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.

It's September 1. We just posted an updated review with screenshots of the wonderful "A+" Le Nozze di Figaro directed by David McVicar at the ROH.

We have the best reviews anywhere of ballet and dance HDVDs. So we recently posted a "hit-parade" story boasting of this.

Gluck was the earliest of the classical opera composers. His most important work was his Orpheus and Eurydice (English spelling), and we now have 4 HDVDs of this, all quite different from another. The title that does the best job of illustrating Gluck's original creation in Italian would be the new Orfeo ed Euridice from Arthaus staring countertenor Bejun Mehta as Orfeo, which we graded "A."  Gluck also wrote a French version with a tenor as Orphée, and we have a mildly controversial and amusing descendant of that version in the B+ Orphée & Eurydice staring Robert Alagna. The very best recording in this group would be, however, the A+ Pina Bausch Orpheus und Eurydike dance/opera. Bringing up the rear is a Fura dels Baus treatment we graded "D." We have just updated all these titles and grouped them for your convenience near the top of the journal.

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Monday
Sep012014

Le nozze di Figaro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Le nozze di Figaro opera to libretto by Lorenza da Ponte. Directed 2006 by David McVicar at the Royal Opera House. Stars Erwin Schrott (Figaro), Miah Persson (Susanna), Gerald Finley (Count Almaviva), Dorothea Röschmann (Countess Almaviva), Rinat Shaham (Cherubino), Jonathan Veira (Dr. Bartolo), Graciela Araya (Marcellina),  Ana James (Barbarina), Philip Langridge (Don Basilio), Jeremy White (Antonio), Francis Egerton (Don Curzio), Glenys Groves (First Bridesmaid), and Kate McCarney (Second Bridesmaid). Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Associate Concert Master Sergey Levitin) and the Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Director Renato Balsadonna). Set and costumes by Tanya McCallin; lighting by Paule Constable; movement direction by Leah Hausman. Produced for TV by Sue Judd;  directed for TV by Jonathan Haswell. Released 2009, 2-disc set has 5.0 PCM sound. Grade: A+

From Gordon Smith 2011.This production is a gem. It shows the Royal Opera House Covent Garden at its best in all respects: superb cast, impressive staging, dramatic lighting, and spirited music making. David McVicar once again provides us with a captivating production using beautiful, cleverly designed sets that seamlessly change from one scene to the next with all the smoothness of a cinematographic cross fade.

From the very first bars of the overture, driven at a cracking pace by Antonio Pappano, we know this is going to be a winner. And it is particularly refreshing to have a lot of carefully choreographed stage business going on during the overture instead of staring blankly at closed curtains. This means that by the time we meet Figaro (Erwin Schrott) and the pert, sassy Susanna (Miah Persson), we have already settled comfortably into the palace of Count Almaviva and the below-stairs environment in which this timeless story is played out.

The casting is first class in every respect. They are all glorious singers and wonderful actors, with the rich voice of Gerald Finley and the liquid, warm tones of his countess wife (Dorothea Röschmann) standing out. But the real star of the show is Miah Persson, who manages to be delightfully feisty and tenderly disarming all at once. Cherubino (Rinat Shaham) also deserves special mention, playing her ambivalent "trouser" role to perfection with tousled hair and a cheeky, boyish grin that makes him (her) instantly likeable.

There are a couple of quirks that may make you wonder why such choices were made. The first of these was the decision to transport the story from its usual setting in Seville to post revolutionary France. Apart from being an excuse to present some very fine costumes, we may wonder how the Count - and his wife - managed to dodge the guillotine and why his decision to forego a nobleman's rights to sleep with the servants should be such big news. The second is the rather curious "indoors outdoors" garden scene setting when uncharacteristically symbolic, silhouetted leaves are lowered in front of the palace windows. But none of this matters as we are all swept along by the music, the acting, and the singing. 

