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.

Feb. 6. I just posted a review and A- grade for the new L'Histoire de Manon ballet from the Paris Opera Ballet. It was a tremendous production, but the video is dragged down a bit by technical issues that could have been avoided.

I recently posted a review and A- grade for the new Alvin Ailey dance recital,  which becomes a must-have title for all those who tap their feet. I recently posted a review of the Jonas Kaufmann A- Cav and Pag recently brought out by Sony at a bargain price point. Near the top of the Journal is a recent story about two titles I graded F because I feel they were made for improper and ulterior motives. This topic is a bit strange and I invented new words to deal with it.

This odd symbol is called an "interrobang." It's the mating of a question mark with an exclamation point.  I'm adding this now to the Alphalist to warns you that a title is extremely unusual in some way. My favorite interrobang title is the opera Experimentum Mundi which means "experience your world." Not many people know about it. So in honor of our new symbol, I moved Experimentum Mundi near to the top of the Journal.



Francesca da Rimini

Saverio Mercadante Francesca da Rimini opera to libretto by Felice Romani. Directed 2016 by Pier Luigi Pizzi at the Palazzo Ducale, Martina Franca, Italy. Stars Leonor Bonilla (Francesca), Aya Wakizono (Paolo), Merto Süngü (Lanciotto), Antonio Di Matteo (Guido), Larisa Martinez (Isaura) and Ivan Ayon Rivas (Guelfo). Fabio Luisi conducts the Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia and the  Chorus of the Transylvania State and Philharmonic Orchestra of Cluj-Napoca (Chorus Master Cornel Groza). Set and costumes by Pier Luigi Pizzi; choreography by Gheorghe Iancu; first ballerina was Letizia Giuliani; video direction by Matteo Ricchetti. 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.




Ballet Hispánico

Ballet Hispánico dance recital performed, it appears, in late 2015 at Lincoln Center. Ballet Hispánico, one of the leading dance groups in New York City, is directed by Eduardo Vilaro and has the mission of celebrating Latino culture through dance. Pieces performed were CARMERN.maquia, choreographed by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, and Club Havana, choreographed by Pedro Ruiz. There are no star dancers credited on the keepcase package. This suggests that these are true ensemble works where several (or maybe all) the members of the corps can at any time dance multiple roles including the leads.

The Ballet Hispánico group has its home on the Upper West Side of Mahattan. "Lincoln Center at the Movies" (LCatM) is a new resource. LCatM promoters seek content that (1) has some (perhaps slight) connection the Lincoln Center in Manhattan and (2) can be shown in movie houses around the United States and maybe other countries. An HDVD would be an adjunct profit center. (This business model was invented, of course, by Peter Gelb at the Met.)

It appears all the music for the dances was prerecorded. Nothing is said on the keepcase about who plays anything. Produced by Andrew Carl Wilk; directed for TV by Matthew Diamond. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts sound. Grade: Help!

Here's a YouTube clip about this show:



Manon Ballet

Kenneth MacMillan's L'Histoire de Manon ballet performed May 2015 at the Paris Opera Ballet - Garnier Palace. Music consists of excerpts from the works Jules Massenet arranged and orchestrated by Martin Yates. Choreography and stage directions of Kenneth MacMillan as interpreted by Karl Burnett and Gary Harris with rehearsal director Patricia Ruanne. Stars Aurélie Dupont (Manon Lescaut), Roberto Bolle (Le Chevalier Des Grieux), Stéphane Bullion (Lescaut), Alice Renavand (La maîtresse (mistress) de Lescaut), Benjamin Pech (Monsieur Guillot de Morfontaine), Karl Paquette (Le Geôlier (jailor)), and Viviane Descoutures (Madame). Martin Yates directs the Orchestra of the Paris Opera Ballet. Set and costume designs by Nicholas Georgiadis; lighting by John B. Read. Co-directed for TV by Cédric Klapisch and Miguel Octave. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

We now have 3 Manon titles in HDVD. The earliest HDVD released was the Massenet Manon opera. Then came the Puccini Manon Lescaut opera. Now we consider MacMillan's ballet version. It has yet a different name (L'Histoire de Manon) to distinguish it from the Massenet opera for legal reasons. Another curious fact is that even though the ballet is set to Massenet music, not one note of the Manon opera music is used.  The ballet music is a pastiche of Massenet tunes from some 26 compositions other than the opera.

