Does everybody out there know about House of Opera? I came across it last year. It's a very very dangerous place. Non-commercially released tapes, CDs, videos and DVDs of operas, recitals and some masterclasses. Everything and everybody is to be found here somewhere. The selection is unbelievable. I don't want to turn into an advertisement though. There are some drawbacks: sound and picture quality vary (sometimes the recordings are done for TV, but sometimes they're just filmed from the audience); there are generally no subtitles; and it's rather overwhelming trying to browse through the site. Everything is well organised, essentially, but there's so much of it that I've found the only way to cope is to search someone or something in particular, rather than trying to wade through everything.
Amazingly, all I've got from them so far is 4 Lucia Popp DVDs- Così, Arabella, Die Fledermaus and a documentary about her. Three of them are perfectly watchable. Così, which I finally watched the night before last, is rather different. The sound is OK but it's filmed at such a distance that I found it rather difficult going. Really it was only a small step up from sitting and doing nothing but listen to the whole opera, all the way through, for which I've never had the attention span. My devotion to Lucia meant I wasn't about to give up, and there was the odd closeup, albeit a little fuzzy. So I watched the whole three hours; it was a little surreal. I remembered enough of the plot from my DVD of Cecilia's Zürich Così to follow most of it; but Dorabella (Anne Murray) and Fiordiligi (Lucia) were so similarly costumed that I often had to wait until one of them sang and then look to see whose mouth was moving in order to tell them apart. They, and Liliana Nichiteanu (who's also in the one with Cecilia, this time as Dorabella) as Despina, held my attention rather well considering the circumstances- but that's because they're sopranos/mezzos. They left me with even less energy left to give much thought to the boys. So I shan't even try to comment.
Lucia was excellent as usual although I have heard her sounding even better- but this might be due as much to the substandard recording as to anything else. Anne Murray was very good too- I enjoyed her 'Smanie implacabile' especially- but when she was sharing the stage with Fiordiligi, well, my eyes and ears where elsewhere. Liliana was well-suited to her part I thought, although her Despina was nowhere near as hilarious as her Dorabella is. Lucia's 'Per pieta' got an enormous ovation. The production itself was fine. As far as I could make the characters were in semi-Victorian costume, and when Ferrando and Guglielmo were dressed up, I think they were in Greek traditionally costume. This, however, is a guess based solely on a Tintin book where Thompson and Thomson dress up this way. The cleverest bit of it, I thought, were the first few scenes, where everybody was naturally, but frequently, swapping places- so that one character would start to sing to another, before realising his/her lover was the other one. It all fit in rather nicely with what was to come; unfortunately the rest of the production wasn't quite as clever. Enjoyable enough though: I have no doubt that those who were actually there must have enjoyed it immensely. Unfortunately, filmed in the way it has been, the transition to the TV screen is not wonderfully successful. Where's Brian Large when you need him?
CD du jour: Lucia Popp: Die schönsten deutschen Kinder- und Wiegenlieder. For the Germanically challenged: children's songs and lullabies. It's a little (or very) silly perhaps but very cute too. And Lucia being Lucia, it's also a fabulous CD. She's in magnificent voice, but there's nothing over the top: they're just little songs, and she does them appropriately. It's great fun and very pretty. We had the cassette tape of this when I was very very little, and some of the songs are among my very first 'operatic' memories.