Titles by Category

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.

December 2. I just posted a review of the 2016 Royal Ballet Nutcracker. We have on our Alphalist a thorough rundown and grade on each of the 10 Nutcracker Blu-rays you could order for a Christmas present!

I just updated and added screenshots to the Priory title The Grand Organ of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Finally we have reported on all 5 of the Priory organ Blu-rays. These exemplary recordings include a Blu-ray video, a DVD video, and a CD! Each of these titles has a fine program of organ music played by virtuoso musicians. In addition, there are fabulous bonus extras with information about the cathedrals, the towns where they are located, the details of each organ instrument, and a discussion of each selection that is played in the recital. Never before was so much value in recordings conveyed for such a modest price.  To see information on all these Priory titles, just go to the left navigation bar and click on "Priory" under "Titles by Publisher." Then all 5 Priory stories will be instantly produced for your enjoyment! _______________________________________________________________________________

Friday
Dec082017

The Car Man

The Car Man dance production. Music by Georges Bizet and arranged by Terry Davies. Choreographed and directed by Matthew Bourne. Recorded 2015 at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London. Stars Kerry Biggin, Cordelia Braithwaite, Tom Clark, Danny Collins, Pia Driver, Freya Field, Glenn Graham, Tim Hodges, Katy Lowenhoff, Nicole Kabera, Katrina Lyndon, Kate Lyons, Andrew Monaghan, Leon Moran, Liam Mower, Dominic North, Jonathan Ollivier, Danny Reubens, Ashley Shaw, Zizi Strallen, Chris Trenfield, Alan Vincent, and Katie Webb. Set and costume design by Lez Brotherston; lighting design by Chris Davey; orchestrated by Terry Davies; sound design by Paul Groothius; associate director was Etta Murfitt; resident director was Neil Westmoreland. Released 2017. Grade: Help!

As best we can tell, subject title should not be confused with the popular 2001 DVD recording (which was criticised for an extremely fast video pace) of the original 2000 production. Subject title appears to be a new 2015 recording. (We're not sure who directed the video recording). It appears Bizet's music is used wholesale but that Bourne's libretto has only the vaguest connection to the Carmen opera story.  Also, this appears not to be homoerotic--- we think it's about guys fighting over a girl(s) and the mess this makes at the garage.

If you know more about this, please help us out with a comment!

 

Friday
Dec082017

Des Königs Zauberflöte

Des Königs Zauberflöte opera produced as a motion picture film of live theater performances. Based on Die Zauberflöte opera with music by Mozart and a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, with additional dialogue by Klaus Jörg Schönmetzler. Directed by Enoch zu Guttenberg at the Prinzregententheater München in 2013. This is your captain speaking: Fasten your seatbelts---severe turbulence ahead!

(Most of the opera singers named in this paragraph play a double role, as is explained below.) Stars Gerd Anthoff (The Real Papageno), Tareq Nazmi (Sarastro/König Ludwig II), Jörg Dürmüller (Tamino/Kaiser Franz Joseph I), Antje Bitterlich (Konigin der Nacht/Ezherzogin Sophie von Österreich), Susanne Bernhard (Pamina/Kaiserin Elisabeth), Jochen Kupfer (Papageno/Max Emanuel Herzog in Bayern), Gudrun Sidonie Otto (Papagena/Lilla von Bulyovsky), Martin Petzold (Monostatos/Fürst Bismarck), Marc-Olivier Oetterli (Sprecher/Alfred Karl Graf Eckbrecht von Dürckheim Montmartin), Michael Mantaj (First Priester/Maximilian Graf von Holnstein), Bernhard Hirtreitter (Second Priester/Dr. Bernhard von Gudden), Miriam Meyer (First Dame | Marie Luise Gräfin Larisch-Wallersee), Olivia Vermeulen (Second Dame/Helene Erbprinzessin von Thurn und Taxis), Hilke Andersen (Third Dame/Esperanza Freifrau Truchsess von Wetzhausen), Matthias Aeberhard (First Geharnischter Mann/Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand), Marcell Bakonyi (Second Geharnischter Mann/Kronprinz Friedrich Wilhelm von Preußen), as well as Nicolas Brunhammer, Elias Mädler, and Valentin Kuchler (Drei Knaben/Pagen der Königlich Bayerischen Pagerie). Nicolas, Elias, and Volentin are soloists from the Tölzer Knabenchor.