Both Manon operas have light-hearted and didactic elements and are considered comedies even though the girl ends up dead in both. But MacMillan, famous for including violent action and raw sexual themes in his work, had a darker view of Manon. With MacMillan, every apple in the barrel is rotten. And the Paris Opera direction team reinforces MacMillan's view by keeping this set in pre-revolutionary France with an entire civilisation suffering from terminal decay.

Our first screenshot shows the courtyard at a provincial inn where stage coaches stop for passengers. Every degree of wealth is seen from rat catcher to aristocrat.  On the left seated and dressed in white is Lescaut (Stéphane Bullion), a soldier who is part cop, part gang leader, and all pimp. The woman dancing is Lescaut's mistress (Alice Renavand) whom I'll call "Missy." She is try to entice interest from the aristocrat Monsieur Guillot de Morfontaine (Benjamin Pech) seated on the right dressed in red:

Next below is a close-up of Lescaut and Missy. He shows affection to her here, but much of the time he capriciously humiliates her:

A close-up of Guillot:

Four prostitutes prance for Guillot while beggars prance behind the ladies:

Les misérables:

Lescaut is at the wayside inn waiting for his sister, Manon (Aurélie Dupont), next seen below. Manon is 16. (This is Dupont's last performance after a career of 32 years dancing at the Paris Opera ballet.)  Manon looks innocent, but there has to be a backstory. Her parents have arranged for her to enter an convent. She will soon find a way out of that!

Everyone is interested in the fresh arrival.  Below, the man on the left is an unidentified passenger who can't stop talking to Manon. On the right with the big hat is Madame (Viviane Descoutures) who travels with Guillot to keep him entertained. Madame owns a fabulous brothel and gambling den at the Hotel Transylvanie in Paris, and she's always looking for talent:

Also in the crowd is Le Chevalier Des Grieux (Roberto Bolle). Des Grieux is a student. He's from a noble family with money, but he's living on an allowance from his father. The allowance does not include, alas, a line entry for "keeping  up mistress":


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Alvin Ailey

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dance recital shot 2015 at the David H. Koch Theater (at Lincoln Center) in New York.  Ailey started his company long ago as a home for black artists. Eventually, he dropped the all-black standard to include dancers and choreographers of all races. Still, as you can see from the artwork above, AAADT remains mostly a black operation, and it is probably the leading such dance group in the world.  The program contains the following pieces:

1. Chroma by Wayne McGregor to a score by Jack White and Jody Talbot. Chroma has nothing to do with black experience. Dancers are Jeroboam Bozeman, Sean Aaron Carmon, Sarah Daley, Antonio Douthit-Boyd, Kirven Douthit-Boyd, Vernard J. Gilmore, Yannick Lebrun, Rachel McLaren, Akua Noni Parker, and Linda Celeste Sims. By leading off with this, the AAADT claims that they can take on any modern dance assignment out there. 

2. Grace by Ronald K. Brown to music by Duke Ellington. Brown is black, and his work is rooted in modern, African, and urban styles. Dancers are Linda Celeste Sims, Demetia Hopkins-Greene, Matthew Rushing, Antonio Douthit-Boyd, Vernard J. Gilmore, Grenn Allen Sims, Daniel Harder, Kirven Douthit-Boyd, Belen Pereya, Hope Boykin, and Rachael McLaren. Grace is, I think, considered a dance icon of the American black experience.

3. Takademe by Robert Battle to music by Sheila Chandra. Battle is black and currently the leader of the AAADT. Apparently nobody knows or cares what "takademe" means other than, perhaps, "a dance telling a story." Performed by Jamar Roberts. It's a frantic solo included, I suspect, as a kind of dance joke analogous to a scherzo moment in a piece of classical music.