This production is also very well served from a technical point of view with razor sharp images, three-dimensional depth magnificently sculpted by the lighting, and excellent, totally believable sound. It is also satisfying to see a growing number of long shots treating us to a view of the whole stage. Thanks to the high-definition images, we are then able to see everyone in proportion to the set without missing any details. This increases even further the illusion that we are actually there, in the Royal Opera House, sitting in our plush seats with the red and gold auditorium gleaming and glowing all around us.

From Henry McFadyen, Jr. August 2014. To grasp what a supernova event Le nozze di Figaro was in the history of music, first watch the Gluck Orfeo ed Eurydice title shot at the Český Krumlov Castle staring Bejun Mehta as Orfeo. It's a short, pleasant piece from a bygone era with 3 named stock characters and a single plot idea. Mozart produced Le nozze di Figaro 24 years later: it lasts 3+ hours and has 11 well-developed, believable named characters involved in several intricate plot themes full of fast-breaking events. It's an hilarious situation comedy with serious comments that are pertinent today. The beauty and intensity of the music never lags. The straight-forward (if complicated) story telling in Le nozze has been the basic model for opera ever since. But with so much packed into this work, you have to hang on tight lest you slip and fall under the wheels.

Here are a few screen shots introducing the main characters and the basic plot themes. This is the story of the efforts of Figaro (Erwin Schrott) on his wedding day to actually marry his sweetheart Susanna (Miah Persson).  Figaro and Susanna are both servants in the household of Count Almaviva (Gerald Finley), and here we see them in a storage room that the Count has made available to them for living quarters. It's early morning; Figaro and Susanna have no inkling how hectic the rest of the day will be:

There remain several impediments to the marriage. Figaro borrowed money from Marcellina (Graciela Araya) and signed a contract to marry her if he doesn't pay off the debt, which is still due. Marcellina figures that if Figaro is going to marry at all, it has to be to her. Here Marcellina and Susanna, both commoners, engage in a savage battle to see who can extend the most noble and courteous compliment to the other:

Marcellina works as housekeeper (H'mm) for Dr. Bartolo, who has a personal grudge against Figaro:

But the biggest impediment for Figaro is Count Almaviva. Although married to the beautiful and gracious Countess Almaviva (Dorothea Röschmann), he is a serial philanderer. He now lusts for Susanna, and he hopes to somehow prevent her from marrying Figaro:

Here we see the Count with Susanna and the music teacher, Don Basilio:

 

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Thursday
Aug282014

Best Ballet Dance Blu-rays --- Top Ballet Dance Blu-rays 

Ballet and modern dance are the fine arts that have benefited most from Blu-ray technology.  I've written a review with screenshots for all 71 Blu-ray ballet or dance titles (available by August 1, 2014) that meet our basic quality standards and earned a grade higher than "D."

We have the best resource on the Internet for this niche of the entertainment market. Statistics from our Squarespace host suggest that many readers are interested in ballet and dance. So keeping up with dance Blu-rays is a high priority here. This "hit-parade" story may help get the word out.

First I list my 10 favorite Blu-rays of traditional ballet works. Then I name my 11 favorite contemporary dance titles. No graphics here---I name my picks and give you links to our reviews.

Traditional Ballets

The top four are my super-favorites; then follow 6 titles in alphabetical order:

1. Swan Lake. Nureyev. Agnès Letestu and José Martinez at Paris Opera Ballet. This was the first fine-arts title published in HD and remains the best.

2. The Sleeping Beauty. The Russians spend about a billion on renovations to the Bolshoi. This SB was the first production in the reopened house. It's splendid.

3. Romeo and Juliette. McMillian. The Royal Opera House has 2 recordings out now of this---get Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta.

4. Raymonda. La Scala. Surprise! This has the grand adagio of the pas classique hongrois, considered by many to be the greatest scene from all of Petipa. There is no competition for this disc, and anyone with a serious interest in ballet has to get it.

