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.

November 18. I just added a complete story about the MacMillan ballet Anastasia. Henry Tercero (Henry C. McFadyen III) just added a review of another Priory title, The Grand Organ of Gloucester Cathedral. I recently posted a review about John Cage compositions performed in Music for Speaking Percussionist from Mode Records. I also just updated the documentary John Cage - Journeys in Sound, and it also appears now near the top of the journal. These related titles should please Cage fans and serve as an introduction to Cage for newbies.

Several of the great orchestras publish their own recordings. They have been successful at this maybe in CDs. But my general observation would be that they don't have the skills in house to make good videos. The latest example of this to come to my attention would be London Symphony Orchestra title LSO3038, Ravel, Dutilleaux & Delage, which was originally made to show (in SD I think) on French TV. If graded by our standards, it would probably get a D for DVDitis. But it also has stereo only sound. Be wary of offerings from the LSO! See more on this under our section for Excluded Titles found on the Navigation bar. We do not want you to get sucked into buying shoddy recordings!

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Entries by Henry McFadyen Jr. (1067)

Tuesday
Mar142017

The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker ballet. Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Choreographed by George Balanchine. Performed and filmed December 14, 2011 at the David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center. Stars Megan Fairchild (Sugar Plum Fairy), Teresa Reichlen (Coffee), Daniel Ulbricht (Candy Cane), Ashley Bouder (Dewdrop),  Joaquín De Luz (the Cavalier), Colby Clark (Nutcracker, the Prince, and Drosselmeyer's Nephew), Fiona Brennan (Marie), and Adam Hendrickson (Drosselmeyer). Directed for TV by Alan Skog. Released 2016, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: B

This is a record of what may be the most important ballet production ever created in the United States: the Balanchine Nutcracker that premiered in 1954! I was a high-school student at that time. Like most people in my county I think, I was unaware that there was any ballet at all in America. The Balanchine Nutcracker was a huge success. It spawned the Nutcracker craze that is so evident now at Christmas with every community center in the land throwing its own version and larger towns hosting 5 or 6 different versions! Millions have seen the Balanchine show in New York. This 2011 recording was telecast by PBS on December 2011 to millions more and the show got an Emmy Award in 2012.

After Balanchine's death in 1983, the rights to all his work passed to a foundation that is organized to preserve the authentic Balanchine style. This guarantees that what you see in this video is pretty much the same as what everyone else has seen for the last 63 years! Robert Greskovic, America's most well-known ballet critic, devotes 19 pages of explanation and comments to this production in Chapter 3 of his book Ballet 101 (Limelight Editions 2005), and Greskovic, on December 19, 2009, gave it another glowing review in the Wall Street Journal. Rob Maynard, writing (2016 I think) for the MusicWeb International website, gives this Lincoln Center at the Movies film a favorable review also.

Still, I have some reservations.  This was shot in 1080i for television, which means it may have started with stereo sound only. But a surround sound recording could also have been made, so the 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio could be authentic. I could have excluded this as legacy material. But because of the historical importance of this show, I'll give this video the benefit of doubt and review it.

This is the most intensively choreographed version of the Nutcracker that we have in HDVD. This you can see in the first screenshot below where the parents and the children are all lined up in perfect formations. All our other Nutcrackers have a more natural, relaxed feel about them that's closer to what a real Christmas party would look like:

In particular, the Balanchine children are amazingly well-drilled. This is only possible because the New York City Ballet has a large School of American Ballet with eager students of all ages who work, I suspect, year-round on this production:

Below is a closer shot of the parents with Gramps and Grandma in the lead:

Most modern Nutcrackers have a comic Grandfather's Dance with the old gent stumbling around all but breaking his neck. No such foolishness with Balanchine:

What you see next below is the first American Nutcracker Christmas show put on by Uncle Drosselmeier (Adam Hendrickson). It's a nice show, but many other directors since then have had opportunity to up the ante with an even more spectacular party scenes:

