Articles and Reviews

Here's news about high-definition video recordings of opera, ballet, classical music, plays, fine-art documentaries, and painting. We call these recordings "HDVDs." In the journal below are independent (and hard-to-find critical) reports on hundreds of HDVDs. Learn what's available. Pick the titles that suit you best for your personal excelsisphere. It's always been relatively easy to educate yourself about world literature, but hard and expensive to learn about the fine arts. But now with a decent TV, surround sound, and this website, you can at modest cost vastly expand what you know about the arts.

July 26. I just posted a review with screenshots and an "A-" grade for the new Mark Morris L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato dance title.

I recently posted a review with screenshots and an "A" grade for the 2005 Ballo in maschera from the Leipzig Opera. This is the one with the ultra-modern designs from Arnaldo Pomodoro. At about $10.00 in the US and Germany, this is a true bargain. Then right below the Leipzig Ballo is a review of a traditional version of Ballo from the Madrid Teatro Real, which I grade "C+."  Read the two reviews together and discover if you are a traditionalist or a wild avant-garde type.

I also recently posted a review with screenshots and an "A-" grade for a 2014 production of Donizetti's La Favorite. This features aggressive designs from the school of Boussard, Lemiare, Lacroix, and Levi and has a suitcase for a prop like no other suitcase you ever saw.

We have the best reviews anywhere of ballet and dance HDVDs. See our "hit-parade" story with our top picks. ____________________________________________________________________________

Monday
Jul272015

The Grand Organ of Coventry Cathedral

Kerry Beaumont plays the following selections on the grand organ of the Coventry Cathedral:

1. Lemmens "Fanfare"
2. Holst "Mars, the Bringer of War" (The Planets)
3. Mendelssohn "Prelude and Fugue" in C minor
4. J. S. Bach "Come Sweetest Death" (Komm, Susser Tod)
5. Handel "For unto us a Child is Born"
6. Walton "Orb and Sceptre"
7. Messiaen "Jesus accepte la souffrance"
8. Boellmann "Toccata" from Suite Gothique
9. Brewer "Triumphant Song"
10. Beethoven "Moonlight Sonata (1st Movement)"
11. Davies "RAF March Past"
12. Durufle "Prelude and Fugue sur le non d'Alain"
13. Cholley "Rumba sur les Grands Jeux"

Priory specializes in church and organ music. This package has a Blu-ray, a DVD, and a CD! Released 2015.

Grade: Help!

Please help us with a comment or mini-review about this title.

Monday
Jul272015

The Grand Organ of Durham Cathedral

James Lancelot plays the following selections on the grand organ of the Norwich Cathedral:

1. Whitlock "Paean"
2. J. S. Bach "Fantasia and Fugue" in G minor BWV 542
3. Stanley "Andante: Largo" from Trumpet Voluntary (Voluntary in D Op. 6 No.5)
4. F. J. Haydn "Three Pieces for Musical Clocks" Nos. 4, 13 and 25
5. Rheinberger "Sonata No. 7" in F minor Op.127
6. Stanford "Prelude" Op. 101 No. 5 on St. Columba
7. Stanford "Prelude" Op. 101 No. 5 on Gartan
8. Frank "Piece Heroique"
9. Vierne "Intermezzo" (Symphony No. 3)
10. Dupre "Placare Christe Servulis" Op. 38 No. 16
11. Alain "Deux Dances a Agni Yavishta"
12. Alain "Litanies"
13. Hakim "Mariales"
14. Mulet "Carillon-Sortie"

Priory specializes in church and organ music. This package has a Blu-ray, a DVD, and a CD! Released 2014. 

Grade: Help!

Please help us with a comment or mini-review about this title.

