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 November 25.  We just posted a review, screenshots, and an "A-" grade for the new Lang Lang at the Royal Albert Hall. Come back soon for a review of the new Marco Spada ballet from the Bolshoi (it's very good).

The Vienna State Ballet (Wiener Staatsballett), decided to publish in HDVD and recently gave us two wonderful new titles. We recently  put up reviews and "A+" grades for their new Nureyev Swan Lake and their new Nureyev Nutcracker. Right now both of these are at the top of the journal.

We recently posted a review and "B+" grade for the vibrant new LAC dance title from Les Ballets de Monte Carlo.

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Tuesday
Nov252014

Lang Lang at the Royal Albert Hall

Lang Lang at the Royal Albert Hall concert. Lang Lang performs two sets of piano pieces and eight encores at the Royal Albert Hall in November, 2013.

The first set is as follows:
1. Mozart Piano Sonata No. 5
2. Mozart Piano Sonata No. 4
3. Mozart Piano Sonata No. 8

The second set:
1. Chopin Ballade No. 1
2. Chopin Ballade No. 2
3. Chopin Ballade No. 3
4. Chopin Ballade No. 4

The encores include:
1. Ponce Intermezzo No. 1
2. Lecuona ...Y la negra ballaba!
3. Zuqiang Wu and Mingxin Du The Dance of the Waterweeds
4. Mozart Rondo alla Turca from Piano Sonata No. 11
5. Schumann Davidsbündlertänze
6. Chopin Waltz No. 6 "Minute Waltz"
7. Chopin Nocturne No. 16
8. Scriabin Étude in D-sharp minor

Directed by Christian Kurt Weisz; Technical Manager was Mario Mentel; produced by Bernhard Fleischer. Released in 2014, program was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling and disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

The imp-angel is back! Everybody is worried about the death of classical music; but, if it's really dying, it ain't Lang Lang's fault. He plays all over the world at the rate of about 20 gigs a year, usually solo recitals.  He has made quite a few CDs recently with Sony. And now we have his 2nd HDVD, made in 2013 when he sold 10,000 tickets for 2 performances at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

How do you play piano for 5,000 people? Elegant casual dress disarms them. Exaggerated body languare and facial expressions help connect to them. And to be sure they can hear everything, raise the volume of the soft passages. (My impression is that the piano was not amplified.) Convince them that your stage persona is your real affible, friendly, ingratiating self. Put yourself right in their middle so you can touch them as you go "behind stage" for break. And keep the whole place dark and use purple spotlights, as you can see from my first screen shot below. (The artwork on the keepcase show an illuminated hall, but that is false light created by post production editing.) Finally, show you're having fun, and they will too:

Director Weisz and his crew got the cameras set up so the keyboard always look rectanglar:

The next 5 shots come from the Mozart sonatas:

Now Lang Lang digs into Chopin Ballade No. 1:

Two shots from Chopin Balade No. 2:

Below the end of Chopin Balade No. 4:

The eight encores were not as impressive as you might think. Most are very short. The "Minute Waltz" was way too short at 1 minute, 34 seconds. "Minute" here in French means "small" rather than "equal to 60 seconds." Of course the phase "minute waltz" in English can also mean "small waltz," but English speaking folks will usually assume that Chopin's "Minute Waltz" is supposed to be played really fast. Which is what Lang Lang does. This turns out to be just a stunt, and not a pretty one. The real Small Waltz by Chopin is supposed to be played in about 2 1/2 minutes. The Scriabin Étude is the last and most substantial encore; the following screenshot shows Lang Lang's elation that the concert is over and all is well.

I tried to compare the performances here to a few legacy recordings. Mozart wrote Sonatas 4 and 5 when he was 18, and they are not very popular. He wrote Sonata 8 at age 22, and it has been recorded many times. I pulled from my shelf the 1965 recording of Sonata 8 by Denis Matthews published by Vangard Everyman Classics (SRV-196 SD). This is not a fair comparison because Vangard Everyman was a "quality budget" label, and Matthews was not a household name. But the vinyl pressing is immaculate and there is no noise. I was surprised to hear how "tinny" the right-hand part sounded and how faint the left-hand part seems now. This suggests that only the very best LPs are going to sport sound competitive with a decent HDVD.