But it would be hard to top these adorable girls cuddling their dolls:

 

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Thursday
Mar022017

King Lear

Shakespeare King Lear play. Directed 2015 by Gregory Doran at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Stars (alphabetical order) Romayne Andrews (Servant/Messenger), Antony Byrne (Earl of Kent), Eke Chukwu (Lear's Gentleman), James Clyde (Duke of Cornwall), James Cooney (Servant), Bethan Cullinane (Messenger), Marième Diouf (Messenger), Paapa Essiedu (Edmund), Jenny Fennessy (Servant/Messenger), Kevin N. Golding (Curan/Doctor), Marcus Griffiths (King of France/Captain), Nia Gwynne (Goneril), Oliver Johnstone (Edgar), Byron Mondahl (Oswald), Theo Ogundipe (Duke of Burgundy/Herald), Antony Sher (King Lear), Natalie Simpson (Cordelia), Clarence Smith (Duke of Albany), David Troughton (Earl of Gloucester), Graham Turner (Fool), Ewart James Walters (Old Man), and Kelly Williams (Regan). Designs by Niki Turner; lighting design by Tim Mitchell; music by Ilona Sekacz; sound by Jonathan Ruddick; movement by Michael Ashcroft; fights by Bret Yount. Directed for screen and TV by Robin Lough; produced by John Wyver. Has a director's commentary. 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.

Here's the official trailer:

 

Thursday
Mar022017

Olivo e Pasquale

Donizetti Olivo e Pasquale opera to a libretto by Jacopo Ferretti. 1827 Neapolitan Version revised by Maria Chiara Bertieri for the Donizetti Foundation. Directed 2016 by Ugo Giacomazzi and Luigi Di Gangi of operAlchemica. Stars Bruno Taddia (Olivo), Filippo Morace (Pasquale), Laura Giordano (Isabella), Pietro Adaini (Camillo), Matteo Macchioni (Le Bross), Edoardo Milletti (Columella), Silvia Beltrami (Matilde), and Giovanni Romeo (Diego). Federico Maria Sardelli conducts the Orchestra dell'Accademia Teatro alla Scala and the Coro Donizetti Opera (Chorus Master Fabio Tartari). Set and costume design by Sara Sarzi Sartori, Daniela Bertuzzi, and Arianna Delgado; light design by Luigi Biondi; video direction by Matteo Riccheti. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

According to Wikipedia, the Teatro alla Scala "has an associate school, known as the La Scala Theatre Academy (Italian: Accademia Teatro alla Scala), which offers professional training in music, dance, stage craft and stage management." This is the operation that worked with The Donizetti Foundation to write and produce a new and improved Olivo e Pasquale. I note the cast includes Laura Giordano, whom I several times called the most beautiful woman in opera to look at. Mark Pullinger, writing in the June 2017 Gramophone at pages 91-92, praises her singing stating, "Only sweet-toned Laura Giordano, as Isabella, puts in the sort of performance to stand up to repeated listening."

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

If my daughter saw this clip, she would call it a "hot mess":

Thursday
Mar022017

Otello

Verdi Otello opera to libretto by Arrigo Boito. Directed 2016 by Vincent Boussard at the Salzburg Easter Festival. Stars José Cura (Otello), Dorothea Röschmann (Desdemona), Carlos Álvarez (Iago), Benjamin Bernheim (Cassio), Christa Mayer (Emilia), Georg Zeppenfeld (Lodovico), Bror Magnus Tødenes (Roderigo), Csaba Szegedi (Montano), and Gordon Bintner (Herald). Christian Thielemann conducts the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Sächsischer Staatsopernchor, the Salzburger Festspieleand the Theater Kienderchor. Sets by Vincent Lemaire; costumes by Christian Lacroix; lighting by Guido Levi; video designs by Isabel Robson. Directed for TV by Tiziano Mancini. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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

Here's an official trailer:

Thursday
Mar022017

Ballet Hispánico

Ballet Hispánico dance recital performed 2015 at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Arizona (a suburb of Phoenix). Ballet Hispánico is directed by Eduardo Vilaro and has the mission of celebrating Latino culture through dance. It's an important dance group in New York City and one of the few dance companies in the United States to focus on Latin dance and culture. Pieces performed were CARMEN.maquia, choreographed by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, and Club Havana, choreographed by Pedro Ruiz.