Monday
Jul272015

Jonas Kaufmann Box Set

Jonas Kaufmann box set with 4 operas featuring Jonas Kaufmann. Below are the discs. Each of them has already been reported on this website, and you can get more details by using the links provided:

1. Bizet Carmen. 2014. (Grade NA)

2. Gounod Faust. 2014. (Grade NA)

3. Massenet Werther. 2014. (Grade A+)

4. Puccini Tosca. 2014. (Grade NA)

Released 2015. Grade: Help!

We have reviewed only one of these 4 titles, the excellent Werther, which is a traditional production, but made as a movie using the staged version as a location. All the other titles included in the box are updated (not traditional) productions which seem to have been popular with the Amazon customers, mostly for great singing. Early indications are that this will be priced aggressively to give the buyer a good discount. If you are older and set in your ways, you might not be that thrilled with this box. But if you are young and money is be a bit tight, this could be a good value, especially if the Amazon third-party vendors get this in inventory.

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

Monday
Jul272015

Mutter Live - The Club Album

Anne-Sophie Mutter Live - The Club Album concert. Anne-Sophie Mutter performs at the Neue Heimat as part of the Yellow Lounge concert series. Features pianist Lambert Orkis, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, and the Mutter Virtuosi ensemble. The setlist is as follows:

1. Coles, Shelley Forever in Time
2. Vivaldi 3. Presto from The Four Seasons - Concerto In G Minor, RV 315, "The Summer"
3. Gershwin 1. Allegro ben ritmato e deciso from Three Preludes
4. Gershwin 2. Andante con moto e poco rubato from Three Preludes
5. Gershwin 3. Allegro ben ritmato e deciso from Three Preludes
6. J.S. Bach 3. Allegro from Double Concerto For 2 Violins, Strings, And Continuo In D Minor, BWV 1043
7. Tchaikovsky Mélodie from Souvenir d'un lieu cher, Op. 42
8. Vivaldi 1. Allegro non molto from The Four Seasons - Concerto In F Minor, RV 297, "The Winter"
9. J.S. Bach 1. Vivace from Double Concerto For 2 Violins, Strings, And Continuo In D Minor, BWV 1043
10. Brahms Hungarian Dance No.1 In G Minor
11. Debussy 6. Golliwogg's Cakewalk from Children's Corner, L. 113
12. Saint-Saëns Introduction et Rondo capriccioso, Op. 28
13. Debussy 3. Clair de lune from Suite bergamasque, L. 75
14. Copland 4. Hoe-Down from Rodeo
15. J.S. Bach, Gounod Ave Maria
16. Benjamin Jamaican Rumba
17. Williams Theme from Schindler's List

What is this all about? I'll try to explain. The "Yellow Lounge" is a PR campaign of the Deutsche Grammophon recording company. The Yellow Lounge mission is to get classical music before audiences of young people, mostly or entirely by performing in night clubs. The logo of the Yellow Lounge is an abstraction of the famous yellow "picture frame" logo that has been used by DG on its recordings for a long time. (Younger viewers may be familiar with the DVD title Lang Lang at the Roundhouse. This would be an example of a similar Sony initiative to evangelize the dating set.)

The Yellow Lounge is not a specific place. The DG promotion started in Berlin with performances at various venues. DG has tried to export the idea to London, it seems, and maybe other cities.

Die Neue Heimat (The New Home) is a place. It's a big hippy shopping center and pickup destination with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. If you're lonely and in Berlin, visit Revaler Str. 99 (Ecke Dirschauer Str.),  which is now the center of Galaxy Avant-Garde.

Mutter Live - The Club Album was recorded (in 2014-15, I think) at the main concert stage in the Neue Heimat center. The show "recreates the impact" of a show Mutter and friends performed in 2013 at one of the Yellow Lounge events. My guess is that the program for Mutter Live - The Club Album is similar to but different from Mutter's 2013 Yellow Lounge show. And it would appear that this time around, DG was ready to shoot a decent video with VJ Philipp Geist in charge. Released 2015, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. 

Grade: Help!

We will order and review this title for sure. In the meantime, help us with a comment or mini-review. And if I made mistakes in my comments above, please let me know!