Enoch zu Guttenberg conducts the Orchester KlangVerwaltung and the Chorgemeinschaft Neubeuem. Scene designs by Volker Thiele; dramaturgy by Klaus Jörg Schönmetzler; motion picture film direction by Ruth Käch. The motion picture version was released in Blu-ray form in 2017 with music recorded with 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio and Dolby Atmos sound. The Blu-ray is played at 60 frames per second rather than the normal 24 fps.

(Keep your seatbelts on!) Next I'll say a bit more about the various artists who bring this work to us. Then I'll  briefly discuss the 3 layers of artistic creation that are mashed up in this unique title.

1. Farao is a small independent recording company that mostly makes classical CDs. This is the first Farao Blu-ray title. The singers credited above seem to be mostly (if not all) fully-qualified opera singers on their way up---Jochen Kupfer is the only singer who has previously appeared in a Blu-ray opera (as Sixtus Beckmesser). The Orchester KlangVerwaltung (in English this translates as "Sound Administration Orchestra" or maybe better as the "Sound World Orchestra) is an independent band of expert classical musicians, similar perhaps to a festival orchestra, who self-conduct or collaborate with conductors in deciding how to perform their programs. They often work with Enoch zu Guttenberg. Since Enoch doesn't have full responsibility for orchestra performances, he seems to have extra energy to serve as opera stage director and producer. Ruth Käch has one previous video credit on this website.

2. There are 3 sources mashed together in this opera:

  • All the familiar characters from the standard Mozart Zauberflöte libretto are present.
  • In the late 19th century, German aristocrats enjoyed playing roles in German operas (and theater plays) in amateur productions aimed at showing how well-educated they were. This movie portrays a purely fictional effort by the "mad" King Ludwig II of Bravaia and other historical Germen luminaries to put on Die Zauberflöte. That is why Jörg Dürmüller plays the duel roles of Tamino and Kaiser Franz Joseph I. The "King" refered to in the title of Des Königs Zauberflöte is Ludwig II. (Ludwig was the one who built that phony fairly-tale castle in Bavaria that all the tourists think is real. He also got Wagner out of hock and paid for Wagner's theater at Bayreuth.)
  • To make things more zany, director Enoch zu Guttenberg added a "real" Papageno character who sits in the audience. This real Papageno arises from his seat and enters the play to make corrections using text written by Klaus Jörg Schönmetzler.

This mash-up was first presented live on stage in 2010 and again in 2013 in Germany. Video made at the 2013 performances was made into the Des Königs Zauberflöte movie, which was shown in theaters in 2016; the Blu-ray was released in 2017. Grade: Help!

(Unfasten seatbelts!) This show will doubtless be challenging to watch if you are not already well familiar with the text as Mozart knew it. Fortunately, we have written for your enjoyment a complete outline of the original Zauberflöte libretto. Some people complain that Die Zauberflöte is hard to follow and understand. That's because they have never read the entire libretto or our outline of it. The original libretto is completely logical and self-contained (by fairy story standards of logic).

 Good luck with Des Königs Zauberflöte! Here's something from YouTube to get you started:

 

Saturday
Dec022017

The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker ballet. Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Choreographed by Peter Wright after Lev Ivanov. Directed 2016 by Peter Wright.

