Articles and Reviews

This website is about high-definition video recordings of opera, ballet, classical music, plays, fine-art documentaries, painting, and sculpture. We call these recordings "HDVDs." Below are hundreds of stories about HDVDs, including critical reviews that are hard to find on the Internet. But first check out our Title Index/Alphalist, the world's only list of all fine-arts videos available in high-quality HD. We have the best reviews anywhere of ballet and dance HDVDs. So we recently posted a "hit-parade" story with our top picks. 

It's October 22. We recently posted our review of the new Royal Opera Ballet Giselle with Acosta/Osipova. We now have reviews up about all the Giselle HDVDs. We still prefer the Paris Opera Ballet Giselle over all others, but you be the judge.

We recently reviewed both the Region A and Region B versions of the Joseph Losey 1980 opera movie of Don Giovanni. After much agonizing, we decided to exclude this title as legacy material. By 2014 standards, the video shows age and the recording of the orchestra is too weak. Both titles remain, however, the best video there is of any of the 20th century opera movies. One important part of our mission is to exclude from consideration classical art Blu-ray titles that in fact don't merit your attention by today's standards. So far we have excluded 97 Blu-rays that somebody wanted to sell to you.

Gramophone magazine just published its annual 2014 Music Awards. In the Opera category they picked the FRA L'heure espagnole and L'enfant et les sortilèges as winner and the Opus Arte Les Troyens as the runner-up. In the Contemporary category they picked the Opus Arte Written on Skin as winner. We have reviews already up on all three picks. Curiously, Gramophone identified all three titles as DVDs and didn't even mention that they are also available in Blu-ray. This is just another shocking example of how slow the print critics are to see the importance of HD video. If you are interested in HD video of fine arts stuff,  come here for your information.

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Tuesday
Oct212014

Giselle

Giselle ballet. Music by Adolphe Adam revised by Joseph Horovitz. Libretto by Théophile Gautier and Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges. Choreography by Marius Petipa after Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. Directed 2014 by Sir Peter Wright at the Royal Opera House. Stars Natalia Osipova (Giselle), Carlos Acosta (Count Albrecht), Thomas Whitehead (Hilarion), Deirdre Chapman (Berthe), Johannes Stepanek (Wilfred, Albrecht's Squire), Christopher Saunders (Duke of Courland), Christina Arestes (Bathilde, Courland's daughter), Alastair Marriott (Leader of the Hunt), Hikaru Kobayashi (Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis), Elisabeth Harrod (Moyna, Myrtha's attendant), Akane Takada (Zulme, Myrtha's attendant). Pas de Six danced by Yuhui Choe, Valentino Zucchetti, Francesca Hayward, Luca Acri, Yasmine Naghdi, and Marcelino Sambé). Boris Gruzin conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Peter Manning). Designs by John Macfarlane; lighting  by Jennifer Tipton recreated by David Finn; staging by Christopher Carr; directed for screen by Ross MacGibbon. Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

This is the same production that was performed by the Royal Opera Ballet at the Royal Opera House in 2006 and published by Opus Arte in 2009. Why did Opus Arte (which belongs to the ROH) do a new Blu-ray of this? The stars in 2006 have mostly retired and how there's a new stable of dancers. My guess is that ROH management wanted to support its current dancers by giving them a change to shine in a new video of this famous ballet. What has changed in 8 years? Many small details have changed, and we will point out a few in our screenshots. And, of course, a fabulous performance by one star can have a big impact on the desirability of a disc.

So which version should you buy now, the 2006 performance  or the 2014? And is the better of these choices as good as the venerable Giselle from the Paris Opera Ballet that was first published in 2009? We will try to answer these questions with the help of our screenshots. (By the way, in this review, I'll assume you already know the Giselle story. If you don't know the story, read some of our other Giselle reviews where we go into the story.)

Natalia Osipova is the new Giselle. Osipova has it all: beauty, acting skill, and incredible dancing ability. Her star is still rising. She did an amazing job in The Flames of Paris at the Bolshoi and in Notre-Dame de Paris at la Scala.  Now it appears she has been recruited to give the ROB a female super-star (that they had trouble developing themselves). Carlos Acosta is the new Albrecht. He has had an astonishing career with more than 10 credits for Blu-rays reported on this website. (Go to the Search tool to see all this.) But he is fast approaching retirement, and his star is now setting into the western seas of choreography and ballet management. Here we see Giselle and Albrecht falling in love. Note how pretty the costumes are even in close-up:

If you will compare the next three screenshots below to the screenshots for the 2006 Royal Opera Ballet disc, you will see that Peter Wright brightened up the set a lot for his update. This in turn makes it much easier for the cameramen to get great high-resolution video images. Wright was no doubt encouraged to do this by the folks at Opus Arte:

Deirdre Chapman is the new Berthe, shown here explaining how the Wilis kill the young men they capture in the forest (the crossed wrists stand for "death"):

