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Conductor Riccardo Muti
Director Roberto de Simone
Set Mauro Carosi
Costumes Alfonsina Lettieri
Opus Arte La Scala Collection DVD OALS3005 D [December 1989, 4:3, 79+53+39 mins]

This is a nicely traditional production of 18th C Italian comedy, enjoyed by way of relaxation, and some relief after a week of 'producers opera' from Opera North including a frenetic updated early Rossini farsa. Pergolesi's opera is a rarity, but some of the music will be familiar from Stravinsky's Pulcinella.

It is a leisurely entertainment, with acres of recitativo and heavy humour, not all of it very funny (a self admiring grotesque dandy, an elderly gouty lover, etc). But it is well saved by a very stylish staging and unfussy production, a good cast of experienced singers who are not afraid to stand still to deliver. Several of the arias and ensembles are gems,all supported by the Scala orchestra in the safe hands of Riccardo Muti (no serious attempt at 'authentic' playing, but they do have a harpsichord and a couple of theorbos). The revolving set is simple and serviceable, with moods suggested by the lighting; the costumes a particular delight, with some gorgeous hats, which delighted my milliner wife!

A few words though about the DVD presentation in this series.

The back cover of the booklet has the Milan programme illustrated above (attractive that, as a picture) but essential information is so miniscule that it needs strong magnification to try to decipher it. So I give you the cast below, duly scanned and enlarged!

I have previously welcomed the Scala Collection booklets for their inclusion of original Italian libretti but deplored the lack of track number listings. I have inserted the track numbers into the synopsis for my own use, and also in the libretto itself!

To follow the lengthy first act of Lo Frate you should add +2 to the numbered listings taken from the score (which no-one would have) to identify the tracks and link them with the synopsis. Those all start with arias, duets etc, making it easy to skip the recits - a mistake, because they are where most of the action happens. It gets worse with Acts 2 & 3, which start the numbering all over again! It would also be useful to give the registers of the various singers, to help distinguish e.g. between Nina and Nena!

This presentation is lazy and inept, as is still all too common with DVDs, in contrast with the high production standards applied to many CDs, even at budget price. It should have taken only about half an hour on a computer to harmonise the numbering and track listing to assist navigation, and to put in distinctive formatting for the arias and ensembles?

We critics will continue to nag about easily avoidable shortcomings which just need a little thought from musical members of the teams! [Q.v.check also false economy*, re recent Haydn opera re-issues !]

Those (important) caveats apart, it is a welcome release for traditionalists and people who want to retreat from the short attention span preoccupation of today's film and TV. I recommend it as a worth-while addition to a collection of early opera, and it looks good on the TV screen.

© Peter Grahame Woolf