4. Revelations by Alvin Ailey to traditional black gospel music. Performed by the Company and with star roles by Marcus Jarrell Willis, Hope Boykin, Jacqueline Green, Linda Celeste Sims, Glenn Allen Sims, Michael Francis McBride, Megan Jakel, Marcus Jarrell Willis, Yannick Lebrun, Rachael McLaren, Matthew Rushing, Alicia Graf Mack, Antonio Douthit-Boyd, Jamar Roberts, and Kirven Douthit-Boyd. This is considered Ailey's most profound work.

It appears all the music for the dances was prerecorded. There's no sign of any orchestra in the video, and nothing is said on the keepcase or in the booklet about who plays anything. Produced by Andrew Carl Wilk; directed for TV by Matthew Diamond. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

Finally we are getting something in HDVD from the New York dance scene! Dance in the Big Apple can get confusing. This was shot in the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. But the AAADT should not be confused with the American Ballet Theater (or ABT), that snooty group that considers itself the "American National Ballet Company" and which performs in the Metropolitan Opera building and at the Koch Theater, both at Lincoln Center. Nor should the AAADT be confused with the New York City Ballet, which has its permanent home in the Koch Theater building. The New York City Ballet is the company originally started by George Balanchine.

The AAADT has its home in the New York City Center, an older building located some distance away from Lincoln Center and near Carnegie Hall. Subject title is branded under the name "Lincoln Center at the Movies." I get the impression  producer Wilk could not get either the ABT or the New York City Ballet on board (neither has published anything in HDVD). But Wilk could rent the Koch Theater and offer the space to Mr. Battle and the AAADT. So now Alvin Ailey's company gets to be the first New York dance group to make a Blu-ray disc at Lincoln Center---that's American ingenuity!


McGregor is a white artist who got his start at the Royal Opera Ballet (ROB). Chroma, scary hard, is one of the most talked-about short dance works to come out in recent years, and we have a brilliant recording of it already by stars of the Royal Ballet.

So how do the AA dancers compete in Chroma with the guys and gals of the ROB (the best in the world in this piece)? The AA roots are in modern, African folk, and jazz. AA dancers don't have a full classical background (Swan Lake, Giselle, Jewels, etc.). They lack the full range of movement, dazzling quickness, and abstract acting skills of the ROB dancers. So Chroma was restaged for AA by Antoine Vereecken to ease matters a bit.

First below is a shot of ROB stars (Ed Watson and Mara Galeazzi) in an tricky (and almost salacious) move in Chroma, Scene 1:

Watson Galeazzi duet

Vereecken with AA makes this move easier (and more modest) as we see next below:

From Chroma, Scene 2, Tamara Rojo at the ROB does a spectacular airborne split:

Tamara Rojo airborne split

Next below we see the best AA can do at this point:

Alvin Ailey airborne split

The dancers at the ROB are small, light, limber, and sophisticated. The dancers at AA tend are tall, strong, modest, and responsible. The AA  men all look like Olympic track-and-field stars or even American football players who run the ball or catch 50-yard passes. I preferred the AA men to those in the ROB in the male trio at Chroma, Scene 4. Sorry, they stay on the move and this is the best picture I could get:

Alvin Ailey Chroma Men's Trio

And below is a shot from Scene 5 where the AA dancers sneak some soul into the mix---something McGregor doesn't know anything about:

This Chroma got soul

I also preferred the Vereecken finale (Scene 7) to the chaotic McGregor original. Vereecken reorganizes things and shows more unison dancing than McGregor:

Vereecken Chroma finale


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Alban Berg Lulu opera to libretto by the composer (3-act version completed by Friedrich Cerha in 1979). Directed 2015 by William Kentridge at the Met. Stars Marlis Petersen (Lulu), Susan Graham (Countess Geschwitz), Daniel Brenna (Alwa, Dr. Schön's Son, a composer), Paul Groves (The Painter/The African Prince), Johan Reuter (Dr. Schön/Jack the Ripper), Martin Winkler (The Animal Tamer/The Acrobat), Franz Grundheber (Schigolch), Elizabeth DeShong (The Wardrobe Mistress/The Schoolboy/The Page), Alan Oke (The Prince/the Manservant/The Marquis), Julian Close (The Theater Manager/The Banker), Ashley Emerson (The Fifteen-Year-Old Girl), Jane Shaulis (Her Mother), Kathryn Day (The Designer), Tyler Duncan (The Journalist), Paul Corona (The Servant), James Courtney (The Physician/The Professor/The Police Commissioner), Joanna Dudley (Solo Performer), and Andrea Fabi (Solo Performer). Lothar Koenigs conducts the Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera. Co-directed by Luc De Wit; production design by Catherine Meyburgh; sets by Sabine Theunissen; costumes by Greta Goiris; lighting design by Urs Schönebaum; video direction by Matthew Diamond. Released 2016, disc has Dolby TrueHD surround sound. Grade: Help!