In 2006, the Royal Opera Ballet was good at creating a convincing story with careful personal direction of the dancers in the crowd scenes. But Wright reorganized these scenes (especially with the appearance of the royals) and made the directing even better. Everyone on stage received detailed instructions for every move and expression for each second of the drama. The result is a marvelous fusion of the arts of ballet, stage drama, and movie-making. Here Osipova is so fetching acting the role of the shy, innocent village girl. Christopher Saunders is the new Duke and Christina Arestes the new Bathilde, both impressive in their efforts to politely ingratiate themselves with the peasants:

Wright lets Giselle show off her 32 one-foot hops especially to the royal visitors, which helps explain why Bathilde was so charmed by Giselle. Note the joy on Giselle's face:

 

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Thursday
Oct162014

Lohengrin

 Richard Wagner Lohengrin opera to libretto by the composer. Directed 2009 by Richard Jones at the Munich Festival. Jonas Kaufmann (Lohengrin), Anja Harteros (Elsa), Wolfgang Koch (Telramund), Michaela Schuster (Ortrud), Christof Fischesser (König Heinrich), and Evgeny Nikitin (Herald). Kent Nagano conducts the Bayerisches Staatsorchester. Released 2014. Grade: Help!

Another 5-year old  performance that Decca is finally publishing. Why the delay?

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Thursday
Oct162014

Strauss Tone Poems

Richard Strauss Tone Poems concert [our name]. Andriss Nelsons conducts the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Also sprach Zarasthustra, Till Eulenspiegel, and Macbeth at the Royal Concertgebouw in 2013 and 2014. Released 2014, disc has dts 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.

Thursday
Oct162014

Dialogues des Carmélites

Francis Poulenc Dialogues des Carmélites opera to a libretto by the composer. Directed 2013 by Olivier Py at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Stars Sophie Koch (Mère Marie de l’Incarnation), Patricia Petibon (Blanche de La Force), Véronique Gens (Madame Lidoine), Sandrine Piau (Soeur Constance de Saint Denis), Rosalind Plowright (Madame de Croissy), Topi Lehtipuu (Le Chevalier de La Force), Phillippe Rouillon (Le Marquis de La Force), Annie Vavrille (Mère Jeanne de l’Enfant Jésus), Sophie Pondjiclis (Soeur Mathilde), François Piolino (Le Père confesseur du couvent), Jérémy Duffau (Le premier commissaire), Yuri Kissin (Le second commissaire, un officier), and Matthieu Lécroart (Le geôlier). Jérémie Rhorer conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra & Chœur du Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Set design and costumes by Pierre-André Weitz; lighting by Bertrand Killy and Hervé Gary; choreography by Natalie Van Parys;directed for film by Olivier Simonnet. Released 2014, dics has Dolby 5.1 sound. Grade: Help!

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Thursday
Oct162014

Ciboulette

Reynaldo Hahn Ciboulette opera to a libretto by Robert de Flers and Francis de Croisset. Directed 2013 by Michel Fau at the Opéra Comique. Stars Julie Fuchs (Ciboulette), Jean-François Lapointe (Duparquet), Julien Behr (Antonin), Michel Fau, Agnès Terrier, and Jérôme Deschamps. Laurence Equilbey conducts the Orchestre Opéra de Toulon and Accentus. Directed for TV by François Roussillon. Released 2014. Grade: Help!

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Thursday
Oct162014

Il trovatore

Verdi Il trovatore opera to a libretto by Salvadore Cammarano and Leone Emanuele Bardare. Directed 2012 by Dmitri Tcherniakov at La Monnaie de Mund. Stars Misha Didyk (Manrico), Marina Poplavskaya (Leonora), Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo (Azucena), Scott Hendricks (Il Conte di Luna), and Giovanni Furlanetto (Ferrando). Marc Minkowski conducts the Orchestre symphonique de la Monnaie and the Choeurs de la Monnaie. Set and costume design by Dmitri Tcherniakov. Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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Thursday
Oct162014

La Sonnambula

Bellini La Sonnambula opera to a libretto by Felice Romani. Directed 2009 by Mary Zimmerman at the Met. Stars Juan Diego Flórez (Elvino), Natalie Dessay (Amina), Michele Pertusi (Count Rodolfo), Jennifer Black (Lisa), Jane Bunnell (Teresa), Jeremy Galyon (Alessio), and Bernard Fitch (Notary). Evelino Pidò conducts the Orchestra & Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera. Set design by Daniel Ostling; costume design by Mara Blumenfeld; lighting design by T. J. Gerckens; choreography by Daniel Pelzig. Released 2014. Grade: Help!

This 2009 production was forcefully booed on opening night by the conservative Met audience that didn't like Zimmerman's radical updating. There followed a flurry of bad press reviews. But a few months later Erick Neher wrote in The Hudson Review a defense of Zimmerman called "On the Booing of La Sonnambula," which is the most thoughtful review of an opera performance I've ever read.

At of this writing in October 2014, we already have 3 fine La Sonnambula HDVDs, all quite different in style, that we graded "A." But none of them has supernova stars like Flórez and Dessay. So bring 'em on. It will be fun to see how this Met show stacks up with the competition.

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