5. La Bayadère. Grigorovich. The second grand new production at the Balshoi to be released in Blu-ray.

6. Cinderella. Wheeldon. Dutch National Ballet with wife and husband team of Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding.

7. Don Quixote. Ratmansky. Again the Dutch National Ballet with Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding. Don Quixote usually puts me to sleep. Still, I picked this in part because the balled is so popular. The Don and Sancho Panza are played by famous comic actors with no dance experience, and that helped me stay awake.

8. Giselle. If you can only buy one Giselle, it has to be this one from the Paris Opera Ballet. But I like to show Act 1 from the Royal Opera House disc with Alina Cojocaru and then switch for Act 2 to the Paris Opera Ballet. This can give guests a bit of jet-lag, but they soon get over it.

9. A Midsummer Night's Dream. Balanchine at the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Good example how a regional company can do a grand job.

10The Nutcracker. There's lots of runner-ups, and the winner is Tomasson at the San Francisco Ballet.

Modern Ballet and Dance

The top four are super-favorites; then follow 7 titles in alphabetical order:

1. The Little Mermaid. Neumeier. San Francisco Ballet. Proves that a ballet company with modest resources can compete with the titans. An astonishing performance by Yuan Yuan Tan gives this title a level of spirituality that is often present when you see a person dance live, but is hard to capture in a recording.

2. Orpheus and Eurydike. Bausch. Paris Opera Ballet. Old myth and music; surreal dance and theater. The only ballet I know of that has a opera singer teamed up with the dancer for each major role. Everything is mysterious and exquisite.

3. La dame aux camélias. Neumeier. Paris Opera Ballet. The la traviata soap-opera story again, this time to music of Chopin. Wonderful dancing by Agnès Letestu and Stéphane Bulllion. Everything is so gorgeous and elegant---the only time in my life I caught myself drooling over dresses.

4. Metamorphosis. Arthur Pita. Need a dancer to portray a huge, dying cockroach? Has to be Ed Watson. Perfect example of how a small group of dancers and a solo musician can come up with something both charming and profound. Maybe has the only pas de deux in history with one partner unconscious.

5. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Wheeldon. Royal Opera Ballet. Fresh take on old book with charming performance by Lauren Cuthbertson.

6. Amelia.  Édouard Lock film. Unique world of Lock logic captured in a famous film that you can now enjoy in your own home.

7. Bodas de sangre and Suite flamenco. Gades. Teatro Real in Madrid. Probably the best recording ever of serious flamenco works.

8. C(H)ŒURS ("Choirs/Hearts"). Patel. Les ballets C de la B + Teatro Real Chorus. Wild ballet and performance art production.

9. McGregor Triple Bill. Wayne McGregor. Royal Opera Ballet. Includes Chroma, a piece that has terrified dancers all over the world. (Will my company try to do that?).

10. Petite Danseuse de Degas. Bart. Paris Opera Ballet. New ballet with a curious tie-in to the art of sculpture. I wrote this review using the voice of Marie van Goethem, the real little girl whose pathetic life is depicted in the ballet. Going to Paris? Watch this title and then visit Marie at the Musée d'Orsay. See if you can hold back tears.

11. Siddharta. Preljocaj. Paris Opera Ballet. Beautiful, stately, modern rendition of the Prince Siddharta story.

Footnote

For children, get the Tales of Beatrix Potter by Frederick Ashton at the Royal Opera Ballet.

