3 July 2011 | TheLittleSongbird
Insightful and interesting
I am a big fan of opera and of baritone Sherrill Milnes. I was introduced to him two years ago when he played Scarpia in the 1976 film production of Tosca and I have been a fan since. This Gala is insightful and interesting and the music is beautifully performed not only by Milnes but also by the likes of Placido Domingo and Mirella Freni.
The host is Burt Lancaster, and he is perfect. Whether he is an opera enthusiast or not I'm not sure but you would think so looking at this. His commentaries are well-written without being too hyperbolic or opinionated(I agree 100% with his assessment of Domingo and Milnes' partnership, like Bjorling and Merrill's it is legendary), beautifully delivered and communicative.
The Gala is beautifully shot as well, with the camera work skillful throughout. And I loved the settings too, Un Aura Amorosa was traditional and understated, Ditta Alla Giovine is suitably elegant, Dio Che Nell'alma Infondere is regal and (my favourite) Credo in Un Dio Crudel is wonderfully foreboding.
The music as you would expect is magnificent. Ditta Alla Giovine is the heart of the second act of La Traviata in my opinion and Credo in Un Dio Crudel is blasphemous, chilling and essential to Iago's character arc. Then we have Dio Che Nell'alma Infondere, which is justifiably one of the all-time great opera duets, the wonderful Pagliacci prologue Si Puo and Un Aura Amorosa is absolutely beautiful.
This Gala is a fitting tribute to such a wonderful baritone. Milnes himself shows versatility, intelligence and above all a great voice and outstanding acting skills, and is just brilliant here. I loved his performance of the Brahms accompanied by Jon Spong and also his duet with Julia Migenes(who portrayed Carmen so memorably in the 1984 film of the same name). And he shows a talent for conducting too, conducting Peter Schrierer, who sings beautifully, during Un Aura Amorosa. There are four arias/duets where you see Milnes at his best; One is Si Puo. Of the non Verdi roles, alongside Scarpia and Figaro(Il Barbiere Di Siviglia, his Largo Al Factotum is one of the most original and entertaining renditions I've heard), the one of the hunchbacked clown Tonio is where Milnes shines. His Si Puo is a revelation, and I don't think I have heard a baritone singing a more goose-bump-inducing high A flat than Milnes here.
Two is Dio Che Nell'alma Infondere. Here he is partnered with Placido Domingo, another outstanding singing-actor. Their chemistry is most evident here, they blend very nicely with a substantial amount of musicality, both look very handsome as well, and the acting from both is superb, very rarely do you see Domingo or Milnes just standing there and singing.
Three is Ditta Alla Giovine. Milnes I like very much as Germont. He is very distinguished and sympathetic here, both in singing and acting. His Piangis perhaps were a little on the edgy side, but his delicate phrasing, masterful legato and secure musicianship are in full flight here. Here though it is Mirella Freni who really impresses. Not only does she look absolutely stunning, looking and sounding much younger than her fifty years, but her acting is heart breaking and her voice soaring and beautiful. Plus I adore her soft singing.
My favourite though was Credo in Un Dio Crudel. I loved the setting and Milnes certainly looks the part of the villain of Otello known as Iago with no redeeming merits, all dishevelled and dressed in "leopard skin with a touch of crocodile". Milnes sings superbly, he mayn't have had the most beautiful of all baritone voices, very subjective that you know, but what it was was that it was characterful, even on recordings you can tell Milnes is so into his part because his vocal expression is so good. Other than his evil laugh, which is the best evil laugh of any Iago I've heard, what impressed me about this performance was his acting. Even when he is not singing, Milnes is always in character, making slimy, snarling faces, creepy hand gestures, licking his lips, it is absolutely riveting to watch.
In conclusion, insightful, interesting and just a fitting tribute to a great personal favourite as well as an opportunity to see some other favourites. 10/10 Bethany Cox