Rossini-La Cenerentola (Houston Grand Opera/Cecilia Bartoli) (1996) (NTSC)
|Year Of Production||1996|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (85:27)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Brian Large|
Universal Pictures Home Video
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Auto Pan & Scan Encoded||
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Italian Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||480i (NTSC)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.78:1||Miscellaneous|
|Smoking||Yes, brief cigar smoking|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||Yes, during credits|
Thank God that the 2002 World Cup was not blessed with an appearance of the Three Overrated Tenors in Concert. Apparently we can also thank God that Brazil once again won that holy grail of the Socceroos. Since there is such a tenuous connection between opera and the World Cup, it seems rather apt that the first chance after the finish of the World Cup for a serious review session should therefore include an opera recording. But not just any opera recording - one of the very best opera recordings.
This is a DVD that I have been awaiting for some time and when it finally became available for review you can bet that I was jumping up and down like Donkey, ensuring that Michael D would not miss my enthusiasm to get the DVD! So why the urge to get this DVD? Simple really - Cecilia Bartoli. It begins and ends with her. Aside from the fact that she is a rather attractive lady, she also has the most beguiling eyes - and a voice that comes from the heavens themselves! To say that I have had an infatuation with the lady since she first burst onto the opera scene is to seriously understate the situation.
Hype has been a part of popular music since the birth of the rock and roll era in the 1950s, if not since the jazz era of the 1930s and 1940s. Just about every new artist has been promoted as the Next Big Thing. To a large extent, classical music has not been so blighted by the hype factor, at least until relatively recently. With the decline in recorded music sales though, and especially in classical music, hype has become the big thing. The emergence of a new generation of female opera singers has seen artist promotion become more like popular music. The result has been a swag of attractively packaged female singers, often it seems where the size of cleavage is somewhat more important than the purity of the voice. Just about every new female singer gets the treatment and become the Current Big Thing which sees plenty of recordings in "core" repertoire, the obligatory arias albums and generally an overexposure - not just of their cleavage - that sees them reduced to the role of has-beens very quickly, as their voices cannot sustain the workload thrown at them. So many pretenders, so few real stars. However, in that endless collection of pretenders there occasionally appears the Real Thing. A singer that, God forbid, actually has a voice worthy of listening to and the intelligence to restrict their recordings and appearances to a manageable number. One such Real Thing is Cecilia Bartoli.
There are very few sopranos and mezzo-sopranos that I would willingly give up a day to listen to. For sheer beauty of singing, most of those come from the classic years from the 1930s through to the 1960s mainly, with such wonderful singers as Victoria De Los Angeles, Rita Streich, Maria Callas, Magda Olivera, Renata Tebaldi and Bidu Sayao being those that certainly gain my instant attention, with Kirsten Flagstad gaining an honourable mention. Only Cecilia Bartoli of the endless parade of female opera singers in the last twenty years gains entry into that exclusive club. What makes these few singers such goddesses of the art is the fact that you can always find something new in their performances and you can always enjoy their performances, no matter how many times you listen to them. The pretenders come over as grating hacks after only one or two listens. What makes Cecilia Bartoli so special is that she knows her limits, sticks within them and does not make an excessively large number of recordings. She also has an unfailingly good idea of the art and can always be relied upon to either bring to the listener something unusual (just check out her magnificent Vivaldi CD) or bring something very special to the familiar. That is precisely what we find in La Cenerentola. One of the very finest works from the prolific Gioacchino Rossini, and one of the finest opera comedies, period, it is a piece that is very easy to produce a toss-away performance of - which amply describes most of the recordings made of the opera. But to listen to Cecilia Bartoli sing the lead role is to be transported to something not far short of heaven. Were I to die today, at least I could die a happy man for I have listened to Cecilia Bartoli today.
