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.

July 16. Would you like to quickly see the difference between a ballet with a clip-pace of 22 seconds compared to one with a clip-pace of 5.5 seconds? Well, compare my Wonk Worksheet on New York City in Paris and the Wonk Worksheet for Tatiana. The Tatiana video is 4 times faster.  Which ballet do you think would be the easier for your brain to follow? I just gave an A to the new New York City Ballet in Paris title. It's a joy to see a fine-arts video that has no whiff of DVDitis.

Bryan Balmer just published a review of the new BIS video about the astonishing work by the Japanese Bach Collegium in recording all 55 sacred Bach cantatas. Bryan enjoyed the music, but he has issues with video content.

We now have four 4K Titles out. They are a Buniatishvili piano concert, the ROH Nozze di Figaro, a Lohengrin, and a Tosca opera movie. We have on order new gear for playing these titles, and we will report on them soon.

Hank McFadyen

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Entries by Henry McFadyen Jr. (1020)

Wednesday
Oct052016

McGregor Triple Bill

[Special note dated October 5, 2016. This title came out in 2011. It's perhaps the most outstanding modern, abstract dance HDVD that we have. It's always been on our Ballet/Dance Hit Parade with a grade of A+. Now I'm updating this review (and moving it to the top of the journal). Most of the review comments are the same as before. But I add to the discussion of each segment new information provided by Dance Wonk Worksheets that I just finished. At the end of the review, I also give this title our new flare award.]

In the flare McGregor Triple Bill we have three modern ballets choreographed by Wayne McGregor at the Royal Opera Ballet:

Chroma. Music by Joby Talbot and Jack White III, arranged by Talbot and orchestrated by Christopher Austin. Stars Federico Bonelli, Ricardo Cervera, Mara Galeazzi, Sarah Lamb, Steven McRae, Laura Morera, Ludovic Ondiviela, Tamara Rojo, Eric Underwood, Jonathan Watkins, and Edward Watson. Daniel Capps conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Peter Schulmeister Associate Concert Master). Sets by John Pawson; costumes by Moritz Junge; lighting by Lucy Carter.  

Infra. Music by Max Richter. Stars Leanne Benjamin, Ricardo Cervera, Yuhui Choe, Lauren Cuthbertson, Mara Galeazzi, Melissa Hamilton, Ryoichi Hirano, Paul Kay, Marianela Nuñez, Eric Underwood, Jonathan Watkins, and Edward Watson. Music played by Max Richter Quintet with violins Lousia Fuller, Natalia Bonner, viola Nick Barr, and cellos Helen Rathbone and Chris Worsey. Solo piano by Robert Clark. Sets by Julian Opie; costumes by Moritz Junge; lighting by Lucy Carter; sound design by Chris Ekers.  

Limen. Music is Notes on Light by Kaija Saariaho. Stars Leanne Benjamin, Yuhui Choe, Tristan Dyer, Mara Galeazzi, Melissa Hamilton, Paul Kay, Sarah Lamb, Brian Maloney, Steven McRae, Marianela Nuñez, Ludovic Ondiviela, Leticia Stock, Akane Takada, Eric Underwood, and Edward Watson. Barry Wordsworth conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Peter Manning). Solo cello by Anssi Karttunen. Sets and video designs by Tatsuo Miyajima; costumes by Moritz Junge; lighting by Lucy Carter.

Chroma and Limen directed for TV by Margaret Williams; Infra directed for TV by Jonathan Haswell. Released 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+

In 2011, the two best ballet companies in the world were the Paris Opera Ballet and the Royal Ballet (alphabetical order). In both houses, many stars for romantic and classical productions also were doing cutting-edge modern ballet/dance. The three works featured here from the Royal Ballet are 95% abstract and 5% political---something that puts many folks to sleep. But McGregor got off to a good start with 3 very different and intensely interesting modern music compositions.

First some screenshots from Chroma. There are 11 dancers in this. Often most or all of them are in action. McGregor calls for each of the dancers to be doing different things, so there are only a few scenes calling for screen-shots of the whole corps dancing in unison. Here's the opening shot with all but one of the dancers on stage with their backs to us (left to right Steven McRae, Tamara Rojo, Eric Underwood, Laura Morera, Edward Watson, and Mara Galeazzi in profile):

Watson and Galeazzi, the stars of the Mayerling ballet:

 

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Oct052016

Orpheus und Eurydike

[Special note dated September 30, 2016. This title came out in 2009, and I have always considered it one of the best fine-arts HDVDs and have always graded it A+. But I didn't until recently understand how good it really is. So I'm updating this review (and moving it to the top of the journal). The first part of the review with the screenshots is unchanged. But right after the last screenshot, I add new material:

  • First I introduce the new Ballet/Dance Wonk Worksheet which is similar to the Symphony Wonk Worksheet we use to analyze the video content of symphony Blu-rays.
  • Next I use two Ballet WWs to show the extraordinary high quality of the work of Vincent Bataillon in making this video. I always knew I loved this video, but I had no awareness of why (other than the sublime performance) until I used the WW to study it.
  • Finally, I introduce the new flare flare symbol that we will award to in the future to fine-art HDVDs of special significance and merit.]