Peter Quantrill, writing in the January 2017 Gramophone (page 82) calls this "the funniest, least absurd, and most approachable Lulu on film."

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


Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci

"Cav and Pag" opera double feature directed and staged 2015 by Philipp Stölzl at the Salzburg Easter Festival (Osterfestspiele).

1. First plays the Pietro Mascagni Cavalleria rusticana to libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzeti and Guido Menasci. Stars Jonas Kaufmann (Turiddu), Liudmyla Monastyrska (Santuzza), Stefania Toczyska ( Lucia), Ambrogio Maestri (Alfio), Annalisa Stroppa (Lola), and Paul Clementi (Turiddu's Son).

2. Then follows the Ruggero Leoncavallo Pagliacci to libretto by the composer. Stars Jonas Kaufmann (Canio), Maria Agresta (Nedda), Dimitri Platanias (Tonio), Tansel Akzeybek (Beppe), and Alessio Arduini (Silvio).

Christian Thielemann conducts the (1) Staatskapelle Dresden and the Sächsischer Staatsopernchor (Chorus Master Jörn Hinnerk Andresen), (2) the Salzburger Bachchor (Chorus Master Alois Glassner), and (3) the Salzburger Festspiele und Theater Kinderchor (Chorus Master Wolfgang Götz).  Stage music by members of the Staatskappelle Dresden. Sets designed by Philipp Stölzl; costumes by Ursula Kudrna; lighting by Heinz Ilsanker; dramatury by Jan Dvořák; director of photography Nyika Jancsó; video direction by Brian Large. Released 2016, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

This is the first time Kaufmann has played either Turiddu (in Cav) or Canio (in Pag). For him to sing both roles on the same night was considered a personal triumph.

Cavalleria rusticana

The Philipp Stölzl set is clever with 6 mini-stages that quickly can be changed independently of each other.  First below we see all 6 in action: 4 with actors, and 2 with scenery:

Stölzl set with 6 mini-stages

Next below we see only the top tier of 3 mini-stages. The stage on the left is showing a video. Individual screens were lowered to blackout the lower tier of mini-stages:

 Top tier of 3 mini-stages

Next below are the 3 lower mini-stages with three matching mini-sets that together form a street scene:

3 lower mini-stages form a street scene

The live audience was forced, of course, to consider all the stages all the time. The videographer has the additional flexibility of zooming in on a single stage and giving the HT audience views like the next below:

Expressionist urban landscape

And, as always, the videographer can get in really close - here we see Turiddu (Jonas Kaufmann) cheating on his wife by visiting his old flame Lola (Annalisa Stroppa). It was fun having her again, but already the thrill has worn off:

Kaufmann and Stroppa

Turiddu has reason to be worried. Lola is now married to the gangster Alfio, played by Ambrogio Maestri seen below center. I'm so used to seeing Maestri as a silly, fat Falstaff - it's fascinating to see him here portraying a brutal criminal. Seated center is Lucia (Stefania Toczyiska), Turiddu's mother. She's paying Alfio protection money. On the right is Turiddu's wife, Santuzza (Liudmyla Monastyrska). What she hears now confirms her suspicion that Turiddu spent the night with Lola:

Alfio and Turiddu's mother


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Mozart Mangled---Malsponsorship and Reverse Product Placement

This is a report on recent HDVDs envolving the mangling of Mozart music in one case of malsponsorship of public domain art and in another case of reverse product placement advertisement.  Volkswagen and Rubolph Buchbinder are the culprits in the malsponsorship mangle. Red Bull is the culprit in the reverse product placement. First I'll introduce the two HDVDs: 

