VAI (Video Artist International) was founded in 1988 by Ernie Gilbert. It was born out of pure idealism and enthusiasm and Gilbert’s intention was to release interesting concerts as well as opera and ballet performances on video.
First of all, ballet films from Russia, featuring Maya Plisetskaya, one of the greatest ballerinas of all time, were brought out.
Below, Maya Plisetskaya in an excerpt from the second act of Swan Lake:
The catalogue was soon further supplemented with performances by Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, mouthwatering names for many ballet lovers
The first operas to be released were Lucia di Lammermoor (with Anna Moffo and Lajos Kozma) and The Medium by Giancarlo Menotti, followed by Tosca with Tebaldi and three titles with Beverly Sills, the uncrowned American queen of bel canto.
Below, Beverly Sills in the last scene of Roberto Devereux by Donizetti:
For the many fans of opera stars, VAI is a real Sesame, full of unsurpassed treasures, because where else do you get the complete operas of Corelli, Kraus, Caballé, Bergonzi or Tagliavini? Or recitals by Scotto, Eleanor Steber, John Vickers or Leontyne Price, to name but a few?
About ten years ago, a very attractive DVD was released with Leontyne Price singing the complete third act from Aida, recorded by Canadian television in 1958, plus a recital from 1982 with arias from Cosi fan tutte and Madama Butterfly, among others. With the added bonus of three arias from Il Trovatore, Aida and La Forza del Destino, taken from her performances in the legendary ‘Bell Telephone Hour’ from 1963-67 (VAI 4268).
Leontyne Price sings ‘O patria mia’:
However, VAI’s catalogue is not limited to opera and ballet; it also gives us recitals and concerts by many famous instrumentalists and conductors, including Oistrach, Menuhin, Barbirolli, Munch, Martha Argerich, Arturo Benedetti Michalengeli, William Kapell, Joseph Hoffman… An Arthur Rubinstein DVD was brought out with his recitals from 1950 and 1956, together with a selection of works by Chopin, and the (abbreviated) Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Rachmaninoff (VAI 4275).
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Peter Rosen’s film about the Armenian composer Aram Khachatourian, which was awarded the prize for best documentary at the Hollywood Film Festival, is exceptionally fascinating. It begins with his funeral and then, in chronological order and in the first person, sketches the life of a man whose history ran parallel to that of the Soviet Union. It contains unique archive images in black and white, breathtaking film images of the Armenian landscapes, interesting interviews, fragments of his ballets and, as a bonus, the complete performance of his cello concerto by Mstislav Rostropovich (VAI 4298).
Below: Mstislav Rostropovich playing Khachatourian’s cello concerto
PLEA FOR GIANCARLO MENOTTI AND HIS THE CONSUL
Giancarlo Menotti. For most Dutch opera lovers, he is no more than a vaguely familiar name. His operas have never been very popular here and performances can be counted on one hand.
A pity, really, because not only is his music exceptionally beautiful (think of a combination of Mascagni and Britten), but the subjects he deals with in his (self-written) libretti are socially engaged and they address current topics.
A newspaper article of February 12, 1947 on the suicide of a Polish emigrant whose visa for the USA had been rejected, was seen by Menotti, who sadly remembered the fate of his Jewish friends in Austria and Germany (his own partner, the composer Samuel Barber, was also Jewish). He took this sorry tale and used it as a basis for his first full-length opera. The subject has – unfortunately – lost none of its actuality and The Consul is and remains an opera that cuts right through your soul.
In 1960, it was produced for television, and that registration has been released on DVD by VAI (4266 ). In black and white, without subtitles (don’t be alarmed, there is very clear singing) and extremely dramatically portrayed by Jean Dalrymple.
Patricia Neway sings ‘To This We’ve Come’: