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. Scroll down the Alphalist to see what's available. But the list keeps getting longer! So here's a tip: Your computer browser has a "find" tool. Turn on find as soon as you call for the Alphalist. Type in a few letters and you will usually be able to move around the Alphalist fast!  If the Alphalist doesn't quickly get what you are seeking,  use the search tool. This locates items (such as encores) that are too minor to put on the Alphalist in the first place. For example, enter "spangled" in the search tool, and you will learn that we do have an HDVD of The Star Spangled Banner when it was played by the New York Philharmonic in North Korea!

It's December 13. We just posted an updated review and "B+" grade for Amor, vida de mi vida, a great program of songs mostly from zarzuelas (Spanish operas).

We recently posted a review and "B" grade for the A Swan Lake from Oslo and  a review and "B-" grade for the ROB Don Quixote.  We recently posted a review and "A+" grade for the terrific new Marco Spada ballet from the Bolshoi. So we have now have reviewed every ballet/dance HDVD title you can buy today. We have the best reviews anywhere of ballet and dance HDVDs. So we recently posted a "hit-parade" story with our top picks. ___________________________________________________________________________________________

Monday
Dec152014

Belcanto D'Amore

Belcanto D'Amore five opera box. In English, this title means Beautiful Song of Love or Beautiful Love Song. Four of the operas are by Verdi, and Madama Butterfly is by Puccini. (So this title is not connected to "belcanto" operas written by composers like Bellini and Donizetti.) Each of the operas is on an HDVD previously published by C Major to be purchased separately. Here are the individual titles included (alphabetical order):

1. Aida. This was recorded in 2009 at the outdoor Lake Stage of the Bregenzer Festival. People who go to the Lake Stage productions (literally over and under water) like this sort of extravaganza, which is made of equal parts of Cirque du Soleil, Eurotrash, Eurosplash, and anti-Americanism.  I gave it a "D" grade --- it's hard to do an outdoor show for 6,500 people that will look and sound good in a film made with HD cameras (which don't like to get wet).

2. Madama Butterfly by Puccini. This was also performed in 2009 outdoors at the Arena Sferisterio in Macerata, Italy. This is the best outdoor opera film I have seen. Pier Luigi Pizzi managed to come up with a set that was beautiful in the flesh and also in HDVD pictures. The music, directing, and acting is excellent. Raffaella Angeletti plays Cio-Cio-San (or Butterfly) all over the world and is acceptable on a stage. But her age and (please forgive me, but I have to tell the truth) bad teeth work against her in HDVD images. I gave this a "B" grade.

3. Rigoletto. This was produced and recorded in 2008 at the Teatro Regio di Parma Verdi Festival. Even though Parma has only about 200,000 inhabitants, its opera house is one of the most important in Italy. I haven't seen this, but critics liked it and the customer reviews on Amazon.com have been extremely favorable. So my hunch would be that this is probably an "A" grade title.

4. Traviata. Another outdoor show, this time at the Arena di Verona. I haven't seen this, nor have I seen any thorough review by a critic. But after surfing around I now have a hunch that this is a ""C+" or "B" title which uses giant picture frames to try to cope with the ugly stage in Verona.

5. Turandot. This was shot in 2008 at the Valencia opera house.  I watched this 3 or 4 times and gave it an "A."

So this box has 2 "A" titles, 2 "C to B" titles, and one "D." Right now, amazon.de lists this box at 50 Euros. They list the individual discs from 25 to 35 Euros. So if any two of these titles interest you, you get 3 more titles for nothing.

But on the other hand, this box has 2 solid productions done in top opera houses and 3 outdoor shows that are inherently inferior to the real thing. If you are a newcomer seeking an introduction to opera in the home theater, you should focus on quality, not price. Right now on amazon.de you can get a B+ Arthaus Rigoletto for 5 Euros and  a B+ Arthaus Traviata for 11 Euros, both best-sellers performed in top opera houses. Then use the rest of your budget to buy any "A" title you want. Viewed this way, the Belcanto D'Amore box is not a show-stopper.

Monday
Dec152014

Bruch Concerto for Violin No. 1

2008 Europakonzert: Program includes:

1. Stravinsky Symphony in Three Movements

2. Bruch Concerto for Violin No. 1

3. Beethoven Symphony No. 7

Played and recorded at the the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, 2008. This was the traditional Europakonzert performed on May 1 each year by the Berliner Philharmoniker in a special venue, usually in a different European city. Sir Simon Rattle conducts; features violinist Vadim Repin. Released in 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound.  Grade: Help!

