestration was "enhanced" by choreographer Gregor Hatala and danced by the Vienna Opera Ballet. I believe the audience in the gardens were spared this aberration. This is a great performance?.

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor at Culturekiosque. He has been opera critic for Opera (U.K.) and Opera News (U.S.A) for thirty years and was elected to the International Music Critics Association (UNESCO) in 1996. Long before the existence of "blogs", Mr. Kasow kept an Opera Diary for Culturekiosque. Opera fans can access the archive of his intensely personal, ongoing commentary on the opera world here.   

For collectors of opera and vocal recordings, please click here to access Operanet's archive of CD and DVD reviews

Headline image: Placido Domingo
Photo courtesy of PBS

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