I found on my shelf several versions of the Chopin Ballade No. 1: an LP from 1968 of Horowitz playing at Carnegie Hall (Horowitz on Television, Columbia Masterworks MS 7106) and a CD from 1988 of all the Chopin Ballades played by Krystian Zimerman (DG Stereo 423090-2).

I found I liked the Horowitz performance the best---he played with the most eloquence and panache. Also, I was surprised to hear the the dynamic range of the LP was greater that the HDVD! It appears that Lang Lang, to be heard by his huge audience, has to play his soft parts louder than he probably would play them in a studio recording session. On the other hand, there is some noise on the LP, and the piano sounded more natural on the HDVD than on the LP. I found the performance by Krystian Zimerman was competitive with Lang Lang, but that the HDVD (recorded at 48kHz/24-bit) sounded better than the CD (recorded at 44kHz/16 bit).

The previous 3 paragraphs discuss sound only. Now we consider 2 additional factors. First, the HDVD gives you an excellent video record of Lang Lang's performance and the venue. (The Horowitz LP was recorded while Horowitz performed on color broadcast TV---even if this concert were available to watch, we have since moved to a new level in video quality.) I think it's fun to watch Lang Lang work, and I don't find his style distracting or in bad taste. Second, you can buy the HDVD now for a modest price and have it delivered to you door in a few days. Now, try finding a copy of the Horowitz LP in mint condition.

Time for a grade. The Lang Lang program here isn't as earthshaking as Sony suggests. The best Mozart sonatas came later that No. 4 and No. 5. And the encores go by fast. I've seen any number of recitals that were more generous than this including events with A-list piano stars. On the other hand, how many pianists these days can withstand with such good-natured aplomb 2 hours of performance before 5000 people? I'm going to grade this "A-" with demerits for lack of 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling and a slightly light-weight program.

Sunday
Nov162014

Swan Lake

Swan Lake ballet. Music by Tchaikovsky. Book by V. P. Begitchev and Vasily Geltzer. "Tragic" choreography by Rudolf Nureyev in the tradition of Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa. Directed 2014 by Manuel Legris at the Vienna State Opera. Stars Vladimir Shishov (Prince Siegfried); Olga Esina (Odette/Odile); Dagmar Kronberger (the Queen); Eno Peci (Rothbart); Alice Ferenze, Kiyoka Hashimoto, Masayu Kimoto, and Greig Matthews (the Prince's Friends); Gala Jovanovic, Oxana Kiyanenko, Laura Nistor, and Prisca Zeisel (The Big Swans); Maria Alati, Ioanna Avraam, Eszter Ledán, and Rui Tamai (The Cygnets); Oxana Kyanenko, Flavia Soares, Alexandru Tcacenco, and Andrey Teterin (Spanish Dancers); Kiyoka Hashimoto and Richard Szabó (Neapolitan Dancers); Alena Klochkova and Alexis Forabosco (Polish Dancers); Alice Firenze and Mihail Sosnovschi (Hungarian Dancers); Maria Alati, Ioanna Avraam, Eszter Ledán, Reina Sawai, Rui Tamai, and Nina Tonoli (The Young Noble Ladies); Christoph Wenzel (The Prince's Tutor); Gabor Oberegger (The Majordomo); and the Corps de ballet and Students of the Ballet Academy of the Wiener Staatsoper. Alexander Ingram conducts the Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera. Sets and costumes designed by Luisa Spinatelli assisted by Monia Torchia; lighting by Marion Hewlett; staging by Manuel Legris, Alice Necsea, Lukas Gaudernak, and Jean Christophe Lesage; directed for TV by Michael Beyer. Released 2014, this Blu-ray disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+

Rudolf Nureyev created his version of Swan Lake in 1964 for the Vienna State Ballet. When the folks at Vienna decided to revive and record it in 2014, they knew their recording would have to compete with the much-admired Swan Lake produced in 2005 by François Roussillon at the Paris Opera Ballet (starring José Martinez/Agnes Letestu).

