Opera DVDs are awesome

By By Christie Franke

By Christie Franke

Never underestimate the power of music — even classical music — to make you want to get up and dance. Leave that to iTunes. But to watch a live performance while flopped on the couch with a bowl of popcorn, that’s the business of the DVD industry.

I know, you’re probably asking, “What do I watch?” or, perhaps, more importantly, “Why watch at all?” The easy answer is, classical music is best enjoyed live (DVDs are fairly comparable, though), and you’ve just got to love opera for the great big over-blown, melodramatic, extravagant art form it is.

So what DVDs should you look for? Which ones stand above the crowd? Glad you asked: Here’s a list to keep any Netflix queue busy for a while.

First, the blood letters:

“Macbeth,” Verdi. Shakespeare is sitting on a cloud somewhere thinking, “Damn, I’m good.” Verdi liked Macbeth so much that he went and made an opera out of it. This is for anyone who wants to see a really, really dark opera with lots of death and gore (in addition to fabulous music). There are many versions available, because as in all theatre, the director is allowed to do what he wants.

If you’re an opera buff looking for superb singers and some truly weird staging, go with Thomas Hampson and the Zurich Opera’s 2001 version. “Modern” is the only word to describe the performance, although “Opera meets Farscape” is another, replete with green slime and drag queens.

The more traditional (and those new to the genre will want to go traditional) is the 1972 version from the Glyndebourne Festival, which has superb singing and sets that won’t make you want to shoot yourself.

“Lucia di Lammermoor,” Donizetti, starring Joan Sutherland. Some will leave a production of Lucia in tears from its beauty and tragedy. Others leave cooing, “What is this foolishness?” The plot is simple: Romance and death — lots of death — in the Scottish Highlands. To borrow the Utah Opera’s description, “The bride looked ravishing. The groom looked dead.”

‘Nuff said.

Moving on to Comedy:

“The Barber of Seville,” Rossini. The composer was 24when he wrote this opera, so naturally it’s filled with the glee of youth and some really funky pranks on the older generation. Bartolo wants to marry Rosina, who wants to marry the Count, who is pretending to be the barber Figaro’s cousin, who gets his Sweeney Todd on to get into the house. Only Rossini could get away with something like this. Cecelia Bartoli leads a fantastic cast and chorus whose comic acting is spot-on.

“The Marriage of Figaro,” Mozart. Look, if you can’t go wrong with Rossini (and you can’t), you definitely can’t go wrong with Mozart. It’s the sequel to “The Barber of Seville”, and it continues the madness. Bryn Terfel’s version at the Thétre du Chatelet in Paris is a personal favorite, but there are many to choose from.

For the token concert DVD, take a look at Thomas Hampson’s performance of Mahler songs in “Voices of Our Time.” It’s an interesting mix of live recital and pre-recorded interviews about the songs, and it’s fantastic. Hampson has one of those voices that has the ability to make you melt onto the floor, and his accompanist, pianist Wolfram Rieger, is superb. Even if you’ve never heard Mahler before, this is a nice DVD to have.

If you’re too timid to purchase any of these, try Netflix. Shockingly, it has a pretty thorough selection of music-oriented DVDs. (It even has the incredibly funky version of Macbeth mentioned above.) So check these shows out. The major benefit of DVDs? You don’t even have to dress up.

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