Stars Gary Avis (Drosselmeyer); Francesca Hayward (Clara, Drosselmeyer's god-daughter); Alexander Campbell (Hans-Peter/The Nutcracker, Drosselmeyer's nephew), and:

  • Act 1. Luca Acri (Drosselmeyer's Assistant); Caroline Jennings and Susan Nye (Maiden Aunts); Barbara Rhodes (Housekeeper); Christopher Saunders (Dr. Stahlbaum, Clara's father); Elizabeth McGorian (Mrs. Stahlbaum); Caspar Lench (Fritz, Clara's  brother); Benjamin Elia (Clara's Partner); Kristen McNally (Grandmother); Alastair Marriott (Grandfather); Christina Arestis (Dancing Mistress); Johannes Stepanek (Captain); Fernando Montaño (Harlequin); Leticia Stock (Columbine); Marcelino Sambé (Soldier); Mayara Magri (Vivandière); Lukas Bjørneboe Brændsrød (St. Nicholas); Nicol Edmonds (Mouse King)
  • Act 2. Lauren Cuthbertson (Sugar Plum Fairy); Federico Bonelli (The Prince); members of the London Oratory Junior Choir (Singers); Christina Arestis, Johannes Stepanek, Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani, Fernando Montaño, Tierney Heap and Eric Underwood (Spanish Dance); Itziar Mendizabal, Ryoichi Hirano, Reece Clarke, and Nicol Edmonds (Arabian Dance); Luca Acri, Marcelino Sambé (Chinese Dance); Kevin Emerton and Paul Kay (Russian Dance); Meaghan Grace Hinkis, Emma Maguire, Mayara Magri, and Leticia Stock (Dance of the Mirlitons); Yuhui Choe (Rose Fairy); Matthew Ball, James Hay, Tomas Mock, Valentino Zuccheti (Rose Fairy Escorts); Claire Calvert, Helen Crawford, Hikaru Kobayashi, and Beatriz Stix-Brunell (Leading Flowers).

In addition, artists of The Royal Ballet and students of the Royal Ballet School portray Snowflakes, Relatives, Friend's of Stahlbaum family, Soldiers, Mice, Servants, Children and other roles.

Boris Gruzin conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Peter Manning) and the London Oratory Junior Choir (Choir Director Charles Cole). Designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman; lighting by Mark Henderson; production consultant was Rolan John Wiley; staging by Christopher Carr; ballet mistress was Samantha Raine; ballet master was Jonathan Howells; assistant ballet mistress was Sian Murphy; principal coaching by Christopher Carr, Jonahtan Cope, Viviana Durante, and Jonathan Howells; Benesh notators were Mayumi Hotta and Lorraine Gregory. Directed for screen by Ross McGibbon. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: B

I did a detailed review of this same production (with an earlier set of star dancers) in 2013. I gave it a B and declared it not competitive with stronger competition. I went on to say, "The Peter Wright production could be competitive again if the Royal Ballet would revive it with (1) new sets and costumes, (2) drill the female corps more thoroughly, (3) write new divertissement dances, and (4) make a clean, bright video." Now we have our revival, so let's see how the Royal Ballet has done by The Nutcracker between 2009 and 2016. 

At the outset I'll say that the choreography, sets, and costumes are basically identical in 2009 and 2016 except that in Act 2 the 4 rather insipid Chinese dancers from 2009 are reduced to 2 in 2016.  Now let's look at 7 screenshots from the 2016 Act 1 showing the Stahlbaums' party and Clara's dream. For each of these 7 shots there is a doppelgänger in the 2009 review for you to compare if you like.

In 2016, Clara is danced by the warmly brunette Francesca Hayward and her friend is portrayed by Benjamin Ella:

Clara's mom (Elisabeth McGorian), dad (Christopher Saunders), and grandfather (Alastair Marriott) are the same:

Gary Avis is the same splendid Drosselmeyer:

And the dream battle upfolds the same. If you compare these 7 shots from 2009 and 2016, you can clearly see that MacGibbon has better cameras in 2016 than before. The 2016 images are sharper and MacGibbon was able to get better color even in the dark scenes. The generally "washed out" look from 2009 is gone.  In my 2009 viewing, I complained that the costumes looked old and worn. Now I see that my criticism of the costumes arose in part because the 2009 cameras generally were not able to make pretty images of them. Another difference between 2009 and 2016 is that MacGibbon in 2016 generally increased the range of his camera views throughout. He was able to do this, of course, thanks to the greater resolution available from the 2016 gear. So this time the ROB has produced the "clean, bright video" I asked for.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Nov282017

