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.

November 29. We now have 9 HDVDs of Swan Lake, including two graded "A+." There's no point in publishing any new SL unless its got a lot to offer. The new SL from the Bolshoi has some fine dancing, but defects in the production and in the video recording result in a "D+" grade. Don't take a chance on which SL to buy. Using the Alphalist, read our detailed reviews with screenshots of all 9 Swan Lake recordings now out in Blu-ray.

I recently posted a review and "A+" grade for the Dessay/Flórez Fille du régiment performed 2007 at the Royal Opera House. I recently posted a review of 2015 La fille mal gardée disc by The Royal Ballet, which I graded "A-." This is an update of the same production by The Royal Ballet danced in 2005 and published in HDVD in 2009. The old version is still stronger than the new one and keeps its "A+" grade. Both versions of this classic are grouped together near the top of the journal for your convenience. 

I think I've posted most if not all of the 2015 titles. And I recently posted a review with a bunch of screenshots of the A- Lang Lang in Versailles recital.

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


Swan Lake

 Swan Lake ballet. Music by Tchaikovsky. Recorded 2015.  Libretto by Yuri Grigorovich after the scenario by Vladimir Begishev and Vasily Geltser. Choreography by Yuri Grigorovich after Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov, and Alexander Gorsky. Stars Svetlana Zakharova (Odette/Odile), Denis Rodkin (Prince Siegfried), Artemy Belyakov (The Evil Genius), Yekaterina Barykina (The Princess Mother), Alexei Loparevich (The Tutor), and Igor Tsvirko (The Fool). Other dancers include: Kristina Kretova and Elizaveta Kruteleva (Friends to the Prince), Alexander Fadeyechev (Master of Ceremonies), Angelina Karpova (Hungrian Bride), Anna Rebetskaya (Russian Bride), Anna Tikhomirova (Spanish Bride), Daria Khokhlova (Neapolitan Brife), and Maria Semenyachenko (Polish Bride). The Three Swans are Angelina Karpova, Olga Marchenkova, and Ana Turazashvili; the Four Swans are Yulia Lunkina, Svetlana Pavlova, Margarita Shrainer, and Anna Voronkova; the Waltz Dancers are Karim Abdullin, Ivan Alexeyev, Dmitry Efremov, Egor Khromushin, Nelli Kobakhidze, Anna Okuneva, Yanina Parienko, and Anna Rebetskaya. Pavel Sorokin conducts the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra. Production design by Simon Virsaladze; lighting by Mikhail Sokolov; filmed by Vincent Bataillon; produced by François Duplat. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: D+

After finishing the renovation of their billion-dollar building late 2011, the Bolshoi published two stupendous A+ recordings with BelAir: a Sleeping Beauty and a Bayadère. These both starred Svetlana Zakharova and had updated mise-en-scène with mostly if not entirely new sets and costumes. I suspect that the Yuri Grigorovich Swan Lake, which goes back to 1969, was the next show up for a similar overhaul. But in January 2013,  the month the new Bayadère came out, Grigorovich attained age 86 and an infamous acid attack scandal turned over the Bolshoi fruit basket for a couple of years.  So the Grigorovich Swan Lake was not updated. Instead, it was sent out on the road again as a cash cow that, among other miracles, managed to milk Lincoln Center in New York for two sold-out weeks in July 2014. Meanwhile, I suspect the folks at BelAir were grinding their teeth waiting to continue their contract to record another Bolshoi ballet. And so BelAir found themselves filming in January 2015 not something new, but one of the more decrepit titles still in the Bolshoi repertory.

New York newspaper critics were not kind to the Grigorovich Swan Lake in 2014, but all seemed to agree that conductor Pavel Sorokin and the Bolshoi orchestra did a sparkling job with Tchaikovsky's music. Sorokin et. al. do a terrific job on subject disc as well, and videographer Vincent Bataillon honors them with this nice shot of the oboe player beginning the ballet with his mournful solo:

Below is the grim, dark set for Siegfried's castle and ballroom. The Bolshoi stage is big, and you can see the videographer's dilemma here. If you take extensive whole stage shots, which many balletomanes insist is the the only correct way to film a ballet, then 1080 lines of resolution is not enough to let the viewer see any fine detail or even identify most of the dancers. This would quickly get frustrating for all but the most fanatical ballet fans. (When 4K resolution films of ballet titles come along, I predict that full-stage shots in the great ballet theaters will finally be feasible.) But if the videographer moves in closer, then the crudeness and ugliness of the sets in this production becomes increasingly obvious.

