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.

October 4. Holiday gift buying will start soon. Many new titles are being pushed out the door now with fragmentary information and poor artwork.

I recently added a review with screenshots of Mozart's first important opera, La finta giardiniera (the Fake Garden Girl) filmed in 2006 at Zurich Opera. I'm also working on a new La finta from Opera Lille. I see now that the Zurich version opens stronger than the Lille. But the Lille ends stronger. To truly appreciate how good La finta is, you may need to have both discs! More soon.

I recently posted a review of the B  grade Sommernachtskonzert 2015 made at the Schönbrunn Park in Vienna and a story about the B+ Mutter Live-The Club Album shot at a Berlin nightclub. Everybody frets that classical music is dying. Well, Anne-Sophie has come to town riding on the shoulders of VJ Philipp Geist and armed with her Strad, and they are going to save the classics!

I recently posted a review of the A+ Les Parapluies de Cherbourg jazz opera, a concoction that's so easy to understand and love. 

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



Verdi Falstaff opera to libretto by Arrigo Boito. Directed by Robert Carsen at the Metropolitan Opera. Stars Ambrogio Maestri, Angela Meade, Stephanie Blythe, Lisette Oropesa, Franco Vassallo, Paolo Fanale, and Jennifer Johnson Cano. James Levine conducts the Metropolitan Opera, Orchestra & Chorus. Released in 2015. Grade: Help!

Early information woefully incomplete and needs confirming.

Please help us with a comment or mini-review for this title!


L'elisir d'amore

Donizetti L'elisir d'amore opera to libretto by Felice Romani. Directed 2005 by Otto Schenk at the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus. Stars Rolando Villazon (Nemorino), Anna Netrebko (Adina), Leo Nucci (Belcore), and Ildebrando d'Arcangelo (Dulcamara), Inna Los (Gianneta) and Michael Burggasser (Dulcamera's assistant). Alfred Eschwé conducts the Orchester and Chor der Wiener Staatsoper. Sets and costumes by Jürgen Rose; directed for TV by Karina Fibich. Released 2015. Grade: Help!

Information is incomplete and needs confirmation.

The way they were. This was a much-admired DVD that came out in 2007, the year that HDVD began. We still need a good picture of the back act or other accurate information on credits. Then it remains to be seen how well this looks and sounds republished in HDVD.

If you have seen the Blu-ray version, please help us by writing a comment that we can place here as a mini-review of this title.


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). 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 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

The information above is incomplete.

This is, of course, an update of the terrific production of La fille with Marianela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta performed 2005 and published 2009. 10 years have past and the cast is all new. This latest HDVD stands to have better technical specs than the predecessor, but Nuñez and Acosta will be hard to beat!


Król Roger

Karol Szymanowski King Roger opera to libretto by the composer and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz. Directed 2015 by Kasper Holten at the Royal Opera House. Stars Mariusz Kwiecien (King Roger II of Sicily), Georgia Jarman (Roxana), Saimir Pirgu (Shepherd), Kim Begley (Edrisi), Alan Ewing, (Archbishop), and Agnes Zwierko (Deaconess). Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Peter Manning) and the Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Director Renalto Balsadonna). Designs by Steffen Aarfing; lighting design by John Clark; video design by Luke Halls; choreograpy by Cathy Marston; dramaturgy by John Lloyd Davies; directed for video by Ian Russell. Released in 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio surround sound. Grade: Help!

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


La finta giardiniera

Mozart La finta giardiniera opera (composed at age 18) to a libretto possibly from Giuseppe Petrosellini. Directed by Tobias Moretti at Opernhaus Zürich in 2006. Stars Eva Mei (Sandrina), Christoph Strehl (Il Contino Belfiore), Rudolf Schasching (Il Podestà Don Anchise), Isabel Rey (Arminda), Liliana Nikiteanu (Il Cavalier Ramiro), Julia Kleiter (Serpetta), and Gabriel Bermúdez (Nardo). Nikolaus Harnoncourt directs the Orchestra "La Scintilla" of the Zurich Opera. There is no chorus. Set design by Rolf Glittenberg; costumes by Renate Martin and Andreas Donhauser; lighting by Jürgen Hoffmann; directed for TV by Felix Breisach. Released 2009, disc has 5.1 dts-HD sound. Grade: A

This is the same title that was released in 2009 by TDK.  TDK phased out of HDVD and the rights to their HD titles were taken up by others. You may be able to find a TDK version of this at a true bargain price.

This is the Italian language version of La finta giardiniera. It was performed maybe three times during Mozart's life and then lost for about 175 years until a manuscript was discovered in the 1970s. Although early rather than mature Mozart, it's a complete three-hour-long work with an intriguing opera buffa libretto to keep you on your toes, interesting characters, lots of laughs, and a steady parade of arias suffused with that limpid tenderness that distinguishes Mozart from all others.