Monday
Aug252014

Orfeo ed Euridice

Christoph Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice opera to a libretto in Italian by Ranieri de' Calzabigi (Vienna version from 1762). Directed 2013 by Ondřej Havelka at the Baroque Theatre of Český Krumlov Castle. Stars Bejun Mehta (Orfeo), Eva Liebau (Euridice or Eurydice), and Regula Mühlemann (Amore). Václav Luks conducts the Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704. Sets by Zheněk Flemming; costumes designed by Jana Zbořilovká, choreography by Andrea Miltnerová; artistic advice from Bejun Mehta. Photography directed by Jan Malíř; edited by Marek Opatrný; executive production  by Jiří Hubač; produced by Hebert G. Kloiber.  Released 2014, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

This title heads in an unusual direction because it is not just a recording of a live opera performance (which is, of course, the origin of most of our HDVD operas). Nor was it shot like a movie with endless takes in scattered locations. It's in between---a movie made over 7 days in the Český Krumlov Castle with shooting in its baroque theatre stage, auditorium, backstage areas, and castle basement.  The director also used historic sets and props belonging to the house. Candles and burning lamps provided most if not all of the light.  So this production gives us a good idea what a performances of the original Orfeo ed Euridice may have looked like. But as the screenshots help you see, the film goes much further afield than that. The producers call this a "cinematic adaptation."

Now let's turn to some screenshots starting with the orchestra in authentic livery reading sheet music by candle light:

The action opens with the funeral of Eurydice (Eva Liebau). You will recall she married Orfeo in the morning and killed by a poisonous snakebite later that day. Here we see the funeral of Eurydice and the orchestra in the pit (the auditorium is empty):

Countertenor Bejun Mehta as Orfeo:

The grief-stricken Orfeo rails against the gods who have cut Eurydice's life so short:

 

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Monday
Aug252014

Orphée et Eurydice 

Christoph Gluck Orphée et Eurydice in French (Orfeo ed Euridice in the original Italian name) opera to libretto by Pierre-Louis Moline (sung in French). David Alagna made theatrical and musical adaptations and directed at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna in 2008. Stars Roberto Alagna (Orphée [yes, he's a brother of the director]), Serena Gamberoni (Eurydice), and Marc Barrard (Le Guide or The Guide, who replaces the Amore character). Giampaolo Bisanti conducts the Teatro Comuniale di Bologna Orchdestra (Chorus Master Paolo Vero). Sets by David Algana; costumes by Carla Teti; lighting by Aldo Solbiati; directed for TV by Arnaud Petitet and David Alagna. Released 2010, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+

In Orpheus and Eurydice (English spelling) Gluck wrote a relatively simple opera that blends singing, orchestration, drama, and dance. It was first performed in 1762 in Italian. It has a lean core of satisfying music that lends itself to adaptation. Gluck was the first adaptor --- he tinkered with the work repeatedly and also wrote a much-modified version in French. Later composers and directors have continued this tradition. This mutability has been the key to the survival of Orpheus and Eurydice in the face of competition like Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, a vastly more complicated and mature work that came along only 24 years later.

So let's celebrate rather than bemoan the fact that current versions of Orpheus and Eurydice might be pretty surprising to Herr Gluck if he could tune in. That healthy attitude will prepare us to enjoy the Alagna brothers version we review now, which I describe as an indie motion picture that happens to use a performance on an opera stage as a location.

Using the Gluck's 1774 French version, the Alagnas recast the main roles (historically usually all sung by women or castrati) so that Eurydice is a soprano, Orphée a tenor, and Amour (more about him later) becomes a baritone. To the modern ear this is a huge improvement over listening to three female leads. The Alagnas assume that the audience doesn't know the story of the classical myth all that well and then provide the following version: We meet Orphée and Eurydice at their joyful wedding, which is immediately followed by the death of Eurydice in a car wreck. At the funeral, Orphée's  grief is so moving that the undertaker (called "Le Guide" instead of "Amour") intervenes and offers to take Orphée into the netherworld to fetch Eurydice. Le Guide explains, of course, how Orphée can't look at his bride lest she die again. Sexpot Eurydice is grumpy after being aroused from the blissful anaesthesia of death. Denied a loving look from her husband, she proves that she knows how to get what she wants. After her second death, Orphée follows her into death himself.

