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Barbara Hendricks - My Favourite Opera:
Don Pasquale
Les chœurs du festival, Sinfonietta de Varsovie/Gabriele Ferro
Opera Director: Márta Mészáros
rec. Aix en Provence Festival, 1991.
Picture format: DVD: NTSC 16:9. Sound format DVD: PCM Stereo
Booklet notes: English, German, French
EUROARTS DVD 2001818 [58.27]

This new series from EuroArts looks at singers preparing and performing a particular favourite role. In this case the singer is the renowned soprano Barbara Hendricks. Her voice is more that of a leggiero soprano with colour than a full lyric soprano instrument that can comfortably ride the typically dense orchestration around Puccini heroines. Although she has made a film of La Boheme, alongside two of the participants in this film, she largely eschews these heavier roles and also the coloratura bel canto repertoire. Hendricks has the ideal lightness and flexibility of voice to be a near ideal Norina in Donizetti’s late comic work Don Pasquale, her role in this film.
 
Born in 1948 Barbara Hendricks graduated in Mathematics and Chemistry before studying singing at New York’s famous Juilliard School. She pays tribute to the participation of family and church in her vocal development and commitment (CH.6). Her professional singing debut was at Glyndebourne in 1974. As is noted in this film she is not a fly in and fly out performer (CH.1). She prefers to take her time to study a role and production. This is what happens at the Aix en Provence festival filmed here with the Hungarian feature-film director Márta Mészáros (CH.3). Various stages of rehearsal are shown: from piano to full orchestral with costume (CHs.4-5). Her fellow cast members are the French baritone Gabriel Bacquier, the Canadian baritone Gino Quilico and the Italian tenor Luca Canonici, each bringing their skills to these scenes and duets. Of these there are pictures of Barbara Hendricks' putting on her costume on stage (CH.8). We also see her getting temperamental, whilst in role, with Don Pasquale and stage slapping his face (CH.10). There is also an extended scene with Malatesta (CH.9). All show a consummate professional, with an easy and appealing stage presence, at work alongside committed colleagues.
 
The above scenes would have been more enjoyable with sub-titles that are claimed, but not included. Likewise, although the informative booklet essay is in English, French and German, it is not in Italian. Just to confirm and underline inaccuracies of presentation, the timing, at over 58 minutes, is more than the 55 minutes indicated on the case. There are some rather pointless shots of the sun setting behind the nearby Provencal mountains. We also see a firework display in Aix, a lovely town; a few minutes footage would have shown its qualities and its locale.
 
Barbara Hendricks, more than many artists, has a very human interest in her fellow beings. The United Nations High Commission has reflected this in her appointment as a Goodwill Ambassador for Refugees. She was invited by the UN former Secretary-General Kofi Annan to sing at his Nobel Peace Prize Award in 2001.
 
As well as recording twelve of her operatic roles, Hendricks has sung at the great operatic venues around the world and since 1994 at major Jazz festivals.
 
This is an interesting film focusing on one of Barbara Hendricks' favourite roles and successfully shows the detailed nature of her preparation and the reception of her performance at the Aix en Provence festival of 1991.
 
Robert J Farr



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