Just a couple of months ago, I reviewed a different DVD of this opera – a 1974 production from Wolf Trap, sung in English, and starring Beverly Sills. Dully recorded and provincial in several ways, it nevertheless is a valuable souvenir of Sills's Marie, and it can be a great deal of fun if you approach it with a forgiving spirit.
This La Scala production, filmed in 1996, is much more polished, even when it is trying to be naïve. (Franco Zeffirelli's comic book-like scenery is a fine example.) The cast is uniformly polished, and the La Scala orchestra and chorus live up to their reputations. Furthermore, the opera is performed in French, the correct language, and this makes quite a difference in the way that Donizetti's infectious score comes off.
Unfortunately, there are obstacles here. Mariella Devia has a stunning coloratura instrument (not necessarily better than Sills's however), but she is no comedienne. Her Marie is a serious little girl, and even unappealingly snotty during her lessons in act II. As cloying as Sills's mannerisms can be, she captures the spirit of Marie in way that Devia cannot begin to approach. Praticó's Sulpice has little personality either. Director Filippo Crivelli works hard to give the singers funny stage business, but it rarely comes off. In fact, the La Scala audience is definitely on the tepid side. Having a male Duchess of Crackentorp (in drag) was an idea that had promise. Too bad it doesn't really come off here. Overall, one could hardly guess one was watching a comedy.
But all is not lost. American tenor Paul Austin Kelly is a stylish, attractive Tonio, and he sails happily through his showpiece aria near the end of act I. Even better is Ewa Podleś, a sonorous Marquise (what a deep contralto she has!) with a flair for comedy. I wondered why TDK's publicity material listed her as the first singer; after seeing her performance here, I know why. Conductor Renzetti, although he conducts with little charm, opens up some cuts. The scene of Marie's dancing lesson was new to me – I've never seen it in any production before.
Stereo, Digital 5.1, and Digital DTS sound are available, and the aspect ratio is 4:3. This DVD looks and sounds handsome. The English subtitles, on the other hand, are utterly inept – full of awkwardness and solecisms. I've read similar complaints about other TDK DVDs – it looks like this is an area where the label needs to do some work!
Copyright © 2003, Raymond Tuttle