Here's news about high-definition video recordings of opera, ballet, classical music, plays, fine-art documentaries, and paintings. I call these recordings "HDVDs." In the journal below are independent (and hard-to-find critical) reports on hundreds of HDVDs. Pick the best titles for your excelsisphere.

Dec. 2. I just posted a full review of the best La Bohème video ever. I also recently did some screenshots and a review of the touching Hänsel und Gretel opera production from Dessau.

I recently added a new story at the top of the journal about the Best Opera Blu-rays. You will always be able to find this under our Special Stories in the Navigation Bar on the left of the website.

The flare icon is called a "flare", and it goes to titles of special merit and significance --- the best of the best. You can find the titles with the flare awards on the Alphalist by using your browser's "find" tool --- just enter the word "flare" in the field indicated and the browser will find the flare symbols for you! So far I've given 10 flare designations. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Friday
Dec022016

La Bohème (Mula)

Giacomo Puccini La Bohème opera to libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Directed 2006 by Giancarlo del Monaco at the Madrid Teatro Real. Stars Inva Mula (Mimì), Aquiles Machado (Rodolfo), Laura Giordano (Musetta), Fabio Maria Capitanucci (Marcello), David Menéndez (Schaunard), Felipe Bou (Colline), Gonzalo Fernández de Terán (Parpignol), Juan Tomás Martínez (Benoit), Alfredo Mariotti (Alcindoro), Federico Gallar (Customs Seargent), Mario Villoria (Customs Officer), and Francisco Pardo (Street Seller). Jesús López Cobos conducts the Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real (Chorus Master Jordi Casas Bayer) and the Children's Chorus of the Comunidad de Madrid (Chorus Master José de Felipe).  Design of set and costumes by Michael Scott; lighting by Wolfgang von Zoubek; directed for TV by Robin Lough. This Blu-ray product was released in 2008 and effectively replaced the HD DVD version that was released earlier. Disc has 5.0 PCM sound. Grade: A

Starving artists share a cold garret in Paris. Spurning work and creature comforts, they, and the women who love them, are called "Bohemians." From left to right, our four Bs are the musician Schaunard (David Menéndez), the painter Marcello (Fabio Maria Capitanucci), the philosopher Colline (Felipe Dou), and the poet Rodolfo (quiles Machado). It's Christmas. Schaunard has stumbled into a bit of money and the 4 plan a rare treat, dinner at cafe Momus in The Latin Quarter!

Rodolfo stays behind to quickly finish a poem. But then there's a voice at the door:

She's a co-tenant (Inva Mula) Rodolfo has never seen. She seems ill, and she needs a light for her candle:

It's love at first sight for both, and things happen fast. Below begins a famous passage:

 

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Dec012016

Hänsel und Gretel

Engelbert Humperdinck Hänsel und Gretel opera with revised libretto by Hans-Josef Irmen (based on, but different from the traditional poetry of Adelheid Wette, the composer's sister). Directed 2007 by Johannes Felsenstein at the Anhalt Theatre Dessau. Stars Ludmil Kuntschew (Peter, the broom maker/the Witch), Alexandra Petersamer (Gertrud, Peter's wife), Sabine Noack (Hänsel, the son), Cornelia Marschall (Gretel, the daughter), and Viktorija Kaminskaite (Sandman/Dewman). Markus L. Frank conducts the Dessau Anhalt Philharmonic and the Anhalt Theatre Children's Choir (Chorus Master Dorislava Kuntscheva). Set and costumes by Steghen Rieckhoff; dramaturgy by Susanne Schulz; directed for TV by Brooks Riley. Released  2009, disc has 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: B+

Overture and Act 1 -  Hunger

Arthaus offered this Hänsel und Gretel the same year (2009) the Royal Opera House released their glittering traditional version with Opus Arte.  But director Johannes Felsenstein in Dessau had a secret weapon to make make up for his relatively unknown musicians and tight budget for sets and costumes: a point of view. Felsenstein gives each Act of the opera a meta-meaning that relates to the history of the German people in the 20th century.