Designer Virsaladze created several special scrims which drop down from the fly into the middle of the stage in several scenes. Below we see a scrim which stands for the Royal Family.  In the mid-range shot below with Knights of the Royal Clan and the Master of Ceremonies,  it's distressing clear how old, poorly executed, and out-of-date the designs are in this production:

Below is Prince Siegfried (Denis Rodkin) in one of the few close shots in the video. It's hard to believe the Bolshoi would dress their lead male dancer in such a  cheap-looking and ill-fitting garment.   This costume probably looks acceptable to a live audience, but nobody is going to be impressed with this in a HT. There is a deep "V" on the front of Siegfied's tunic, and this design is carried over to most of the other costumes:

Below are some of Siegfried's friends. The dull taupe-colored dress worn by the girls are covered with a kind of "fishnet." Caught in the fishnet are what appear to be shards of metallic film:

The Queen's costume is especially hideous:


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La fille du régiment

Donizetti La fille du régiment opera to libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François-Alfred Bayard. Directed 2007 by Laurent Pelly (assistance in directing and dialogue by Agatha Mélinard) at the Royal Opera House. Stars Natalie Dessay (Marie), Juan Diego Flórez (Tonio), Felicity Palmer (La Marquise de Birkenfeld), Alessandro Corbelli (Sergeant Sulpice Pingot), Donald Maxwell (Hortensius), Dawn French (La Duchesse de Crackentorp), Bryan Secombe (A Corporal), Luke Price (A Valet), and Jean-Pierre Blanchard (A Notary). Bruno Campanella conducts the Orchestra (Peter Manning Concert Master) and Chorus of the Royal Opera House (Renato Balsadonna Chorus Master).  Sets by Chantal Thomas; costumes by Laurent Pelly; lighting by Joël Adam; choreography by Laura Scozzi.  Directed for TV by Robin Lough; produced by Peter Byram and Hazels Wright. Released 2015, music was recorded at 48kHz/24-bit and disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital sound output. Grade: A+

The comic opera La fille du régiment isn't as highly regarded as Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore or Don Pasquale. Still, written in 1840, the French version played more than 1000 times at the Paris Opéra-Comique by 1914. After that it lost favor but has recently enjoyed a comeback. This 2007 Dessay/Flórez version at the Royal Opera House was a big hit and came out in 2008 as a prize-winning and popular DVD. Now you can see it in HDVD glory.

The story is simple, so I'll not say too much about the plot. I'll introduce you to the main characters and try to convince you to watch this production for sure if you have any interest in bel canto or comic opera.

It seems the soldiers of the 21st Regiment routed the enemy, but then discovered a new-born baby girl crying on the battlefield. The soldiers "adopted" her and called her Marie. In the first two screenshots (most of which are out-of-order), Marie (Natalie Dessay) and Sergeant Sulpice Pingot (Alessandro Corbelli) revel in Marie's life as "daughter of the regiment." And Marie has promised all her "Daddies" that if she ever marries, she will pick her husband out of their ranks:

Marie serves the regiment in the mess hall and laundry. She also entertains them, here pumping like a rock star with spectacular displays of coloratura extravagance:

The troops adore her:

It seems the French troops were deployed during the Napoleonic Wars in an effort to control the Tyrolean Alps. Here we meet Tonio (Juan Diego Flórez) dressed in traditional Tyrolean costume. He saved Marie's life while they were both climbing a mountain. So now poor Marie find herself fraternizing with the enemy!

The French soldiers catch Tonio and think he's a spy:


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La fille mal gardée

La fille mal gardée ballet with choreography by Frederick Ashton. Music originally composed by Ferdinand Hérold and arranged by John Lanchbery. Staged 2015 at the Royal Opera House. Stars Natalia Osipova (Lise), Steven McRae (Colas), Philip Mosley (Widow Simone), Christopher Saunders (Thomas), and Paul Kay (Alain).  The Cockerel is danced by Michael Stojko; the Hens are Francesca Hayward, Meaghan Grace Hinkis, Gemma Pitchley-Gale, and Leticia Stock; Lisa's Friends are Christina Arestis, Claire Calvert, Olivia Cowley, Fumi Kaneko, Emma Maguire, Kristen McNally, Sian Murphy, and Beatriz Stix-Brunell; the Notary is  Gary Avis, and the Notary's Clerk is Michael Stojko; other minor roles are danced by artists and students at the Royal Ballet. Barry Wordsworth conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Vasko Vassilev). Scenario by Jean Dauberval; designs by Osbert Lancaster; lighting by John B. Read; directed for TV by Ross MacGibbon. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

This title is, of course, an update of the terrific production of La fille mal gardée with Marianela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta performed 2005 and published 2009 (the "old version"). 10 years past after the old version was danced, and The Royal Ballet decided to issue a "new version" danced in 2015 with an all-new cast. To learn more about the story line of this ballet, see my report on the the old version linked above. In my story below, I focus on the differences between the two versions.

