Articles and Reviews

Here's news about high-definition video recordings of opera, ballet, classical music, plays, fine-art documentaries, and painting. We call these recordings "HDVDs." In the journal below are independent (and hard-to-find critical) reports on hundreds of HDVDs. Learn what's available. Pick the titles that suit you best for your personal excelsisphere. It's always been relatively easy to educate yourself about world literature, but hard and expensive to learn about the fine arts. But now with a decent TV, surround sound, and this website, you can at modest cost vastly expand what you know about the arts.

June 28. I just posted a review and "A" grade for a San Francisco Opera traditional Lucrezia Borgia with Renée Fleming. I grouped with it review of a stripped-down approach to Lucrezia Borgia from the Bavarian Opera with Edita Gruberova, also graded "A."

Lang Lang and the Houston Ballet teamed up in the Lang Lang Chopin Dance Project which was recorded in Paris in 2013. Quiet, unobtrusive, charming, and groundbreaking, it gets another "A" for the Imp. We recently posted a review of the new Royal Opera Ballet Swan Lake (Osipova and Golding) with screenshots and a "B-" grade. Osipova is terrific, and this is a much better recording than the Swan Lake the ROH published in 2010. Still, not even the best stars can fully rescue a show with worn-out sets, designs, and costumes. Read our story that covers both the 2009 and 2015 ROB versions of this classic work.

We have the best reviews anywhere of ballet and dance HDVDs. See our "hit-parade" story with our top picks.

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Sunday
Jun282015

Lucrezia Borgia

Donizetti Lucrezia Borgia  opera to a libretto by Felice Romani. Directed 2012 by John Pascoe at the War Memorial Opera House in San Fransisco. Stars Renée Fleming (Borgia), Michael Fabiano (Gennaro), Elizabeth DeShong (Maffio Orsini), Vitalij Kowaljow (Duca Alfonso), Christopher Jackson (Jeppo Liverotto), Brian Jagde (Oloferno Vitellozzo), Austin Kness (Apostolo Gazella), Ao Li (Ascanio Petrucci), Daniel Montenegro (Rustighello), Igor Vieira (Gubetta), Ryan Kuster (Astolfo), Blanche Hampton (Princess Negroni), Jere Torkelsen (A Voice) as well as Mary Finch, Claire Kelm, Sally Mouzon, and Sally Monro (Ladies of the Court). Riccardo Frizza conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra (Acting Concertmaster Laura Albers) and Chorus (Chorus Master Ian Robertson). Production designs by John Pascoe; lighting by Jeff Bruckerhoff; choreography by Lawrence Pech; directed for TV by Frank Zamacona. Producers were Jessica Koplos and Matthew Shilvock; David Gockley was Executive Producer. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

This San Francisco production has impressive traditional sets, beautiful costumes, and apt personal directing for great old-style story-telling. I recently reviewed a modern version of this opera with stripped down mise-en-scène directed by Christof Loy in Munich. I suggest you consult that review first if you are not familiar with the plot of Lucrezia Borgia.

The first screenshot shows Michael Fabiano as Gennaro in a wonderful period-inspired costume created to please modern taste:

Wearing the trousers is Elizabeth DeShong as Maffio Orsini, Gennaro's best friend and comrade-in-arms:

Our heroes bow before the Duke and Duchess of Grimani in Venice at a party; the next day the soldiers will depart for Ferrara to visit Duke Alfonso d'Este, the husband of Lucrezia Borgia. The elaborate costumes help me distinguish the various factions involved:

Lucrezia Borgia (Renée Fleming) is in Venice to see Gennaro, her son abandoned as a baby. We never learn about the sad history of this mother and son, and Lucrezia will not reveal the truth to anyone until the end of the opera:

 

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Sunday
Jun282015

Lucrezia Borgia

Donizetti Lucrezia Borgia opera to libretto by Felice Romani. Directed 2009 by Chistof Loy at the Bayrische Staatsoper. Stars Edita Gruberova (Donna Lucrezia Borgia), Franco Vassallo (Don Alfonzo), Pavol Breslik (Gennaro), Alice Coote (Maffio Orsini), Bruno Ribeiro (Jeppo Liverotto) , Christian Rieger (Don Apostolo Gazella), Christopher Magiera (Ascanio Petrucci), Erik Årman (Oloferno Vitellozzo), Steven Humes (Gubetta), Emanuele D'Aguanno (Rustighello), Christian van Horn (Astolfo), and Elisabeth Haag (Principessa Negroni). Bertrand de Billy conducts the Bayerisches Staatsorchester and the Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper (Chorus Master Andrés Máspero). Stage Music Director: Gregor Raquet. Sets by Henrik Ahr; costumes by Barbara Drosihn; lighting by Joachim Klein; director of photography was Gerald Schäfer; audio engineer was Stefan Kröhn; sound engineer was Jakob Palfrader; video direction by Brian Large; produced by Magdalena Herbst. Disc also includes a 54 minutes documentary "The Art of Bel Canto---Edita Gruberova" by Claus Wischmann and Stefan Pannen. Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

John Aitken kindly contributed this (slightly edited) comment as a mini-review of our Chistof Loy Lucrezia Borgia:

"This production was very well received in Munich when I saw it. At this stage in her career Edita Gruberova is ideally cast as the title character and produces some wonderful bel canto singing. Always a favourite in German houses, she scored a great personal success in this production by Christof Loy. The simplicity of Loy's production works very well indeed. Those people who prefer a more traditional approach can choose Renee Fleming in San Francisco Opera's production though even it pales when set against the outrageously over-the-top production given to Joan Sutherland at the Royal Opera House in London (DVD). I much prefer Munich's simple and monochromatic staging which allows the drama to unfold clearly. If Gruberova was the only reason to purchase this version it would be recommended. However, add the splendid Pavol Breslik as Gennaro, Alice Coote as Maffio, and Franco Vassallo as Don Alfonso and you have a truly exceptional cast. Of course this is par for the course in Munich where standards must consistently be amongst the best in the world both in terms of singing and staging. As it is, this is a marvellous performance which I wholeheartedly recommend."