The theme of the Overture and Act 1 is Hunger. The Overture is filled with grim archive images such as this:

And there is no doubt that our Hänsel und Gretel are living on the brink of starvation:

Except that today a neighbor shared a bit of milk with the destitute family:

But even this meager treat gets ruined:

Mother orders the children to scour the forest for berries. Fail not in finding something to eat, or else:

 

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Nov222016

Best Opera Blu-rays

Opera has benefited hugely from Blu-ray technology. Here's a list of 36 of the best opera titles to come out in the last 9 years (since Blu-ray was invented). I haven't seen all the Blu-ray operas, so this list is incomplete. But read the reviews of the operas below and you can't go wrong. First, I list my favorite Blu-rays of (more or less) traditional operas. Then I provide another group of (1) modern operas or (2) older works that have been radically updated with modern themes and overlays.

I would welcome suggestions from readers about other titles that should be on this list.

Traditional Operas

  1. Anna Bolena. Donizetti. Vienna State Opera. Anna Netrebko and Elīna Garanča. Modern sets with traditional-style costumes create jewel-like images of unbelievably beautiful-looking-and-sounding people in a bel canto universe. The end tears me every time (double meaning for "tears").
  2. La Bohème. Puccini. Madrid Teatro Real. Inva Mula and Laura Giordano. We still don't have the Bohème we deserve, but this one is best so far. Mula manages to really look like a pretty girl dying from a terrible disease. Laura Giordano is a fantastically beautiful Musette. Sad, sad ending.
  3. Carmen. Bizet. Royal Opera. Anna Caterina Antonacci and Jonas Kaufmann. Famous production has never been equaled in video.
  4. Così fan tutte. Mozart. Glyndebourne. Miah Persson and Anke Vondung. Beloved DVD translated well to Blu-ray. Immaculate confection puts you in a permanent state of suspended disbelief.
  5. Dido and Aeneas. Purcell. Paris Opéra Comique. Malena Ernman and Christopher Maltman. Deborah Warner, William Christie, and François Roussillon come up with an impressively short, taut, zany, and admirable version of Virgil's Dido story.
  6. Don Pasquale. Donizetti. Ravenna Festival. Claudio Desderi and Laura Giordano. Giant-killing, best DP video ever was probably the cheapest to make. Laura Giordano is the closest thing to Venus to appear on earth since the death of Homer.
  7. Elektra. Richard Strauss. Baden-Baden. Linda Watson, Manuela Uhl, and Jane Henschel. Three vivid female characters and Christian Thielemann dominate one of the most extreme sets ever created in opera.
  8. L'elisir d'amore. Donizetti. Ekaterina Siurina and Peter Auty. Meticulous and masterful story-telling from Glyndebourne makes a marvelous ensemble from a group of not-so-famous singing actors.
  9. Falstaff. Verdi. Glyndebourne. Christopher Purves and Tassis Christoyannis. Is Purves the greatest English actor since Alec Guinness? And he can also sing. And make you laugh and laugh.
  10. Die Fledermaus. Strauss II. Glyndebourne. Pamela Armstrong and Thomas Allen. Scintillating production beyond any criticism.
  11. Gianni Schicchi by Puccini. The Miserly Knight by Rachmaninov. Glyndebourne again! Alessandro Corbelli, Felicity Palmer, Sergei Leiferkus and Richard Berkeley-Steele. Two one-act operas about inheriting stuff.
  12. Guillaume Tell. Rossini. Rossini Festival. Nicola Alaimo and Juan Diego Flórez. Commendable production of Rossini's greatest and final work that forms a bridge between the classical and romantic opera eras. This in the only Blu-ray of William Tell.
  13. Jenůfa. Janáček. Madrid Teatro Real. Amanda Roocroft and Deborah Polaski. Intense and absorbing drama about the unusual lives of ordinary people.
  14. Katia Kabanova. Janáček. Madrid Teatro Real. Oleg Bryjak and Miroslav Dvorský. This is the one with the stage covered with water. A question just popped into my mind: are the Janáček operas the ancestors of what we now know as the American soap opera and the Mexican TV novela?
  15. Lohengrin. Wagner. Baden-Baden. Klaus Florian Vogt and Solveig Kringelborn.  Impeccable production with an excellent cast. This is the source of the "Here comes the bride" wedding march music.
  16. Le nozze di Figaro. Mozart. Royal Opera. Erwin Schrott and Miah Persson. This is considered by many as the best opera video ever made.
  17. Porgy and Bess. Gershwin. San Francisco Opera. Eric Owens and Laquita Mitchell. American opera full of famous music about black life in the old South. Fine video of an excellent production. This work was created by white artists who thought it was valid; black audiences have rejected it as kitch.
  18. I Puritani. Bellini. Met. Anna Netrebko and Eric Cutler. This is the one where Netrebko sings upside down hanging off the front of the stage.
  19. Ring des Nibelungen. Wagner. Met. Stephanie Blythe, Jonas Kaufmann, Hans-Peter König, Jay Hunter  Morris, Eric Owens, Gerhard Siegel, Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, and Eva-Maria Westbroek. This box with the complete four-opera cycle is in a class of one as the best recording ever of the Ring.
  20. Salome. Richard Strauss. Royal Opera. Nadja Michael and Michaela Schuster. The best Salome recording ever has, I think, something like a cult following.
  21. Tosca. Puccini. Royal Opera. Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann, and Bryn Terfel. An instant best seller.
  22. Werther. Massenet. Paris Opéra. Jonas Kaufmann and Sophie Koch. The opera stage is used like a movie set for a show that's quite different from what the audience saw. The result in the home theater is an intensely gripping drama.
  23. Die Zauberflöte. Mozart. Royal Opera. Will Hartmann and Dorothea Röschmann. Diana Damrau comes up with the most impressive Queen of the Night that I've seen. Although it was filmed in 2003, nobody has been able to top this version.