Case 1:

Mozart Piano Concertos played 2014 by Rudolf Buchbinder in Dresden. Buchbinder also conducts the Staatskapelle Dresden in:

1. Piano Concerto No. 20
2. Piano Concerto No. 21  "Elvira Madigan"
3. Piano Concerto No. 27

There is a bonus extra about the making of this recording in 4K. This is a 2K product---it appears there could be a 4K version later. Directed for video by Michael Beyer. Released 2016, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: F

Case 2:

Mozart Die Entführung aus dem Serail opera to libretto by Johann Gottlieb Stephanie (from Christoph Friedrich Bretzner). Directed 2013 by Adrian Marthaler at the Salzburg Airport Hangar-7 entertainment complex (as part of the Salzburg Festival) Stars Desirée Rancatore (Konstanze), Tobias Moretti (Bassa Selim, spoken role), Javier Camarena (Belmonte), Rebecca Nelsen (Blonde), Thomas Ebenstein (Pedrillo), and Kurt Rydl (Osmin). Hans Graf conducts the Camerata Salzburg and Salzburger Bachchor (Chorus Master Alois Glaßner). Costumes by Lena Hoschek; dramatury by Ronny Dietrich; directed for TV by Felix Breisach. Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: F

Malsponsorship of Mozart Piano Concertos

Our case of malsponsorship takes place in a factory where Volkswagen makes nicer cars (Phaetons perhaps). VW, you may recall, is the company that got into a universe of trouble for making criminal cars. The cars were designed to run better and faster on the road while making pollution. But the cars were smart enough to know when then were being tested for pollution: then the cars would run clean. Well, here's a building that is actually a car manufacturing plant called "The Glassy Factory":

And the video is 4K. What does that mean? Well, you never find out, but it looks good in the introduction:

Hard to image that any car made in such a clean place could run dirty:

And now a Mozart chamber orchestra is set up inside the clean factory. What a nightmare it must have been to record sight and sound in this constrained space surrounded by so many hard, reflecting surfaces:


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Jonas Kaufmann - Du bist die Welt für mich

Jonas Kaufmann - Du bist die Welt für mich concert. Features Julia Kleiter (Soprano).  Jochen Rieder conducts the Rundfunksinfonieorchester Berlin (The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra). Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

This appears to be the Tracklist for the live performance in Berlin:

  1. Introduktion
  2. Franz Lehár - Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert! from Giuditta
  3. Emmerich Kálmán -  Grüß mir mein Wien from Gräfin Mariza
  4. Robert Stolz -  Frag nicht, warum ich gehe from Das Lied ist aus
  5. Hans May - Ein Lied geht um die Welt
  6. Robert Stolz -  Im Traum hast du mir alles erlaubt from Liebeskommando
  7. Ralph Benatzky Es muss was Wunderbares sein from Im weißen Rössl
  8. Richard Tauber -  Du bist die Welt für mich from Der singende Traum
  9. Mischa Spoliansky - Heute Nacht oder nie from Das Lied einer Nacht
  10. Werner Richard Heymann - Irgendwo auf der Welt from Ein Blonder Traum
  11. Franz Lehár - Hab' ein blaues Himmelbett from Frasquita
  12. Franz Lehár - Gern hab' ich die Frau'n geküsst from Paganini
  13. Franz Lehár - Dein ist mein ganzes Herz! from Das Land des Lächelns
  14. Erich Wolfgang Korngord -  Glück, das mir verblieb from Die tote Stadt
  15. Paul Abraham - Reich mir zum Abschied noch einmal die Hände from Viktoria und ihr Husar
  16. Paul Abraham - Diwanpüppchen from Die Blume von Hawaii

The Berlin 1930 TV documentary has this similar list of songs:

  1. Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert!
  2. Gern hab' ich die Frauen geküsst
  3. Hab' ein blaues Himmelbett
  4. Dein ist mein ganzes Herz!
  5. Grüss mir mein Wien
  6. Frag nicht, warum ich gehe
  7. Im Traum hast Du mir alles erlaubt
  8. Ob blond, ob braun, Heute Nacht oder nie, Irgendwo auf der Welt (Traumfabrik Berlin, Jan Kiepura)
  9. Ein Lied geht um die Welt
  10. Du bist die Welt für mich
  11. Das Lied vom Leben des Schrenk, Im weissen Rössl, Es muss was Wunderbares sein (Eduard Künneke)
  12. Glück, das mir verblieb
  13. Reich mir zum Abschied noch einmal die Hände
  14. Diwanpüppchen

Kaufmann is now in a class of 1 as the world's leading opera tenor. And he can move over into operetta and high-class show songs big-time without sounding stilted. This is out now in a CD, DVD, and Blu-ray. ArkivMusic has given the CD version its Recommended designation, so the Blu-ray stands to be pretty good.

I can't explain why it has taken so long for us to notice this. Kaufmann has so many titles out now it's hard to keep track of them. It appears even the big players like Sony and Amazon are overwhelmed by Kaufmann and find themselves unable to coherently and accurately market his recordings. For example, I looked hard to find the right keepcase artwork for this title. What you see above is fairly clear, but it's not the right shape. And I could not find any photos of the rear of the package that are legible. Why do the distribution folk go the trouble to publish rear-of-the-package artwork in thumbnail versions that noboby can read?

The songlist information above comes from disc PR and needs to be confirmed by someone who buys the disc and can check out what in fact in on it.


Experimentum Mundi

Giorgio Battistelli Experimentum Mundi opera (composed 1981). Staged and directed 2013 by the composer himself at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. Percussion by Nicola Raffone; voce recitante (both spoken and sung narration) by Peppe Servillo. Star performers and "accidental musicians" include male craftsmen and female citizens of Albano Laziale, a suburb of Rome. Filmed by Giancarlo Matcovich. The aspect ratio of the video is given as 16:9. But the film (while recorded at 30fps) is in "letterbox" format similar to the Cinemascope picture ratio of 1:2.35 that was used in Written on Skin. The music was recorded for stereo and surround using 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. This is the only HDVD so far that has the score reprinted in the keepcase booklet (the front page of the score is also on the keepcase cover). But we know of no resource with the text of the libretto.    Grade: A

The Latin title of this unique work, Experimentum Mundi, translates into English as "Experience of the World." Battistelli isn't speaking of experiencing the whole globe. To the contrary, what we experience here is a tiny and disappearing part of the world. The word "opera" means "works." So the term "experimental opera" refers both to Battistelli's composition and to the real-world crafts that are celebrated in the piece. Enough of theory for now. Let's jump right into screenshots.

Of the forces on stage, two persons are traditional classical musicians, and each of them wears white tie. Below is Battistelli, the composer and conductor. He was born in 1953 in Albano Laziale and started work on Experimentum Mundi at about age 20. After much trial and error, he finished the piece in 1981 when he was 28. It was his first opera, and he's written about 20 others since. I'm confident this was performed at night in the open-air arena that's part of the Auditorium Parco della Musica. There's no light except from small spots turned on from time to time as the piece progresses. This turns out to be extremely dramatic, but was doubtless a tough project for film-maker Matcovich:

The other white tie is on percussionist Nicola Raffone. He provides, of course, leadership in the performance and some melody with his drums (no keyboard instruments). He's the principal in a most unusual and much augmented percussion section:

Another driving force is the "voce recitante" or narrator Peppe Servillo, a self-taught singer, actor, and composer. He's a kind of bridge between the classical musicians and the worker-percussionists. So he gets to wear an open shirt and doesn't have to shave. He has a beautiful singing voice which he uses in a few bars. But mostly he adds tremendous personality to a somewhat quirky and obscure libretto:

The world that Battistelli wants us to experience is the world he knew as a child in his small town (then rather distant from Rome) as he wandered about watching and listening to all the craftsmen working at their trades. All the members of the augmented percussion section are men. Battistelli had to figure out a way to get a feminine touch into the mix. He also loved the sights and sounds of the ladies praying in church. He recruited four ladies (originally five) to provide a feminine background sound.  The ladies repeat names, prayers, and other repetitive text in a kind of murmur. You can't understand anything they say and there are no subtitles. Battistelli doesn't call the ladies "worshipers." He calls them "witches" or "fortune-tellers." The murmuring sound provides filler and a softening buffer for the cacophony that is conjured up by the men. The ladies from rear to near are Paola Calcagni, Anna Rita Severini, Elvira Battistelli, and Tiziana Delle Chiaie:

The piece opens with the odd sound of eggs dropping into a pool in the batter that the pastry-maker (Marcello Di Palma) will turn into pasta. Whipping and mixing sounds open up a rhythmic "singing line" for the entire opera to come. Originally, the narrated text was in French. Now it's in Italian. The translation of "Open waffle iron" maybe should have been, "Flat uncovered grill."

The narrator directs our attention to the next craft to be in the spotlight and to add new sounds: the cobblers or shoemakers:

The cobblers are Giovanni Piersanti and Guido Salustri. They make whirring sounds sharpening their tools and pounding noises as they work the leather over their lasts. (I should point out that all the craft activities in this work are performed manually---there are no power tools around.):

One of Battistelli's objectives as a composer was to break free of the chains in classical music that bind the orchestra to precise time-keeping and regular rhythms. Masons Ciro Paudice and Luigi Battistelli come in next with the sloppy, slushy, irregular sounds of mixing mortar. Later they will build a wall:


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Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare Much Ado About Nothing film. Adapted for the screen and directed by Joss Whedon. Stars Amy Acker (Beatrice), Alexis Denisof (Benedick), Jillian Morgese (Hero), Fran Kranz (Claudio), Reed Diamond (Don Pedro), Clark Gregg (Leonato),  Sean Maher (Don John), Spencer Treat Clark (Borachio), Riki Lindhome (Conrade), Nathan Fillion (Dogberry), Ashley Johnson (Margaret), Emma Bates (Ursula), Tom Lenk (Verges), Nick Kocher (First Watchman), Brian McElhaney (Second Watchman), Joshua Zar (Leonato’s Aide), Paul M. Meston (Friar Francis), Romy Rosemont (The Sexton), and Elsa Guillet-Chapuis (mute role as Court Photographer). Music by Joss Whedon; cinematography by Jay Hunter; edited by Daniel Kaminsky and Joss Whedon; produced by Joss Whedon and Kai Cole. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

This is a delightful film version of Much Ado that follows the plot well with maybe 40% of the original text trimmed. Has English subtitles. The text that's left still makes you work.  But the visual telling of the love stories carries you along even before you master the text.  The whole film was made almost as a lark on a shoestring budget (more later on that). Whedon also published a book about the film which has the complete screenplay:

For once, you get a bargain.  I bought the HDVD from an Amazon third party vendor for about $6 and the book for about $3. So with shipping this came to about $15 total.

Below we find Leonato, Governor of Messina (Clark Gregg) with his daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese) and his niece Beatrice (Amy Aker). They are discussing the return from the wars of Benedick, a young Lord with whom Beatrice has an ongoing "merry war" of wits. Beatrice asks:

The august Atlantic magazine doesn't follow movie and TV stars much. But here's what Terrence Rafferty had to say in the July/August 2015 issue of Atlantic (page 99 or so): "Maybe the most spectacular recent example of a young American . . . tackling a classical part is Amy Acker's radiant Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing, Joss Whedon's nimble, and very faithful, 2012 movie. . . . she's at least as formidable a Beatrice as Emma Thompson was in Branagh's 1993 Much Ado, and Acker is, I think, more touching and finally more believable."

Next below is Claudio (Fran Kranz), another returning soldier. He meets Hero and it's love at first sight:

Now we meet dour Benedick (Alexis Denisof) shoring up his defenses against Beatrice:

Glittering entertainment:

Meet Elsa Guillet-Chapuis, the Court Photographer. She kept getting in the rushes by accident, so Whedon, in total control, fixed that by making her part of the cast:

The friends conspire to trick Beatrice and Benedick into falling in love. The trick requires action on two fronts. Here's Front 1: Claudio, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), and Leonato discuss (while they know Benedick is listening) how obvious it is that Beatrice loves Benedick:

Which starts to break through Benedick's defenses:


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