Christoph Gluck flareOrpheus und Eurydike dance-opera. Unusual choreography and stage directions by Pina Bausch with singers and dancers simultaneously on stage for each main character. Filmed at the Palais Garnier Opera in February 2008. Gluck wrote Italian and French versions of his opera; this dance-opera version is heavily reworked by Bausch and sung in German. Choreographer assistants are Malou Airaudo, Mariko Aoyama, Bénédicte Billiet, Josephine Ann Endicott, and Dominique Mercy. Orpheus is danced by Yann Bridard and sung by mezzo soprano Maria Riccarda Wesseling; Eurydike is danced by Marie-Agès Gillot and sung by soprano Julia Kleiter; Amor is danced by Miteki Kudo and sung by soprano Sunhae Im. Also stars dancers Yong Geol Kim, Nicolas Paul, Vincent Cordier, Emilie Cozette, Eleonora Abbagnato, Eve Grinsztajn, Muriel Zusperreguy, Caroline Bance, Christelle Garnier, Alice Renavand, Amélie Lamoureux, Charlotte Ranson, Séverine Westermann, Natacha Gilles, Marie-Isabelle Peracchi, Bruno Bouché, Vincent Chaillet, Sébastien Bertaud, Alexis Renaud, and Erwan Le Roux. Thomas Hengelbrock directs the Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble and Choir. Set, costume, and lighting designs by Rolf Borzik (Pina's husband who died in 1980). Costumes made by Marion Cito; lighting  by Johan Delaere; lighting engineers were Michel Susini and Madjid Hakimi; produced by François Duplat; filmed by Vincent Bataillon. Released 2009, this disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+

The three main characters, Orpheus, Eurydike, and Amor, are sung on stage by opera singers and are also danced by leading members of the Paris Opera Ballet. The rest of the on-stage cast are ballet dancers. The chorus sings off stage. This unusual array of forces works well---it's a ballet show, but ballet and opera make roughly equal contributions to the overall effect. The music is original-instrument quaint. The dance style is "Tanztheater" modern, which, with it's relatively simple forms and use of repetition, meshes well with old music. Although the dancing is incisive, it is also elegant, smooth, tasteful, and profound. I watched the curtain calls. Orpheus (Yann Bridard), dressed only in dancer's briefs for every minute of the ballet, went off stage and returned with a woman in hand. I was touched by the sad tenderness and respect he showed to his companion---this is Bausch I thought. And when the camera then gave a close-up of Bausch, I thought,"Dear God! This poor woman looks ill." This production of Orpheus und Eurydike was filmed in February 2008, and Bausch died about 16 months later (June, 30, 2009) at age 68.

Actually, Bausch choreographed and first produced Orpheus und Eurydike years earlier when she was 35. Her husband, Rolf Borzik, designed the set, costumes, and lighting. Borzik died a few years later. Bausch dropped Orpheus und Eurydike from her repertoire. She went on to do many hard-edged controversial and iconoclastic productions which made her famous in the world of modern dance and an icon of modern culture in Germany. In a sense, the revival of Orpheus und Eurydike is a memorial for Borzik, whose work, but for this recording, might have been forgotten. It could be that Bausch was also writing her epithet with this revival.

Most of Bausch's work was done with her own dance company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, which is still active and is featured in the Wim Wenders movie Pina. Here the performance was given by the Paris Opera Ballet. The dancers had to master Bausch's style to perform this piece. It seems Bausch was personally involved in this along with 5 dance assistants who are credited above! The dancers did a splendid job of learning Pinaforma; the intensity and reverence with which the dancers handle their roles show how highly they regarded Bausch and her deceased husband.

Bausch divided her dance-opera into 4 parts that roughly correspond to the Gluck libretto:

1. Trauer (Mourning or Deuil), which begins after the death of Eurydike with powerful, rolling expressions of grief.

2. Gewalt (Violence), which expands tremendously on the role of the Furies in a stupendous surreal battle scene followed by capitulation to Orpheus.