The Lovers' Garden

The Lovers' Garden ballet. Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Choreographed by Massimiliano Volpini. The Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala is directed and staged 2016 by Mauro Bigonzetti at the Teatro alla Scala. Stars Nicoletta Manni (A Woman), Roberto Bolle (A Man), Marta Romagna (Queen of the Night), Claudio Coviello (Don Giovanni), Christian Fagetti (Leporello), Mick Zeni (Il Conte di Almaviva), Emanuela Montanari (Rosina), Walter Madau (Figaro), Antonella Albano (Susanna), Valerio Lunadei (Guglielm), Angelo Greco (Ferrando), Vittoria Valerio (Fiordiligi), and Marta Gerani (Dorabella). Features the following string quartet members and soloists of the Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala: Francesca Manara and Daniele Pascoletti (violin), Simonide Braconi (viola), Massimo Polidori (cello), Andrea Manco (flute), Fabian Thouand (oboe), and Fabrizio Meloni (basset clarinet). Set and costume design by Erika Carretta; lighting design by Marco Filibeck. Released 2018, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

A mash up of Mozart chamber and opera music with new choreography for the Ballet alla Scala ---an intriguing idea! No good YT clip so far.

Tuesday
Nov282017

Pique Dame

Tchaikovsky Pique Dame opera (The Queen of Spades) to a libretto by Modest Tchaikovsky. Directed 2016 by Stefan Herheim at the Dutch National Opera. Stars Misha Didyk (Herman), Alexey Markov (Count Tomsky/Plutus), Vladimir Stoyanov (Prince Yeletsky), Andrei Popov (Chekalinsky), Andrii Goniukov (Surin), Mikhail Makarov (Chaplitsky), Anatoli Sivko (Narumov), Larissa Diadkova (The Countess), Svetlana Aksenova (Liza), and Anna Goryachova (Polina/Daphnis). Mariss Jansons conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Chrous of the Dutch National Opera (Chorus Master Ching-Lien Wu), and the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderkoor (Chorus Master Caro Kindt). Decor and costumes by Philipp Fürhoffer; lighting by Bernd Purkrabek; video direction by Misjel Vermeiren. Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here's an official trailer:

Tuesday
Nov282017

Le nozze di Figaro

Mozart Le nozze di Figaro opera to libretto by Lorenza da Ponte. Directed 2004 by Jean-Louis Martinoty at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. Stars Pietro Spagnoli (Il Conte d'Almaviva), Annette Dasch (La Contessa d'Almaviva), Rosemay Joshua (Susanna), Luca Pisaroni (Figaro), Angelika Kirchshlager (Cherubino), Sophie Pondjiclis (Marcellina), Alessandro Svab (Antonio), Antonio Abete (Bartolo), Enrico Facini (Don Basilio), Pauline Courtin (Barbarina), and Serge Goubioud (Don Curzio). René Jacobs conducts the Concerto Köln and the Chœur du Théâtre des Champs Elysées. Set design by Hans Schavernoch; costume design by Sylvie de Segonzac; lighting design by Jean Kalman; choreography by Cookie Chiapalone. Produced by François Duplat; directed for video by Pierre Barré. Released 2017, has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Why did it take so long for this to come out in Blu-ray? It was recorded in 2004 and released in 2007 in a highly-regarded DVD with 5.1 Dolby Digital.  I usually don't show YT clips in SD.  But I make an exception here with two clips below showing how pretty this production was (note how crude the subtitles look). The question remains whether this older film is good enough to benefit from Blu-ray presentation. If you have seen the new Blu-ray, please give us your opinion on this!