At the outset, I note that the sets and costumes for the two versions appear to be the same. But there is considerable difference in the lighting. In the old version, the light is high and bright (except in the storm scene). In the new version, lighting is much reduced to create a more atmospheric look. When needed, local lighting or moving spotlights are used. For an example, compare the 1st screenshot below with the 1st screenshot in the report on the old version. This is not to say that the new version is too dark or morose. To the contrary, the new version appears to be more sophisticated than the old, and there is enough light to make each scene seem plausible and pleasant in my home theater:

Sound recording specifications for the two versions are similar. But the SQ in the new version is somewhat better than in the old, where bass sounds were sometimes distorted or muddy. The video in the new version was shot 10 years after the old version, and there is a sight improvement in video resolution and PQ, which I especially note in the storm scene. In the next streenshot you see nice picture resolution in a shot of the whole corps with only moderately bright light:

Here from the new version is a view of Osipova as Lisa and McRae as Colas. Both of them are more photogenic and also slightly more polished dancers than their counterparts, Nuñez and Acosta, in the old version. However, Osipova doesn't have the fantastic acting skills possessed by Nuñez. And McRae can't match the depth and warmth of Acosta's 1000-watt smile and constant display of heart:

The biggest weakness in the cast of new version is Philip Mosley as Widow Simone, Lisa's bossy mom. Just in case you don't know, Ashton calls for Widow Simone to be danced by a man. Years ago when I first watched this ballet in the old version with William Tuckett cast as Simone, it wasn't until I was in my third viewing of the ballet that I finally caught on to this. Tuckett had the right appearance and acting skills to simultaneously impersonate a woman and be hilariously funny. Poor Mosley does his best and has mastered all the moves, but he's too masculine to pull it off:

Next below we see, from the new version, Christopher Saunders as Thomas, the rich farmer, and Paul Kay, Thomas' half-wit sissy son, Alain. Saunders looks appropriately goofy here, but his counterpart in the old version, David Drew, looked even goofier. Paul Kay is good at comedy (see him in "Elite Syncopations" (MacMillian Triple Bill), but he's built too sturdy and handsome to hack it as the desperately pathetic Alain. Jonathan Howells was perfect for this role in the old version:

I mentioned earlier that Osipova and McRae are exceptionally polished dancers. The longest and most elevated scene in this ballet is known as "The Fanny Elssler pas de deux"[Chapter 17]. I didn't fully appreciate the beauty of this pas de deux until I saw it performed by Osipova and McRae, and here are 5 screenshots to show you what I'm talking about:


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La fille mal gardée

La fille mal gardée is the oldest ballet in today's repertory. This is the leading version today with choreography by Frederick Ashton. Ferdinand Hérold originally composed the music (based on numerous folk songs), and John Lanchbery adapted and arranged the version of the music used on this disc. This was staged 2005 by Alexander Grant and Christopher Carr at The Royal Ballet. Stars Marianela Nuñez (Lise), Carlos Acosta (Colas), William Tuckett (Widow Simone), Jonathan Howells (Alain), David Drew (Thomas), Giacomo Ciriaci (Cockerol), Gemma Bond, Bethany Keating, Iohna Loots, and Natasha Oughtred (hens), Christina Arestis, Deirdre Chapman, Lauren Cuthbertson, Cindy Jourdain, Sarah Lamb, Laura Morera, Vanessa Palmer, Christina Elida Salerno (Lisa's friends), and Alastair Marriott (Notary). Anthony Twiner conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Associate Concert Master Sergey Levitin). Sets by Jean Dauberval; designs by Osbert Lancaster; lighting by John B. Read;  directed for TV by Ross MacGibbon. Released  2009, music was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sound, and disc has 5.1 PCM sound output. Grade: A+

[Special note added November 2015: this title released in 2009 was the first HDVD of La fille mal gardée. In 2015, The Royal Ballet danced and recorded an newer version of the same production with an all-new cast headed by Natalia Osipova as Lisa and Steven McRae as Colas. The story you are now reading is about the 2009 version and it focuses on the plot of the ballet. Our story about the 2015 version  focuses on the differences between the two recordings. I wound up preferring the "old" version (graded "A+") over the "new" version (graded "A"), but some viewers might still prefer the new version over the old. ]

This deliriously delicious disc has it all: non-stop melodies scintillatingly played, beautiful stars who can act, comely corps, celebrated numbers, character dancers gobsmacking your funnybone, plus ingratiating scenery, costumes, and lighting! Innocent love justifies all the tricks played by this not-so-dutiful daughter to get her guy! Impeccable sound and video picture with no motion or artifact issues except in brief dark scenes.