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Saturday
Dec132014

Amor, vida de mi vida

Amor, vida de mi vida concert.  Plácido Domingo, Ana María Martínez, and the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg conducted by Jesús López Cobos perform 21 numbers, mostly pieces from zarzuelas, in 2007 at the Salzburg Festival. Following are the selections as identified by track numbers on the disc (track 1 has opening title and credits):

2. Frederico Chueca Preludio to El bateo
3. Frederico Moreno Torroba "Amor, vida be me vida" from La Maravilla
4. Pablo Luna Carné "De España vengo" from El niño judío
5. Frederico Moreno Torroba "Tienes razón, amigo" from La chulapona
6. Frederico Moreno Torroba  "Tres horas antes del día" from La marchenara
7. Manuel de Falla Danza ritual del fuego from El amor brujo
8. Frederico Moreno Torroba "¡Cállate, corazón!" from Luisa Fernanda
9. José Serrano  "Qué te importa que no venga?" form Los claveles
10. Reveriano Soutullo Otero "Quiero desterrar de tu pecho el temor"  from La del Soto del Parral
11. Jerónimo Giménez Bellido Interludio from La boda de Luis Alonso, o La noche del encierro
12. Manuel Penella "Todas las mañanitas" from Don Gil de Alcalá
13. Pablo Sorozábal "En un país de fábula" from La tabernera del puerto
14. Frederico Moreno Torroba "Luché la fe por el triunfo" from Luisa Fernanda
15. Manuel de Falla Jota from El sombrero de tres picos 16. José Serrano "Junto al puente de la peña" from La canción de olvido
17. Ruperto Chapí "Al pensar en el dueño de mis amores" from Las hijas del Zebedeo
18. Frederico Moreno Torroba "En mi tierra extremeña" from Luisa Fernanda
19. Pablo Sorozábal "No puede ser" from La tabernera del puerto
20. Ernesto Lecuona "Mulata infeliz, tu vida acabó" from María la O
21. Manuel Penella "¡Soleá!" -- "¿Me llamabas, Rafaeliyo?" from El gato montés
22. Franz Léhar "Lippen schweigen" from Die lustige Witwe

Video Director: Karina Fibich. Released 2009, disc has 5.1 PCM sound. Grade: B+

Zarzuelas are Spanish operas written over four centuries in a variety of forms and styles. According to Christopher Webber, probably the leading authority on zarzuela in the Anglosphere, these operas have dealt with all social classes. I get the impression that the zarzuelas differ from the operas of other European countries by often or typically having more drama-theater spoken lines. (In this concert title you will not, of course, hear any spoken dialog.)

"Zarzuela" does not refer to an individual song; each number from a zarzuela will have a name like "romanza" or "cancion." The songs can be about most anything. But the ones that have made the biggest impression on me are about poor girls with broken hearts.

Plácido Domingo was age 66 in 2007 when this HDVD was recorded. He was born in Spain, but he grew up in Mexico where his parents had a zarzuela company. So Domingo was a zarzuela pro who later broke into opera. Ana María Martínez, age 36 in 2007, was born in Puerto Rico of Hispanic parents. She enjoyed classical opera training at Julliard. She started her singing career with the Houston Grand Opera, and is today one of the top opera sopranos in the world. (There's a wonderful cover article about her in the October 2014 Opera News.) Her appearance and Spanish mother tongue also give Martínez a special affinity to zarzuela.

When the folks at Salzburg decided to do a zarzuela show, Domingo and Martínez were the zarzuela dream-team. This was probably a new experience for the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg, and Jesús López Cobos was an inspired choice of guest conductors. The 21 numbers on the program included 4 orchestra pieces, 5 solos for Domingo, 5 solos for Martínez, and 5 duets for both. 