Sunday
Jul262015

Mark Morris L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato

Mark Morris L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato dance work.  In 2014, the Mark Morris Dance Group performs, at the Teatro Real in Madrid, the above-named work to Handel's musical ode of the same name, i.e.,  L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato.  Choreography by Mark Morris. Dancers (alphabetical by last names) are Chelsea Lynn Acree, Sam Black, Max Cappelli-King, Brandon Cournay, Rita Donahue, Domingo Estrada, Jr., Jusie Fiorenza, Benjamin Freedman, Lesley Garrison, Lauren Grant, Brian Lawson, Aaron Loux, Laurel Lynch, Stacy Martorana, Claudia Macpherson, Dallas McMurray, Maile Okamura, Brandon Randolph, Billy Smith, Utafumi Takemura, Noah Vinson, Nicholas Wagner, Jenn Weddel, and Michelle Yard.  Jane Glover conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Real Madrid (Chorus Master Andrés Máspero). Solo singers are Sarah-Jane Brandon and Elizabeth Watts (sopranos), James Gilchrist (tenor), and Andrew Foster-Williams (baritone). Set design by Adrianne Lobel; costume design by Christine van Loon; lighting design by James F. Ingalls; directed for TV and video by Vincent Bataillon; produced by François Duplat, Joan Hershey, John Walker, and David Horn. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

The full title of this piece, L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato, might be translated as The Joyful, the Contemplative, and the Typical Man. The starting point for all this was two poems published in 1645 (about 30 years after the death of Shakespeare) by John Milton: L'Allegro (152 lines) and Il Penseroso (176 lines). Probably few people read these eloquent, erudite, and challenging poems today other than candidates for advanced university degrees in English literature. But they were much admired in the past.

In 1740, Handel wanted to use the two poems, which had parallel characteristics, as the basis for a pastoral ode for an orchestra, chorus, and soloists.  James Harris helped Handel by slicing the poems into pieces which he then arranged---shiskabob style---into a single poem. Later Charles Jennens added a short third poem about the moderate or typical man. Handel's ode is full of delightful music that is much easier for us to enjoy today than Milton's text full of odd spellings and references to classical mythology.

Mark Morris, just getting started in his career,  was commissioned by Gerard Mortier, then head of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, Belgium, to write a dance piece based on the Handel ode. The new dance work was premiered in 1988 in Brussels and has been regularly performed since then all over the world. Mortier became artistic director at the Teatro Real in 2008, and he died in March 2014. This recording of  L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato was made at an In Memoriam performance of the work 4 months after the death of Mortier. Morris wrote a special note honoring Mortier that is printed in the keepcase booklet.

There are 32 mostly-short dance scenes in Morris's libretto, which are danced to a "selection of arias and recitatives" from Handel's score. Most of the original Milton poetry is retained, but only about 10 lines of the Il Moderato text gets added to the shiskabob. The dance ideas developed by Morris are directly inspired by Handel's music and also generally and indirectly inspired by the text. BelAir provides a separate chapter on the disc for each dance scene and identifies each dance scene with the name Morris gave it. In the early chapters, it's fairly easy to relate the chapter names to something in the text. But at the middle and end of the program, connecting each  dance scene to the text gets increasingly more problematical.

Here are the "Three Graces" from Chapter 5 (L'Allegro). Everyone dances barefoot in simple but pretty costumes:

The next two shots are from Chapter 6, "Sage and Holy" (Il Penseroso):

Below is a scene from "Haste Thee Nymph", Chapter 7 (L'Allegro). I think poses like this are considered dance-theater:

The next shot below is from Chapter 8, "Come and Trip It" (L'Allegro). This is inspired by the famous lines: "Come, and trip it as you go, on the light fantastic toe."

