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.

July 16. Would you like to quickly see the difference between a ballet with a clip-pace of 22 seconds compared to one with a clip-pace of 5.5 seconds? Well, compare my Wonk Worksheet on New York City in Paris and the Wonk Worksheet for Tatiana. The Tatiana video is 4 times faster.  Which ballet do you think would be the easier for your brain to follow? I just gave an A to the new New York City Ballet in Paris title. It's a joy to see a fine-arts video that has no whiff of DVDitis.

Bryan Balmer just published a review of the new BIS video about the astonishing work by the Japanese Bach Collegium in recording all 55 sacred Bach cantatas. Bryan enjoyed the music, but he has issues with video content.

We now have four 4K Titles out. They are a Buniatishvili piano concert, the ROH Nozze di Figaro, a Lohengrin, and a Tosca opera movie. We have on order new gear for playing these titles, and we will report on them soon.

Hank McFadyen



La Favorite

Donizetti La Favorite opera to a libretto by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz. Directed 2016 by Amélie Niermeyer at the Bayerische Staatsoper. Stars Elīna Garanča (Léonor de Guzmán), Matthew Polenzani (Fernand), Mariusz Kwiecień (Alphonse XI, King of Castile), Mika Kares (Balthazar), Joshua Owen Mills (Don Gaspar), and Elsa Benoit (Inès). Karel Mark Chichon conducts the Bayerisches Staatsorchester and the Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper. (Chorus Master Sören Eckhoff). Set design by Alexander Müller-Elmau; costume design by Kirsten Dephoff; lighting design by Michael Baueri. Directed for video by Tiziano Mancini. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here's the official trailer:

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


New York City Ballet in Paris

New York City Ballet in Paris show of 4 one-act works, each to pieces of French music, choreographed by George Balanchine and performed in 2016 in the Paris Théâtre du Châtelet as part of Les Etés de la Danse (The Summers of Dance Festival). This was shown as a Great Performances broadcast on PBS over two nights in February 2017. Works performed are:

1. Walpurgisnacht Ballet from the Charles Gounod Faust opera, first performed as an independent piece by the NYCB in 1980. Stars Sara Mearns, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Louren Lovette, Kristen Segin, and Sarah Villwock. Costumes by Karinska (Barbara Karinska: 1886-1983, Balanchine's favorite costume designer); lighting by Mark Stanley.

2. Sonatine by Ravel, a pas de deux originally written for Violette Verdy and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux in 1975. Stars Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz with solo pianist Elaine Chelton. Lighting by Mark Stanley.

3. La Valse, also created to famous music of Ravel (in 1951).  Stars Sterling Hyltin, Jared Angle, and Amar Ramasar with Marika Anderson, Meaghan Dutton-O'Hara, Gwyneth Muller, Lauren King, Antonio Carmena, Ashley Laracey, Zachary Catazaro, and Ralph Ippolito. Scenery by Jean Rosenthal; costumes by Karinska; lighting by Mark Stanley.

4. Symphony in C to the Georges Bizet Symphony No. 1 in C Major, created in 1947.  (The original name of the ballet was  Le Palais de Cristal). This ballet is performed by more than 50 dancers led by Tiler Peck, Andrew Veyette, Teresa Reichlen, Tyler Angle, Alston Macgill, Anthony Huxley, Brittany Pollack, and Taylor Stanley. Costumes by Marc Happel; lighting by Mark Stanley.

L'Orchestre Prométhée plays under NYCB Resident Conductor Daniel Capps. Produced by François Duplat; directed for TV by Vincent Bataillon. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audo  Grade: A

Alastair Macaulay, the chief dance critic for the New York Times, saw this on PBS TV and gave his stamp of approval to the program and the dancing on February 15, 2017. He also praised the filming by Vincent Bataillon for "sensitive camerawork, in which the screen alternates, excitingly and musically, between long shots showing the full company and full-length views of leading dancers." Right on Alastair! As we have demonstrated on this website, Bataillon is in a class by himself as the leading ballet videographer in the world. Alas, Alastair also expressed the hope that the TV show will become a DVD. Oh, forgive the print critics: they know not what they are missing! (Turns out this was published in Blu-ray and as a DVD, and recently Amazon was selling the Blu-ray a bit cheaper than its homely cousin.)

