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.

May 8. The industry slowdown continues as we enter the summer holiday season in Europe and the publishers debate what to do about 4K. A handfull of new titles have appeared in early PR recently---I'm waiting to get better information before posting them. I'll also will be on vacation in London until May 22. Later in the early summer I'll get back to new editorial contributions including another Messiah review from Brian Balmer that's waiting to be formatted and published.

In the meantime, I urge you to dig deeper into older reviews and special stories. More and better will soon be coming your way.

Hank McFadyen


Entries by Henry McFadyen Jr. (998)


Andrea Chénier

Umberto Giordano Andrea Chénier opera to libretto by Luigi Illica. Directed 2015 by David McVicar at the Royal Opera House. Stars Jonas Kaufmann (Andrea Chénier), Željko Lučić (Carlo Gérard), Eva-Maria Westbroek (Maddalena Di Coigny), John Cunningham (Major-Domo), Basil Patton (An Old Gardener, Gérard’s Father), Denyce Graves (Bersi), Rosalind Plowright (Contessa Di Coigny), Peter Coleman-Wright (Pietro Fléville), Andrew Carter (Flando Fiorinelli), Peter Hoare (The Abbé), Adrian Clarke (Mathieu), Michael Kenneth Stewart (Orazio Coclite), Carlo Bosi (The Incredibile (An Incroyable)), Roland Wood (Roucher), Andrew Hobday (Maximilien Robespierre), Elena Zilio (Madelon), Ed Lyness (Madelon’s Grandson), Eddie Wade (Fouquier-Tinville), Yuriy Yurchu (Dumas), Basil Patton (Gravier De Vergennes), Irene Hardy (Laval-Montmorency), Judith Georgi (Idia Legray), and Jeremy White (Schmidt). Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and the Royal Opera Chorus. Set design by Robert Jones; costume design by Jenny Tiramani; choreography and movement by Andrew George; lighting design by Adam Silverman. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Grade: Help!

So far this is the only HDVD in which the character of Maximilien Robespierre appears.  According to Michael White, writing in The New York Times (January 27, 2015), there really was a poet named Andrea Chénier who went to the guillotine in the French Terror. Otherwise, this is a another version of the Tosca story (Luigi Illica wrote the librettos for both Andrea Chénier and Tosca) with bad-guy Gérard and good-guy Chénier both after the girl, Maddalena Di Coigny. While praising the production values, the singing of the main stars, and Pappano's work with the orchestra, White is dogged by a lack of enthusiasm for the score or the libretto.

But Patrick Dillon, writing in the February 2017 Opera News (page 48) gives this title a ringing endorsement and a "Critic's Choice" award as a "singers' opera" well-done by all concerned.

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



Mission Mozart

Mission Mozart documentary. This 53-minute film, produced by Bernhard Fleischer, explores the collaboration between conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, pianist Lang Lang, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra as they prepare to record Mozart's Piano Concertos Nos. 17 and 24. Original languages are English and German; subtitles in English, German, French, and Japanese. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

I  suspect this is mostly a  case of scraping the bottom of the Sony archives: there's no finished music for you here---just 53 minutes of recording taken during rehearsal. The finished product was the CD shown below:

This will probably be of little interest to most fans of classical music, but it is in HD video with high-quality surround sound, so it qualifies for a story here.

If you have seen this obscure title, please help us with a comment or mini-review. That's probably the only way we I'll ever be able to pass on more information about this item.



Vincenzo Bellini Norma opera to libretto by Felice Romani. Directed 2015 by by R.B. Schlather (after Kevin Newbury) at the Gran Teatro del Liceu. Stars Gregory Kunde (Pollione), Raymond Aceto (Oroveso), Sondra Radvanovsky (Norma), Ekaterina Gubanova (Adalgisa), Ana Puche (Clotilde), and Francisco Vas (Flavio). Renato Palumbo conducts the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatro del Liceu (Chorus Master Peter Burian). Set design by David Korins; costumes by Jessica Jahn; lighting by D.M. Wood; video direction by Jean-Pierre Loisil. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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The Grand Organ of Gloucester Cathedral

Jonathan Hope plays the following selections on the grand organ of the Gloucester Cathedral:

1. Purcell arr. Hope "Two Trumpet Tunes and Air"
2. J. S. Bach "Toccata and Fugue" in D minor BWV 565
3. Ralph Vaughan Williams "Rhosymedre"
4. Paul Dukas arr. Hope "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"
5. Handel "Organ Concerto No. 13" in F (movements 1 and 2)
6. Pierre Cochereau trans. Filsell "Final" (from Symphonie de Boston)
7. Liszt arr. Rogg "St Francis of Paola Walking on the Waves"
8. Herbert Howells "Psalm Prelude Set 2 No. 1"
9. Elgar arr. Lemare "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D"

Priory specializes in church and organ music. This package has a Blu-ray, a DVD, and a CD!  Recorded and produced by Paul Crichton; filmed and edited by Richard Knight; Associate Producer was Callum Ross; Executive Producer was Neil Collier. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Grade: Help!

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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-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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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! 

Richard Osborne in the December 2016 Gramophone at pages 51-53 condemns this box for weak sound quality. The presentation of technical information about this box seems confusing. Nobody seems to want credit for the video.   One has to wonder if sloppiness in the cover also suggests carelessness in the recordings. Can you sometimes judge the book by its cover?

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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!

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Royal Ballet Collection Box

Royal Ballet Collection Box set released 2016. Below are the discs. All of them have 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. (Grade: B-)

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. A lot of chaff with the wheat. When the price gets down to less than $120, the box starts looking reasonable: 4 titles you really want at $120 is more or less full normal retail and you get 10 titles free. As the price goes south of that, at some point this becomes a bargain, depending on how picky you are.




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!





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.

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