Titles by Category

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.

December 2. I just posted a review of the 2016 Royal Ballet Nutcracker. We have on our Alphalist a thorough rundown and grade on each of the 10 Nutcracker Blu-rays you could order for a Christmas present!

I just updated and added screenshots to the Priory title The Grand Organ of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Finally we have reported on all 5 of the Priory organ Blu-rays. These exemplary recordings include a Blu-ray video, a DVD video, and a CD! Each of these titles has a fine program of organ music played by virtuoso musicians. In addition, there are fabulous bonus extras with information about the cathedrals, the towns where they are located, the details of each organ instrument, and a discussion of each selection that is played in the recital. Never before was so much value in recordings conveyed for such a modest price.  To see information on all these Priory titles, just go to the left navigation bar and click on "Priory" under "Titles by Publisher." Then all 5 Priory stories will be instantly produced for your enjoyment! _______________________________________________________________________________

Thursday
Jul212011

La Bohème (Moore)

Puccini La Bohème opera to libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. English libretto by Amanda Holden based on the Italian version. Directed 2009 by Jonathan Miller at the English National Opera. Stars Roland Wood, Alfie Boe, Pauls Putinš, David Stout, Simon Butteriss, Melody Moore, Philip Daggett, Hanan Alattar, Richard Angas, Christoper Ross, and Andrew Tinkler. Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducts the chorus & orchestra of the English National Opera. Set designs by Isabella Bywater; lighting by Jean Kalman; directed for TV by Robin Lough.  Released 2010, disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Grade: C+

This new Jonathan Miller English language production of La Bohème was first staged in 2009 at the English National Opera Coliseum. It competes in HDVD with the Del Monaco production at the Teatro Real, the Dornhelm motion picture, and the now arthritic John Copley version at the Royal Opera House.

I love Amanda Holden's fresh new English transliteration. To make the words easy to follow (and sing, I think) she comes up with tons of new thoughts and images that sound natural to contemporary English speakers while remaining faithful to the spirit of Giacosa and Illica. If you are a native English speaker and just getting into opera, you might prefer the ENO version for this reason alone. Kultur kindly provided English language subtitles. With the subtitles on, I (native English speaker) could follow almost all the singing perfectly. With the subtitles off, I still could not follow about half the libretto on my third viewing. Since I will probably keep the subtitles on anyway, I don't think I'll give up my long-range project of learning the Italian libretto.

The Coliseum is a large hall. The ability to sing loud is essential---the appearance of the singers is not so important with the long sight-lines. All the singers in this production sang well enough, I think, to give the live audience good value.

I also liked the clever sets and decision to updated to 1930. But the design is too unrelentingly drab. Puccini expressed little social consciousness, and one should not try with this opera to make a statement in the vein of Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) or Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (1937). The Bohemians had a culture of abject poverty, but their lives and the women who loved them glinted of glamour and the promise of greatness---that's why people find them interesting. This opera is about two of those beautiful women: one who dies young and another who will probably get rich outliving several husbands. So the director has to at least give them some beautiful clothes and decent wigs. After all, Mimi is a seamstress who can make her own clothes, and a girl like Musette always dresses well. Similar to John Copley at the Royal Opera, Miller does a good job of directing the fast-moving scenes of high jinks among the 4 roommates and the feast at Cafe Momus. But his love scenes between Rodolfo and Mimi and the death scene are not convincing. Contrast this to Del Monaco's directing of Inva Mula and Aquiles Machado (Teatro Real) where the lovers seem to actually care for each other.

Well, this thumbnail is about the Kultur video of this performance, so now we get to the sad part: the appearance of the female leads in HDVD. In high-definition video, Melody Moore is too tall and heavy to pair with Alfie Boe. Dressed in frumpy costumes and a hideous bathing-cap style wig, Melody often looks like she might be his mom rather than his girl friend. With a taller swain and some pretty clothes, she might be able to pull it off, especially if the director would let her die in the dark where she wouldn't look like such a healthy corn-feed farm girl. Also, it would be nice if they could find somewhere to put her recording mike other than sticking out from her wig right in the top-middle of her forehead. Hanan Alattar as Musetta is a more extreme case. Alattar isn't a dirigible---yet; but even a blimp can't do Musetta in HDVD. Musseta sings a song about how the men salivate when they meet her on the street. Well for this Musetta, before drooling, a prudent man would first gangway by stepping off into the gutter. To make Alattar look a bit exotic in the Coliseum, the makeup folks slathered her, and maybe this worked live. But in HDVD poor Alattar looks like a female professional wrestler. Finally, the costume folks put Alattar in the ugliest dress conceivable: a tight nasty-cream-colored solid overlaid with a geometric grid pattern that demonstrates (with mathematical precision) the dimensions of every bulge threatening to burst every seam.

In summary, the Del Monaco Teatro Real La Bohème is the first pick. Still, you might go for this ENO version if you want to try an English libretto. Otherwise, for the drab design and weakness in the female leads, I give this title the grade of C+.