CARMEN.maquia stars Christopher Bloom (Don José), Kimberly Van Woesik (Carmen), Melissa Fernandez (Micaela), and Mario Ismael Espinoza (Escamillo). Cigar factory girls, soldiers, townsfolk, and Gypsies are played by Lauren Alzamora, Martina Calcagno, Shelby Colona, Kassandra Cruz, Mark Gieringer, Christopher Hernandez, Johan Rivera Mendez, Eila Valls, Lyvan Verdecia, and Joshua Winzeler. Recorded music segments, all from Bizet Carmen suites or the Pablo de Sarasate Carmen Concert Fantasy, are stitched together from many resources.  Set by Luis Crespo; costumes designed by David Delfin and made by Travis Halsey and Diana Ruettiger; lighting by Joshua Preston. Because all the music comes from the opera, the ballet must be viewed as a ballet telling of the opera libretto---not an easy task.

Club Havana performers are:
- Son (a Cuban dance popular in the 1930s): Martina Calcagno, Shelby Colona, Kassandra Cruz, Mario Ismael Espinoza, Melissa Fernandez, Mark Gieringer, Christopher Hernandez, Johan Rivera Mendez, Eila Valls, and Lyvan Verdecia. 
- Mambo: Shelby Colona & Lyvan Verdecia; Kassandra Cruz & Johan Rivera Mendez; and Eila Valls & Mario Ismael Espinoza.
- Cha Cha Cha: Melissa Fernandez, Mark Gieringer, and Christopher Hernandez.
- Bolero, Rhumba, and Congo: The Company.
The dances are performed to recorded music composed by Israel López, Rubén Gonzales, A. K. Salim, Perez Prado, and Francisco Repilado. Costumes by Ghabriello Fernando; lighting by Donald Holder.

The Ballet Hispánico group has its home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. "Lincoln Center at the Movies" (LCatM) is a new resource. LCatM promoters seek American dance content that (1) has cultural significance and (2) can be shown in movie houses around the United States (thru Fathom Events in 2015) and maybe other countries. (It helps perhaps if the dance production has some connection, however slight, to Lincoln Center.) Selling an HDVD would be an additional profit center. (This business model was invented, of course, by Peter Gelb at the Met.)  Produced by Andrew Carl Wilk; directed for TV by Matthew Diamond. Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade:  B

You might assume that something sold by "Lincoln Center at the Movies" would have been performed at Lincoln Center, especially if the company performing is from New York City. But this Ballet Hispánico show was performed and recorded live thousands of miles away in Arizona! Here are a couple of shots of the pretty Mesa Arts Center:

Although far from home, Ballet Hispánico managed to attract a decent crowd that showed some enthusiasm. 

CARMEN.maquia

Let's start with screenshots from CARMEN.maquia. (The name CARMEN.maquia is inspired by the word tauromaquia, or bullfighting. The fight about Carmen takes place in the soul of Don José. )

Behold below the city square in Seville as the cigarette factory girls go to work. The designer here has wrenched us away from all Spanish local color in favor of an abstract design in black and white. You can identify the soldiers/policemen by the black stripe across the chest:

Carmen (Kimberly Van Woesik) gets a black dress and distinctive hairdo:

Don José (Christopher Bloom) is hard to distinguish from the other men---here's a close-up:

The soldiers amuse themselves watching the antics of the factory girls with the local men:

