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.

It's December 21. We just posted information about 2 new box sets. One is called Belcanto D'Amore and contains 5 popular operas. But we question whether this combo of 5 operas is a good buy even at a reduced price. The other box set has 3 Waldbühne concerts by the Berlin Philharmoniker and looks like a better value if you don't mind watching three outdoor concerts to get the music included.

We recently 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. ___________________________________________________________________________________________


Waldbühne/Berlin Philharmoniker Box Set

Waldbühne/Berlin Philharmoniker Box Set. Since 1983, the Berlin Philharmoniker has each year given a summer concert at the Waldbühne (Forest Stage) located in a popular Berlin park. (It appears the Waldbühne concert for 2015 will be the last in the series.) The crowd dresses informally, but the musical fare, typically led by a guest conductor, is more formal than a pops concert. EuroArts has for some time had the rights to record these concerts.

In this box, EuroArts offers HDVDs of 3 concerts at a reduced price, and they are called Waldbühne 2009 (Disc 1), Waldbühne 2010 (Disc 2), and Waldbühne 2011 (Disc 3). Each of these discs has previously been put on the market as a separate Blu-ray title with a unique name that doesn't mention the Waldbühne.  Each of these separate titles was reviewed on this website, and each is still available separately. Next I list each disc as it is designated in the box set, and I add the name under which the disc can be purchased separately.  I'll give you a link to more information I posted earlier about each disc. So to understand what you are offered in this Waldbühne box, you need to read the three linked reviews:

Waldbühne 2009 (Disc 1) or Rattle conducts Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, and Tchaikovsky. (The name we gave this disc earlier is slightly different.)  Also, this title is sometimes called Russian Rhythms. The program includes:

  1. Tchaikovsky Nutcracker excerpts (Grade "B")
  2. Stravinsky Le Sacre du printemps (Grade "B")
  3. Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 with Yefim Bronfman (Grade "A")

Waldbühne 2010 (Disc 2) or An Evening with Renée Fleming. This title is sometimes called Nacht der Liebe or A Night of Love. This has a long and surprisingly serious program with 15 selections which are listed in detail in my review. I was a disappointed both in the sound and video recordings of the orchestra. Bet Fleming is great  in this title, so I arrive at a blended grade of "B."

Waldbühne 2011 (Disc 3) or Fellini, Jazz & Co. This title has 7 selections and I gave the disc a "B" grade.

The Berlin Phil doesn't go to the Waldbühne to make good recordings. These are outreach concerts designed to broaden the fan base. The performances by the orchestra are wonderful by definition, and the crowds love them. But the question I have to consider is whether these recordings are good enough for you to enjoy in your home theater.

There's a lot of good music on these 3 discs, and most of it is not duplicated on other HDVDs. I lived in Berlin for a year, so I have a mild interest in the event itself. I can image this is especially popular in Berlin and throughout all of Germany. Amazon in Germany is offering the box now (December 2014) for 42 Euros, and the individual titles are listed for about 30 Euros each. Since I've graded all of this in the "B" to "A" range, this would seem to be a good value. If the selections appear to you, maybe the DVD version for even less money would do justice to these happy but rather routine discs. I don't really know this, but I'd  be willing to bet that the DVD versions of these discs are exactly the same except that the Blu-ray video resolution and the sound would be slighly better.

I wish I could have given all of this an "A" grade. But the sound recordings here are not at the audiophile level and the video falls substantially short of what can be done with HD recordings of the symphony orchestra. So if you desire to live in the excelsisphere, then you could maybe make better use of your time and treasure on other "A" and "A+" graded HDVDs made under better conditions than these outdoor concerts. (The excelsisphere is that place where those of us dwell who seek to enjoy HDVDs with the very best content, audiophile-level sound, and videos that take full advantage of HD camera capabilities.)


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 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, 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 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.


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!

Please help us with a comment that can be a mini-review for this title.


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!"


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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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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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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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