 

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Friday
Jul242015

The Tsar's Bride

Rimsky-Korsakov The Tsar's Bride opera to a libretto by Ilia Tyumenev. Directed 2013 by Dmitri Tcherniakov at the Schiller Theater, Berlin. Stars Anatoli Kotscherga (Vasily Sobakin), Olga Peretyatko (Marfa), Johannes Martin Kränzle (Grigory Gryaznoy), Tobias Schabel (Grigory Malyuta-Skuratov), Pavel Černoch (Ivan Lykov), Anita Rachvelishvili (Lyubasha), Stephan Rügamer (Bomelius), Anna Tomowa-Sintow (Domna Saburova), Anna Lapkovskaya (Dunyasha), and Carola Höhn (Petrovna). Daniel Barenboim conducts the Staatskapelle Berlin and Staatsopernchor. Set design by Dmitri Tcherniakov. Released 2015, Blu-ray disc has 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.

Friday
Jul242015

Les contes d'Hoffmann

Jacques Offenbach Les contes d'Hoffmann opera to a libretto by Jules Barbier. Directed 2014 by Christoph Marthaler at the Teatro Real. Stars Eric Cutler (Hoffmann), Anne Sofie Von Otter (La Muse/Nicklausse), Vito Priante (Lindorf/Coppélius/Dr. Miracle/Dapertutto), Christoph Homberger (Andrès/Cochenille/Frantz/Pitichinaccio), Ana Durlovski (Olympia), Measha Brueggergosman (Antonia/Giulietta), Altea Garrido (Stella), Lani Poulson (La Mère d’Antonia), Jean-Philippe Lafont (Maître Luther/Crespel), Gerardo López (Nathanaël), Graham Valentine (Spalanzani), Tomeu Bibiloni (Hermann), and Isaac Galán (Schlemil). Sylvain Cambreling conducts the Orchestra & Chorus of the Teatro Real de Madrid. Released 2015, Blu-ray disc has 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.

Tuesday
Jul212015

Ballo in Maschera

Giuseppi Verdi Un ballo in maschera opera to libretto by Antonio Somma. Directed 2005 by Ermanno Olmi at the Leipzig Oper.  Stars Massimiliano Pisapia (Riccardo), Franco Vassalio (Renato), Chiara Taigi (Amelia), Annamaria Chiuri (Ulrica), Eun Yee You (Oscar), Herman Wallén (Silvano), Tuomas Pursio (Enemy of Riccardo), Metodie Bujor (Enemy of Riccardo), and Seung-Hyun Kim (Judge). Ricardo Chailly conducts (1) the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, (2) the Chorus of the Leipzig Opera (Chorus Masters Romano Gandolfi and Sören Eckhof), (3) members of the Orchester der Musikalischen Komödie, and (4) the Leipzig Ballet.  Sets and costumes Arnaldo Pomodoro; choreography by Paul Chalmer; directed for TV by Don Kent; Günter Atteln was TV producer; Paul Smaczny was producer. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

You can see from the artwork on the keepcase that this title has controversial designs. So let's hear now from several qualified critics. First, here are comments from our own John Aitken:

Good things first. This is musically a first-rate Ballo. Massimiliano Pisapia is a suave, musically-intelligent Riccardo, Chiara Taigi a moving and finely sung Amelia, and Franco Vassallo a superb Renato, all marvellously supported musically by Maestro Chailly and the Gewandhaus orchestra. The Ulrica of Anna Maria Chiuri is not to my taste, producing some squally singing, but she is adequate. The Oscar of Eun Yee You is excellent, and the smaller roles are well taken. All in all, it's a musical joy. Bad things next. The costumes, an uneasy cross between early Doctor Who and Trumpton, the UK children's show, don't look particularly well made --- saggy knee pads are not a look to emulate. Ulrica suffers most as a kind of hedgehog --- very silly really. The costumes for the Ball itself are more thoughtful and look good in the final scene. The production and direction are basically bog standard--- nothing to complain about--- but really it is the musical values and the singing and acting of the main singers which give the most pleasure here. For that alone, even with the awful costumes, which at least are amusing, the performance deserves 5 stars. Recommended.