Having come up with a suitable plot for 2010, the Alagnas move chunks of the music and libretto around to fit. The emotional effect is the same as ever with the Gluck's wrenchingly mournful music relentlessly threatening to push you over the edge into tears. But now the Alagnas add something you don't expect: camp humour. The humour is mostly provided by Marc Barrard's portrayal of Le Guide. Standing tall with lugubrious face surrounded by a floor-length black leather trench coat, stovepipe hat, and black sunglasses, he is the perfect droll antidote to the pathos of the ancient legend. Le Guide is well equipped with his beat-up old Ford station wagon for a hearse, a squad of Blues Brothers-looking pall bearers, and funeral parlour with a bank-vault door leading to the land of shades. And even Eurydice and Orphée get a chance to show their skill at physical comedy.

We know this production was played live to audiences in Bologna because we see curtain calls at the end in a kind of sequel. But on the other hand, the HDVD version is not simply a recording of the live opera. The design of the HDVD show was inspired by the movies. It makes fascinating use of film devices like total camera mobility, trick editing, rapid jump cuts, over-saturation and blooming of colors, artificial granularization, miss-focus, dual and negative images, and slow motion. Some of this maybe was done in post-production, but I also think the film was shot in multiple takes shot in parallel with the mounting of the live opera.

The result is an intriguing version of Gluck's old opera that is in tune with today's tastes. The singing and acting by all three principals is convincing, the chorus is excellent, and the orchestra sounds fine. Now for some screenshots.

Eurydice dies in a car wreck, not from a snakebite:

Orphée (Robert Alagna) in a daze:

Still wearing her bridal veil, Eurydice, now a shade (spirit of the dead), wanders about the accident scene:

The funeral with everyone in the chorus singing: 

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Monday
Aug252014

Orpheus und Eurydike

Christoph Gluck Orpheus und Eurydike dance-opera. Unusual choreography and stage directions by Pina Bausch with singers and dancers simultaneously on stage for each main character. Filmed at the Palais Garnier Opera in February 2008. Gluck wrote Italian and French versions of his opera; this dance-opera version is heavily reworked by Bausch and sung in German. Choreographer assistants are Malou Airaudo, Mariko Aoyama, Bénédicte Billiet, Josephine Ann Endicott, and Dominique Mercy. Orpheus is danced by Yann Bridard and sung by mezzo soprano Maria Riccarda Wesseling; Eurydike is danced by Marie-Agès Gillot and sung by soprano Julia Kleiter; Amor is danced by Miteki Kudo and sung by soprano Sunhae Im. Also stars dancers Yong Geol Kim, Nicolas Paul, Vincent Cordier, Emilie Cozette, Eleonora Abbagnato, Eve Grinsztajn, Muriel Zusperreguy, Caroline Bance, Christelle Garnier, Alice Renavand, Amélie Lamoureux, Charlotte Ranson, Séverine Westermann, Natacha Gilles, Marie-Isabelle Peracchi, Bruno Bouché, Vincent Chaillet, Sébastien Bertaud, Alexis Renaud, and Erwan Le Roux. Thomas Hengelbrock directs the Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble and Choir. Set, costume, and lighting designs by Rolf Borzik (Pina's husband who died in 1980). Costumes made by Marion Cito; lighting  by Johan Delaere; lighting engineers were Michel Susini and Madjid Hakimi; produced by François Duplat; filmed by Vincent Bataillon. Released 2009, this disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+

The three main characters, Orpheus, Eurydike, and Amor, are sung on stage by opera singers and are also danced by leading members of the Paris Opera Ballet. The rest of the on-stage cast are ballet dancers. The chorus sings off stage. This unusual array of forces works well---it's a ballet show, but ballet and opera make roughly equal contributions to the overall effect. The music is original-instrument quaint. The dance style is "Tanztheater" modern, which, with it's relatively simple forms and use of repetition, meshes well with old music. Although the dancing is incisive, it is also elegant, smooth, tasteful, and profound. I watched the curtain calls. Orpheus (Yann Bridard), dressed only in dancer's briefs for every minute of the ballet, went off stage and returned with a woman in hand. I was touched by the sad tenderness and respect he showed to his companion---this is Bausch I thought. And when the camera then gave a close-up of Bausch, I thought,"Dear God! This poor woman looks ill." This production of Orpheus und Eurydike was filmed in February 2008, and Bausch died about 16 months later (June, 30, 2009) at age 68.

