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betraying the original plots and characters: little to upset traditionalists, much to enthral everyone else.

All three operas are updated to the 20th century. The widescreen canalside setting of Il tabarro looks more like Amsterdam than Paris, the black-brick buildings with distant neon signs shining through the darkness providing a suitably oppressive atmosphere. There is a lot of working-class activity in the background – young women work the late shift in a nearby factory – but the foreground drama is less intensely involving than it might be. This is partly because Gallo sounds vocally hard-pressed as Michele, and partly because Westbroek’s Giorgetta and Antonenko’s Luigi lack Italian ardour, strongly though these two big voices deliver the goods. Pappano, however, plays the opera for all it is worth.

In the theatre, Suor Angelica packed a stronger punch. Here, on DVD, it is little short of devastating. Jones takes greater liberties with this opera, moving the story to a children’s hospital ward and avoiding the Catholic imagery of the vision at the end. It is hard to imagine surroundings more likely to awaken the sympathy of a modern audience and, from the first close-ups of sick infants, even the stoniest hearts must surely melt. By the time Jaho’s doe-eyed Suor Angelica expires (she takes an overdose and mistakes one of the sick children for her dead son in her dying stupor) the emotional impact is overwhelming. Jaho’s youthful vulnerability is deeply moving and, though Larsson’s Princess is on the plummy side, there is fine work from Anna Devin as Suor Genovieffa and Irina Mishura as the Abbess, among others.

Gianni Schicchi is a wicked 1960s delight. The country is still Italy (though Florence is nowhere in sight), and this period comedy takes us back to the world of floral wallpaper and beehive hairdos. Gallo is better cast here as crafty, blue-collar labourer Schicchi out to defraud the middle classes, and his victims among Donati’s ghastly relatives include (alongside some weaker players) Elena Zilio’s fearsome Zita, Marie McLaughlin’s glamorous La Ciesca and the hot-headed young Rinuccio of Francesco Demuro. Pappano, so red-blooded in the earlier two operas, is heavy-handed in this one, but the orchestra plays splendidly for him and with much detail.

Outstandingly filmed, this set marks a high point for live opera on DVD. The 1983 La Scala recording has its strengths – the traditional production includes vistas of Paris in Il tabarro and some great Italian voices (especially Nicola Martinucci and Piero Cappuccilli) – but looks its age now. I have no hesitation in making this new Trittico the top recommendation. Richard Fairman Selected comparison: Gavazzeni (9/04) (WARN) 5046 70943-2

Wagner Lohengrin Klaus Florian Vogt ten �����������������������������������������Lohengrin Annette Dasch sop������������������������������������������������������������ Elsa Susanne Resmark mez �����������������������������������������������Ortrud Gerd Grochowski bar ������������������������������������������Telramund Günther Groissböck bass���������������������������������� King Henry Markus Brück bar ��������������������������������������������������������� Herald Robert Franke, Holger Marks tens Sascha Glintenkamp, Thomas Pfützner basses �������������� �����������������������������������������������������Four Noblemen of Brabant Christine Bischoff, Isabelle Vosskühler sops Judith Löser, Bettina Pieck contrs ������������������ Four Pages Berlin Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra / Marek Janowski Pentatone F c Í PTC5186 403 (3h 20’ • DDD/DSD • S/T/t) Recorded live at the Philharmonie, Berlin, November 12, 2011

Janowski’s Lohengrin stars ‘dream pair’ Vogt and Dasch After a bumpy, uneven ride through Parsifal, Marek Janowski’s new live Wagner cycle continues somewhat more majestically with Lohengrin. I should warn straight away that his light-voiced lovers – already hailed by the German press as the ‘Bayreuth dream pair’ – may frustrate those used to, say, Jess Thomas and Elisabeth Grümmer (for Kempe, EMI), let alone Lauritz Melchior and Lotte Lehmann (Myto, from a 1935 Metropolitan Opera broadcast). Dasch, here denied the armour of that unique Bayreuth acoustic (see her, and Vogt, on the Opus Arte DVD of the 2011 Festival production), is the ne plus ultra in slim-sounding, girlish Elsas. But it sounds and works so beautifully, a complete contrast to Resmark’s (very mezzo-ish) Ortrud, a perfect Weber-like foil to Lohengrin in their interrupted Act 3 love duet and – because she projects the text so well – moving and vulnerable in the confrontations with Ortrud or the loss of her husband. Vogt’s voice is less compelling without the bonus of his visible stage presence but (in what is now his third recording of the role) his understanding of the part triumphs, there is much lovely quieter singing and he is able to bring special atmosphere to the Grail narration and the climactic negotiations (here heard complete) thereafter. With Eberhard Friedrich getting a strong sound from his Berlin Radio Choir, doing justice to the intricate and radical writing of Wagner’s most extensively choral opera, Janowski is able to lead an exciting performance in his best style. That is to say swift, of its (1840s) time – wholly free of the Tristan-ising of Solti (Decca, 10/87) or Karajan (EMI, 1/83 R ) – and with much care given to varying the balance and rhythm of the recitatives. Resmark is pushed at times by the tessitura (I feel an Alan Blyth-style lecture coming on about what are really soprano roles) but gives such a firecracker Ortrud that no one should care. If the other three male leads are less distinctive, they never fall short of a committed contribution to a performance that, in the Act 1 finale, the pacing of a complete Act 2 and the crescendo of Act 3, touches greatness.

There’s a terrifyingly long list of worthwhile Lohengrin recordings, to which this newcomer is a serious competitor. Elsewhere, don’t miss Kempe (EMI, 2/64 R ), Barenboim (Warner, 1/99) or Bodanzky (Myto) and try to hear Fritz Busch (anywhere), Klemperer (old Hungaroton), Kaufmann singing the Grail narration in Bayreuth (Decca, 9/10) or Christa Ludwig and Walter Berry in the Ortrud/Telramund duet in South America. Mike Ashman

Last Year’s Winner

Beethoven Fidelio Stemme; Kaufmann; Lucerne Festival / Claudio Abbado Decca M b 478 2551DH2 (115’ • DDD) This recording derives from two semistaged concert performances, the audience happily sensed but not heard. Technically the recording is first-rate but, then, you need no sonic-stage trickery in the dungeon scene in a performance which reveals as exactingly as this how Beethoven’s own orchestrations are key. One of the many glories of this thrillingly articulated Fidelio is the playing of the basses and lower strings, sharp-featured and black as the pit of Acheron.

The cast is mostly distinguished. If there has been a better Marzelline on record than Rachel Harnisch, I have not heard her. The same might be said of Christof Fischesser’s Rocco and Falk Struckmann’s Pizarro; not that one forgets Gottlob Frick (Klemperer’s Rocco and Furtwängler’s) or Hans Hotter, Klemperer’s Pizarro on his unforgettable live Covent Garden performance, a true theatre Fidelio, more interestingly cast than the fabled but slightly more sedate EMI studio version.

Nina Stemme is very much the Leonore de nos jours, less human than Jurinac live at Covent Garden but apt to the newer version’s less domesticated vision. I could have done without Jonas Kaufmann’s 12-second crescendo on Florestan’s annunciatory “Gott!” – René Kollo did something similar for Bernstein (DG, 10/78R) – more vocal stunt than human utterance and offering a foretaste of vocal discolorations to come.

But that, in the end, is a trifle. This is the best-conducted Fidelio since Furtwängler’s; a joy to experience and a privilege to possess. Richard Osborne


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