Here's news about high-definition video recordings of opera, ballet, classical music, plays, fine-art documentaries, and painting. 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.

Aug. 16. I recently posted 8 new titles in the journal.  The Royal Ballet gave a recital late in 2015 honoring the retirement of Carlos Acosta with various works, and I recently posted this under the name Viscera. Wonk Baldmer recently posted a story about From the New World, in which Andris Nelsons directs the Bavarian Radio Symphony in 4 pieces that are connected (sometimes just barely) with the US and modern music. Good ideas, but for us, the video content is dragged down by DVDitis.

We now have 4 HDVDs of the Verdi opera Rigoletto. The best is the Met "Rat Pack" version with Diana Damrau. Arthaus has a traditional contender at a super-budget price, and there's also a traditional Rigoletto from Regio di Parma. The caboose is a well-intended but weak updated version from Opera Australia. See all 4 now near the top of page 2 of the journal.

Help up stamp out DVDitis in the symphony titles! But how do you spot the symptoms of this dread disease?  Check out the new Wonk Worksheet that lets you play doctor! Fill one out, send it to us, and maybe go viral!

There's too much DVDitis out there infecting our classical music Blu-rays. But there are exceptions. Here's a list of the best classical music HDVDs, all with 96kHz/24-bit sound, no DVDitis, and mostly grades of A+:

  1. Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 from NHK with the Berlin Philharmonic under Ozawa
  2. Mahler Symphony No. 1 from NHK with the Saito Kinen Orchestra under Ozawa
  3. Brahms Symphony No. 2 from NHK with the Saito Kinen Orchestra under Ozawa
  4. Schumann Piano Concerto & Bruckner Symphony 9 from NHK with the Concertgebouw Orchestra under  Haitink.
  5. Mozart Symphony 35 & Haydn Cello Concerto from NHK with Mito Chamber Orchestra under Ozawa
  6. Mendelssohn Piano Concerto No. 1 and Midsummer Night's Dream Music from NHK with Mito Chamber Orchestra under Ozawa
  7. Tango! from Challenge Records---Piazzolla tango nuevo by the Isabelle van Keulen Ensemble
  8. Winterreise from Challenge Records with tenor Prégardien and Gees on piano
  9. Mutter Live---The Club Album from DG. (This only got a" B+")
  10. Capuleti e i Montecchi opera from San Francisco Opera and EuroArts
  11. Porgy and Bess opera from San Francisco Opera and EuroArts
  12. Mozart Chamber Music from AIX Records with the Dover Quartet + guest artists. (This one got an "A")

The table below shows typical metrics for the best NHK symphony HDVDs mentioned above and can serve as benchmarks for diagnosing DVDitis:

Title Pace   Supershots   Conductor Shots
Tchaikovsky Symphony 6    14.5 seconds per clip   38%   24%
Mahler Symphony 1 9 seconds per clip   21%   11%
Brahms Symphony 2 11 seconds per clip   39%   13%
Bruckner Symphony 9 13.5 seconds per clip   34%   20%
Mito Chamber Orchestra 11 seconds per clip   40+%   18%


A good HDVD should have a slow pace with more than 10 seconds per video clip on average (longer the better). 20 to 40% (higher is better) of the clips should be large-scale supershots. Conductor shots should be less than 20% (way less really) of all the clips.
____________________________________________________________________________

Tuesday
Aug162016

Hänsel und Gretel

Engelbert Humperdinck Hansel and Gretel opera to libretto by Adelheid Wette (Humperdinck's sister). Directed 2015 by Adrian Noble at the Wiener Staatsopoer.  Stars Adrian Eröd (Peter, the broom maker), Janina Baechle (Gertrud, Peter's wife), Daniela Sindram (Hänsel, the son), Ileana Tonca (Gretel, the daughter), Michaela Schuster (The Witch), and Annika Gerhards (Sandman/Dewman).  Christian Thieleman conducts the Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper, the Bühnenorchester der Wiener Staatsoper, children of the Opernschule der Staatsoper, and students of the Ballettakademie of the Wiener Staatsoper. (If you want the previous sentence in English, here goes: Christian Thielemann conducts the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, the Stage Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, children from the State Opera School, and students of the Vienna State Opera Ballett School). Sets and costumes by Anthony Ward; lighting by Jean Kalman; videos by Andrzej Goulding; choreography by Denni Sayers; directed for TV by Agnes Méth. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts surround sound. Grade: Help!