First Vienna management boosted dancer morale with the decision to forgo guest stars and work solely in-house.  This helped to free up money to design and make new sets and costumes. I think director Manuel Legris and lighting designer Marion Hewlett worked early with videographer Michael Beyer to give him good access and light. Beyer responded by making an exceptionally beautiful ballet video. He begins his show with nature shots of magnificent real swans and he adds unusual images such as the statute below. This stone swan serves right now as PC wallpaper in my office:

The Vienna Siegfried (Vladimir Shishov) seems to be the happy, healthy chap that any Prince should be:

But is depicting Siegfried as such a handsome hunk consistent with his fate to come? Contrast Shishov with the image of José Martinez below as Siegfried in the Paris Opera Ballet show. From the opening moments on you see Siegfried depicted as a troubled, even neurotic, soul headed for disaster:

Siegfried enjoys his informal birthday party with friends:

But after the party, Siegfried dances a solo piece in which he does seems to be worried about something:

The Tutor urges Siegfried to go hunting at the lake where he might find swans. Siegfried heads out with his new crossbow and is astonished to meet a beautiful woman at the lake. The woman explains her predicament and how she needs a man to love her and be faithful to boot!

 

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Sunday
Nov092014

The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker ballet. Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to libretto by Marius Petipa. Choreographed and staged per Rudolf Nureyev under direction of Manuel Legris. Performed 2012 at the Wiener Staatsoper. Stars Liudmila Konovalova (Clara), Vladimir Shishov (Drosselmeyer/The Prince), Emilia Baranowicz (Luisa/Spanish Dance), Davide Dato (Fritz/Spanish Dance), Franziska Wallner-Hollinek and Gabor Oberegger (The Parents/Russian Dance), Eva Polacek and Christoph Wenzel (The Grandparents/Arabian Dance), Atilla Bakó and Martin Winter (The Rat King), Trevor Hayden (Little Nutcracker), Alena Klochkova and Prisca Zeisel (Two Snowflakes), Ketevan Papava and Eno Peci (Arabian Dance), Marcin Dempc, András Lukács, and Richard Szasbó (Chinese Dance),  (Pastorale), plus dancers of the Corps of the Wiener Staatsballett and students of the Ballet Academy of the Wiener Staatsoper. Paul Connelly conducts the Orchestra and Stage Orchestra of der Wiener Staatsoper together with Children of the Opera School of the Wiener Staatsoper. Set and costume design by Nicholas Georgiadis; staging by Aleth Francillon and Manuel Legris; staging for children scenes by Nathalie Aubin; lighting design by Jacques Giovanangeli. Video directed by Michael Beyer. Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+

According to the keepcase booklet, this Nureyev version of The Nutcracker is performed more than any other. But this is the first production of the Nureyev version published in HDVD. Nureyev doesn't have many of the features you encounter in Nutcracker shows aimed at small children: there's no 11-year-old girl dancing Clara, no magic stage transformation, no sleigh ride, no snow storm, no candy town, and no silly humor. This show is aimed at older children and adults. It's great that the audience already knows the story from seeing lighter versions of the ballet. Nureyev challenges his audience a bit with touches of social and psychological depth in support of his real objective: to use the fairy story as a framework for a series of etudes on the art of ballet.

Nureyev starts off like everybody else with a street scene in front of Clara's house. But only Nureyev puts a wretched old woman next to the door trying to peddle roasted snacks plus a pathetic old man grinding his organ in the bitter cold. Not everybody in invited to the party:

Inside, everyone is warm and jovial:

Clara (Liudmila Konovalova) is the woman at the far right dressed in mint green standing near a seated man with an eye patch. The man is Clara's godfather Drosselmeyer (Vladimir Shishov), a magician whom all of the children are dying to see perform:

Drosselmeyer puts on a spectacular show with human dolls and various illusions:

 

