By 1981, when this production was taped for Canadian television, Joan Sutherland's voice was unquestionably past its prime. But even in its decline, that voice remained something quite special, and the role of the troubled Druid priestess Norma was one of her specialties. A substantial advantage in this recording is the presence at the podium of her husband and coach, Richard Bonynge, who had a deep understanding of the strengths and limitations of her voice and stage persona. His pacing and balance give the voice opportunities to challenge, at least momentarily, the ravages of time. Lotfi Mansouri, one of the great operatic entrepreneurs of the late 20th century, assembled a first-class supporting cast for Sutherland–most notably Tatiana Troyanos, to whose memory this video is dedicated. The performance of Troyanos in the role of the younger and equally troubled priestess Adalgisa is outstanding and would make this disc worth having even without its documentation of Sutherland. As far as it is possible to determine, this is the only video opera appearance of tenor Francisco Ortiz. On the basis of his performance as the Roman officer Pollione, he seems to have deserved more attention. Bass Justino Diaz gives a sterling performance as the old Druid Oroveso. (Joe McLellan)
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and, transcending the boundaries of the genre, some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture - such as "La donna mobile" from Rigoletto, "Va, pensiero" (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco, "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" (The Drinking Song) from La traviata and the "Grand March" from Aida. His work has sometimes been criticized for using a generally diatonic rather than a chromatic musical idiom and for being essentially melodrama during his early years. He was an atheist. Verdi's masterworks dominate the standard repertoire a century and a half after their composition.
First seen at the Royal Opera House in 2013, this staging of Verdi's rarely-performed opera Les Vêpres siciliennes – directed by Stefan Herheim and conducted by The Royal Opera’s Music Director, Verdi specialist Sir Antonio Pappano – went on to win the prestigious Olivier Award for Best New Opera Production. The Sunday Times hailed it 'the best the Verdi year in Britain has to offer,' praising the standout event of the Verdi bicentenary celebrations. 'The Royal Opera has done its favourite composer proud.'
One of the most acclaimed musicians of his era, Toscanini was a conductor of the "old school" - aristocratic, perfectionistic and something of an autocrat on the podium. After a brief flurry of interest in Fascism in the 1910s, he rapidly became disillusioned with the movement and indeed became a personal rival of Mussolini, repeatedly antagonising him through acts of artistic defiance such as refusals to open concerts with the Fascist anthem Giovinezza.
Eventually he fled Italy for the United States, becoming the first conductor of the newly-formed NBC Symphony Orchestra, with whom he pioneered radio broadcasts and recordings that made him a household name in America until his retirement at the age of 87. He gave the premiere performances of several major works, including Barber's Adagio for Strings and the American premiere of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony.
Stage and television director Werner Herzog, one of the most highly acclaimed German film makers of all time, joins forces with the great Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly to effect a masterful rendition of this rarely-performed opera involving spectacular scenes of alternating light and dark, pageantry and intimacy. The production is further complemented by the great Italian baritone Renato Bruson as Giacomo, the American soprano Susan Dunn as Giovanna and the outstanding tenor Vincenzo La Scola as the Dauphin. The magnificent Teatro Comunale di Bologna provides an intimate yet ornate setting for this production of Verdi's seventh opera, the story of the Maid of Orleans.