Please help us with a comment about or a review of this title!

Sunday
Aug142016

Beethoven Symphonies 1-9

Beethoven Symphonies 1-9 (or Beethoven Complete Symphonies) box set. Philippe Jordan conducts the Orchestre de L'Opéra National de Paris in all nine Beethoven symphonies. Other performers featured in Symphony No. 9 are Ricarda Merbeth (Soprano), Daniela Sindram (Mezzo-Soprano), Robert Dean Smith (Tenor), Günter Groissböck (Bass), and the Choeurs de L'Opéra National de Paris (José Luis Basso Chorus Master).  Grade: Help! 

We are still missing some technical information about the recordings in this box.

Please help us with a comment or review of this title.

Wednesday
Aug102016

Otello

Verdi Otello opera to libretto by Arrigo Boito. Directed 2015 by Bartlett Sher at the Met. Stars Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello), Sonya Yoncheva (Desdemona), Željka Lučić (Iago), Dimitri Pittas (Cassio), Jennifer Johnson Cano (Emilia), Jeff Mattsey (Montano), Chad Shelton (Roderigo), Günther Groissböck (Lodovico), and Tyler Duncan (A Herald). Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera (Chorus Master Donald Palumbo). Sets by Es Devlin; costumes by Catherine Zuber; lighting by Donald Holder; projection design by Luke Halls; video direction by Gary Halvorson. Music Producer was David Frost; Supervising Producers were Mia Bongiovanni and Elena Park; Producers were Louisa Briccetti and Victoria Warivonchik. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Please help us by writing a comment or mini-review of this title.

 

Tuesday
Aug092016

Royal Ballet Collection Box

Royal Ballet Collection Box set released 2016. Below are the discs. All but one of them has already been reported on this website, and you can get more details by using the links provided:

1. Adam Giselle. 2014. (Grade: A)

2. Delibes Sylvia. 2009. (Grade: A-)

3. Hérold La Fille mal gardée. 2015. (Grade: A-) This is a fine recording, but the 2005 version with Marianela Nuñez as Lise and Carlos Acosta as Colas is even better and, well, still indispensable. 

4. Liszt Mayerling . 2010. (Grade: A+)

5. Minkus Don Quixote. 2014. (Grade: B-)

6. Minkus La Bayadère. 2011. (Grade: A+)

7. Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet . 2013. (Grade: B+) Again the older A+ version from 2007 with Carlos Acosta as Romeo, Tamaro Rojo as Juliet, and Laura Morera as the Head Harlot is still indispensable.

8. Talbot Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. 2011. (Grade: A+)

9. Talbot The Winter's Tale. 2015. (Grade: A+)

10. Tchaikovsky Swan Lake. 2010. (Grade: D) Just ignore this sadly obsolete title. This production is not competitive.

11. Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker. 2010. (Grade: B) This production is also not competitive.

12. Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty. 2009. (Grade: B+) This production is also not really competitive.

13. McGregor Triple Bill. 2011. (Grade: A+)

14. Ashton Celebration. 2013. (Grade: A)

15. Ashton Rhapsody/The Two Pigeons. 2016. Two more Ashton ballets just recently revived. It appears that Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae will be the stars in the Rhapsody (to Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini) along with six men and six women. The Two Pigeons is danced, I think, by Lauren Cuthbertson and Vadim Muntagirov to music by André Messager. It's unclear now if these two pieces will be published in a separate title. If not, they will become a unique bonus extra in this big box with 14 Blu-ray discs. 