Actually, Bausch choreographed and first produced Orpheus und Eurydike years earlier when she was 35. Her husband, Rolf Borzik, designed the set, costumes, and lighting. Borzik died a few years later. Bausch dropped Orpheus und Eurydike from her repertoire. She went on to do many hard-edged controversial and iconoclastic productions which made her famous in the world of modern dance and an icon of modern culture in Germany. In a sense, the revival of Orpheus und Eurydike is a memorial for Borzik, whose work, but for this recording, might have been forgotten. It could be that Bausch was also writing her epithet with this revival.

Most of Bausch's work was done with her own dance company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, which is still active and is featured in the Wim Wenders movie Pina. Here the performance was given by the Paris Opera Ballet. The dancers had to master Bausch's personal style to perform this piece. It seems Bausch was personally involved in this along with 5 dance assistants who are credited above! The dancers did a splendid job of learning Pinaform; the intensity and reverence with which the dancers handle their roles show how highly they regarded Bausch and her deceased husband.

Bausch divided her dance-opera into 4 parts that roughly correspond to the Gluck libretto:

1. Trauer (Mourning or Deuil), which begins after the death of Eurydike with powerful, rolling expressions of grief.

2. Gewalt (Violence), which expands tremendously on the role of the Furies in a stupendous surreal battle scene followed by capitulation to Orpheus.

3. Frieden (Peace or Paix), which consists mostly of sublime movements of the female corps. When younger, Pina was herself an incomparable dramatic dancer; I think each member of the corps was trying to be her worthy successor here.  Now that Philippina Bausch is gone, I feel I see her dancing in this movement.

4. Sterben (Death or Mort), which show the second death of Eurydike and the determination of Orpheus to follow her.

Here is a screenshot from Part 1, Trauer. Mary-Agnès Gillot, the dancer portraying Eurydike, is sitting on the tall chair as the corps mourns her death:

Dancer Yann Bridard portrays the despair of Orpheus:

Miteki Kudo, dancing as Amor, reveals that she can help Orpheus bring Eurydike back:

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Monday
Aug252014

Orfeo ed Euridice

Updated on Monday, January 7, 2013 at 11:32AM by Registered CommenterHenry McFadyen Jr.

Christoph Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice opera to a libretto by Ranieri de' Calzabigi. Directed 2011 by Carlus Padrissa at the 25th Festival Castell de Peralada in Catalonia, Spain. Stars Anita Rachvelishvili (Orfeo), Maite Alberola (Euridice) , Auxiliadora Toledano (Amore), and Aline Vincent (dancer). Gordan Nikolić conducts (as Concert Master) the Orquesta bandArt and the Cor de Cambra del Palau de la Música Catalana (Chorus Master Jordi Casas Bayer). Staged by La Fura dels Baus; costume design by Aitziber Sanz; lighting design by Carles Rigual; video by David Cid and Sagar Fornies; interactive graphics by Román Torre and Pelayo Méndez; video direction by Tiziano Mancini. Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: D

This title was recorded at the open air auditorium of the Peralada Festival in the summer of 2011. Although the recorded applause sounds shockingly unenthusiastic, it may have been fun to watch live with the star singers dangling around strung from cables like window-washers. But alas, this title is just another example of how hard it is to record one of these outdoor extravaganzas so it will look good in a home theater in high-definition TV.