Carmen puts her eye on Don José (no rose in this version):

Below Micaela offers true love. I enjoyed all the dancers here, but Melissa Fernandez is my favorite. Without overacting, she manages to get across the frustration and pain of Micaela:

 

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Sunday
Feb262017

2017 New Year's Concert

2017 New Year's Concert by the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic) conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. Recorded January 1, 2017 at the Goldener Saal des Wiener Musikvereins. Bonus features are (1) The Rhythm of Vienna and (2) a complete ballet sequence to "Hereinspaziert" by the Vienna State Ballet choreographed by Renate Zanella. Directed for video by Michael Beyer.  Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Features the following numbers (listed below in alphabetical order---see artwork above for performance order):

1. Franz Lehár "Nechledil Marsch" from Wiener Frauen ("Nechledil March" from Vienna Women)
2. Carl Otto Nicolai "Montaufgang" ("Moonrise") from Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (The Merry Wives of Windor)
3. Johann Strauss I "Indianer-Galopp" ("Indian Galop")
4. Johann Strauss II "Es gibt nur a Kaiserstadt" ("There's Just One Emperial City")
5. Johann Strauss II "Mephisto's Hollenrufe" ("Mephisto's Cries from Hell")
6. Johann Strauss II "So ängstlich sind wir nicht!" ("So Scared We're Not")
7. Johann Strauss II "Pepita Polka"
8. Johann Strauss II "Rotunde-Quadrille"
9. Johann Strauss II "Die Extravaganten" ("The Extravagants")
10. Johann Strauss II "Auf zum Tanze!" ("Up and Dance!")
11. Johann Strauss II "Tausendundeine Nacht" ("Thousand and One Night")
12. Johann Strauss II "Tik-Tak Polka"
13. Josef Strauss "Winterlust" ("Joy of Winter")
14. Josef Strauss "Die Nasswalderin" (The Girl from Nasswald)
15. Franz von Suppe Pique Dame Overture
16. Waldteufel "Les Patineurs" ("The Iceskaters")
17. Karl Michael Ziehrer "Hereinspaziert" ("Walk Right In")

In addition, here are the encores (in performance order):
1. Eduard Strauss "Mit Vergnügen!" ("With Pleasure")
2. Johann Strauss II "The Blue Danube"
3. Johann Strauss I "Radetzky-Marsch"

Saturday
Feb252017

Parsifal

[Caution. Preliminary and partial information needs to be confirmed. PR from Challenge Records on this is fragmentary and confusing. This Dutch National Opera Parsifal was directed by Pierre Audi first in 2012, and the show was reprised in 2016 with many singers appearing in both productions. The cover brags about an award for Dutch in 2016 and the front cover art might be from 2016. But it appears this recording is of the 2012 show.]

Wagner Parsifal opera to a libretto by the composer. Directed 2012 by Pierre Audi at the Dutch National Opera.  Stars Alejandro Marco-Buhrmester (Amfortas), Mikhail Petrenko (Titurel /Klingsor), Falk Struckmann (Gurnemanz), Christopher Ventris (Parsifal), Petra Lang (Kundry), Jean-Léon Klosterman (First Knight of the Grail), Roger Smeets (Second Knight of the Grail), Lisette Bolle, Rosanne van Sandwijk, Erik Slik, Jeroen de Vaal (4 Esquires), Lisette Bolle, Inez Hafkamp, Tomoko Makuuchi, Rosanne van Sandwijk, Oleksandra Lenyshyn, Melanie Greve (6 Flower Maids), and Marieke Reuten (Voice from Above).  Ivan Fischer conducts the Royal  Concertgebouw, the Choir of the Dutch National Opera, and the "Kickers" of the Waterland Youth Music School. Sets by Anish Kapoor; costumes by Christof Hetzer; lighting by Jean Kalman; choreography by Gail Skrela; dramaturgy by Klaus Bertisch. TV director was Misjel Vermeiren. Technical information not announced. Released 2017. Grade: Help!