La Cenerentola is of course a story that is well known, being in English the fairy tale Cinderella. Now this is not quite the Disney take on the fairy tale but rather Rossini's take on the fairy tale. Angelina, otherwise known as Cinderella (Cecilia Bartoli), has been relegated to the role of housemaid by her stepfather, Don Magnifico (Enzo Dara), and her stepsisters Clorinda (Julia Knoop) and Tisbe (Jill Grove). Forever running errands for them and forever cleaning the house, little changes in Angelina's life until one night a beggar knocks on the door of the mansion. Angelina shows the visitor compassion and offers him a paltry meal. Her stepsisters simply push him out the door. The beggar's name is Alidoro (Michele Pertusi) and he is on a mission - a mission to find a bride for the prince, Ramiro. Soon enough, the prince's own entourage arrives to announce that Don Ramiro himself (Raul Giménez) will shortly arrive in the house of Don Magnifico to invite him and all his daughters to a grand ball at the palace where Don Ramiro will take the most beautiful woman present as his bride, to sit on the throne as his queen. Unbeknownst to the girls, Ramiro has already arrived disguised as his valet Dandini, with instructions from Alidoro that in this house he will find a heart of gold: Dandini (Alessandro Corbelli) arrives shortly disguised as the prince. When Ramiro casts his eyes on Angelina he is besotted. But Don Magnifico pretends that Angelina is not his daughter when the now undisguised Alidoro arrives demanding that all three daughters should attend the grand ball, asserting that his third daughter is dead. As Dandini escorts the fawning daughters to the ball, Alidoro tells Angelina that he will take her to the ball.
At the palace, Don Magnifico has been appointed the cellarmeister by Dandini and is celebrating his position, whilst the sisters are still fawning over Dandini in their quest to become his bride. Ramiro meantime asks Dandini what his thoughts are of the sisters and a rather unflattering picture is painted. Dandini delights in his role as the prince and suggests that since he can only marry one sister, the other could have the hand of his valet in marriage - a notion not taken kindly to by the sisters. All of a sudden Alidoro arrives with a mysterious veiled woman, who when persuaded to remove her veil bears far too uncanny a resemblance to Angelina for the sisters' liking. Ramiro manages to fall in love with the mysterious woman and when he suspects Dandini of similar feelings, hides to determine the truth. Dandini proposes to the lady only to be snubbed as she has already lost her heart to another, at which point Ramiro pops up and proposes marriage. Angelina agrees to marriage on one condition - Ramiro must discover her identity using just a single bracelet and only if she meets his expectations will she marry him. She returns to her house and Ramiro's quest begins. Don Magnifico is beside himself awaiting the decision of which daughter is to be the prince's bride, at which point Dandini reveals the truth. As the rest of the family returns home, a storm breaks and seeking shelter after an accident, Ramiro arrives at the door of Don Magnifico - where he finds his true love.
Whilst the story is a well known one, it is done with such panache here that it is surely not dull. Cecilia Bartoli first came to prominence in the role of Angelina in 1992 with a performance that highlights one of the very best recordings ever of the opera - that performance was at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna and featured much of the main cast as here. That performance inspired the events that led to this video recording in the Houston Grand Opera three years later. Utilising the same staging as the 1992 performance, we have a record of what is one of the very best performances of this opera seen. Cecilia Bartoli is of course the star and is utterly superb. The performance features some of the finest coloratura singing that you will ever hear. But the cast is not just about Cecilia Bartoli, and reprising their roles from the 1992 Bologna production are Enzo Dara, Alessandro Corbelli and Michele Pertusi. Of these, Enzo Dara is the standout with a fabulous rendition of the buffoon Don Magnifico, with a terrific sense of comedy in the portrayal. Not far behind is Alessandro Corbelli with a really hammy performance as Dandini, and neither is that far ahead of Michele Pertusi. One also cannot overlook the contribution of Raul Gimenez as Ramiro. The whole opera was conceived using an ideal cast and it certainly appears that they succeeded brilliantly - at least with most of the casting. Whilst Jill Grove and Julia Knoop are very good as the sisters, they have to concede the stage to their male counterparts in general. With superb casting, superb staging and wonderful costumes, this is about as perfect a performance you could wish for.
Whilst not a true lover of opera, I do enjoy a good effort. Amongst the opera DVDs I have reviewed, this has now risen to the top of the list as far as I am concerned. Superb in just about every way, this is an opera performance that I can return to again and again.
The first thing you have to bear in mind: this is an NTSC formatted DVD and so you will need to have equipment capable of decoding and displaying an NTSC signal in order to see anything. The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.
In general, there is little complaint with this transfer. Detail is very nice indeed, with even the darker portions of the sets showing more than adequate detail. Sure the shadow detail could have been better but what we have is better than what we normally get. There was some slight graininess in the picture at times - such as at 30:25 - but this is probably a result of the NTSC formatting rather than being genuine grain. Despite the presence of this grainy nature, the transfer is generally very clear.