Our first screen shot shows the orchestra in the opening number, the Frederico Chueca Preludio to El bateo. 2007 was early in the history of HDVD, and the picture quality is a bit soft. Because the orchester is mid-sized, TV director Karina Fibich is able to give us many pleasant whole-orchestra and part-orchestra views such as this one:

She also gives us excellent section shots such as this one of the double-bass section:

On the other hand, the pace of the cuts is a bit hyper. There is pointless panning and zooming, some field-of-focus issues, and too many instrument-only shots such as this one:

And there are too many shots over the backs of musicians as seen below. For more on what one should and should not do in making an HDVD of a symphony orchestra, see our special article on standards for shooting symphony videos. This explains the the dread disease of DVDitis, a malady that afflicts HDVDs that are not made properly to take full advantage of HD cameras:

Fortunately, the symptoms of DVDitis are usually mitigated substantially in recordings of recital concerts. Here's a shot of Domingo singing his solo which provides the name of this HDVD. The English translation for these lines this would be "Love, life of my life, how sad it is to say good-bye."

Domingo is excellent in this HDVD; but Martínez, with her youth and glamour, runs away with your attention.  Here, from El niño judío, she laments to her Gypsy lover, "I'm from Spain":

"My Gypsy boy, I love you but you don't love me!"

 

Click to read more ...

Monday
Dec082014

The Winter's Tale

The Winter's Tale ballet. Music by Joby Talbot. Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. Recorded at the Royal Opera House, 2014. Stars Edward Watson (Leontes, King of Sicilia), Lauren Cuthbertson (Hermione, Queen of Sicilia), Joe Parker (Mamillius, Prince of Sicilia), Federico Bonelli (Polixenes, King of Bohemia), Zenaida Yanowsky (Paulina), Bennet Gartside (Antigonus), Sarah Lamb (Perdita, Princess of Sicilia), Gary Avis (Father Shephard), and Steven McRae (Florizel, Prince of Bohemia). David Briskin conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Peter Manning). Designs by Bob Crowley; lighting by Natasha Katz; projection design by Daniel Brodie; silk effects design by Basil Twist; directed for screen by Ross MacGibbon. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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Monday
Dec082014

La Bête et la Belle

La Bête et la Belle ballet to a libretto by Josseline Le Bourhis and Kader Belarbi, after the tale Beauty and the Beast. Music by Louis-Claude Daquin, Joseph Haydn, György Ligeti, and Maurice Ravel. Staged and choreographed by Kader Belarbi. Recorded 2013 at the Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse. Stars Takafumi Watanabe (The Beast), Julie Loria (Beauty), Kazbek Akhmedyarov (Toroador) and dancers of the Ballet du Capitole. Designs by Valérie Berman; lighting by Marc Parent; directed for screen by Luc Riolon; produced by Fabienne Servan Schreiber and Laurence Miller. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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Monday
Dec082014

Don Carlo

Verdi Don Carlo opera to a libretto by Camille du Locle and Joseph Méry. Directed 2013 by Hugo de Ana at the Teatro Regio, Torino. Stars Ramón Vargas (Don Carlo), Svetlana Kasyan (Elizabeth of Valois), Ildar Abdrazakov (Philip II), Ludovic Tézier (Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa), Daniela Barcellona (Princess Eboli), Marco Spotti (Grand Inquisitor), Roberto Tagliavini (Monk), Sonia Ciani (Tebaldo), Erika Grimaldi (Voice from Heaven),  Dario Prola (Count of Lerma), and Luca Casalin (Herald). Gianandrea Noseda conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Region, Torino (Chorus Master Claudio Fenoglio). Set design and costume design by Hugo de Ana; choreography by Leda Lojodice; lighting by Sergio Rossi; assitant direction by Filippo Tonon; directed for video and television by Ariella Beddini; executive producer Edoardo Fioravanti. Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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Monday
Dec082014

Abbado Memorial Concert

Abbado Memorial Concert (our name) or Memorial Concert for Claudio Abbado. In 2014, Andris Nelsons conducts the Lucerne Festival Orchestra at the Concert Hall of KKL Lucerne.  Isabelle Faust is solo violinist; eligy delivered by actor Bruno Ganz. Directed for TV by Michael Bayer. Produced and directed by Paul Smaczny. Features the following selections:

1. Beethoven, excerpt from Symphony No. 3, Op. 55 "Eroica"

2. Berg, Violin Concerto "To the Memory of an Angel"  with Isabelle Faust

3. Hölderlin, Brot und Wein by Bruno Ganz

4. Mahler, Adagio from Symphony No. 3 

5. Schubert, Allegro moderato from Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished"

Released 2014, disc has dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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