Thursday
Jul212011

La Bohème (Netrebko)

Giacomo Puccini La Bohème opera to libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. This is a motion picture version of the opera directed by Robert Dornhelm. Stars Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, Nicole Cabell, George von Bergen (voice by Boaz Daniel), Adrian Eröd (voice by Stéphane Degout), and Vitaly Kovalyou. Bertrand de Billy conducts the Baravian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Chorus of the Bayerischer Rundfunk, and the Children's Chorus of the Staatstheatre am Gärtnerplatz, Munich. Released in 2009, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. An HDVD of this movie was released in the U.S. by Kultur restricted to Region A. It appears this Axiom version is region free, but the Axiom version is not being sold in North America.  Grade: A-

In this mini-review I discuss the merits of the Dornhelm movie as compared to the Opus Arte HDVD of La Bohème  directed by Giancarlo del Monaco at Theatro Real in Madrid. Earlier I praised del Monaco for "movie-slick" directing with "fine acting touches." And now we have a real movie made with the full armada of technology devoted to photographing persons who are acting to match pre-recorded music.  (That's right, Netrebko, Villazón, Cabell, and Kovalyov were not recorded at the photographic sessions. Von Bergen and Eröd are not singers at all  and were selected for their looks).

The movie is about 7 minutes shorter than the live opera. Though fast-paced, the movie in some ways tells the story more clearly than the stage version. For example, in Act 1 the movie uses clever editing to show that Mini has been listening to the antics of her 4 artistic neighbours and has a passion to meet them. Knowing that one of the men is alone, Mimi blows out her candle just before she knocks on door of the garret. On the stage, the speed at which Mimi and Rodolfo fall in love seems like, well, an opera-story convention. But Dornhelm uses his expanded set and the sexuality of movie-picture-style close-ups to tell a realistic story of love-starved people ready for action. And so under Dornhelm, Mimi and Rodolfo make love (brief semi-nude scene) in Mimi's room while Colline gets his hair cut. All this we can only guess at in the opera house, but it's licensed, I think, by the libretto. I liked the movie flashback that dramatises Schaunard's dense story of the English Lord, the maid, and the murder of the parrot. I also think the Act 2 street scenes and Musetta's grand appearance at Cafe Momus is better told in the movie than in the stage versions I've seen. So I give the advantage to Dornhelm over del Monaco in the fist two acts.

In Act 3, the advantage shifts to del Monaco. Both directors are confined by the libretto to one piece of a street. Dornhelm decided to stick closely to traditional designs, so he puts Act 3 in the customary snowscape. Del Monaco is more "advanced" in his Act 3. Even though it's winter, he gives up the snow to make room for his carousing men, streetwalkers, bag lady, and vomiting drunk. Amazingly, he bathes the entire set with warm peach-orange-pallet colors---adding irony to his milieu of economic, psychological, and moral destitution. Thus del Monaco wrings more out of Act 3 than Dornhelm gets with his blizzard.

Finally, I was puzzled by Dornhelm's Act 4 death scene. I'm used to Mimi dying cold and in the dark (as depicted by del Monaco). But Dornhelm's Act 4 garret looks almost as bright and cheerful as a TV situation comedy. The windows are open, and it must be spring (when Mimi and Rodolfo had once agreed to part). Netrebko arrives with bare arms and low-cut blouse, and Dornhelm muffs it by putting her on a bed with no blanket for her torso. (I know I should not have used "muff" in the previous sentence.) At age 38, Netrebko was pleasingly plump (and in fact pregnant). If she's going to die from the ravages of consumption, they better cover her up and just work on making her look pale. For me, all the pathos of the death scene gets rinsed out in the cheerful light. This includes my pet favourite, Colline's overcoat aria. Dornhelm's Vitaly Kovalyov probably sings Colline's aria better than del Monaco's Filipe Bou. But Kovalyou looks like a sales executive rather than a destitute philosopher. Bou, gaunt and spare, scratches out his song and proves with his demeanour and body language that acting is just as much at home on the stage as before the movie camera.

I rate the casts in these two shows about equal. (I do object to Machado's obesity---if he could only control what goes into his mouth as well as he controls what comes out of it. Nor would I recommend that Villazón take off his shirt again for a camera.) Movie technology gives the director great flexibility telling any story. But this opera  is a brutally simple device aimed at showing us one thing: the death of a poor, sick girl in an empty, dark, cold room. Here the stage director wins out with his single pale light. So if I could only have one La Bohème, I would pick the del Monaco version, mostly for his tear-inducing Act 4.

Looking a bit at the bigger picture, I don't care if the show I have in my home theater starts on the opera stage or in a Hollywood studio. Nor do I care if the singing is dubbed or if none of the actors sings a note themselves. I just want my illusion of what Puccini had in mind. Dornhelm and his backers made this movie hoping to sell tickets to movie houses. I wish them every success in this. But I do suggest that Axiom made a big mistake in having subtitles only in English (which are, by the way, good). This HDVD could be popular all over the world for some time to come. It deserves to have subtitles in 10 languages.

