Grand singing, shaky camera work

Posted: January 25, 2012

Somewhere between Berlin and four Philadelphia-area movie theaters, a grand night of singing was nearly hijacked by a hyperactive camera crew. So if you're prone to motion sickness, take your Dramamine before 3 Superstars in Berlin when it's beamed out to 300 American theaters Thursday and next Wednesday.

Not since the heyday of the Three Tenors has there been such a charismatic trio - Anna Netrebko, Erwin Schrott, and Jonas Kaufmann - or one so svelte and stylishly dressed, with unquestionable artistic credibility. Shot in August at Berlin's outdoor Waldbühne, the program is full of music you'd love to hear them sing, but from operas they'd never perform onstage, the Netrebko/Schrott duet "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" from Porgy and Bess being a good example. And though Netrebko is perfectly appropriate for the beloved "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi, she's far too big a star to ever sing a role that small onstage.

The men, in particular, know their comfort zones. The Uruguayan Schrott brings a conversational authority to tango songs by Astor Piazzolla and others - with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (under Marco Armiliato) augmented by a bandoneón player. The Germanic Kaufmann takes easily to Viennese operetta.

Ensembles from operas such as Verdi's I Lombardi bring all three together - though that issue isn't as forced as with the Three Tenors, who sang ill-suited medleys of popular songs, with Luciano Pavarotti losing his place in "Singin' in the Rain."

Nothing like that happens here. While Schrott and Netrebko may sing Gershwin with odd accents, their commitment to the material is genuine. Spontaneity isn't exactly rampant, though at the end of a love duet when Netrebko smears Kaufmann with lipstick, there's some mild jealousy from Schrott, who is Netrebko's real-life husband.

The photography is a significant problem. Somebody in this operation lost sight of the fact that people go to opera in movie theaters to watch the singers. Entire arias pass without a shot longer than 10 seconds, and many are less than that. The camera is constantly cutting away for views of the Waldbühne landscape. Left-to-right audience-level panning shows the back of listeners' heads. You can scream "stop" at the screen all you want. It doesn't help.


 "3 Superstars in Berlin"


will be shown at Ritz East and University 6 in Philadelphia, the Bala Theatre in Bala Cynwyd, and Montgomeryville 10 in Lansdale. Showtimes and ticket purchase: www.AceArtsHD.com.


Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at dstearns@phillynews.com.

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