Modern Operas and Radical Revisions

  1. Ariadne auf Naxos. Richard Strauss. Glyndebourne. Laura Claycomb and Soile Isokoski. Director Katharina Thoma comes up with a truly coherent AaN (hard to do). Sly shoplifter Laura Claycomb stuffs the whole show in her tote bag and takes it home (looks easy). So clever and funny!
  2.  I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Bellini. San Francisco Opera. Joyce DiDonato and Nicole Cabell. Hi-style, fashion, and fidelity (96kHz/24-bit) update aims the bel canto cannon at the future, not the past (pun intended).
  3. Carmen. Bizet. Liceu. Béatrice Uria-Monzon and Roberto Algana. A nasty Carmen gets what she deserves.
  4. Les contes d'Hoffmann. Offenbach. Madrid Teatro Real. Eric Cutler and Anne Sofie Von Otter. Spooky, surreal version of the Romantic warhorse.
  5. Dialogues des carmélites. Poulenc. Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Patricia Petibon and Sophie Koch. The  best recording ever of what is probably the last opera (1957) to enjoy widespread popularity. The product of a true story reworked by 4 geniuses, our review includes a fabulous masters degree thesis from Gail Elizabeth Lowther that explains it all.
  6. The Gambler. Prokofiev. Berlin State Opera. Vladimir Ognovenko and Kristine Opolais. Did you know the great Dostoevsky suffered from addiction to gambling? He even wrote a somewhat autobiographical book about the illness. Prokofiev used the book as the basis for this opera, which is skilfully rendered by wild-man director Dmitri Tcherniakov with Barenboim in the pit.
  7. Experimentum Mundi (Experience the World). Battistelli. Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. Nicola Raffone and Peppe Servillo. One of the oddest of operas is played using instruments like metal grinders, shovels, sledgehammers, and cobblers' tools. Enjoy the music while you learn how to make a barrel.
  8. Hansel und Gretel. Humperdinck. Theater Dessau. Ludmil Kuntschew and Alexandra Petersamer. Allegorical presentation in obscure Dessau venue towers over big-deal productions from London and Vienna.
  9. Rigoletto. Verdi. Met. Piotr Beczala, Željka Lučić, and Diana Damrau. Works better in Las Vegas than in old Italy!
  10. Rusalka. Dvořák. Bavarian State Opera. Kristīne Opolais and Klaus Florian Vogt. The water spirits become trafficked girls in Martin Kušej's powerful overlay. I'll never forget the image of Opolais getting relief by wallowing in the aquarium.
  11. La Sonnambula. Bellini. Stuttgart. Ana Durlovski and Luciano Botelho. We have 3 beautiful versions of La Sonnambula, and this is the most modern one with tensions and emotions that seem very real today. Got an Opera of the Year award from Opernwelt magazin.
  12. The Tsar's Bride. Rimsky-Korsakov. Berlin State Opera. Anatoli Kotscherga and Olga Peretyatko. Everybody is crazy about this spectacular update, again from Dmitri Tcherniakov with Barenboim.
  13. Written on Skin. Benjamin. Christopher Purves and Barbara Hannigan. Royal Opera. Splendid video of what has been one of the best received new opera of recent years. Has nothing to do with tatoos.
Tuesday
Nov152016