What should you make of this offer? At this time it appears the box will be priced at about $180. So if you wanted all 15 titles, that would work out to $13 per title, which sounds attactive. But the only titles above that are on my Dance Hit Parade List are the Alice, the McGregor Triple Bill, and the Winter's Tale. None of the famous Tchaikovsky ballets from the ROH are competitive. And both the Romeo and Juliet and the Fille mal gardée are second rate to other versions that are also offered by the ROH! So if you went a la carte, there would only be 3 titles from the box you would buy. (Well, the excellent Mayerling in the box is also a great ballet that nobody else has recorded.) So I can't get excited about buying these 14 titles from the ROH even at $13 each. Too much chaff with the wheat. 

Monday
Aug082016

Parsifal

Wagner Parsifal opera to libretto by the composer. Directed 2015 by Dmitri Tcherniakov at the Staatsoper im Schiller Theater, Berlin. Stars Wolfgang Koch (Amfortas), René Pape (Gurnemanz), Andreas Schager (Parsifal), Tómas Tómasson (Klingsor), Anja Kampe (Kundry), and Matthias Hölle (Titurel). Daniel Barenboim conducts the Staatskapelle Berlin and the Staatsopernchor (Chorus Master Martin Wright). Sets by Dmitri Tcherniakov; costumes by Elena Zaytseva; lighting by Gleb Filshtinsky; dramaturgy by Jens Schroth; TV direction by Andy Sommer; produced by François Duplat. The opera lasts 4 hours and 12 minutes.  Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

 

Sunday
Aug072016

Alcina

Handel Alcina opera to a libretto by an unknown author. Directed 2015 by Katie Mitchell at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. Stars Patricia Petibon (Alcina), Philippe Jaroussky (Ruggiero), Anna Prohaska (Morgana), Katarina Bradić (Bradamante), Anthony Gregory (Oronte), Kryzsztof Baczyk (Melisso), plus Elias Mädler and Lionel Wunsch (alternating singers from Tölzer Boys Choir as Oberto). Actors are Juliet Alderdice (elderly Alcina), Jane Thorne (elderly Morgana), Ian Hallard (Oberto's father/servant), plus Zoé Aldrich, Josephine Arden, Sarah Northgraves, and Anna Martine (servants). Andrea Marcon conducts the Freiburger Barockorchester and MusicAeterna (Chorus of the Perm Opera) under Vitaly Polonsky. Continuo: theorbos Daniele Ciminiti and Maria Ferré; cello Guido Larisch; harpsichords Andrea Marcon and Johannes Keller. Designs by Chloe Lamford; costumes by Laura Hopkins; lighting by James Farncombe; choreography by Joseph W, Alford; directed for TV by Corentin Leconte. Released  2016, disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital sound output. Grade: Help!

Alexandra Coghlan in the August 2016 Gramophone (page 90) praises this recording (in DVD) noting that "every close-up yields more intrigue, more insight into Handel's troubled cast of characters" and approves of the double-casting (opera singer and actor) of the main characters. If it was this interesting in DVD, it will be even better in Blu-ray.

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

 

Sunday
Aug072016

I Capuleti e i Montecchi

Bellini I Capuleti e i Montecchi opera to a libretto by Felice Romani. Directed 2015 by Christof Loy at Opernhaus Zürich. Stars Joyce DiDonato (Romeo [trousers]), Olga Kulchynska (Giulietta), Benjamin Bernheim (Tebaldo), Alexei Botnarciuc (Capellio),  Roberto Lorenzi (Lorenzo), and Gieorgij Puchalski (Companion). Fabio Luisi conducts the Philharmonia Zürich  and Chor der Oper Chorus Zürich (Chorus Master Jürg Hämmerli). Sets and costumes by Christian Schmidt;  lighting by Frank Evin; choreography by Thomas Wilhelm; directed for screen by Michael Beyer; produced by Paul Smaczny. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio output. Grade: Help!

