DVD - Reseñas

A postcard from the 80s

Barbara Diana
jueves, 8 de marzo de 2007
Janet Baker: Full Circle (Her Last Year In Opera). A documentary directed by Bob Bentley, released in 1985. Executive producers: Kenneth Corden, Michael Gill. One DVD, 72 minutes. Code Region 1; Color NTSC; Sound Dolby 2.0. Subtitles in English, German, Spanish, French and Italian. A production of NVC ARTS for Warner Music Vision D4095
0,0002352 The operatic career of English mezzosoprano Janet Baker was in many ways exceptional, not least for the fact that she only performed opera in England. Between her debut in 1956 and her last stage performance in 1982 she sung a rather limited range of roles, mostly in operas by Handel, Mozart, Gluck, and Monteverdi, with the occasional foray into Berlioz and Strauss, on the stages of Glyndebourne, London, Edinburgh and Aldeburgh [Benjamin Britten wrote the role of Kate in Owen Wingrave for her, and she was his favourite choice for the title role in The Rape of Lucretia]. Yet she managed to reach an iconic status which still endures, some twenty-five years after her farewell to the stage. This phenomenon is quite difficult to understand simply on the basis of her recorded legacy, notwithstanding her remarkable Vitellia under Colin Davis, and an astounding Elgar’s Sea Pictures early on with Barbirolli. Rumour has it that her true greatness could only been experienced live, for she possessed that intangible quality that allows a performer to keep an audience enthralled.

At the beginning of the season 1981-1982, having decided to retire from opera at the end of it, Baker started keeping a diary, which was later published with the title Full circle as a sort of autobiography. At the same time a documentary was filmed, now re-released on DVD. It focuses on three operatic productions, Gluck’s Alceste at the Royal Opera and Donizetti’s Mary Stuart at the English National Opera, both with John Copley directing and Charles Mackerras conducting, and Gluck’s Orfeo at Glyndebourne with Peter Hall and Raymond Leppard, as well as a concert at Carnegie Hall and a performance of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius in Scotland.

The narrative centres around the day of her very last stage performance, and her decision to retire while still at the peak of her powers. It is a sort of docu-diary in which Dame Janet conveys her thoughts, her emotions and some perspective on the roles she is undertaking to a silent interviewer. The documentary focuses on highlights for each production: ‘Divinités du Styx’ from Alceste is rehearsed and then seen in performance. This is followed by rehearsals with the pianist in preparation for a US tour with a lieder recital. The Act I finale of Mary Stuart is rehearsed in view of a televised performance; then we move to Haddo Hall for Gerontius, and finally we are in Glyndebourne with ‘Che faro’ senza Euridice’. There are also more informal moments, some public and some private: a post-performance dinner at the Garrick Club, travelling by train, and the odd shot of the faithful Keith, Baker’s husband.

On the whole, this video is a mixed bag. Because of its celebratory agenda it misses what could have been a unique oppotunity for an insight into the creative process of a highly acclaimed artist. The rehearsal moments are too short, and obviously aimed at a general public; furthermore, most of Mary Stuart’s rehearsal is taken up by an inane debate about the usefulness of spy-light on cameras, which seems of little relevance to the overall picture. It is difficult not to feel a sense of artificiality, of too much control, which is often the case even in the best fly-on-the-wall documentary. At the end the viewer may be left with the feeling of not having learned much about either the performer or the characters, nor about how a performance is created. Baker’s comments tend to be general, and do not shed much light about her interpretations, confirming that often a performer’s best statement is the performance itself. With the aid of subtitles in English, German, Spanish, French and Italian, a few hard-core fans may enjoy 72 minutes of Janet Baker talking about herself. Music lovers may be better off with the complete videos of her Mary Stuart and Orfeo.
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