Dolce Vita

Dolce Vita concert. Jonas Kaufmann performs songs in Italian. Jochen Rieder conducts the RAI National Symphony Orchestra Torino at Teatro Carignano. Video directed by Andy Sommer. Released 2016. Grade: Help!

We understand the setlist is:

1. Caruso (Lucio Dalla)
2. Passione (Ernesto Tagliaferri, Nicola Valente, Libero Bovio)
3. Parla più piano (Nino Rota, Gianni Boncompagni)
4. Torna a Surriento (Ernesto de Curtis, Giambattista de Curtis)
5. Musica proibita (Stanislao Gastaldon)
6. Ti voglio tanto bene (Ernesto de Curtis, Domenico Furnò)
7. Fenesta ca lucive (Guillaume Louis Cottrau)
8. Rondine al nido (Vincenzo de Crescenzo, Luigi Sica)
9. Il canto (Romano Musumarra, Luca Barbarossa)
10. Core 'ngrato (Salvatore Cardillo, Riccardo Cordiferro)
11. Voglio vivere così (Giovanni d'Anzi, Tito Manlio)
12. Mattinata (Ruggero Leoncavallo)

Here is a clip about this title:

Preliminary information needs to be verified. If you have seen Dolce Vita, please share with our readers what you think.

 

Tuesday
Nov082016

Opera Gala 2016

The 2016 Opera Gala recital concert from Baden-Baden. Anja Harteros (soprano), Ekaterina Gubanova (mezzo-soprano), Jonas Kaufmann (tenor), and Bryn Terfel (base-baritone) sing opera favorites. Marco Armiliato conducts the Badisische Staatskapelle.  Released 2016, disc has 5.1 PCM and 5.1 dts-HD sound. Grade: Help!

The program includes:

1. Wagner Tannhäuser: "Dich, teure Halle, grüß’ ich wieder"   Anja Harteros
2. Gounod Faust: "Le veau d’or est toujours debout"  Bryn Terfel
3. Mascagni Cavalleria rusticana: "Voi lo sapete, o mamma" Ekaterina Gubanova
4. Puccini Tosca: "E lucevan la stelle"  Jonas Kaufmann
5. Boito Mefistofele: "Son lo spirito che nega"  Bryn Terfel
6. Verdi Un ballo in maschera: "Morrò, ma prima in grazia"  Anja Harteros
7. Mascagni Cavalleria rusticana: "Tu qui, Santuzza?"  Ekaterina Gubanova and Jonas Kaufmann
8. Cilea Adriana Lecouvreur: "Acerba voluttà … L’anima ho stanca"   Ekaterina Gubanova and Jonas Kaufmann
9. Puccini Tosca: "Vissi d’arte"   Anja Harteros and Bryn Terfel
10. Verdi Don Carlo: "Ella giammai m’amò"  Bryn Terfel
11. Verdi Don Carlo: "Ah! Più mai non vedrò la regina ... O don fatale"  Ekaterina Gubanova
12. Verdi Don Carlo: "Tu che le vanità conoscesti del mondo"  Anja Harteros
13. Verdi Otello: "Già nella notte densa"   Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros
14. Bizet Carmen: "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" (Habanera)  Ekaterina Gubanova
15. Mascagni L'amico Fritz: "Son pochi fiori"  Anja Harteros
16. Bock Fiddler on the Roof: "If I were a rich man"  Bryn Terfel
17. Rota: "Parla più piano"  Jonas Kaufmann
18. Lehár Das Land des Lächelns: "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz"  Quartet