With that glowing endorsement, I should not bother with screenshots, but I can't resist. Once upon a time, there was a small farm in France:

Where Lisa lived:

With her mother, Widow Simone:

Lisa was in love with Colas, a young, poor farmer:


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Lang Lang Live in Versailles

Lang Lang Live in Versailles, a piano recital by Lang Lang, features the following:

1. Chopin Scherzo No. 1
2. Chopin Scherzo No. 2 
3. Chopin Scherzo No. 3 
4. Chopin Scherzo No. 4 

5. Tchaikovsky The Seasons. This should have been called The Months. Here are the 12 short pieces in The Seasons:
-January: "At the Fireside"
-February: "Carnival"
-March: "Song of the Lark"
-April: "Snowdrop"
-May: "White Nights"
-June: "Barcarolle"
-July: "The Reaper's Song"
-August: "The Harvest"
-September: "The Hunt"
-October: "Autumn Song"
-November: "Troika"
-December: "Christmas"

Performed 2015 in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. Directed for TV by Andy Sommer; produced by François Duplat. Released 2015, music was recorded at 48kHz/24-bit and the disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: A-

This private recital was recorded on June 22, 2015.  It was released less than 4 months later, and I got my copy on November 8. That's called shortening the supply chain. This makes producing a Blu-ray disc almost seem like journalism. It reminds me of the movie newsreels when I was a kid in World War II: there would be a big battle in the Pacific; and in just a few months, you could see motion picture clips of the battle at the movie house in your little town---sometimes in color!

There are no extras on the disc. Bravo! The keepcase booklet has only 6 pages.  But that's all you need, and the artwork is gorgeous. This should be a good seller for Sony this holiday season. Sony PR says this performance was "captured in 4K."  The 2015 Blu-ray is a "1K" product, and there is also a DVD. I'll bet you a top-shelf margarita this will come out in 2016 for you to show on your new 4K display. Then we will be able to compare the same show in DVD, 1K, and 4K!

The Chopin Scherzi

Per the keepcase booklet, it's thought that both Chopin and Tchaikovsky visited Versailles. This was enough inspiration for Lang Lang to rent the Hall of Mirrors as the venue for this recital:

A bit of local color:

Lang Lang built a small stage in about the center of the long room. Below he bows at the beginning of the program. A gutsy decision was to do this during daylight, which puts the TV director at the mercy of the weather, as we shall see. (The only HDVD made previously at the Hall of Mirrors was the Mission concert by Cecilia Bartoli---she recorded at dusk and by "candlelight.")

Below we see the live studio audience. There were 10 files of simple folding chairs and about 14 ranks for maybe 140 spectators, all dressed to kill. I think everybody seated had some special connection to Lang Lang or the project. If they accepted the invitation, I think they took on the obligation to sit through multiple retakes without leaving any seat empty. In the picture below you can see 4 lean, white pylons supporting spotlights shining down on the piano. There were 5 camera operators plus a team of 2 on a steadycam. (Most of the operators were women, but I'll just refer to "cameramen.") You can spot 4 cameramen in the image below, and another was, I presume, taking this picture. But you will rarely see them again in the rest of the video:

Only one guy made it to the front row. This is a weak shot, but it's the only one to show all the front-row ladies:

In glorification of his main subject, TV director Sommer used relatively shallow depth-of-field-of-focus for much of his video:

But in the next 3 shots, all magnificent, Sommer well captures the barbaric grandeur of Versailles. I want to  see this later in 4K:


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Puccini Turandot opera to a libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni. Directed 2012 by Giuliano Montaldo at the Teatro Carlo Felice. Stars Daniela Dessi (Turandot), Massimo La Guardia (Emperor Altoum), Mario Malagnini (Calaf), Ramaz Chikviladze (Timur), Roberta Canzian (Liù), Francesco Verna (Ping), Enrico Salsi (Pang), Manuel Pierattelli (Pong), Fabrizio Beggi (A Mandarin), Pasquale Graziano (The Prince of Persia), Annarita Cecchini (First Handmaid), and Simona Pasino (Second Handmaid). Donato Renzetti conducts the Orchestra, Chorus and Children’s Choir of the Teatro Carlo Felice. Set design by Luciano Ricceri; costume design by Elisabetta Montaldo Bocciardo; choreography by Giovanni Di Cicco. Released 2015, 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.