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Friday
Nov072014

LAC (After Swan Lake)

LAC (After Swan Lake) ballet. Music by Tchaikovsky. Choreographed by Jean-Christophe Maillot for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. Recorded 2013 at Grimaldi Forum, Monaco. Stars Bernice Coppieters (Her Majesty the Night); Anja Behrend (The White Swan), April Ball (The Black Swan), Stephan Bourgond (The Prince), Alvaro Prieto (The King), Mimoza Koike (The Queen), Jeroen Verbruggen (The Prince's Confidant), Asier Uriagereka and Asier Edeso (Two Archangels of Darkness), Simone Webster (The Conceited Woman), Gaëlle Riou (The Indifferent Pretender); Anjara Ballesteros and Noelani Pantastico (The Two Libertines), and Maude Sabourin (The Insatiable Woman). Corps members dance the following roles: Hunters by Raphaël Bouchard, Leart Duraku, Ediz Erguc, Julien Guerin, Alexis Oliveira, George Oliveira, Daniele Delvecchio, Bruno Roque, and Stefan Stewart; Hunters' Friends by Sivan Blitzova, Quinn Pendleton, Francesca Dolci, Anne-Laure Seillan, and Kaori Tajima; Chimeras by Anjara Ballesteros, Sivan Blitzova, Francesca Dolci, Liisa Hämäläinen, Vanessa Henriques, Frances Murphy, Noelani Pantastico, Quinn Pendleton, Gaëlle Riou, Maude Sabourin, Anne-Laure Seillan, Beatriz Uhalte, and Simone Webster; and Court by Anjara Ballesteros, Sivan Blitzova, Francesca Dolci, Frances Murphy, Noelani Pantastico, Anne-Laure Seillan, Maude Sabourin, Beatriz Uhalte, Simone Webster, Raphaël Bouchard, Leart Duraku, Ediz Erguc, Julien Guerin, Alexis Oliveira, George Oliveira, Daniele Delvecchio, Bruno Roque, and Stefan Stewart). Leonard Slatkin conducts the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.  Visual designs by Ernest Pignon-Ernest; dramaturgy by Jean Rouaud; costumes by Philippe Guillotel; lighting by Jean-Christophe Maillot and Samuel Thery. Directed for the screen by Denis Caïozzi; executive producers were Antoine Perset and Denis Morlière. Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+

Monaco, as best I can tell, is a country owned by casino and tax-shelters interests. It has only 255 acres, but a lot of people live there, mostly rich, and the citizens have the the longest life expectancy on earth. It's an elite tourist destination. Such a tiny place could not possible have a heavyweight classical ballet competitive with the big national houses in cities like Paris, Moscow, or London. Nor would you expect to find gritty avant-garde fare there like you might seek out in Berlin. But Les Ballets de Monte Carlo does have a large repertoire of entertaining works using 5-position classical ballet steps performed by women on point together with high-fashion contemporary pieces. A good example of this would be the Le Songe HDVD, based on A Midsummer Night's Dream, which we graded "B+."

Now we review LAC (or Lac), a new production "based on"  Swan Lake.  The Tchaikovsky score, which usually runs in the Petipa version for 130 minutes or more, is shortened to 101 minutes. So this is Lac light. Because Maillot and Rouaud rewrote the book, the remaining score is cut-and-pasted.  I've seen Swan Lake many times, and I associate most of the tunes with specific parts of the Petipa choreography. With Lac, all is churned. This bothered me at first because I was afraid I might suffer an avalanche in my mind. After this, would I be able to find the way to the Post Office? Well, in time I got used to Lac with no bad side effects. The new score was performed by Saint Louis Symphony---I bet the revised sheet music kept them wide awake! This HDVD was danced in studio to the recorded music. My impression would be that Les Ballets de Monte Carlo performed this live to the same recording.