If you can confirm or correct the information above, please help us!

Below is a clip that appears to be from the 2012 performance. (There are other new-looking and prettier clips that maybe were made in 2016.)

 

Friday
Feb242017

Tango Under the Stars

 

Tango Under the Stars concert performed 2016 at the Hollywood Bowl. Gustavo Dudamel conducts the LA Philharmonic, joined by dancers of Tango Buenas Aires, in a performance of classical and tango compositions by Argentine composers.  Featured stars are Ángel Romero on guitar and Seth Asarnow on bandoneon. Here's the program:

Piazzólla: Tangazo; La Muerte del Angel; Adiós Nonino; Oblivion; Libertango.

Schifrin: Concierto for Guitar and Orchestra, No. 2; Concierto de la Amistad (World Premiere).

Ginastera: Four Dances from Estancia

Directed for video by Michael  Beyer; produced by Bernhard Fleischer. 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.

Here's the C Major clip:

Wednesday
Feb222017

Tatiana

Tatiana ballet. Choreography by John Neumeier after Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. Music by Lera Auerbach. Performed 2014 by the Hamburg State Opera Ballet. Stars Hélène Bouchet (Tatiana Larina), Edvin Revazov (Eugene Onegin), Leslie Heylmann (Olga Larina), Alexandr Trusch (Vladimir Lensky), Carsten Jung (Prince N.), Niurka Moredo (Filipjevna, Tatiana's nurse), Sasha Riva and Marc Jubete (two males representing together Zaretsky, Lensky's second in the duel), Miljana Vračarić (Madame Larina), Xue Lin (The ballerina Istomina as Cleopatra), Silvano Ballone (Istomina's Partner as Marcus Antonius), Kiran West (Guillot), and Thomas Stuhrmann (An officer). Also features the following dancers as figures from Tatiana's novels: Hayley Page (Rousseu's Julie Wolmar), Florian Pohl (Saint Preux, Julie Wolmar's teacher), Braulio Álvarez (The "Sarazin" Malek Adhel, brother of the historical Saladin), Yaiza Coll (Matilda, Malek Adhel's lover and sister of Richard the Lionheart), Futaba Ishizaki (Harriet Byron), Jacopo Belussi (Grandison), and Edvin Revazov (Ruthven, the vampire). Simon Hewett conducts the Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra. Staging, sets, costumes, and lighting by John Neumeier. Produced for TV by Antoine Perset and Denis Morlière; video direction by Thomas Grimm. Bonus film by Reiner E. Moritz called Tatiana -- Back to Pushkin. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: A-

Pushkin finished his long novel in verse, Eugene Onegin ("EO"), in 1830. It's considered the beginning and the apogee of Russian literature. At the heart of the poem is the tragic death of a poet (Lensky) in a duel. 7 years later Pushkin, a forward thinker, was slain himself in an unfair duel (perhaps really a kind of execution.) The death of Pushkin in 1837 was one long lifetime away the Great Arrest in Russia in 1917. Pushkin has become a kind of mythic figure and symbol up to this very day of the failure of the liberal spirit to flourish in that nation.

Some 60% of EO deals with the sad love story of Eugene and Tatiana. 4o% is about the future of Russia. Neumeier focuses, of course, on the love story.  He takes the viewpoint of Tatiana, the character who emerges from the love story with the best future. In the first screenshot below we meet Tatiana (Hélène Bouchet ) as a young girl, home-schooled in her mother's estate in the country far from Moscow. She is a shy dreamer immersed in romantic books and always close to her bear:

Next below we meet Olga (Leslie Heylmann), Titiana's younger sister, who is more practical and outgoing:

Olga has a boy friend, Lensky (Alexandr Trusch), seen next below. In the novel, Lensky is a budding poet (and thought by some to be the alter-ego of Pushkin). To make Lensky more vivid as expressed in dance, Neumeier turns him into a composer of music working at a piano and often dancing about with sheet music (sorry, no screenshot of this):

