Rita -- Donizetti composed a little piece of fluff in 1860 for the Opera Comique, titled "Rita, ou Le mari battu" (The beaten up husband). In the 2010 production on a Dynamic DVD, it is a wonder that the female half of the audience would tolerate the basic idea.
At the opening, Rita (Pricille Laplace) brags how she keeps her husband Peppe (Aldo Caputo) under her thumb -- or rather fist. A tourist, Gaspar (Alberto Rinaldi), on the way to Greenland (!) tells the meek Peppe that it is perfectly fine to beat one’s wife as long as she is not knocked unconscious. The women in the audience at the Opera Royal de Wallonie didn’t seem to mind and applauded the singer if not the song. Anything that follows would be a spoiler, but I should add that a good deal of a "Cox and Box" routine is used when the two men gamble for Rita.
The action (of course) is moved up to the middle of the 20th century, the costumes are colorful (Rita is all in red, including her hair), and the silent extras do not intrude on the main action (as silly as it is).
Those who are familiar with "The Elixir of Love" and "Don Pasquale" will notice the Donizetti buffa style, albeit in French. No one tune is memorable, but the music is like a passing breeze all through the 54-minute playing time. Conductor Claudio Scimone makes a good case for this minor operetta. And there are subtitles in several languages.
Masnadieri -- Thanks to the project to perform and film all of Verdi’s operas, including his less popular works, we now have on a C-major DVD his 1847 "I Masnadieri" (The Robbers), based on a play by Schiller. Notable for no female chorus and an overly melodramatic plot, the work has its goofy charm, but this 2010 production does nothing to make it believable.
The single setting is what looks like a ruined courtyard with a cozy armchair standing downstage left and stage lights out in the open. That second-hand clothing store in downtown Europe that seems to provide garments for most current productions that need to save on costumes must have had a sale on shiny black coats, for all of the robbers are wearing them, including the heroine when she wanders into their territory. The garb might be from and indefinite period at the end of the 19th or the start of the 20th century; but their weapons are glaringly modern. Why?
The acting of Aquiles Machado (Carlo, the leader of the band), Lucrecia Garcia (Amalia, Carlo’s love), and Giacomo Prestia (Carlo’s father), is undistinguished. Artur Rucinksi (Francesco, Carlo’s brother) has a powerful voice but making him into a mixture of Richard III and Dick Deadeye result in a cartoonish villain. The rest of the singing is nothing to rave about, but the audience at the Teatro di San Carlo has a better opinion of it than I do.
All in all, under the baton of Nicola Luisotti, the music does bounce on with the dirty deeds and represents Verdi in his learning period.
The running time is 123 minutes, the picture is in HD and 16:9 format, and there are subtitles in 8 languages.
Acorn re-releases -- In what space I have left, I would like simply to mention some rereleases from Acorn Media, all of which I reviewed in the recent past.
The 2003 television miniseries version of "Doctor Zhivago" runs for 225 minutes in widescreen with English subtitles. Plus 70 minutes of bonus material. It stars Hans Matheson as Zhivago and Keira Knightley as Lara.
"Poirot and Marple, Fan Favorites Collection" could not be based on the votes of many fans. Five of the six Hercule Poirot shows come from the original batch; but the "Murder on the Orient Express" is from 2010 and gives too much solemnity to the once jolly sleuth. None of the five Miss Marple episodes are with the original and irreplaceable Joan Hickson and stray far from the Christie originals.
On the Athena Learning label is "The Power of Myth," a series of interviews of Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers. New material has been added to the original set. For Campbell fans only.
Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.