3. Frieden (Peace or Paix), which consists mostly of sublime movements of the female corps. When younger, Pina was herself an incomparable dramatic dancer; I think each member of the corps was trying to be her worthy successor here.  Now that Philippina Bausch is gone, I feel I see her dancing in this movement.

4. Sterben (Death or Mort), which show the second death of Eurydike and the determination of Orpheus to follow her.

Here is a screenshot from Part 1, Trauer. Mary-Agnès Gillot, the dancer portraying Eurydike, is sitting on the tall chair as the corps mourns her death:

Dancer Yann Bridard portrays the despair of Orpheus:

Miteki Kudo, dancing as Amor, reveals that she can help Orpheus bring Eurydike back:

Now we are in Part 2, Violence. The gates of the underworld are fiercely guarded by Cerberos, who had three dogs' heads. In the background is a Fury reaching for an apple, but she will never grasp it. (Translation: " then the gate is guarded by Cerberos."). Screenshots can't begin to get across the impact of this long, complex, and frantic movement:

Still, Orpheus wins over his opponents. The woman in black on the left is Maria Riccarda Wesseling, who sings the role of Orpheus. Next to her in white is dancer Alice Renavand, a Fury, who is singing with the chorus as she dances (I doubt this was in the script). Later we will see the singers acting and moving about like dancers. (Translation: [he] awakens our sympathy.):

Now we are in Part 3, Peace. Having passed through the fearful gate, Orpheus discovers the blissful existence of the shades:

 

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Oct042016

Alcina and Tamerlano

Handel Alcina opera to a libretto by an unknown author and Handel Tamerlano opera to libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym. Both operas directed 2015 by Pierre Audi at la Monnaie using (I think) the same support staff for a coordinated package. Christophe Rousset directs Les Talens Lyriques (Concert Master Gilone Gaubert-Jacques). Costumes by Patrick Kinmonth.

  • Alcina stars Sandrine Piau (Alcina), Maite Beaumont (Ruggiero), Angélique Noldus (Bradamante), Sabina Puértolas (Morgana), Chloé Briot (Oberto), Daneil Behle (Oronte), Giovanni Furnaletto (Melisso), and Éduoard Higuet (Astolfo). Alcina directed for film by Stéphan Aubé.
  • Tamerlano stars Christophe Dumaux (Tamerlano), Jeremy Ovenden (Bajazete), Sophie Karthäuser (Asteria), Delphine Galou (Andronico), Ann Hallenberg (Irene), Nathan Berg (Leone), and Caroline D'Haese (Zaida). Tamerlano directed for film by Myriam Hoyer.

Released 2016, disc has 5.1 sound output. Grade: Help!

This would seem to be a good value for Handel fans with tasteful, straight-foward productions of 2 complete long operas. But there's no room on the package to give the usual credits for the support team. Per the Alpha-Classics website, this will be published in Blu-ray only (no DVD).

Gramophone gave this it's Blu-ray of the Month award in the January 2017 issue. William Brown, writing in the July 2017 Opera News at pages 51-52 was less thrilled. Of the Alcina, he states, "by excising nine movements of dance muesic and the final chorus, the work becames unusually somber and ends in a hopelessness alien to the opera." Still, it appears this package has been a good seller for the vendors.

Here's a preview clip of this disc with short clips from both operas suggesting excellent singing and vividly good work from Les Talens Lyriques :

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

 

Tuesday
Oct042016

Hamlet

Shakespeare Hamlet play. Directed 2016 by Simon Godwin at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Stars Hiran Abeysekera (Horatio), Romayne Andrews (Osric/Sailor); Doreene Blackstock (Player Queen), Eke Chukwu (Voltemand), James Clooney (Rosencrantz), Bethan Cullinane (Guildenstern), Marième Diouf (Player/Cornelia), Paapa Essiedu (Hamlet), Kevin N. Golding (Bernardo/Player King/Captain/Priest), Marcus Griffiths (Laertes), Byron Mondahl (Professor of Wittenberg/English Ambassador), Tanya Moodie (Gertrude), Cyril Nri (Polonius), Theo Ogundipe (Marcellus/Lucianus/Fortinbras), Natalie Simpson (Ophelia), Clarence Smith (Claudius) Ewart James Walters (Ghost/Gravedigger), and Temi Wilkey (Francisca/Player/Gravedigger's Assistant). Set design by Paul Wills; lighting design by Paul Anderson; music by Sola Akingbola; music associate was Jon Nicholls; sound by Christopher Shutt; movement by Mbulelo Ndabeni; fights by Kevin McCurdy. Screen direction by Robin Lough; produced by John Wyver. Has a director's commentary. Released 2016, 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.