Can't wait for screenshots! First below is a pretty whole-stage shot from the opening of Walpurgisnacht Ballet. I did a Ballet Wonk Worksheet on this title. Across all 4 works on the disc, 50% of Bataillon's video clips show the entire stage:

And next below is a beautiful part-stage, whole-body shot from the same scene as above. 46% of Bataillon's clips are from this range. So 96% of the clips on this disco show the whole bodies of the dancers:

Sara Mearns:

I think the dancer center in the lighter dress is Lauren Lovette:

Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz in the Sonatine duet:

It was hard to get screenshots from the dark La Valse. The next 4 views below are the best I could do. Ravel's music becomes increasingly disjointed and neurotic before it collapses into a death spiral:


Click to read more ...


Dvořák Requiem

Dvořák Requiem. In 2014 Philipe Herreweghe conducts the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and the Collegium Vocale Gent in a performance of Dvořák's Requiem.  Features soprano Ilse Eerens, alto Bernarda Fink, tenor Maximilian Schmitt, and bass Nathan Berg. Directed for video by Leonid Adamopoulos. Released 2017, disc has dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: Help!

Herreweghe, the Collegium Vocale Gent, and Leonid Adamopoulos teamed up in 2012 to give us a warm, beautiful Bach Christmas Oratorio, that we graded B+, which is a good grade on this website. So I have cautious optimism for this Dvořák Requiem even though it uses large forces, which are harder to film than smaller bands.

Here's an official clip showing extraordinary PQ together with, alas, some suggestions of DVDitis:



Franco Faccio Hamlet opera to libretto by Arrigo Boito (the libretto is in Italian and the real name is Amleto). Directed 2016 by Olivier Tambosi at the Bregenz Festival. Stars Pavel Černoch (Amleto), Claudio Sgura (Claudio), Eduard Tsanga (Polonio), Sébastien Soules (Orazio), Bartosz Urbanowicz (Marcello), Paul Schweinester (Laerte), Iulia Maria Dan (Ofelia), Dshamilja Kaiser (Gertrude), Gianluca Buratto (The Ghost/A Priest), Jonathan Winell (King Gonzaga/A Herald), Sabine Winter (The Queen), Yasushi Hirano (Luciano/First Gravedigger), and Hans-Jorg Ulm (Second Gravedigger). Paolo Carignani conducts the Wiener Symphoniker and the Prague Philharmonic Choir (Chorus Master Lukáš Vasilek). Set design by Frank Philipp Schlößmann; costume design by Gesine Völlm; lighting design by Davy Cunningham; choreography by Ran Arthur Braun; directed for TV by Felix Breisach. Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Another lost opera soul is redeemed by the Bregenz Festival for all the world to enjoy! Here are some images from the production (not subject title disc) that tell you what all the excitement was about.

The Prince:

The mad girl Ofelia:

The play within the play---pop goes the poison:

H'm. To be or not to be?

This certainly looks good. And the critics were wild about this last summer when they saw this live.

Next below are a couple of clips from the TV show that are probably the same as subject disc. The clips are sung in Italian. These subtitles are in German. The first clip is in fact the "To be, or not to be" soliloquy. The second clip is the scene where Hamlet confronts his mother and kills Polonius:

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



Gloria in excelsis Deo

Gloria in excelsis Deo concert of Bach sacred music. In 2013, Masaaki Suzuki conducts the Bach Collegium Japan orchestra and chorus in performing 4 famous Bach choral selections. Soloists were Hana Blažíková (soprano), Robin Blaze (countertenor), Gerd Türk (tenor), and Peter Kooij (bass).