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

 

Tuesday
Aug022016

Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci

"Cav and Pag" opera double feature directed and staged 2015 by Damiano Michieletto at the Royal Opera House.

1. First plays the Pietro Mascagni Cavalleria rusticana to libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzeti and Guido Menasci. Stars Aleksandrs Antonenko (Turiddu), Elena Zilio (Mamma Lucia), Eva-Maria Westbroek (Santuzza), Dimitri Platanias (Alfio), and Martina Belli (Lola).

2. Then follows the Ruggero Leoncavallo Pagliacci to libretto by the composer. Stars Dimitri Platanias (Tonio), Aleksandrs Antonenko (Canio), Carmen Giannattasio (Nedda), Benjamin Hulett (Beppe), Dionysios Sourbis (Silvio), Elliot Goldie (Villager), and Nigel Cliffe (Villager).

Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and the Royal Opera Chorus. Set design by Paolo Fantin; costume design by Carla Teti; lighting design by Alessandro Carletti; directed for the screen by Rhodri Huw. Released 2016, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound (information on package confused) and Dolby Atmos sound. Grade: Help!

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

Monday
Jul252016

Viscera

Viscera or 2015 Royal Ballet Dance Review (my title). Recorded live at the Royal Opera House on November 12, 2015 in part to honor Carlos Acosta, who retired from the ROB after the performance seen on disc.  Below is the program in the order each item appears on the video.  All music is by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Emmanuel Plasson except the Carmen, which is conducted by the arranger Martin Yates. Sergey Levitin serves as Concert Master in all segments. Directed for screen by Ross MacGibbon. Keepcase booklet does not give track information or playing times. The disc menu is extremely confusing. Released 2016, disc was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sampling rate and has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Here are the segments:

1. Viscera choreographed by Liam Scarlett to music from the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Lowell Liebermann. Stars Laura Morera, Marianela Nuñez, and Ryoichi Hirano. Also dancing are Yuhui Choe, Meaghan Grace Hinkis, Emma Maguire, Alexander Campbell, Valentino Zucchetti, Olivia Cowley, Isabessa Gasparini, Tierney Heap, Chisato Katsura, Yasmine Naghdi, Nicol Edmonds, Benjamin Ella, and Kevin Emerton. Solo piano by Robert Clark. Costumes by Liam Scarlett; lighting by John Hall; Assistant Ballet Master Ricardo Cervera; Benesh Notator Amanda Eyles. Viscera lasts about 21 1/2 minutes.

2. Afternoon of a Faun choreographed  by  Jerome Robbins to music of Claude Debussy. Stars Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov. Costumes by Irene Sharaff; set and original lighting designed by Jean Rosenthal; lighting design re-created by Les Dickert; staging by Jean-Pierre Frohlich and Jonathan Cope; Ballet Master Jonathan Cope; Benesh Notator Gregory Mislin. Lasts about 11 minutes.

3. Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux choreographed by George Balanchine to music of Tchaikovsky. Starts Iana Salenko and Steven McRae. Costumes designed by Anthony Dowell; lighting designed by John B. Read; staging by Patricia Neary; Ballet Master Christopher Saunders. Lasts about 10 minutes.

4. Carmen choreographed by Carlos Acosta to music of Georges Bizet (arrangement by Martin Yates who also conducts). Stars Marianela Nuñez (Carmen), Carlos Acosta (Don José), Federico Bonelli (Escamillo), Matthew Golding (Fate), Thomas Whitehead (Zuniga), Valentino Zucchetti (Remendado), Thomas Mock (Dancaïre), Kristen McNally (Frasquita), Lara Turk (Mercedes), Artists of the Royal Ballet, and Fiona Kimm (Fortune-Teller). Designs by Tim Hatley; lighting by Peter Mumford; Ballet Master Christopher Saunders; Assistant to the Choreographer (Ivan Gil-Ortega); Benesh Notator Anna Trevien. Lasts about 59 minutes.  