John speaks here of his experience seeing the actual performance at the Munich opera house.  I'll add some comments and screenshots based on my review of the disc published by EuroArts. In the first picture, we see  Loy's simple staging. Loy has 8 operas out now in HDVD, and we have done full reviews of 3 of them. He often uses a plain stage with few props other than chairs, and he often dresses the chorus and many of the stars in modern black and white as you see here (with the pants rolled up to indicate that the men are students or cadets even though in the libretto they are soldiers):

Loy even did a Lulu in black and white as seen in the next shot:

And here's a picture of Loy's basic box in Les vêpres siciliennes: 

But not all of Loy's staging is so drab. Here's a more colorful shot of a scene from Die Entführung aus dem Serail:

Most of the color in this Lucrezia Borgia is provided by the costumes for the leading lady, Edita Gruberova. Here she is portrayed in a surprising sympathetic light as a woman with a conscience:

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Friday
Jun262015

ROH Modern Opera Box Set

[Alert: this could be a false alarm available in DVD only.] Modern opera box set with 3 Royal Opera House productions. Below are the discs. Each of them has already been reported on this website, and you can get more details by using the links provided:

1. The Minotaur. 2010. (Grade D+)

2. Written on Skin. 2014. (Grade B+)

3. Anna Nicole. 2011. (Grade B)

Released 2015, each disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

If this is offered at a 3 for 2 price, then Written on Skin and Anna Nicole would be reasonable purchases with The Minotaur for free. I never liked The Minotaur, but it does have a following. 

Friday
Jun262015

Il signor Bruschino

Rossini Il signor Bruschino opera to a libretto by Giuseppe Maria Foppa. Performed 2012 by the Teatro Sotterraneo collective at the Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro. Stars  Roberto De Candia (Bruschino Senior), Francisco Brito (Bruschino Junior/Police Officer), Carlo Lepore, (Gaudenzio), Maria Aleida (Sofia), David Alegret (Florville), Andrea Vincenzo Bonsignore (Filiberto), and Chiara Amarù (Marianna). Daniele Rustioni conducts the Orchestra Sinfonica G. Rossini (Répétitieur and Fortepiano by Carmen Santoro). Set and costume designs by the Accademia di Belle Arti di Urbino; lighting by Roberto Cafaggini; directed for video and TV by Tiziano Mancini. Released 2015, Blu-ray disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

This 90-minute, one-act, operatic farce, composed by Rossini at age 21, stresses comic acting more than expert singing. Staging this kind of thing is exactly what the Pesaro Rossini Opera Festival and the Teatro Sotterraneo are all about. Per ArkivMusic, there are 2 CDs and 1 DVD of this, so subject title is the world premiere in HD video. This must be pretty good for Opus Arte to offer it.  Show Il signor Bruschino  in your HT first, take a long break for more wine, and then show Don Pasquale.

Please help us by writing a comment that we can place here as a mini-review of this title.

Wednesday
Jun172015

A John Williams Celebration

A John Williams Celebration concert. Performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles 2014. Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Features violinist Itzhak Perlman. The bill includes the Olympic Fanfare & Theme; Soundings; and music from Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Jaws, Schindler's List, Catch Me If You Can, Amistad and Fiddler on the Roof. Video direction by Michael Beyer; produced by Bernhard Fleischer. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Please help us by writing a comment that we can place here as a mini-review of this title.

Wednesday
Jun172015

La Traviata

Verdi La Traviata opera to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Directed 2014 by Tom Cairns at Glyndebourne. Stars Venera Gimadieva (Violetta Valéry), Michael Fabiano (Alfredo Germont), Tassis Christoyannis (Giorgio Germont), Emanuele D’Aguanno (Gastone de Letorières), Magdalena Molendowska (Annina), Hanna Hipp (Flora Bervoix), and Eddie Wade (Baron Douphol). Mark Elder conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Glyndebourne Chorus. Released 2015, Blu-ray disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Please help us by writing a comment that we can place here as a mini-review of this title.

Wednesday
Jun172015

Tannhäuser

Wagner Tannhäuser opera to libretto by the composer. Directed 2014 by Sebastian Baumgarten at the Bayreuth Festspiele. Stars Torsten Kerl (Tannhäuser), Camilla Nylund (Elisabeth, Nichte des Landgrafen), Michelle Breedt (Venus), Markus Eiche (Wolfram von Eschenbach), Kwangchul Youn (Landgraf Hermann), Lothar Odinius (Walther von der Vogelweide), Thomas Jesatko (Biterolf), Stefan Heibach (Heinrich der Schreiber), and Rainer Zaun (Reinmar von Zweter). Axel Kober conducts the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Please help us by writing a comment that we can place here as a mini-review of this title.

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