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Glyndebourne Festival Opera - DVDs from the 1970's


Mozart - Don Giovanni - 1977

Arthaus Musik Cat Nr 101 087


Benjamin Luxon, Stafford Dean, Horiana Bransteanu, Rachel Yakar, Leo Goeke, Elizabeth Gale, John Rawnsley, Pierre Thau

Bernard Haitink / LPO / Glyndebourne Chorus

Stage Direction Peter Hall

Television Production Dave Heather




Verdi - Macbeth - 1972

Arthaus Musk Cat Nr 101 095

Kostas Paskalis, Josephine Barstow, James Morris, Keith Erwen, Rae Woodland, Ian Cales

John Pritchard / LPO / Glyndebourne Chorus

Stage Production Michael Hadjimischev

Television Production Dave Heather

Many people regard the 1970s as a golden period for Glyndebourne Opera, especially for Mozart lovers, although Verdi was also well represented. During these years Bernard Haitink succeeded Sir John Pritchard as Musical Director, and the London Philharmonic was the orchestra in residence. Peter Brook directed an almost legendary series of productions and the company was adept at assembling casts of singers of uniformly high quality, who also looked and could act the parts they were playing.

At the same time the company formed an alliance with Southern Television which resulted in the filming and televising of one opera each year from 1972 to 1978. These recordings were subsequently transferred to Video tape, and the majority are now available re-mastererd on DVD from Arthaus Musik.

Recording techniques have improved greatly since that time and fashions in directing have changed, so these discs perhaps represent a chapter in the history of recorded opera, and certain drawbacks need mentioning at the outset. The manufacturer's catalogue lists the sound as PCM Stereo, but it is certainly thin by modern standards. The lighting is dim, scenery looks like scenery, make up and costumes often look quite unnatural in close up, and the pauses for commercial interludes are a little intrusive. All these are intrinsic to TV recordings of the time, the careless typographical errors in the Don Giovanni subtitles and booklet are less easy to forgive.

However, there is much to compensate. Don Giovanni is as close to musical perfection as a recording is likely to get, and pretty well every word is clearly distinguishable. Haitink's affinity to Mozart is very clear, and the strong cast are obviously fully committed to their roles. Stafford Dean was already a noted Leporello, and almost seems to be living the part. The title role is taken by Benjamin Luxon, at the height of his career, and in splendid voice. He perhaps exudes a little more bonhomie than evil, though obviously charm is an essential ingredient of that character. Horiana Bransteanu is a characterful Donna Anna, Elizabeth Gale (a Glyndebourne "regular") sings Zerlina with a nice mix of sweetness and seductiveness, and as Donna Elvira Rachel Yakar is superb, with ringing high notes. Leo Goeke, who sang most of the major tenor roles at Glyndebourne, is an ideal Don Ottavio.

The clarity of diction was to some extent achieved by ensuring that everyone faces forward to sing, leading to some rather strange looking side-by-side conversations, with characters only facing each other during recitatives. This is accentuated as the filming concentrates very much on close ups, to the extent that disembodied heads are added to the picture during ensembles when the characters are separated on the stage, and the chorus are virtually invisible. No doubt Peter Brook's direction, moving the characters whilst not singing and chorus involvement would have compensated for this for the theatre audience.

Macbeth was first produced at Glyndebourne 1938, well before it entered the repertory of any other professional opera company in England , and it came to be regarded as one of the festival's "signature pieces" with new productions both in 1964 and 1972, which is the version recorded here.

John Pritchard conducts, with complete absorption in Verdi's score, and the principals roles are taken by three great singing actors. Kostas Paskalis had taken the title role in Glyndebourne's 1964 production, and was an obvious choice to repeat the role. This impressive Greek baritone, despite a significant international career, is very thinly represented in the recording catalogue, which makes his appearance especially welcome. By contrast, the Banquo James Morris was at the beginning of his career (he had made his Met debut in 1971), and his rich voice has a quality that is remarkable for a singer still in his mid 20s. For me, the star of the show has to be Josephine Barstow, making her Glyndebourne debut, and giving such a portrayal of character of immense depth - every look and gesture tells its tale, and is combined with the virtuoso singing required for the role.

Macbeth has the same television producer, Dave Heather, as Don Giovanni but the filming is much more cinematic, especially in the opening scene where the camera is surrounded by witches whirling in frenzied bat-like motion. We see more full stage shots, (obviously the chorus play a much stronger part in this opera - and they are in fine voice), and even the close-ups are often shot at an angle, giving a more realistic appearance.

Overall verdict - these performances have an enduring quality, and the Macbeth stands up well against available modern alternatives. Other recordings in the series are also worth exploring especially the legendary Le nozze di Figaro of 1973 whose "dream cast" includes Eleana Cotrobas as Susanna, Frederica von Stade as Cherubino and Kiri te Kanawa as the Countess.

Serena Fenwick

© Peter Grahame Woolf