But Patrick Dillon, an opera critic with vast experience, attacks both director Ermanno Olmi and designer Arnaldo Pomodoro with almost frightening intensity in the January 2014 Opera News at pages 63-64. In conclusion he asks, " . . . how could [conductor] Chailly have condoned the miserable spectacle that his two operatically illiterate compatriots [Olmi and Pomodoro] so maladroitly devised?" "Pomodoro" happens to mean "tomato" in Italian. Dillon jokes he was in the kitchen making dinner when he first saw some scenes from this Ballo.  Dillon writes, ". . . if I'd had a few spare pomodori from my cooking, I'd have had a strong urge to hurl them at the screen."

Wow. We need some screenshots to see this for ourselves.

Let's start with an event shot. Here's the audience in Leipzig. Berlin, just a few miles north, is the world center for avant-garde Regieoper. But here in a cozy, modest house we have about as bald and gray of a gathering of opera fans as you could ever expect to see. How are they going to react to ripe tomatos?

Now here's the opening scene showing the Court of Riccardo, Count of Warwick, Governor of Boston. (Nothing in this opera has the slightest connection to Colonial America. Verdi moved the scene to Boston in a desperate effort to satisfy the Italian censor.) Note the massive walls, which are good examples of the most prominent theme in the work of sculptor Pomodoro, i.e., an examination of the underlying structures, ligaments, and sinews that give strength to found objects. Now I'll stop to make a pitch: what's wrong with these walls in this scenario? Isn't the theme of this opera an examination of the underlying strength and weakness of two male protagonists?

The fanciful but drab costumes of the governor and his court co-exist in a real world of ordinary people. Here we see the page Oscar (Eun Yee You) talking to poor villagers. I should also mention now that Ermanno Olmi is an Italian neo-realist film maker whose work is generally oriented to social realism rather than romantic drama:

Now we have a close-up of Riccardo (Massimiliano Pisapia), who is thinking of Amelia, a woman he has fallen in love with:

Next we meet Renato (Franco Vassalio), the closest confidant and secretary to Riccardo. Here he dutifully warns Riccardo that enemies in the court are becoming dangerous. Renato is sincerely trying to protect his close friend and benefactor. Oh, by the way, the Amelia that Riccardo is mooning over happens to be Renato's wife:

There's a petition at court to get rid of a sorceress and seer named Ulrica (Anna Maria Chiara). Aitken says she looks like a hedgehog here. Dillon says she looks like "the Statute of Liberty wrapped in a desiccated Christmas tree." Well, what's wrong with this costume? Pomodoro likes spikes. The spikes here seem to be made of wood, which would be relatively easy for a rustic lady to work with. And didn't they used to burn witches in Europe? Well, this Ulrica is practically a walking bonfire!

 

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Tuesday
Jul212015

Ballo in Maschera

 

Giuseppi Verdi Un ballo in maschera opera to libretto by Antonio Somma. Directed 2008 by Mario Martone at the Teatro Real de Madrid.  Stars Marcelo Álvarez (Riccardo), Marco Vratogna (Renato), Violeta Urmana (Amelia), Elena Zaremba (Ulrica), Alessandra Marianelli (Oscar), Borja Quiza (Silvano), Miguel Sola (Samuel, enemy of Riccardo), Scott Wilde (Tom, enemy of Riccardo), Orlando Niz (A Judge), and César San Martín (Amelia's servant). Jesús López Cobos conducts the Madrid Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (Chorus Master Peter Burian).  Set design by Sergio Tramonti; costume design by Bruno Schwengl; choreography by Duncan Macfarland; lighting design by David Harney; film direction by Ángel Luis Ramírez. Released  2010, disc has 5.1 PCM sound. Grade: C+

I recently reviewed an Un ballo in maschera from the Leipzig Opera, with Chailly conducting, which features modern designs from Arnaldo Pomodoro and a "movie-like" video from opera director Ermanno Olmi and videographer Don Kent. But the set and costumes designs in the Leipzig video have been the target of ridicule from critics who were used to traditional versions of Ballo. Here we review a traditional Ballo production from the Madrid Teatro Real. The screenshots we show below track generally the streenshots we used in our Leipzig Ballo story. By comparing these two sets of screenshots, you can make a better decisions which "flavor" of Ballo you might prefer: traditional or updated.