The concert celebrates the conclusion by the Bach Collegium Japan of its marathon project of recording all 55 of the Bach sacred cantatas. Mixed in with the music are comments by various authorities about the cantata project. Here's what's on the disc:

  1. Opening comments by Masaaki Suzuki
  2. Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele, BWV 69
  3. 5 minutes of comments from various members of the orchestra and choir
  4. Freue dich, erlöste Schar, BWV 30
  5. 5 minutes of comments from soloist singers involved
  6. Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191
  7. 5 minutes of comments from the President of BIS Records, the President of the Bach Collegium, and the President of Kobe Shoin Women's University.
  8. "Dona nobis pacem" from Mass in B minor, BWV 232

BIS (out of Sweden) is a highly regarded publisher of audiophile-level music. The sound producer was Jens Braun; the sound engineer was Thore Brinkman; the director of photography for the performances was Shoichi Nishikawa; the executive producer was Robert von Bahr. The music was recorded with 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling. It appears there will be no DVD of this. Grade: B-

I'm going to start off this review by jumping straight into screenshots. My first view below is of conductor Masaaki Suzuki:

The venue was the Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel. The chapel was built in 1981 with acoustics designed for recording. All 55 of the Bach Cantatas were recording here for BIS. Next below is a good shot of the whole orchestra and chorus:

Next below is another whole-orchestra view:

When the camera zooms in, we get a nice part-orchestra shot:

This is what we call a realistic view of a soloist (here the bass Peter Kooij):

The picture of the soprano next below is unrealistic because no member of the audience would be close enough to see her this well. We welcome a few shots like this in a modern video for emphasis and variety, but most of the soloist shots should be realistic:


Click to read more ...


Bruckner Symphony No. 6 

Bruckner Symphony No. 6 recorded 2015 by Christian Thielemann (directing from memory) and the Staatskapelle Dresden. Video Director Henning Kasten; Director of Photography Nyika Jancsó. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: D+

Christian Hoskins, writing in the April 2017 Gramophone at pages 50-51 roundly praises this musical performance. He also writes the only full paragraph by a print critic I've seen yet (in 9 years of reading) about a video recording of a symphony. So here goes:

Video director Henning Kasten, who also oversaw Thielemann's account of the Eight Symphony, maintains visual interest with a well-chosen mixture of close, medium, and distance shots while avoiding the constant use of movement by Agnes Méth in other instalments of the cycle. The camera work includes a number of interior views of the Semperoper as the orchestra plays, which helps create the impression of being at the performance.

Hoskins in his first sentence sums up our philosophy of what makes for a good symphony video. And he is correct that Agnes Méth is associated with hyperactive video (a bit more on that later). When it comes to the symphony video, Hoskins has his heart in the right place. But being a print critic, he just doesn't know what he's doing. (I bet he wrote in his article whether he saw this in DVD, or Blu-ray, or both. Then his editor cut it.)

If Hoskins were to read the rest of our review on this Bruckner Symphony No. 6, he would then know better how to judge a Blu-ray symphony video. So let's get on with it.

The first obligation of the videographer of a symphony is to show the video viewer an image of the whole orchestra so the viewer can get oriented to what is to follow. The image next below appears before Thielemann first enters the stage. This image shows the entire orchestra, but it is not a whole-orchestra shot for our purposes. It is what we call an architectural shot--- one that shows the entire general scene including parts of the beautiful building.