Tuesday
Nov282017

Renée Fleming In Concert

Renée Fleming In Concert two disc "box" set, released 2017. Christian Thielemann conducts both concerts. Below are the discs. Both have already been reported on this website, and you can get more details by using the links provided:

1. Richard Strauss: Renée Fleming In Concert. Vienna Philharmonic. 2011. (Grade: D+)

Includes the following performances:

1. "Befreit" ("Released")
2. "Winterliebe" ("Winter Love")
3. "Traum durch die Dämmerung" ("Dream at Dusk")
4. "Gesang der Apollopriesterin" ("Song of the Priestess of Apollo")
5. "Mein Elemer!" ("My Elmer" from the opera Arabella)
6. Eine Alpensinfonie

2. Bruckner Symphony No. 7 & Wolf Lieder. Dresden Staatskapelle. 2012. (Grade: N/A)

Includes the following performances: 

1. Hugo Wolf songs: "Verborgenheit",  "Er ist's", "Elfenlied", "Anakreon's Grab", and "Mignon" (Second Verson)
2. Richard Strauss "Befreit"
3. Bruckner Symphony No. 7

 

Monday
Nov272017

Pas de Deux

Pas de Deux ballet compilation with performances by many of the famous Royal Ballet stars from recent years. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

All told, there are 19 titles listed below counting the various double and triple versions Opus Arte has published of some ballets. There are 16 pas de deux performances on the disc from the 14 ballets listed below. So it appears there will be 2 versions for two of the titles. Or maybe there will be two different pas de deux scenes from one or two titles. Sorry for all the confusion.

How many of the 19 titles do you already own? (We have all of them.) As soon as we get complete information, we will report on exactly which duos appear in the compilation. Here are the ballets represented:

Monday
Nov272017

The Grand Organ of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Richard Lea plays the following selections on the grand organ of the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral:
1.        Tielman Susato & Henry Purcell  "Mohrentanz and Rigaudon"         
2.        Jon Kristian Fjellestad  "Toccata"
3.        G. Ronald Mason "A Song of Sunshine"                 
4.        Stephen Adams (arr. Dr. A. H. Claire) "The Holy City"                
5.        J. S. Bach "Liebster Jesu Wir Sind Hier BWV 731"             
6.        Joseph Bonnet   In Memoriam - Titanic             
7.        "Prelude on Londonderry Air" (arr. Noel Rawsthorne)           
8.        George Martin  "Theme One" (arr. Dr. A.H. Claire)          
9.        Paul McCartney "Save The Child"  (arr. A. H. Claire)          
10.      Franz Liszt "Fantasia and Fugue on 'Ad Nos Ad Salutarem Undam'" 

Priory specializes in church and organ music. The package has a Blu-ray, a DVD, and a CD! Per the publisher, this is the first organ recital to be released in Blu-ray. Recorded and produced by Paul Crichton; filmed and edited by Richard Knight; Associate Producer was Callum Ross; Executive Producer was Neil Collier. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Grade: A

Unlike later editions in this series that take place in centuries-old Anglican cathedrals, this title is filmed in a modern, Roman Catholic cathedral. Here we see the exterior of the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, completed in 1967:

The interior is one massive room with the altar in the center and the organ console nearby:

Below is a shot of the cathedral from the ground level:

The design aesthetic, while using elements of traditional church iconography, certainly feels more at home in a modern-art museum than a typical cathedral:

Below we see Organist and Assistant Director of Music for the Metropolitan Cathedral, Richard Lea:

For a few moments during "Theme One" by George Martin, organist's assistant Charlotte Rowan joins Lea in an unusual 4-hands organ passage:

 

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Nov182017

Anastasia

Anastasia ballet. Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Bohuslav Martinů. Choreography by Kenneth MacMillan as realized by Deborah MacMillan. Staged 2016 at the Royal Ballet.