Here's the opening scene in Madrid with "period" costumes and decor. Verdi was forced by Italian censors to set Ballo in pre-revolutionary Boston (in America), where the libretto makes no historical sense. But we do get a traditional look below complete with a Betsy Ross-inspired flag sewing party. Never mind that Betsy Ross is a myth. Also never mind that the flag the Madrid props department came up is wrong: before the American revolution of 1776, flags had the Union Jack in the upper left position, not white stars on a blue field. Please don't think I'm being snide about the poor props manager; I think the scene below is pretty. But it's not history,  and neither is Ballo. This is an opera about human foibles, sacrifice, redemption, and forgiveness. Set it anywhere, any time, including a dream world that never existed: 

The Madrid theater is rather compact. But the singers strive to be sure every nuance of feeling is clear all the way to the cheapest seat in the sixth level---that's an opera tradition. Here Marcelo Álvarez emotes mightily as Riccardo sharing a secret thought:

Marco Vratogna as Renato warning his friend Riccardo:

Below we have Elena Zaremba as the witch Ulrica. She's telling the sailor (Borja Quiza) his fortune. With this starburst pattern on the stage there's no doubt---even from the furthest seat---who is delivering the line:

Not a bad near-shot of Ulrica contending with Riccardo. But does Ulrica's costume and make-up look real to you?

 

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Friday
Jul172015

La Favorite

Donizetti La Favorite opera to a libretto by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz. Directed 2014 by Vincent Boussard at the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse. Stars Kate Aldrich (Léonor de Guzmán), Yijie Shi (Fernand), Ludovic Tézier (Alphonse XI, King of Castile), Giovanni Furlanetto (Balthazar), Marie-Bénédicte Souquet (Inès), Alain Gabriel (Don Gaspar), and Dongjin Ahn (A Lord). Extras: Éric Afergan, Margo Becz, Evelyne Capot, Joël Capot, Céline Chemin, Sylvie Clanet, Yannick Dubuisson, Valérie Habermann, Patrick Joseph, Antonio Scarano,  Joël Sitbon, and Corinne Vrignon. Antonello Allemandi conducts the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse and the Choeur du Capitole de Toulouse (Chorus Master Alfonso Caiani). Set design by Vincent Lemaire; costume design by Christian Lacroix; lighting design by Guido Levi. Directed for TV and video by Olivier Simonnet; audio production by Philippe Engel; TV production by Pierre Moitron; Executive Producers were Sabrina Azoulay and Jean-François Boyer. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

Let's start this review with a comment from confrère John Aitken:

The cast in this production of La Favorite is a fine one headed by Kate Aldrich as Léonor, the "favorite" of the title, Yijie Shi as Fernand, and Ludovic Tézier as Alphonse XI, King of Castile. There is much to enjoy here. The production has costumes by the renowned couture designer Christian Lacroix. He chooses very strong opposing colours for the ladies, lime green, red and pink, etc.  The men are mostly in black. Overall the designs work well, although in the full glare of Blu-ray, some of the costumes look distinctly unfinished --- perhaps this was meant! At any rate the production is fairly simple, sumptuous to look at, and directed in a very straightforward staging which helps the piece along.

