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Image Entertainment presents
Rossini Opera Collection: Il Barbiere di Siviglia / La Cenerentola / Semiramide (1988-1992)

"Let this day be a day of joy and glory for me, and a day of doom and shame for you."
- Assur (Samuel Ramey), Semiramide

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: August 10, 2006

Stars: David Malis, Richard Croft, Renato Capecchi, Jennifer Larmore, Ann Murray, Francisco Araizo, Gino Quilico, Walter Berry, June Anderson, Marilyn Horne, Stanford Olsen, Samuel Ramey
Other Stars: Simone Alaimo, Leonie Schoon, Roger Smeets, Angela Denning, Daphne Evangelatos, Wolfgang Schoene, Young Ok Shin, John Check, Michael Forest, Jeffrey Wells
Director: Hans Hulscher, Brian Large, Claus Viller

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (thematic material)
Run Time: 08h:55m:52s
Release Date: May 23, 2006
UPC: 014381268423
Genre: opera


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- ABB+ D

DVD Review

The operas of Gioacchino Rossini continue to be enduring nearly 200 years after their composition, and this box from Image collects three previously-released DVDs of some of his most popular works. The original snappers are replaced with keepcases, and the price is significantly lower than that of the individual releases, making it an attractive acquisition.

Il Barbiere di Siviglia, or The Barber of Seville (1816) is a romantic opera buffa that is a perennial favorite, based on Beaumarchais' scandalous play. Licentious Count Almaviva (Richard Croft) is in love with Rosina (Jennifer Larmore), the young ward of Dr. Bartolo (Renato Capecchi). But his attempted serenades are rejected. Turning to barber and jack-of-all-trades Figaro (David Malis) for help, the count disguises himself as the soldier Lindoro and quickly wins Rosina's heart. This doesn't meet with Bartolo's approval, since he means to marry Rosina himself. Figaro then plans a complicated scheme of elopement, but first he must acquire the key to the window, and so he shaves Bartolo while Almaviva pretends to be a music master and woos Rosina further.

This delightful production, staged and designed by Dario Fo, is full of rambunctiousness. There is plenty of slapstick and buffoonery added to the goings-on, sometimes lending a deeper resonance to the opera itself; one such key moment is when Figaro attempts to convince the real music master, Don Basilio (Simone Alaimo) that he has scarlet fever: extras wander into the set carrying a coffin and flowers, sending Don Basilio into a fit of terror at his imaginary ailment. Malis makes a terrific Figaro, with an impudent brass and a big enough voice to carry it off. Croft is equally good as Almaviva, and he has a good chemistry with Larmore, making the central romance credible, which is often a problem area for this opera. There's always something entertaining going on, and the performance of the music has a constant sparkle, making this production by the Netherlands Opera and Chamber Orchestra a keeper.

The Cinderella story is brought to operatic life in La Cenerentola (1817), which drops much of the magical fairy tale trappings and brings it grudgingly into the real world. Cinderella (Ann Murray) still has two obnoxious sisters (Angela Denning and Daphne Evangelatos) who lord it over her, but she now has a wicked stepfather, Don Magnifico (Walter Berry). Prince Ramiro (Francisco Araiza) has been tipped off by his tutor Alidoro (Wolfgang Schoene) that there is a lovely girl living at Don Magnifico's place, so he adopts the guise of a footman and has his valet Dandini (Gino Quilico) masquerade as the Prince, in order to see what's what. Inviting the girls to a ball at his palace, he's somewhat confounded by the two sisters who show up. But Alidoro, in the stead of the fairy godmother, makes arrangements for Cinderella to attend the ball and to win the heart of the Prince.

After watching Barber of Seville, this feels rather static in its staging, but it truly is stagey, with very little action or movement; in fact the proscenium nature of the presentation is highlighted in one aria by having each of the characters sing within an identical archway. The sets are attractive and massive, threatening to swallow the characters whole. The highlight is Walter Berry's drunken, rascally Don Magnifico, who gives a boozy greediness to his character while keeping him somewhat threatening; when he swears he'll skin Cinderella alive, you half believe it. Murray has a fine voice for the lead, and she gives the part a nice wistful quality that goes a long way toward selling it. The two sisters could have had a bit more life to them, since they didn't seem quite nasty enough. Araizo is inoffensive enough to be Prince Charming. No glass slippers are to be found here; Rossini substitutes a bracelet for the more infamous footwear.

The third and, at 3h:40m:25s, by far the longest opera in the set is Semiramide (1823). This underappreciated tragic opera is set in Babylonia (or Assyria, since Rossini uses the two interchangeably) after the death of King Ninus (Jeffrey Wells). His Queen, Semiramide (June Anderson), is to name her successor to the throne at the consecration of a new temple to Baal. She is in love with young Scythian general Arsace (contralto Marilyn Horne), and intends to name him and claim him as her husband as well. But Arsace loves Princess Azema (Young Ok Shin), who is also beloved by high priest Idreno (Stanford Olsen) and rival claimant to the throne Assur (Samuel Ramey). Adding to the complexity is Ninus' ghost rising from the dead and demanding justice, and the revelation of a pair of deadly secrets: the King was poisoned by the Queen, and unbeknownst to her, Arsace is her own son. This can't end well, can it?

The Metropolitan Opera's production is sumptuous, with gorgeous costuming and sets that are minimalist but highly suggestive of the era. Anderson and Horne's voices meld wonderfully, making them a first-rate teaming in the lead roles. Horne has been responsible for what popularity this opera has today, and she gives a fine performance here. Ramey has a rich baritone that serves well, and Olsen and Horne both successfully confront the extreme vocal gymnastics that Rossini demands of the parts. The opera itself is rather deliberate; it takes well over an hour to establish the various relationships and not until the second act are the dark secrets revealed. But it has a stately beauty of its own, with several memorable set pieces, including the earnest hymn of fealty that is quoted in the overture, and the popular aria Bel raggio lusinghier being delivered with glorious joy by Anderson.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes
Anamorphicnoyes


Image Transfer Review: The two comedies are presented in the original full frame format. They appear to be sourced from videotape, with all the attendant softness and lack of detail that one would expect. There's also quite a lot of edge enhancement, most visible on La Cenerentola that is quite distracting, and significant motion artifacting. Semiramide is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen, and appears to be sourced from an HD master. Accordingly, it has much greater detail and texture, and colors are beautifully vivid (though Arsace's red robes seem a tad oversaturated). The widescreen format is useful to emphasize the pageantry of the staging. The Semiramide transfer rates an A-, while the other two are about B-.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Italianyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Italianyes
PCMItalianno


Audio Transfer Review: Barber of Seville sports a rich PCM audio track, while the other two offer both 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital Italian tracks. The choruses in Barber of Seville feel a bit overwhelming, though that may be a mixing problem. La Cenerentola is quite hissy but the sound is perfectly adequate. Semiramide has the best miking of the three, and the trombones and horns sound particularly excellent here. Balances are much better as well, indicating the long experience of the Met in such matters. All of the tracks are quite satisfactory, with excellent range and presence.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 103 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 98 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:15m:13s; 01h:17m:48s; 01h:

Extras Review: There are no significant extras on any disc, not even a chapter listing insert. All three DVDs supply removable English subtitles, though they could be a little more thorough since long stretches without a subtitle frequently occur. Barber of Seville also includes a French subtitle option. Chpatering is quite thorough.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

Three classics, two comedies and a tragedy, all given fine performances, good audio transfers, and all at a bargain price. Hard to go wrong here, though don't expect much for extras.

 


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