Tuesday
Sep272016

The Euroarts Waldbühne (Waldbuehne) Summer Concerts

Each summer the Berliner Philharmoniker gives a popular concert at the Berlin Waldbühne (forest stage). These concerts usually have a theme with a catchy name. The concerts are recorded for TV broadcasting. Since 2009, the better recordings have been published as HDVDs. Here, I believe, is a list of the Waldbühne HDVDs to date (some older titles were published in DVD only). I've included the catchy name for each title in the alphalist as well as some of the most important compositions you find in them:

Tuesday
Sep272016

Einstein on the Beach

Philip Glass Einstein on the Beach opera with lyrics by the composer. Spoken text by Christopher Knowles, Samuel M. Johnson (not Dr. Samuel Johnson), and Lucinda Childes. Directed 2014 by Robert Wilson at the Théâtre du Châtelet. Stars Helga Davis, Kate Moran, and Antoine Silverman (on violin). Michael Riesman conducts the Philip Glass Ensemble. Choreography by Lucinda Childs for the Lucinda Childs Dance Company. Directed for TV by Don Kent. Sung and spoken in English. Released 2016, title has 2 Blu-ray discs with dts-HD Master Audio surround sound. Grade: Help!

This long unique work has played quite a few times in venues in several countries and is a cult favorite. The full production can last 4 1/2  hours and has no intermission. So members of the audience are expected to come and go as they please, an arraignment that's perfect for the HT!

Here's a short official clip from Opus Arte with a discourse on equal rights for women:

And here's a bootleg clip where the focus is on baggy pants:

This is hard to stage profitably, so performances are rare. There are several CDs, but this is the only HDVD. Pwyll ap Siôn, writing in the January 2017 Gramophone (page 85), expresses controlled admiration for this work and recording of "an opera unlike any other." He suggests that if you're a fan of Glass or contemporary opera, this is "as close to a definitive version of the opera as you're likely to get."

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

Friday
Sep162016

El Público

Mauricio Sotelo El Público (The Audience) opera to a libreto by Andrès Albáñez based on a play by Fredrico García Lorca. Directed 2015 by Robert Castro. Stars José Antonio Lópes (Director (Enrique) / Vine Leaves Figure), Thomas Tatzl (First Man (Gonzalo)) / Bells Figure / Red Nude), Arcángel [sic](First Horse), Jesús Méndez (Second Horse), Rubén Olmo (Third Horse), Josep Miquel Ramón (Second Man / First White Horse / Centurion), Antonio Lozano (Third Man / Black Horse / Idiot Shepherd), Gun-Brit Barkmin (Helen / Lady), Erin Caves (Emperor / Magician), Isabella Gaudí (Juliet /Boy), José San Antonio (Manservant / Male Nurse), Harold Torres & Antonio Magno (Two Students), Haizam Fathy (Pierrot Costume and Shadow), Leonardo Tremaschi (Ballerina Costume and Shadow), Carlos Rodas (Pajamas Costume and Shadow), and Daniel Kone & Samuel Echardour (Two Elves). Pablo Heras-Canado conducts the Klangforum Wien and the Coro Titular of the Teatro Real (Andrés Máspero Chorus Master). Special instrumental guests are guitar soloist Cañizares and percussionist Agustín Daissera. Sets by Alexander Polzin; costumes by Wojciech Dziedzic; lighting by Urs Schönebaum; choreography by Darrol Grand Moustrie. Directed for TV by Jérémie Cuvillier; produced by François Duplat and Xavier Dubois. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Lorca, perhaps Spain's most celebrated 20th century poet and dramatist, was from wealthy, conservative roots, but he was also gay. So he fell in the Spanish avant-garde and surrealists who gave him a platform to criticise bourgeois conventions. In 1936 he was murdered, it seems, by a Falangist death squad. Although folks are still looking, his remains have not been found. He wrote in 1930 a stage play called El Público. When Lorca died, there were two unpublished manuscripts of El Público known to exist. They went missing during the Spanish Civil War; although folks are still looking, they have not been found. But an earlier draft of most of the play did turn up.