There's nothing wrong with including architectural shots in a symphony video. But the whole-orchestra shot we require for orientation shows all the players taking up the entire image from side to side. The whole-orchestra shot needs to be close enough that the viewer can distinguish the various instruments and see where the different sections of the band are located. In the picture below, you can just barely count the 8 double basses and spot the tympani. Otherwise, you can't tell who is who:

The next view below is a tad better, but it still is not an whole-orchestra shot:

Next below is the best whole-orchestra shot Henning Kasten could come up with. But it still falls short of what we demand because the camera angle is too low. The players on the front of the stage block our view of the players behind. Even though the range is correct, the image fails because orchestra management did not put enough risers on the stage and/or did not insist that Kasten place a camera high enough in the hall to get a good angle down on the players before him:

So with this large orchestra, the videographer has to go to part-orchestra shots to allow the viewer to see where the players are on the stage. Alas, the part-orchestra shot next shown is also too low---this is so frustrating!

As I will show you later, there are only 6 whole-orchestra and part-orchestra views in this entire video, and all of them are seriously defective for lack of enough elevation.  So Hoskins is sadly over-optimistic when he writes of "distance shots." In this video, there is not a single decent distance shot.

Now I think I should show what a proper whole-orchestra or distance shot should look like. The next image is comes from a video of the Concertgebouw Orchestra playing Bruckner Symphony No. 9:

The first of the two images above allows the viewer to see how the orchestra is organized for this performance. True, a few of the 1st violins are not seen on your left, but this would still be considered a whole-orchestra view. The second of the images above is a tad too long-range, but it does show you the entire huge band on the stage. If the video doesn't have views like these of the Concertgebouw, then the video is defective at birth.

Getting back to subject video made at Dresden, we do enjoy about 28 mid-range shots like the next view below of most of the double-basses and some other strings. We have to be grateful for whatever good things come our way:


Click to read more ...


Il trovatore

Verdi Il Trovatore opera to a libretto by Salvadore Cammarano and Leone Emanuele Bardare. Directed 2016 by Francesco Negrin at the Sferisterio Theatre as part of the Macerata Opera Festival. Stars Marco Caria (Il Conte di Luna), Anna Pirozzi (Leonora), Enkelejda Shkosa (Azucena), Piero Pretti (Manrico), and Alessandro Spina (Ferrando). Daniel Oren conducts the Fondazione Orchestra Regionale delle Marche, the Coro Lirico, Marchigiano "Vincenzo Bellini" (chorus master Carlo Morganti), and the Complesso di palcoscenio Banda "Salvadei." Sets and costume design by Louis Désiré; light designs by Bruno Poet. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 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.


Bohème (Lungu)

Puccini La Bohème opera to libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Directed 2016 by Àlex Ollé at the Teatro Regio di Torino. Stars Irina Lungu (Mimì), Giorgio Berrugi (Rodolfo), Kelebogile Besong (Musetta), Massimo Cavalletti (Marcello), Benjamin Cho (Schaunard), Gabriele Sagona (Colline), Matteo Peirone (Benoît/Alcindoro), and Cullen Gandy (Parpignol). Gianandrea Noseda conducts the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Torino. Set design by Alfons Flores; costume and set designs by Lluc Castells; lighting design by Urs Schonebaum; video direction by Tiziano Mancini. Released 2017, 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.


Bach Goldberg Variations

Bach Goldberg Variations concert. Kit Armstrong plays the Goldberg Variations at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam in 2016. Also features earlier polyphonic variations by William Byrd (Hugh Aston's Ground), Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (Six Variations on "Mein junges Leben hat ein End", Six Variations on "Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott"), and John Bull (Thirty Variations on the theme "Walsingham"). Directed for video by Dick Kuijs. Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

This seems to be an interesting educational experience as well as a challenging concert. A performance of the Goldberg Variations usually runs about 50 minutes to an hour. So it appears Kit is trying to give you a good value with 2 hours of music.  Please help us with a review of this title!


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

The top of this story is about the old-fashion 2K Blu-ray version which we now have (July 1, '17). See information on the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version, which is still not widely available, at the bottom. All entries for this concert on the Alphalist link to this story.

