Friday, March 20, 2015

Antony and Cleopatra live audio

When I wrote about this opera in 2013, this audio was not in YouTube [And now it is gone]. This is the live broadcast of Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra in its only original cast performance with Leontyne Price, Jess Thomas and Justino Diaz. I am putting it here so I will remember to play it.

My attention was drawn to this by an article in the January copy of Gramophone.  The cover article was everyone talking about Schubert's Winterreise, but once inside I found an icons article about Leontyne Price.  The recommended recording of her is Solti's Aida. The article closes like this:

"Price's greatest failure may eventually be remembered as her finest hour:  Antony and Cleopatra.  Before the opera's high-profile, 1966 flop, composer Barber thought it his greatest work -- and wasn't wrong.  The often-named culprit was Franco Zeffirelli, whose extravagant production put Price in costumes that made her resemble a walking sarcofagus.  But how often has the radio relay of the premiere been duly re-examined?  [I complained that it was unavailable in my piece.]  Easily found on YouTube, Antony and Cleopatra is a tough work, with Price playing her character not as a variant on Elizabeth Taylor (whose film version came out the previous year), but as a cool, political strategist.  The lack of a love duet in this first version of the opera (which was later revised) was no oversight.  Barber was creating people, not ornate historical objects.  And if his original version is ever rehabilitated, the intelligence of Leontyne Price's recorded characterisation will likely lead the way."

P.S.  I am listening to the film and have a few observations.  Cast list from Wikipedia:

Cleopatra soprano Leontyne Price
Mark Antony baritone Justino Diaz
Octavius Caesar tenor Jess Thomas
Enobarbus bass Ezio Flagello
Charmian, servant to Cleopatra mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias

This is a spectacular cast, but Barber has violated one of the basic rules of operatic casting by making Mark Antony a baritone.  The male love interest is always a tenor.  This throws the vocal balance off.

Most of what is wrong with this opera can be laid at the feet of Zeffirelli:  It was he who selected text by Shakespeare, making the opera very talky.  Price is the only one in the cast who has performed enough Barber to feel free in her interpretation.  When she isn't singing, we get a lot of growly talking.

I get warm enthusiasm from the audience.

This is the era before surtitles at the opera.  We would be on our own trying to understand the text.  And on top of that it is Shakespeare, a writer of great beauty and poetry, but difficult for modern people to understand.  Perhaps if you had the text in front of you.

I am very sorry to say that I am only enjoying Ms Price. She is such a wonderful singer.  The last act seems to work better than the other parts.  More Leontyne, more action, more tenor.  She loved it.  She has said so.  Her performance is full of love.  Artists with the gift of Ms Price come to us once in an eternity.  This opera, this performance deserved more respect.

We have reached "Give me my robe."  The ending is spectacular.  The audience is very enthusiastic.  Sigh.  Barber gets a lot more applause than Zeffirelli.

Stay for the interview at the end.  She calls it "the event of the century."

1 comment:

Dr.B said...

The YouTube audio only is gone, but you can find it on Met on Demand.