Stars Christopher Saunders (Tsar Nicholas II); Christina Arestis (Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna); Rory Toms (Tsarevitch Alexey); Olivia Cowley (Grand Duchess Olga); Beatriz Stix-Brunell (Grand Duchess Tatiana); Yasmine Naghdi (Grand Dutchess Marie); Natalia Osipova (Grand Duchess Anastasia); Thiago Soares (Rasputin); Kristen McNally (Anna Vyrubova/Matron/Peasant woman); Alastair Marriott (Tsar's Aide-de-Camp); Ryoichi Hirano, Valeri Hristov, Alexander Campbell, and Edward Watson (Four Officers). 

  • Act 1. Luca Acri, Tristan Dyer, and and Marcelino Sambé (Three Officers); Mica Bradbury (Maid).
  • Act 2. Marianela Nuñez (Mathilde Kschessinska); Federico Bonelli (Kschessinska’s Partner); Vincenzo Di Primo  (Revolutionary).
  • Act 3. Natalia Osipova (Anna Anderson); Edward Watson (Anna Anderson's husband); Tristan Dyer (Anna Anderson's Brother-in-Law).

Artists of the Royal Ballet appear as Officers, Guests, Soldiers, Revolutionaries, Nurses, Peasants, Visitors, Relatives.

Ballet masters were Christopher Saunders, Gary Avis, and Jonathan Howells; ballet mistress was Samantha Raine; principal coaching by Jonathan Cope and Viviana Durante. Simon Hewett conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Sergey Levitin). Electronic music provided by the studio of The Technical University of West Berlin (Fritz Winckel and Rüdiger Rüfer); designed by Bob Crowley; lighting design by John B. Read; staging by Gary Harris; directed for the screen by Ross MacGibbon. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+

This is from the 2016 revival at the ROH. Both Laura Morera and Natalia Osipova were well received in the lead, but Osipova is the more famous and got the star berth in the video.

Grand Duchess Anastasia was the youngest daughter of the last Russian Tsar. We now know that the Bolsheviks murdered Anastasia (then age 17) with all the rest of the Tsar's family on July 17, 1918. But Kenneth MacMillan never knew this---he died before the true fate of Anastasia was revealed through DNA sleuthing. Some 30 women claimed to be Anastasia. One of them, a Polish peasant named Franzisca Schanzkowska, was successful at this in a way truly stranger than fiction---all this is brilliantly explained in the keepcase booklet by Frances Welch, a Russian history expert. Suffice to say now that when MacMillan choreographed this work, he didn't know if his ballet was a sad true story of ironic suffering or a depiction of a fraud perpetrated by a mental patient. So MacMillan wrote a ballet that works fine either way!

Below we encounter Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna (Christina Arestis) with her four daughters. They are, from left to right, Grand Duchess Marie (Yasmine Naghdi), Grand Duchess Tatiana (Beatriz Stix-Brunell), Grand Duchess Olga (Olivia Cowley) and Grand Duchess Anastasia (Natalia Osipova):

The family enjoys an outing on the royal yacht. The woman in gray is Anna Vyrubova (Kristen McNally), the Tzarina's best friend (MacMillan has lots of fine touches like this on stage to keep you on your trivia toes):

Anastasia, the naughtiest of the 4 girls, takes off her roller skates to cavort with the young officers. They treat her like a little sister:

Christopher Saunders below bears a remarkable resemblance to Tsar Nicholas II. Here he reads with Tsarevitch Alexey (Rory Toms). Alexey is heir to the throne, but he suffers from a terrible case of hemophilia:

Even a simple fall at play is a life-threatening crisis for Alexey. The peasant priest Rasputin (Thiago Soares) has a way of helping Alexey recover from his injuries. Rasputin leveraged this talent into bizarre influence over the Tsarina and her daughters:

Even though the Russian Empire is being depleted by WWI, the Tsar and Tsarina take out time to introduce Anastasia to society at a glittering ball. Rasputin is always hovering about:

The stage design gives many hints that all of Act 1 is taking place at a mental hospital in the mind of Franzisca Schanzkowska. Most of these design elements are hard to see in screenshots, but you can't miss the unreal chandeliers:

 

Click to read more ...

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