The back of the package is white:

Piano Concerto No. 2 & Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1 concert. Khatia Buniatishvili performs in July 2015 with the Israel Philhamonica Orchestra under Zubin Mehta (the Liszt was 1st and the Beethoven several nights later). This is an old-fashion 2K Blu-ray video even though there is no 1080i format spec printed on the package. Disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. I think this is the first fine-arts Blu-ray recording with a sound track for the new Dolby Atmos sound system. (Dolby Atmos is not bound to 4K---it can be played on a 2K disc if you have the right gear and speakers). Directed for TV by Christophe Boula; sound engineers were Jiri Heger and Rafi Eshel; Dolby Atmos mix by Eric Chevallier; Atmos mix artistic director was Mireille Faure (Soundways); produced by Amos Rozenberg. Package claims running time is 57 minutes; actual music on the disc runs about 49 minutes, 42 seconds.  [This title is also available in a DVD version --- so there are 3 versions of this concert in 3 different video form factors: (1) DVD, (2) 2K Blu-ray, and (3) 4K Blu-ray.] Grade: C for the 2K title.

Jeremy Nicholas reviewed this in the 2K version in the March 2017 Gramophone at page 29. He says watching Khatia is as thrilling as hearing her, and neither the lipstick nor the hair with a life of its own deters him. But the visual content causes problems for Nicholas. He states, "Khatia is the only thing worth watching. I lost count of the times the director cut away [from Khatia] at an inappropriate moment, losing the tension, focusing on the wrong section while the piano part was the musical centre of attention." Oh dear, this sounds like DVDitis, doesn't it! Nicholas also complains of weak video resolution.

I just ran a Wonk Worksheet on the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 in 2K to see if I would arrive at the same conclusion as Nicholas as to Christophe Boula's video content. Well, the video content flunks the pace test badly with only 6 seconds per chip. It also flunks the soloist test badly because there are so many unrealistic shots of Khatia. Further, there is not a single shot in the Liszt of the whole orchestra playing. On the other hand, it passes the conductor test and the supershot test, which is usually not too hard to do with a soloist star playing a concerto. If you are not familiar with the jargon in the last few sentences, see our Wonk Worksheet Instructions which explains how we analyze video content on this website.

But before I go further, I have to warn you about a disc authorship problem with this title. If your TV display is set on "vivid" or "bright" mode, you probably will not be able to use the disc menu to navigate! The menu titles are in white. The selected item on the menu changes color to a light gray-blue. If your TV is set in vivid mode, you will not be able to see the slight change in color. To see the menu well, you may have to be in "dark" mode. I took my disc to John Fort in Dallas and played it on a new LG OLED display that had been calibrated at the factory. With that set I was able to read the menu, but the picture seemed rather dark in the Liszt performance. 

Now let's move to some screenshots from the Liszt performance. Screen shots captured from video on a PC always lose luminance and look darker than the image on the TV. So these shots will doubtless look better on your display than here.

The 1st obligation of the video director is to show the home audience the whole orchestra as soon as possible. It appears Christophe Boula did not have a camera in a location where this could be done! So the best he could do was this inane opening shot of much of the orchestra from behind. Note the soft resolution and dim lighting complained of by Jeremy Nicholas:

Below next is a decent realistic shot of Khatia in an early, dramatic solo passage. She develops tremendous power, here, I think, by grasping the piano with her right hand to undergird her core and give her a solid foundation for hammer blows with the left hand:

Here are only 11 decent part-orchestra shots in the video like the one below:

A face shot like the next below is unrealistic since no audience member can see this. A few shots like this are fine; unfortunatey, the video has too many of these views:

Here below is one of the better realistic shots of Khatia as soloist:

This next view pops up often. Is it a conductor-over-backs shot or an unrealistic shot of the soloist? I made a gut call on each of these weak shots---probably coming down about 50/50:

This next one below is clearly a conductor-over-backs shot because Khatia is resting:

Here below is a great shot of Marcel Bergman in a gorgeous solo cello passage:


Click to read more ...

Page 1 2 3 4 5 ... 106