There are now about 100 operas available on video disc. One of the most attractive is the gigantic `Ring' cycle of Richard Wagner: `Das Rheingold,' `Die Walk"ure,' `Siegfried,' and `G"otterd"ammerung.' Filmed at the Bayreuth Festival in 1980 and available in four multidisc albums, each is devoted to one opera. They are directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and feature exceptional casts. The conducting of Pierre Boulez is luminous but somewhat dims Wagner's dramatic luster. The real heroes of this exquisite laser video disc are the sound engineers and stage director Patrice Chereau.
Director Ponnelle was always brilliant in his theatrical invocation of the world of fantasy. Such is the case with the cycle of Claudio Monteverdi operas he directed at the tiny Zurich Opera House in 1978. London CD Video has made two titles in the originally filmed trilogy available: the gloriously atmospheric `L'Orfeo' and the dramatically stirring `L'incoronazione di Poppea.' Conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his Monteverdi Ensemble bring theatrical energy and musical excitement.
Also from director Ponnelle comes a sprightly production from Deutsche Grammophon CD Video of Gioacchino Rossini's `La Cenerentola,' with a fine cast headed by Frederica von Stade and Francisco Araiza. The chorus and orchestra of the La Scala Theatre is conducted with excellent color and vigor by Claudio Abbado, but the production is a bit static by cinematic standards.
Ponnelle, however, achieved an undisputable hit for Deutsche Grammophon CD Video when he staged Rossini's `The Barber of Seville' with Claudio Abbado at La Scala.
Finally, three Richard Strauss operas deserve a place in the basic laser video disc library. London CD Video has released a terrific, overwrought production by Gotz Friedrich of `Elektra,' a work of almost unbearable intensity; under the direction of the masterful Karl Bohm, who conducts the Vienna Philharmonic. Deutsche Grammophon CD Video has also released some Straussian gems, such as a recent Metropolitan Opera production of the playful opera `Ariadne auf Naxos.' And Gotz Friedrich's filmic staging of `Salome' offers the incomparable Teresa Stratas in the title role. Again, Karl Bohm conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in perhaps the finest production in the new opera world of laser video disc.