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Pioneer presents
Live from the Met Highlights Volume 1 (1987)

"It looked as though the Met's glorious first season might well be its last."
- Narrator (uncredited)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 28, 2002

Stars: Luciano Pavarotti, Mirella Freni, Placido Domingo, Teresa Stratas, Jose Carreras, Eva Marton, Joan Sutherland, Kirsten Flagstad, Lily Pons
Other Stars: Judith Blegen, Bianca Berini, Louis Quilico, Julien Robbins, William Wilderman, Mirella Freni, Richard Stilwell, Allan Monk, James Morris, Ariel Bybee, Alfredo Kraus, Pablo Elvira, Paul Plishka, Jeffrey Stamm, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, James Levine, conductor, Giuseppe Patane, conductor, Richard Bonynge, conductor
Director: Kirk Browning, Brian Large

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:42m:57s
Release Date: January 22, 2002
UPC: 013023165892
Genre: opera


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A+C-C B

DVD Review

The Metropolitan Opera celebrated its centennial year in 1987. This disc collects a few of the many highlights of great performances at the Met, as well as supplying an interesting documentary. Substantial chunks of six operas from a variety of styles are featured.

Opening the program is James Levine's sprightly reading of the lively overture to Smetana's Bartered Bride. This makes for a delightful musical opening for some pieces that are a bit more weighty, as well as conveying the joyous nature of the centennial of the Met. One of these is Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera, the opera that commented on contemporary European politics by setting the opera in colonial Boston. Pavarotti takes the lead of governor Riccardo here, in the Act I finale. Pavarotti gives a fine performance, appearing to be genuinely frightened by the prophecy of death from Ulrica (Bianca Berini).

Another Verdi staple of the Met is Don Carlo, featured here in the duet from Act I in the Fontainebleau forest. Domingo essays the title role and he artfully intertwines with soprano Mirella Freni. Another favorite of the Met is Puccini, represented here by La Boheme. The selected segment is the beautiful Act I duet scene where Rodolfo (Jose Carreras) and Mimi (Teresa Stratas) meet. I loved this performance on the entire disc, and even this snippet gives a good idea of just how memorable was this presentation, produced by Franco Zeffirelli.

As we learn in the documentary, for many years all operas, whether German, French or Italian, were performed at the Met in German. Thus, it's vital to include a Wagner highlight here. The section provided is Elizabeth's aria at the beginning of Act II of Tannhauser, where she reminisces about her lost love. This segment is quite brief, however, and hardly conveys any of the flavor of the opera beyond the usual Wagnerian bravado. Concluding the highlights is the great Joan Sutherland in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor. While I would have expected the mad scene to be included in a highlights disc, the programmers avoid the obvious and instead use the Act II sextet where she learns of her betrayal. The performance is wonderful with a concluding high note that will have you running to protect you glassware.

The program continues without interruption into the documentary, which is covered in the extras section. The operatic highlights run about 01h:05m. Nothwithstanding past practice, all operas are presented in their original languages.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The full frame picture suffers a bit from the dual problems of being live performances, shot on video. The live aspect results in poor shadow detail, with dark costumes often blending into backgrounds. The video component makes much of the presentation unduly soft and lacking in detail. There are some visible compression artifacts and mosquito noise (prominent in the Tannhauser segment). There are also visible scan lines and heavy combing on the still sequences between operatic segments. Color is generally quite lacking. Frankly, a quite disappointing video experience.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English (with Italian & German vocals)no


Audio Transfer Review: The single 2.0 audio track offers English narration to bring the viewer up to speed on what's happening in the highlights. These narrative segments sound fine. The music is occasionally a bit lacking in depth and has a fairly compressed sound to it. Another disappointing area is bass presence; a goodly portion of the bass is in the surrounds, so those without full range surrounds will want to run this as a plain stereo program (which sounds perfectly fine). Volume levels are fairly low, requiring near-reference settings in order to properly hear the music and narration. As is typical, applause is usually mixed far too high, resulting in a scramble for the remote when a piece concludes.

Audio Transfer Grade: C

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Scanavo
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The sole extra is a valuable one: a documentary running over half an hour regarding the history of the Metropolitan Opera. The story of the opera is one fraught with many disasters and misjudgments, and it makes for entertaining viewing. Period prints and photographs illustrate the earlier years, and filmed snippets help liven up the later years. Among these are a dazzling performance of the Bell Song from Delibes' Lakme by Lily Pons and a powerful rendition of Brunnhilde from Die Walküre by Kirsten Flagstad. If complete film of such performances is available, an historic series of great operatic performances would certainly be welcome. The documentary is a little thin on more recent years, probably to avoid stepping on toes of those still living, but all in all a highly informative and entertaining program that doesn't overstay its welcome.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

An entertaining collection of operatic highlights, with a very good if overly reverent documentary. Video quality is a bit on the iffy side as is the audio to a surprising extent. But worth checking out for the viewer with a casual interest in opera.

 


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