Some things old and some things new to celebrate great dancers of the ROB and to honor Carlos Acosta on his retirement. Grade: B blended grade for entire title

Viscera

The word "viscera" means the soft internal organs or "guts." There have been several extreme modern dance or performance groups that used "viscera" or "visceral" in their names to advise potential audiences of the controversial or shocking nature of their performances. But I think Liam Scarlett uses the term to suggest that his abstract dance piece deals with multiple and deep aspects of the art of modern dance. The 16 dancers he deploys see a lot of action in many combinations headed by what I'll call a "leader" and featuring one star duet couple. Viscera reminds me of Balanchine's Jewels with the addition of some Wayne McGregor style hyper-extensions.

The leader is one of my favorite dancers, Laura Morera. Laura has had a long career and has danced just about all the famous roles as principal. But in our HDVDs, it seems she always appears as a supporting dancer. (Nobody else can dance the harlot as well as Laura.) So I'm delighted to see her beauty, charm, and fierce athleticism celebrated in Viscera, and you can see all of this in my first screenshot below:

Laura dominates the action in first and last (fast) movements of the Liebermann piano concerto. The middle slow movement belongs to the pas-de-deux couple, Marianela Nuñez and Ryoichi Hirano, whom you see in the next two shots:

In the next picture, the whole corps is pumping except for Laura, who stands still and gazes at the audience:

It seems Laura is always ready to tackle the next assignment:

Which she will execute with indomitable energy:

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Jul242016

From the New World

From the New World symphony concert. In 2010 Andris Nelsons directs, at the Herkulessaal in Munich, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks) in a concert of pieces related to the New World:

1. Charles Ives The Unanswered Question (American composer)

2. John Adams Slonimsky's Earbox (American composer)

3. Igor Stravinsky Le Chant du Rossignol (Song of the Nightingale) (Stravinsky lived in Los Angeles longer than in any other city)

4. Dvořák Symphony No. 9 "From the New World" (inspired by Dvořák's experiences in America)

Perhaps you could make a case that all of these pieces explore "new worlds" of music as all of the composers lived in the 20th century (Dvořák just barely). Video director was Agnes Méth. Released 2013, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: D

Print critic Rob Cowan in the October 2013 Gramophone (page 59) states that "Nelsons is a real boon, perhaps the most visually likeable conductor since Carlos Kleiber, his gestures clear, his facial expressions warmly appreciative of everything in the music that moves him." Below are some examples of Nelsons' face making; some love it and others consider him a disruptive clown. These are not shots of spectacularly exciting points in the concert---he pretty much looks like this constantly:

Cowan loved this recording as did Michael Cookson and Leslie Wright, in separate reports for musicweb-international.com, and Robert Cummings writing for Classical Net Review. I agree this was an excellent performance of interesting music well-recorded as to sound. But I have reservations about video content. But before we get into my critique, I'll show you some more screenshots.

The Unanswered Question

This is one of Ives' most popular pieces, perhaps because you just don't have time to get tired of it in 5 and 1/2 minutes. Like much of Ives, it's unlike anything else you have experienced. First, an outside-the-hall string orchestra provides a somewhat static foundation similar in feeling to the Barber Adagio for Strings.  Second, a solo trumpet (also offstage) asks 7 wistful questions in a mood similar to the strings. All the audience sees is an on-stage quartet of flautists (can be other woodwinds) which answers the trumpeted questions in increasingly aggressive and profuse strains of premeditated art.  All this is most atmospherically performed and filmed. 

Next below, from inside the hall, we have an image of the strings outside of an entrance to the hall (with workers in the rear cleaning around the concession stand):


During the performance, this is a typical view of the strings from a different angle (a whole-orchestra shot!)

Below are two shots of the four flautists on-stage. The first shot, made before the performance begins, shows an open stage door in the back. This is the little room where the trumpet player hides. The trumpeter makes his first and only video appearance during the applause:

 

Click to read more ...

Page 1 2 3 4 5 ... 96