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Kultur presents
Great Moments in Opera from the Ed Sullivan Show (1995)

"Figaro qua, Figaro la, Figaro qua, Figaro la, Figaro su, Figaro giu, Figaro su, Figaro giu".
- Figaro (Robert Merrill), Largo al Factotum from Rossini's Barber ofSeville, Act I Scene I

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: December 07, 2000

Stars: Roberta Peters, Robert Merrill, Joan Sutherland, Franco Corelli
Other Stars: Leontyne Price, Beverly Sills, Anna Moffo, Richard Tucker, Birgit Nilsson, Jan Peerce, Maria Callas, Marilyn Horne, Lily Pons, Dorothy Kirsten, Renata Tebaldi, Eileen Farrell, Judith dePaul (uncredited), Lilian Sukis (uncredited) and Nedda Casai (uncredited)
Director: Unknown

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable beyond operatic sopranos)
Run Time: 01h:56m:37s
Release Date: September 22, 2000
UPC: 032031252899
Genre: opera

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+C+B+ D-

DVD Review

Even though I think of myself as elderly, my memories of the Sunday-night staple The Ed Sullivan Show back in the 1960s are pretty much limited to The Beatles, Senor Wences and Topo Gigio (don't ask). No doubt I was too young to appreciate the serious music; indeed, it's all pretty much blocked out. But as we learn from this disc by Kultur, there was a regular parade of some of the greatest stars of opera in the mid 20th century on the program.

From the scanty notes on the package, it appears that these 26 performances are a complete collection of all of the surviving Ed Sullivan programs featuring operatic excerpts. Most of them are presented in a concert format, against abstract or vaguely suggestive backdrops. A few, such as Richard Tucker's Vesti la giubba from I Pagliacci are presented in costume, and Dorothy Kirsten's splendid rendition of Un bel di from Madame Butterfly is given the full-blown treatment with complete sets and costumes as if it were an actual presentation of the opera. Someone with a punning nature had Lily Pons sing sitting next to, of all things, a lily pond. Eileen Farrell's selection from La Forza del Destino is shot in an empty outdoor amphitheatre, making for an incredibly striking visual.

Among the luminaries presented on this disc are the immortal Maria Callas, Beverly Sills, Joan Sutherland, Birgit Nilsson, Marilyn Horne and Lily Pons. Sutherland turns up again and again, both solo and in duet, but the rest on this list are limited to one or two performances each. Callas is in excellent voice (this is the first time I've ever actually seen her sing, and she emoted wonderfully with those expressive dark eyes, magnifying the power of her vocal talent immensely. Sills' aria from Linda di Chamounix, O luce di quest' anima, is exceedingly pleasurable to listen to; she exudes charm.

Robert Merrill and Roberta Peters are the workhorses of this disc, showing up in four different pieces each. Merrill does an admirable job and even has a little fun with the material; in the final number he sings selections from Aida, La Traviata and Carmen, taking duets with three different women representing the title characters (respectively, the uncredited Judith de Paul, Lilian Sukis and Nedda Casai), concluding with the well-known Toreador Song, all with a wink and a smile. Peters is capable but not exciting; however she does really shine in The Bell Song from Delibes' Lakme. Tucker's Pagliacci is rather on the overblown and even tawdry side. Anna Moffo in one of her appearances appears to have a little trouble with the upper range, but there's enough variety in the presentations here to keep one well satisfied with the disc.

Because the selections appear to have been made ad hoc, there is some repetition of music; in addition to Kirsten's Un bel di, Eileen Farrell also takes that aria on. Vissi d'arte from Puccini's Tosca is covered by no fewer than three artists: Callas, Leontyne Price and Birgit Nilsson. It's interesting to compare these three luminaries' different approaches to the same piece of music; Price is highly restrained, Callas is emotional and playing directly to the camera, and Nilsson takes a middle approach between the two. An opera fan looking for a "greatest hits" collection on DVD would certainly be well pleased by nearly all the performances on this disc.

From an historical standpoint, the presentation is somewhat lacking. Not only do we not get any biographical information about the vocalists, we also get no background on the television program itself. I would have loved to have the performances complete with Sullivan's introductions; I'm left wondering exactly how Sullivan sold this highbrow longhair culture to Middle America in between Topo Gigio and Senor Wences. The other problem is that the canned applause from the preceding number almost always steps on the orchestral introduction to the next number. While it always stops before the vocals begin, this is a rather annoying manner of presentation.

In addition to the pieces listed above, the following arias and duets are also performed:
Roberta Peters: Una voce poca fa from Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Robert Merrill: Largo al factotum from Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Anna Moffo: Il regimento from La Fille du Regiment
Birgit Nilsson: Pace, pace, mio Dio from La Forza del Destino
Jan Peerce and Robert Merrill, duet from La Forza del Destino
Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne: Mira, O Norma from Norma
Roberta Peters and Robert Merrill: Parigi and Morir si giovane from La Traviata
Joan Sutherland: Sempre libera from La Traviata
Lily Pons: Gavotte from Mignon
Renata Tebaldi and Franco Corelli: Vicino a le from Andrea Chenier
Dorothy Kirsten and Franco Corelli: Suave fanciulla from La Boheme
Joan Sutherland: Quando rapita from Lucia di Lammermoor Roberta Peters: Waltz from Romeo and Juliet Joan Sutherland: Saluta la France from La Fille du Regiment
Anna Moffo: La Ballatella from I Pagliacci
Franco Corelli: Tu Lo Sai, Italian song

Although this disc supposedly streeted in September of 2000, as of this writing in December it is not listed by any of the major online retailers in their catalogs; indeed, it's not even included on Kultur's own website! The only way that it seems to be available is by calling Kultur directly, at 1-800-573-3782 or (732)229-2343. The list price is $39.95, which is a little steep considering the complete lack of extras, but there's certainly some wonderful content here.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: The image is in general amazingly good for such old videotapes. The color segments in particular are quite nice, with blazing color and rich blacks and excellent shadow detail. The picture is, however, quite soft, despite massive amounts of edge enhancement. The older black & white kinescopes are in less good condition, with serious ringing around the reflections from the vocalists' jewelry. For such old television programs, however, this is a quite satisfactory presentation indeed. No damage as such was observed during the program.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoItalian and Frenchno

Audio Transfer Review: The mono track is also quite surprisingly good. The mono sound has excellent range and depth to it, and almost no audible hiss or noise (again, the older black & white segments are less pristine). I detected minor clipping of high notes only on rare occasion. Unfortunately, the Callas track has the most noise, but even that is quite acceptable. There is very little indeed to complain about here. This is about as good as an ancient mono track will ever sound; in fact it holds its own with more modern recordings. It's certainly more than one would ever expect from the source material.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 26 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Other than chaptering for each selection (and the final medley of three pieces gets only a single chapter stop), there's nothing whatsoever extra here. That's a sad disappointment; I would certainly have liked some background on the program and how it was that all these major opera stars came to be on it alongside the Beatles, Senor Wences and Topo Gigio. Alas, none of that. Nor are there any subtitles, making it a little difficult to follow the vocals.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Although hindered slightly by old video material, and completely lacking in extras and background materials, we get to both see and hear some of the greatest names in opera singing some of the favorite arias in the repertoire. Well worth seeking out (though your best bet is from Kultur itself).


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