Wildly symbolic and surreal, the play has seldom been produced. Doing El Público remains, I surmise, the ultimate unattainable dream for Spanish stage directors. So it was probably not a surprise when Gerard Mortier scheduled El Público in opera form, which turned out to be his last major decision as artistic director in Madrid.   Mortier was, of course, the "visionary opera company leader whose bold theatricality and updating of the canon helped define the art form’s modern history" (

This is one our buy list, but until we can get our hands an it, the trailer will be the best we can do:

Thursday
Sep152016

Beethoven Piano Sonatas 1-32 

Beethoven Piano Sonatas 1-32 (complete) played by Rudolf Buchbinder in the Mozarteum Großer Saal at the 2014 Salzburg Festival. In the Alphalist I gave this box the name "Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol. 1-3 so it would appear in the best place. The correct C Major title is Beethoven: The Complete Piano Sonatas. All 32 sonata recordings have been packaged previous by C Major in three separate releases called Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3. In other words, it appears this complete box just sells you the same three discs that were previous published in in separate packages. Grade: D+

This is the last in a series of 4 separate titles in which Buchbinder plays all the Beethoven piano sonatas. See my detailed reviewed of Vol. 1 which was published earlier. Because the 32 sonatas were recorded in 32 separate "chapters" and appear in what appears to be random order over the 3 volumes, I would assume that the sonatas presented in Vol. 1 are represetative of the whole series or are, perhaps, the best recordings of all of them.  Because of the many deficiencies noted in Vol. 1, I graded it D+. Since Vol. 1 is probably representative, I gave the same D+ to Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 as a tentative grade. Now that all the sonatas are published in this box of three discs, it follows that I should give this box a D+ grade also.

The grade of D+ here mean, "Don't buy this unless you have a real good reason." If you are a piano professional who plays the Beethoven sonatas, you might well benefit from observing the fine points of Buchbinder's playing. If you are just a typical amateur music lover, this box might be a good choice if it is cheap enough. C Major was asking about $40 for each of the separate volumes, but I think the real price out there has reached  close to 1/2 of list. Early indications are that the asking price for the complete set in Blu-ray might be, say $65. That gets you close to the price for modern sets of this music on CD. So if the street price falls from that, you can't get hurt. If you don't like the sorry video, just turn it off.

Thursday
Sep152016

Berlioz Symphonie fantastique

Berlioz Symphonie fantastique performed 2016 by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Daniele Gatti at the Concertgebouw. Concert also includes Wagner's Tannhäuser Overture (Dresden version) and the Liszt Orpheus (Symphonic Poem No. 4). Music recorded with 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Video was recorded at 1080p24, which is unusual as most video these days are recorded at 30 frames per second. (You may need to fiddle with equipment settings to get the 24 fps to play nice.) Released 2016, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

The recording arm of the Royal Concertgebouw operation is called RCO Live. It appears they have been pretty successful with CDs and other audio formats. But their video publication record is poor due to cutting corners and serious problems with DVDitis.  Their Mahler Symphonies 1-10 box was a huge failure that got a D grade from us. Somewhat better was their Beethoven Symphonies 1-9 box that is graded B- here.

This new video of Symphony fantastique is not generous. RCO management is still stuck in the LP/CD rut while offering 85 minutes of music on a disc that can play for 4 hours.  Well, if you want to charge $35 for one symphony, the content must be state-of-the-art in every respect. RCO has come through with 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling, which is encouraging.

But I note that this title is also available in DVD, which is discouraging. If the video content on the Blu-ray is the same as that of the DVD, then the Blu-ray version is automatically rendered obsolete as it falls short of today's state-of-the-art in making HD recordings of symphony concerts. (I did see a short video clip from this recording that prepares me to be disappointed.)

If you have this Blu-ray recording, I ask you to consult our Work Worksheet and Wonk Worksheet Instructions. Then I ask you to play this Symphony fantastique while assigning each video clip to the categories on the Wonk Worksheet. This will take some work. But if you do this work and let us publish it, you will instantly become an elite fine-arts critic. That's because the Wonk Worksheet is the only technique ever devised for art criticism that has objective standards that can be peer-reviewed.  Have you got the guts to be a Wonk?

 

Tuesday
Sep132016

Czech Night

The Berliner Philharmoniker Czech Night concert has the following pieces:
1. Smetana: "Vltava" from Má Vlast ("River Moldau" from My Country)
2. Dvořák Violin Concerto in A minor
3. Dvořák Symphony No. 6
4. Dvořák "Slavonic Dance No.8"
5. Paul Lincke "Berliner Luft"

Since 1983, the Berliner Philharmoniker has each year given a summer concert at the Waldbühne (Forest Stage) located in a popular Berlin park. The crowd dresses informally, but the musical fare is more formal than a pops concert. In 2016, the guest conductor was Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the violin concerto was performed by Lisa Batiashvili. Directed for TV by Henning Kasten. Released 2016, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here is a clip from this disc:

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

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