Gorgeously saturated tones are the order of the day here and the result is a visual delight that brings out every nuance of the rather outrageously funny costumes employed. Rather vibrant too, so the visual feast continues on that score. Not a hint of oversaturation nor undersaturation and certainly no taint of colour bleed. Short and simple - wonderful stuff indeed.
MPEG artefacts of any significance are notably absent from the transfer. Unfortunately the same can not be said for film-to-video artefacts, as there are some minor indications of what looks like moiré artefacting in some of the costumes - such as at 86:47 and 132:12. There are no noticeable film artefacts in the transfer.
This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming at 85:27. It is a bit too obvious for my taste, and is moderately disruptive to the flow of the opera, as it does come during a scene. Rough maths however would indicate that perhaps there was not much option but I would have thought the layer change could have been handled a bit better.
There are five subtitle options on the DVD, but like most opera efforts they only provide a reasonable effort at the lyrics - at least they did in the English effort that I checked out.
There are two soundtracks on the DVD, being an Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and an Italian Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 soundtrack, the latter being the default. Obviously Italian is the correct language of the opera, so in the absence of a full libretto most of us will probably need the subtitle option on. I listened to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack with only modest sampling of the Linear PCM soundtrack.
Whilst there are few complaints regarding the video transfer, it is a pity that the same is not able to be said for the audio transfer. The first issue is that the vocals have been at times been placed into the mix slightly recessed, with the effect that it is difficult to sometimes hear the singing above the music. The second is that the miking has picked up a lot of extraneous stage noise, mainly footsteps, which has then been given some prominence in the LFE track, thereby again overpowering the vocal track a little. Other than that, the vocals come up well enough in the transfer and are relatively easy and clear to understand. There does not appear to be any significant audio sync issues with the transfer.
The original music obviously comes from Gioacchino Rossini, with a libretto from his usual partner Jacopo Ferretti. Apparently the libretto took twenty two days to write whilst the music took twenty four days to write. It never ceases to amaze me that such masterpieces can be virtually tossed out at that sort of pace. Have no qualms - this is a masterpiece, and a thoroughly engaging one too. One of the very high points of their collaborations.
As you might have guessed from the above, there is a bit of a problem with the Dolby Digital soundtrack - the LFE channel. For once it is not just me either that has a problem with it. My sister happened to catch a portion of the opera during my review session, and apart from the derogatory remarks about opera in general, she commented upon the prominence of the bass and the heavy beat it gave the sound. Funnily enough, that is exactly the best way to describe it. Whilst most of the problem can be traced to the bass emphasis of the extraneous stage noise, that is by no means the only problem. There is slightly too heavy an emphasis given to the music in general, which does not serve the opera that well. A pity, for otherwise it is an excellent soundtrack with plenty of surround presence and, apart from the slightly recessed vocals, a rather nice body to the sound. The Linear PCM soundtrack is much more akin to the excellent CD recording of the 1992 Bologna performance and in many ways is the preferable way to listen to the DVD. This is certainly one instance where I would have welcomed a Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack.
|Surround Channel Use|
Not much at all but then again the opera is over two and a half hours long so I imagine there is not much space left on the DVD as it is. Still, an interview with Cecilia Bartoli would have been worth an extra disc!
The basic efforts characteristic of the classical music DVDs from this source.
Basically a bunch of clips from the following other DVDs in the range: The Original Three Tenors In Concert, La Cenerentola, Live In Italy (please Michael D, when are we getting this????), La Traviata, Essential Ballet and The Nutcracker. Presented either in 1.33:1 or 1.78:1 aspect ratios, the sound is Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 and the presentations are not 16x9 enhanced. Adverts really so not exactly essential.
Some basic details but certainly no substitute for a full libretto.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
Since this is an all-region NTSC DVD, we can be pretty certain that it is identical to the Region 1 release.
I have awaited this DVD for quite a while and in general I am in seventh heaven now that it is in my collection. However, La Cenerentola is not without its problems from an audio point of view, with the result that I have to express some mild disappointment with the DVD. Since Decca has always been renowned for the quality of its sound, the problems are all the more disappointing. Still, even though a full remaster would in my view be warranted, you are unlikely to see anytime soon any better performance of the opera and really it does represent one of the few opera DVDs that should be in every collection.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515, using S-Video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|