Before I explain why you should not buy this (unless you have a good special reason), let me say a couple of nice things about the singers. Auxiliadora Toledano is glorious in the too-short role of Amore. I'm full of admiration for Anita Rachvelishvili as Orfeo---she held up well in view of the tortures she endures at the hands of director Padrissa. I liked Maite Alberola as Euridice, even with her insane wig. Finally, I'm grateful to the Cor de Cambra under Jordi Casas Bayer for several passages of choral work that reminded me how beautiful this Gluck opera really is.

Now let's consider some of the horrors we encounter in this version of a round-trip to the underworld. The worst atrocity is the abuse of Orquesta bandArt. Here's what Orquesta bandArt says about itself on the Ad Libitum Artis website:

Sir Colin Davis is the president of the orchestra, while the burden of music leadership is on Gordan Nikolic, soloist and first violin of the London Symphony Orchestra. bandArt is an independent orchestra, made up with musicians coming from the best orchestras all around Europe. bandArt's main goal is to be a non-director orchestra, open to universal musical dialogue, that tries to transmit the orchestral repertoire with freshness and enthusiasm.

Orquesta bandArt doubtless gives wonderful concerts when they play on a regular stage with plenty of light and Gordan Nikolic clearly in sight. But for this production they were required to march onto and maneuver about a dimly-lit stage constructed with a 30 degree slope down from the rear of the stage to the front. Much of the time most of the players had "cockpits" cut into the stage in which to sit. But often they were required to move about the stage, acting sometimes as protagonists, while continuing to play. The harpsichord had a level place at the front edge of the stage. The cellos and double basses were forced to cope with the slope. (I never before this saw anyone playing a cello on the march, but it can be done.) Add to the treacherous dark terrain the musicians' weird lizard-skin costumes (with black face markings), the incessant flickering of the La Fura dels Baus light projections, the antics of chorus members with strange props, the singers on beams that rose out of the floor, and the aerial action---and you have an extremely distracting and even dangerous playing environment. Small wonder then that this performance by Orquesta bandArt is the worst I've ever heard from a recording being offered for sale by an established publisher. It's that bad, but it's not the fault of Orquesta bandArt. It's a miracle they fulfilled the contract, never fell apart on the stage, and nobody got killed.

Since there is no conductor, the role of the director Carlus Padrissa is magnified.  Will Rodgers never met a man he didn't like. And Padrissa never learned of a special effect he didn't use. This may be justified in an open-air theater where the spectators can just keep drinking more wine if they are bored with the show. Management doesn't want them driving drunk, so they keep giving them something new to see. But in the home theater, the Fura dels Baus special effects fast lose their appeal due to of the repetitive feel of the computer-generated images and the fact that they too often interfere with rather than enhance the music and acting on the stage.

Below is a relatively mild La Fura dels Baus scene from the opening of the opera. The musicians in the background projection are some of the bandArt folks. The full orchestra is seated in special cockpits cut into the sloping stage. Orfeo (Rachvelishvili) is the figure in blue in the middle; the resolution is poor in the dim light. Chorus members in lizard outfits display teardrops of mourning. The scene is enhanced (I say degraded) with rapid flickering of partial shadows across the stage:

The bandArt folks play the role of Furies while trying to play Gluck. Orfeo (Rachvelishvili) is perched for a long time on the top of a tall beam protected a safety harness and cable. This gear isn't noticeably here but it is distracting in mid-range and close shots:

Orfeo and Euridice. Orfeo is dressed in a jumpsuit. So would all that gear on top be for a parachute? No, it's the safety harness. Euridice is still in her wedding dress. But that's not a corset she's wearing over it. It's her safety harness, and she will also be airborne before this is over. Translation: "No, death is dearer to me...":

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Thursday
Aug212014

Mowgli

Mowgli ballet. New choreography by Natalia Kasatkina and Vladimir Vasilyov.  Performed 2009 by the Moscow Classical Ballet at the Kremlin Ballet Theatre, Moscow. Original music by Alexander Prior, who conducts the New Opera Orchestra. Released in 2014, disc has PCM stereo 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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