Antonello Allemandi is in charge musically and he produces some wonderful playing from the orchestra. He clearly knows his Donizetti and steers a clear course which neither indulges nor spares the score its many felicities. Kate Aldrich and Ludovic Tézier are established artists of considerable talent who sing superbly throughout, but the icing on the cake is provided by Yijie Shi. Born in Shanghai, he subsequently spent time at the Pesaro Rossini Festival and it shows. He has a lovely even lyric tenor which is completely up to the demands of this difficult music and produces the performance of the evening as Fernand. He is certainly a singer to watch in the future. Smaller roles are somewhat unevenly taken. Marie-Bénédicte Souquet has charm as Inèz, but sadly I could not warm to the Balthazar of Giovanni Furlanetto, who gives a somewhat rough-edged performance. Ideally you need a more authoritative voice for this role. Overall though, and especially for the three principals, this is an excellent disc and will undoubtedly give anyone with a love of bel canto a splendid return for their money.

Mike Ashman, writing in the June 2015 Gramophone (page 90) agrees with Aitken. But on the other hand, Patrick Dillon in the August 2015 Opera News (pages 56-57) says,

Here's another silly production by Vincent Boussard . . . with Vincent Lemaire's cheap-looking sets . . . garishly lit by Guido Levi. . . that gives the cast the sinister look of the undead. And Christian Lacroix's costumes are simply godawful.

So the spat is over designs. Let's jump right into screenshots! The first picture below is from the curtain call with the ladies standing straight looking like the colors in a new box of crayons. For maybe the only time in this production, a plain white light (I think) is used. In the rest of the screenshots that follow I think virtually every image is affected by some color of lighting:

In the early scene below we see one of several instances where green spotlight is used, this time with a reddish and purple background. Even more interesting is the bright, shining suitcase in the hand of our hero Fernand (Yijie Shi). Fernand saw a beautiful woman in church and is leaving the monastery to pursue her even though he doesn't know who she is. I think this might be a variation on Diogenes with his lamp looking for an honest man or for truth. Balthazar (Giovanni Furlanetto), the Father of the order, predicts the future:

Fernand travels by night to an island where he thinks his beloved might live. He's met by members of the court of King Alphonse XI in a wine-colored scene:

Here's more green with King Alphonse (Ludovic Tézier) speaking to a courtier about envy (which, in English-language tradition is green in color):

The costumes were designed by Christian Lacroix. I asked my wife about Lacroix. My wife is not an opera fan and doesn't know her Donizetti from her Ligeti. But she told me all about Lacroix. Based on this small, unscientific sample, I assert that Christian Lacroix enjoys more fame than all the rest of the working opera-costume designers in the world lumped together.  We have other work by Lacroix in HDVDs. His designs for Jewels were very conservative (no doubt as required by the Balanchine Trust). Latroix has teamed up with director Boussand and set designer Lemaire in two other HDVDs: a cheerful Don Giovanni and the recent more radical I Capuleti e i Montecchi.

The costumes Lacroix designed for La Favorite are simple but distinctive and, I think you may agree, quite beautiful. The garments for the leading women are finished impeccably. But Aitken is right, the gowns for the women of the courtiers have distinctive flaws. For example, the gray gown for the red-headed lady below fits her well and is quite neat except for one pleat in the bodice that's left unfinished. The ladies in the background in coral and pink have similar dresses. Then further below is a lady with strings hanging out the back of her dress! This reminds of a girl I knew long ago who was pretty. She was in a car wreck and was left (even after plastic surgery) with a small scar above one eye. She was distraught about this until told her the scar promoted her from pretty to gorgeous. It made her more interesting to gaze at with its vague suggestion of danger and past violence. And the lawyer got her enough in damages to pay for her college! Well, that's one theory for the Lacroix imperfections. Another would be that the director wanted to suggest that courtiers and their wives are defective people:

Alphonse XI really did have a mistress named Léonor. But there was no doubt about their loyalty to each other, and she bore him 10 children. In this opera, she is just "The Favorite." When she was sent by her father to Alphonse, she expected to marry promptly, but this didn't happen. Now she is restless at the same time that Alphonse is learning to appreciate her more:

 

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