Cinderella ballet. Music by Sergei Prokofiev. Choreographed originally by Alexei Ratmansky in 2002 at the Mariinsky Theatre. This performance was filmed at the Mariinsky in 2013. Stars Diana Vishneva (Cinderella), Vladimir Shklyarov (The Prince), Ekaterina Kondaurova (Stepmother), Margarita Frolova (Stepsister Khudishka), Ekaterina Ivannikova (Stepsister Kubishka), Elena Bazhenova (Fairy/Tramp), Ilya Petrov (Spring), Anton Pimonov (Summer), Maxim Zyuzin (Autumn), and Andrei Solovyov (Winter). Valery Gergiev the conducts Mariinsky Ballet Orchestra. Sets by Ilya Utkin and Yeveny Monakhov; costumes by Elena Markovskaya. Package has both a DVD and a Blu-ray disc. Released 2015, disc has stereo sound only.  Grade: Help!

Preliminary information needs confirmation. I have learned that stereo sound only on a dance title is a good marker for inferior quality overall. So when a dance title comes along with no surround sound, Kerberos attacks and the title goes on the excluded list. Also, I formed the impression in the past that quality control at the Mariinsky is weak and that one can't trust their brand. For example, the Mariinksy Romeo and Juliet, also starring Vishneva and Shklyarov, is a dismal mess that I graded "C-." Still, this Cinderella production live has gotten good reviews around the world. So I gave Kerberos a fresh bone and decided to include subject Cinderella on the website.  This package has been priced quite high. So now I'm shopping around for a discount or a used copy. In the meantime, if you could help us by writing a comment on this, that would be a big help.


Der Freischütz

Carl Maria von Weber Der Freischütz opera to libretto by Friedrich Kind. Directed 2015 by Axel Köhler at the Semperoper Dresden. Stars Adrian Eröd (Ottokar), Albert Dohmen (Kuno), Sara Jakubiak (Agathe), Christina Landshamer nnchen), Georg Zeppenfeld (Kaspar), Michael König (Max), Andreas Bauer (Hermit), and Sebastian Wartig (Kilian). Christian Thielemann conducts the Sächsischer Staatsopernchor and Staatskapelle Dresden (Chorus Master Jörn Hinnerk Andresen). Set design by Arne Walther; costume design by Katharina Weissenborn; lighting design by Fabio Antoci; video direction by Tiziano Mancini. Sung in German; subtitles in German, English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. Released 2015, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

This was produced early in 2015 and released in November 2015---that's fast! During November 2015 and December 2016, the production was still on the boards in Dresden (with a different conductor and cast). So if you couldn't hop on your jet in 2015-16 to see this in Dresden, you could still see it at home and be up-to-date!

We already have a wonderful movie with a traditional romantic version of this work, full of black-magic and supernatural events, renamed Hunter's Bride. The Dresden Der Freischütz (shot live on stage) is set in contemporary times in an unidentified war zone. Reviews suggest that the orchestra playing under Thielemann is extraordinarily good and that all other aspects of the show are effective as a contemporary version of the old story. 

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


Sibelius 7 Symphonies


Sibelius 7 Symphonies (or Sibelius Complete Symphonies) box set. Hannu Lintu conducts the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Helsinki Music Centre. Also includes an introduction for each symphony and other documentary material.  Directed for TV by Timo Koivusalo. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Please help us with a comment about or review of this set.


Bach Christmas Oratorio Ballet

Bach Christmas Oratorio Ballet by John Neumeier. Performed 2014 by the Hamburg Ballet at the Hamburg State Opera. Directed and choreographed by John Neumeier. Alessandro De Marchi conducts the Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chorus of the Hamburg State Opera (Chorus Master Eberhard Friedrich) in performing the Bach Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248). Dancing stars are LLoyd Riggins (A Man), Anna Laudere (The Mother), Carsten Jung (Her Husband), Karen Azatyan (A Shepherd), Silvia Azzoni (Angel), and Alexandr Trusch (Angel). Singing stars are Julian Prégardien (tenor), Mélissa Petit (soprano), Katia Pieweck (contralto), Manuel Günther (tenor), and Wilhelm Schwinghammer (bass). Costumes and lighting by John Neumeier; stage design by Ferdinand Wögerbauer; video direction by Thomas Grimm; produced by Bernhard Fleischer. Sung in German. Subtitles in German, English, French, Korean, and Japanese. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Everything we have from Neumeier in HDVD is wonderful: the A+ La Dame aux camélias and his A+ The Little Mermaid. So this is on our buy list for sure.

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