The Badisische Staatskapelle also plays several popular selections to give the singers breathing room.

Here's a clip of the quartet singing the last encore:

If you have seen this title, please share your thoughts with our readers.

Tuesday
Nov082016

Strauss Don Quixote & Dvořák Symphony No. 8

Strauss Don Quixote & Dvořák Symphony No. 8 concert. Mariss Jansons conducts the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Features celloist Yo-Yo Ma. Video director was Michael Beyer. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: Help!

If you have seen this video, please share with our readers what you think.

Tuesday
Nov082016

Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 & Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1

The back of the package is white:

Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 & Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1 concert. Khatia Buniatishvili performs in July 2015 with the Israel Philhamonica Orchestra under Zubin Mehta. Although the announcements by Sony, Paramax, and Dolby are a bit unclear, it appears this was shot in 5K and could be published in with a 4K video track that could, of course, be played only on a new 4K player.

What is not clear (to me, anyway) from the information on the back of this package is what video is on this  disc. It appears to be an old-fashion, low-capacity BD25 disc, but perhaps this rather short program fits on a BD25 disc even if the file is in 4K. The specs mention Dolby Atmos "compatible" surround sound. And my impression has been that Paramax is linked to 4K. But if this is a 4K disc, I would have thought that Sony would put up a clear warning that this can't be played on a "2K" Blu-ray player. Finally, I note fine print on the package says this is for "Blu-ray players, including PS 3, only." So I wind up with the conclusion that this is not a 4K product even though there is no 1080i format spec printed on the package. Very strange.  Grade: Help!

Here's a clip with a bit of the Liszt:

If you have any insider knowledge about the format of this title, please inform our readers with a comment!

Tuesday
Nov082016

Bruckner Symphony No. 4

Bruckner Symphony No. 4 (the "Romantic"). Christian Thielemann conducts the Dresden Staatskapelle at the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden in 2015. Video director was Agnes Méth. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: Help!

If you have seen this video, please share with our readers what you think.

Tuesday
Nov012016

Roberto Devereux

Donizetti Roberto Devereux opera to libretto by Salvadore Cammarano. Directed 2016 by Alfonso Antoniozzi at the Teatro Carlo Felice. Stars Mariella Devia (Elisabetta, Queen of England), Sonia Ganassi (Sara, Duchess of Nottingham), Stefan Pop (Roberto Devereux), Mansoo Kim (Lord Duke of Nottingham), Alessandro Fantoni (Sir Gualtiero [Walter] Raleigh), Matteo Armanino (a page), and Loris Purpura (a servant of Nottingham). Francesco Lanzillotta conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Carlo Felice (Chorus Master Pablo Assante). Set design by Monica Manganelli; lighting design by Luciano Novelli; costumes by Gianluca Falaschi; directed for video by Matteo Ricchetti. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here's a clip from Dynamic:

Please help us by writing a comment that we can place here as a mini-review of this title.

Tuesday
Nov012016

Ein Deutsches Requiem

Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem concert. Franz Welser-Möst conducts the Cleveland Orchestra and the Vienna Singverein. Soloists are Hanna-Elisabeth Müller (soprano) and Simon Keenlyside (baritone). Released 2016. 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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