There are 7 characters, and below we meet 5 of them, all claiming in a jaunty quintet to be happy . But we can see from their faces that all of them are in misery. Let's find out why! On your right is Don Anchise (Rudolf Schasching) the mayor or Podestà of the town:

Below we see that the Podestà is desperately in love with Sandrina (Eva Mei), dressed in green, even thought Sandrina works in the household as a humble garden girl. The Podestà, who is willing to marry down for true love, doesn't know that Sandrina is a phony garden girl (the "finta giardiniera"). She is really Countess Violante Onesti. The Countess had a terrible fight with her boyfriend, who tried to kill her in a fit of madness and then fled. So she is now living undercover as she tries to find her departed lover. (Why doesn't the Podestà recognize the Countess?  Why does Sandrina want to find the boyfriend? Why does taking a fake identity help the cause? My friends, this is opera buffa!)

The maid is Serpetta (Julia Kleiter), a classic opera buffa sassy servant. You can see she has the hots for the Podestà and hopes to marry up. The gent below in green is Nardo (Gabriel Bermúdez), a servant of Countess Violante, who pretends to be a gardener and cousin of Sandrina. He is in love with Serpetta, which would be appropriate. But Serpetta has her sights set high and studiously ignores Nardo:

The man with the earphones and red jacket is the knight Ramiro (Liliana Nikiteanu in pants), a poet and philosopher. He was dumped by a mysterious woman and now nurses a broken heart:

There are 54 recitatives and singing numbers in this opera, so everybody will get to pour out his heart multiple times. Here Sandrina bemoans the plight of all women:

Now we meet our remaining two characters. The Podestà, who is middle class, has a niece, also middle class but wealthy, named Arminda (Isabel Rey). Arminda arrives at the Podestà's villa to marry a man the Podestà has found for her, a certain Count Belfiore:


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Sommernachts Konzert 2015

Sommernachtskonzert 2015 (2015 Summer Night Concert). On May 14, 2015 Zubin Mehta conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker in the annual Summer Night Concert at the Baroque Park of the Schönbrunn palace in Vienna. Features pianist Rudolf Buchbinder. Sound produced by Raimund Langner; directed for TV by Henning Kasten. Released 2015, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B

Here is the program:

1. Richard Strauss, Fanfare für Wiener Philharmoniker  

2. Carl Nielsen, Maskarade: Overture

3. Edvard Grieg, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A Minor (Buchbinder)

4. Alfred Grünfeld, Soirée de Vienne (Buchbinder encore)

5. Christian Sindling, Frühlingsrauschen (Rustle of Spring) 

6. Edvard Grieg, Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 

7. Jean Sibelius, Finlandia


8. Hans Christian Lumbye, Kopenhagener Eisenbahn-Dampf-Galopp

9. Johann Strauss II, Wiener Blut - Walzer

The Vienna Schönbrunn (Pretty Fountain) is my favorite palace. It's in the city with easy public transportation, has a huge park with many attractions, and is home to an excellent and informative palace tour. Most of the great city orchestras have an outdoor summer concert for large crowds of the locals, and this summer-night event with the Vienna Phil at Schönbrunn is probably the most impressive of them all. Here's a shot of the central formal garden area of the park on a normal day:

The picture above was made from the roof of the back of the main palace building. The cleared area in the forest is at least 100 meters (110 yards) wide. It runs about 400 meters (quarter mile) downhill to Neptune's Fountain. From there a grassy field runs uphill another 400 meters to the Gloriette building at the horizon line. The Gloriette is about a half mile away from the palace. The cleared park area you see here is about 100+ x 800 meters for a total of some 20 acres.

Next below is a shot of the same area last in the afternoon of the Sommernachtskonzert. People are waiting for the music all the way from the palace to the Gloriette! Park officials assert that the crowd has in recent years reached 100,000:

The investment in facilities and gear to pull this off is huge with a giant portable band shell (including a piano elevator), elaborate crowd control, live video installations, vast lighting, loudspeaker, and recording facilities, sky-cams (and maybe drones), plus fireworks. Here's the band shell:

A few lucky (wealthy) people have chairs;

But most stand. In the back of the park, between Neptune's Fountain and the Gloriette, visitors sit on the grass:

There's no place for TV cameras to get an whole-orchestra shot:

The show opens with a fanfare Richard Strauss wrote for the orchestra, here being performed by double brass and tympani. This is the best image of the orchestra on the disc:


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Mutter Live - The Club Album

Anne-Sophie Mutter Live - The Club Album concert. Anne-Sophie Mutter performs May 7 and 8, 2015 at the Neue Heimat nightclub in Berlin as part of the Yellow Lounge concert series. Features Mutter's long-time accompanist, pianist Lambert Orkis, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, and the Mutter Virtuosi ensemble. Also features a live video installation by VJ (that's video jockey) Philipp Geist. The setlist is as follows:

1. Vivaldi 3. Presto from The Four Seasons - Concerto In G Minor, RV 315, "The Summer"
2. Gershwin  Allegro ben ritmato e deciso from Three Preludes
3. Gershwin  Andante con moto e poco rubato from Three Preludes
4. Gershwin  Allegro ben ritmato e deciso from Three Preludes
5. J.S. Bach. Allegro (3rd movement) from Double Concerto For 2 Violins, Strings, and Basso continuo In D Minor, BWV 1043 (Noa Wildschut, solo violin II)
6. Tchaikovsky "Mélodie" from Souvenir d'un lieu cher, Op. 42
7. Vivaldi Allegro non molto from The Four Seasons - Concerto In F Minor, RV 297, "The Winter"
8. J.S. Bach Vivace (1st movement) from Double Concerto For 2 Violins, Strings, And Continuo In D Minor, BWV 1043 (Nancy Zhou solo violin II)
9. Brahms Hungarian Dance No.1 In G Minor
10. Debussy "Golliwogg's Cakewalk" from Children's Corner
11. Saint-Saëns Introduction et Rondo capriccioso
12. Debussy "Clair de lune" from Suite bergamasque
13. Copland "Hoe-Down" from Rodeo
14. J.S. Bach/Gounod "Ave Maria"
15. Arthur Benjamin "Jamaican Rumba"
16. John Williams "Theme from Schindler's List" 

What is this all about? Here goes: 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. The Yellow Lounge also has a motto: "use your ears as eyes." Here at HDVD, our version of the motto would be: "use your eyes as ears." (Younger readers may be familiar with the DVD title Lang Lang at the Roundhouse. This was an earlier and similar Sony initiative to evangelize the dating set.)

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

Die Neue Heimat (New Home) is a place. It's a hippy shopping center with restaurants, bars, and at least one nightclub where people dance to DJ music, etc. If you're lonely and in Berlin, visit Revaler Str. 99 (Ecke Dirschauer Str.), which is now, I guess, the Pickup Center of Galaxy Avant-Garde. Look for this sign across a driveway to a huge old barn-like building:

Mutter Live - The Club Album was recorded in May 2015 (and reached my mailbox 4 months later) at the main dance floor in the middle of the Neue Heimat club. The show "recreates the impact" of a show Mutter performed in 2013 at another Yellow Lounge event. My guess is that the program for Mutter Live - The Club Album is similar to the 2013 show. But this time, DG also hired video jockey Philipp Geist to back up Mutter with an installation. Throughout the concert, you see weird videos on the walls. Pretty soon you realize that the ghostly but vivid images are partly of Mutter and her group playing! (At first I thought this was just part of a night-club environment that makes cool images of club patrons with their best dance moves. But now I think the images were provided special for this concert.) Well, for sure you know you are not at Wigmore Hall. 

Finally, although not a word is said about it in the Blu-ray package or in the PR, this was recorded with 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling (according to my Oppo BDP-93). Released 2015, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+

If you have stayed with me this long, you deserve some screenshots. The first set of music includes "Mutter's Virtuosi." The 1st violins are Ye-Eun Choi (concertmaster), Nancy Zhou, and Fanny Clamagirand. 2nd violins are Agatha Szymczewska, Noa Wildschut, and Albrecht Menzel. On viola are Vladimir Babeshko and Hwayoon Lee. Cellos are Kian Soltani and Pablo Ferrández. Dominik Wagner is on bass:

Lambert Orkis has been with Mutter as long as many of the patrons in the club have been alive:

Mahan Esfahani on harpsichord:

Mutter works the crowd pretty well. With all the special lighting, the club was in fact super hot, not cool. Somewhere I heard the heat threaten to melt the finish on Mutter's Stadivarius:


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Il barbiere di Siviglia

Rossini Il barbiere di Siviglia opera to libretto by Cesare Sterbini. Directed 2009 by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier at the Teatro Regio di Parma. Stars Changhan Lin (Fiorello), Juan Diego Flórez (Count Almavira), Pietro Spagnoli (Figaro), Joyce DiDonato (Rosina), Alessandro Corbelli (Doctor Bartolo), Ferruccio Furlanetto, (Don Basilio),  Jennifer Rhys-Davies (Berta), Bryan Secombe (Ambrogio), Christopher Lackner (Officer), and Andrew Macnair (Notary). Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Vasko Vassilev) and the Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Director Renato Balsadonna). Set designs by Christian Fenouillat; costume design by Agostino Cavalca; lighting design by Christophe Forey; directed for screen by David Stevens; produced by Frances Whitaker. 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.


Mahler Symphonies 1-10

Mahler Symphonies 1-10. This is a Box Set of all 10 Mahler symphonies played by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra as conducted by Paavo Järvi. These titles were released earlier as follows:

1. Mahler Symphonies 1-2

2. Mahler Symphonies 3-4

3. Mahler Symphonies 5-6

4. Mahler Symphonies 7-8

5. Mahler Symphonies 9-10

Released 2015, all discs have 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: Help!



Maria Stuarda

Donizetti Maria Stuarda opera to libretto by Giuseppe Bardari. Directed by David McVickar at the Met. Stars Joyce DiDonato (Maria Stuarda), Elza van den Heever (Elisabetta), Matthew Rose (Talbot), Joshua Hopkins (Cecil), Matthew Polenzani (Leicester), and Maria Zifchak (Anna Kennedy). Maurizio Benini conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Sets and costumes design by John Macfarlane; lighting design by Jennifer Tipton; choreography by Leah Hausman. Released 2015, disc has 5.0 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.

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