I watched this cold, and I didn't understand much. So I'll give you some tips as well as enough screenshots to head you in the right direction. Here are some differences between Petipa [P] and Maillot [M]:

  • In P, the Queen is a widow. In M, there's a healthy, active King
  • In P, the Queen doesn't dance. In M, the King and Queen are the best dancers around and are constantly at it
  • The evil character in P is Rothbart, a man. In M, Her Majesty the Night is evil incarnate
  • In P, the swans are virtuous, kidnapped girls. In M, we encounter the evil Chimeras, who are girl/black swan combos 
  • In P, the Prince is asked to marry one of 6 hand-picked Princesses. In M, the Prince gets introduced to 5 women (commoners?) all of whom have obvious faults
  • In P, Rothbart wants to have his harem. In M, Her Majesty wants her black-swan daughter to marry the Prince

 Now to some screenshots. The show opens with a video prologue. The Prince is on a pick nick with his parents when he meets a mysterious fair girl and falls in love with her:

The pick nick is interrupted by Her Majesty (Bernice Coppieters) with her young brunette daughter. Her Majesty, seeing the affection the Prince has for the fair girl, kidnaps the child. Why? Well, Her Majesty has a long game:

Twenty years have passed. Meet the Queen (Mimoza Koike), the Prince (Stephan Bourgond) as a young man, and the King (Alvaro Prieto):

I told you this Queen can dance:

A group of young men are called the Hunters. Here the men, including the King and the Prince, are engaged in mock combat. Even though the stage is way too big for this, Maillot and videographer Caïozzi manage to keep this scene looking pretty:

Now we meet 5 Friends of the Hunters. (There are only 5 Friends because most of the women dancers have been assigned other roles.)

 

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Monday
Nov032014

Les pêcheurs de perles

Bizet Les pêcheurs de perles opera to libretto by Eugène Cormon and Michel Carré. Directed 2012 by Fabio Sparvoli at the Teatro San Carlo. Stars  Dmitry Korchak (Nadir), Dario Solari (Zugar), Patrizia Ciofi (Leila) and Roberto Tagliavini (Nourabad). Gabriele Ferro conducts the Orchestra, Coro, e Corpo di Ballo del Teatro di San Carlo. Sets by George Ricchelli; costume design by Alessanda Torella; choreography by Annarita Pasculli; lighting design by Vinicio Cheli. Released 2014, 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.

Sunday
Nov022014

Der Rosenkavalier

Richard Strauss Der Rosenkavalier opera to libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Directed 2014 by Harry Kupfer at the Salzburg Festival. Stars Krassimira Stoyanova (Feldmarschallin), Günther Groisböck (Baron Ochs), Sophie Koch (Octavian), Adrian Eröd (Faninal), Mojca Erdman (Sophie), Silvana Dussmann (Leitmetzerin), Rudolph Schasching (Valzacci), Wiebke Lehmkuhl (Annina), and Stefan Pop (Sänger). Franz Welser-Möst conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker, Konzertvereinigung Wiener Philharmoniker (Chorus Master Ernst Raffelsberger), and the Salzburger Festpiele und Theater Kinderchor (Chorus Master Wolfgang Götz). Set design by Hans Shavernoch; costume design by Yan Tax; lighting design by Jürgen Hoffmann; video direction by Brian Large. Released 2013, 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.

Sunday
Nov022014

Marco Spada or The Bandit's Daughter

Marco Spada or The Bandit's Daughter ballet. Music by Daniel François Esprit Auber. Original libretto by Eugène Scribe. Choreography by Pierre Lacotte. Directed 2014 at the Bolshoi Ballet. Stars David Hallberg (Marco Spada), Evguenia Obraztsova (Angela), Olga Smirnova, (Marquesa Sampietri), Semion Chudin (Prince Frederici), Igor Tsvirko (Count Pepinelli), Alexeï Loparevitch (Brother Borromée), Andreï Sitnikov (Prince Osario), Anastasia Stashkevich (The Fiancée), and Vyacheslav Lopatin (The Fiancé). Alexey Bogorad conducts the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra. Sets, scenography and costumes by Pierre Lacotte; lighting design by Damir Ismagilov; directed for TV by Vincent Bataillon; produced by François Duplat. Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

[Review scheduled on this for December 1.]

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