Pushkin includes in the EO novel a vast number of allusions to people and events in the artistic and political life of Russia in the early 19th century. Continuing in this vein, Neumeier includes 8 named characters from the novel who appear as "real people" in the ballet. In addition, Neumeier invents some 12 new characters (who are are referred to in some way by Pushkin in EO). Each of Neumeier's two Acts begins with an introductory medley scene in which many of these 20 characters appear, at random, in thoughts, dreams, memories, and premonitions. The invented characters can also appear at any time in the regular story scenes. For example, in the image below, we see Tatiana in the company of four ghostly figures from 19th-century romantic novels Tatiana is currently reading. If you worked hard enough, you could identify these 4 ghosts (I didn't try). Neumeier crams enough specific references to the novel into his ballet to satisfy the most passionate lover of literature and ballet trivia through many viewings of this production.

In addition, Chapter 5 of the poem describes a Tatiana nightmare! The stuffed bear becomes a real bear (Carsten Jung), who then sheds his coat (to keep the naked Tatiana warm), and emerges as her protector.  Later the protector will be recognized as Prince N., Tatiana's future husband. If you are new to EO, all this will be quite a challenge. But don't let the many details keep you from enjoying the main story, which is easy enough to follow:

Now we meet Eugene, a jaded aristocrat with 4 women in his apartment. He has to get up early this morning as his servant brought him an important message:

 

Click to read more ...

Monday
Feb202017

Ballo in Maschera

Verdi Un Ballo in Maschera opera to libretto by Antonio Somma. Directed 2016 by Johannes Erath at the Bayerische Staatsoper (Bavarian State Opera).  Stars Piotr Beczala (Riccardo), George Petean (Renato), Anja Harteros (Amelia), Okka von der Damerau (Ulrica), Sofia Fomina (Oscar), Andrea Borghini (Silvano), Anatoli Sivko (Samuel), Scott Conner (Tom), Ulrich Reß (Judge) and Joshua Owen Mills (Amelia's servant). Zubin Mehta conducts the Bayerisches Staatsorchestra (Bavarian State Orchestra) and Chor (Chorus Master Sören Eckhoff). Sets by Heike Scheele; costumes by Gesine Völlm; videos by Lea Heutelbeck; lighting by Joachim Klein; and dramaturgy by Malte Krasting. Video by Tiziano Mancini. Subtitles in 8 languages: Italian, German, English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese! Released 2017, the master recording is in "4K" format per C Major website. It appears this version is a normal Blu-ray 2K video. This was probably shot in 4K, so a 4K version could be released in the future. Disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound.  Grade: Help!

I have previously reviewed a traditional Ballo HDVD (from Madrid) and another with surreal Pomodoro designs (Leipzig). Here's my last comment on Ballo staging (from 2015):

Although Un ballo in maschera was inspired by a regicide in Sweden, it's not an historical opera. Different versions exist set in several counties. Setting it in America is unconvincing. Because it's about human relationships and nothing else, you could stage it in a colony on Mars with a computer as fortune teller. So there's no reason other than habit for Ballo to be performed as a period costume piece. The dream world created by Olmi, Pomodoro, and staff works fine for me.

Well, according to José M. Irurzun (a fine reviewer) writing for seenandheard-international.com in March 2016, subject Johannes Erath's version of Ballo at the Bayerische Staatsoper has to be understood as a "nightmare of Riccardo obsessed by his love for Amelia . . . otherwise, everything would be totally ridiculous. I doubt that a spectator who is not familiar with the plot would understand what is happening on stage." Mike Ashman says in the May 2017 Gramophone at page 99 that this release is "strongly recommended."

Here are 3 clips about this production (not sure if all these are 100% the same as the disc):

 

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