Thursday
Jul212011

La Bohème (Netrebko)

Giacomo Puccini La Bohème opera to libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. This is a motion picture version of the opera directed by Robert Dornhelm. Stars Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, Nicole Cabell, George von Bergen (voice by Boaz Daniel), Adrian Eröd (voice by Stéphane Degout), and Vitaly Kovalyou. Bertrand de Billy conducts the Baravian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Chorus of the Bayerischer Rundfunk, and the Children's Chorus of the Staatstheatre am Gärtnerplatz, Munich. Released in 2009, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. This title is being sold all over the world. But as best we can tell, it is restricted to Blu-ray Region A, which is certain Asian nations and the Americas (Pacific rim nations). So this is a safe purchase only for those who have players set for Region A. (If you are in Europe, buy the region-free Axiom version of this title described below. Released 2008, disc has Dolby 5.1 sound.  Grade: B+

Here we have Kultur's release of Dornhelm's movie.  Earlier this year Axiom released their own version, region free but not sold in the U.S. For general information about the movie, please read our our mini-review of the Axion disc. Here I compare the disc authorship of the Kultur and the Axions products.

While Kultur has not released a bad product, the Axiom disc is better in nearly every aspect. Neither the video nor sound on the Kultur release are up to the standard of the Axiom version. The resolution is sub par for the Kultur disc, as the picture is less detailed, more washed out, more faded. For the average movie watcher, this difference might be minute. But we played the Kultur disc in a typical home theater and in a reference-level theater at John Fort Audio-Video. On the better playback equipment, the weakness in the Kultur picture becomes much more obvious. So for those interested in the best quality, Kultur doesn't deliver.

As to sound, I say again that the Kultur disc isn't a bad product. But it lacks the same degree of clarity and resonance of sound I hear on the Axiom disc. The difference is the most pronounced when multiple singers converge; on the Kultur disc, the vocals tend to get more muddled than they should. This difference probably lies in the fact that Kultur uses older Dolby Digital 5.1 technology. Axiom springs for lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1.

Other, less important differences also play against the Kultur release. Both Axiom and Kultur use the same English only subtitle track, but Kultur presents theirs with a chunkier subtitle font reminiscent of poor DVD subtitling. Axiom's subtitles are much cleaner and visually appealing. In addition Kultur places their subtitles higher up than Axiom's. Letterboxed on widescreen television, this higher placement has Kultur's subtitles consistently on the picture, instead of on the lower black bar as Axiom's does. Axiom provides a nice keep box booklet; Kultur gives you only a single sheet with a list of chapters.

The one benefit that the Kultur disc has over Axiom's is that it has more chapter breaks, allowing for quicker access to your favorite scenes.

Your choice is clear - the Axiom disc is superior. However, the Kultur disc is cheaper and is the only one that readily available in the US.  If you want the best, I think the Axiom is worth the extra money. But if the cheaper price attracts you, the Kultur disc is a decent option for those who can play it.

Wednesday
Jul202011

La Bohème (HD DVD)

Giacomo Puccini La Bohème opera to libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Directed 2006 by Giancarlo del Monaco at the Madrid Teatro Real. Stars Inva Mula, Aquiles Machado, Laura Giordano, Fabio Maria Capitanucci, David Menéndez, Felipe Bou, Gonzalo Fernández de Terán, Juan Tomás Martínez, Alfredo Mariotti, Federico Gallar, Mario Villoria, and Francisco Pardo. Jesús López Cobos conducts the Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real (Chorus Master Jordi Casas Bayer) and the Children's Chorus of the Comunidad de Madrid (Chorus Master José de Felipe). Design of set and costumes by Michael Scott; lighting by Wolfgang von Zoubek. This was an HD DVD product released in 2008. Disc has 5.0 Dolby TrueHD sound. This was apparently never made available in the U.S. through normal distributions channels. It plays just as well, we think, as the Blu-ray version that came along later. Grade: A

For a mini-review, see our Blu-ray report on this title.

Wednesday
Jul202011

Berlioz Symphonie fantastique

Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique. Michael Tilson Thomas directs the San Francisco Symphony in a  performance of Symphonie Fantastique as part of the "Keeping Score" outreach program of the San Francisco Symphony. In addition, Thomas narrates a 55-minute Public Television educational program about Berlioz and the Symphonie fantastique. Released 2009, this disc is 99.5% in high-definition video and has Dolby TrueHD 7.1 sound. Grade: 

Although I always loved Harold in Italy, I hated most other music by Berlioz, including Symphonie fantastique. Would watching the Keeping Score documentary about Symphonie fantastique make a difference?  Thomas is almost as good a speaker and teacher as he is a conductor. The documentary has all the production values you could hope for like gorgeous shots of Paris and other locations in France and Italy, excellent writing based on careful research, and expert movie making. Thomas tells about the life of Berlioz, and he makes the Symphonie fantastique come alive as he explains the themes and aspects of the music in relation to the dramatic loves of young Hector. I then listened 3 times to the live performance of Symphonie fantastique by the San Francisco Symphony. On first listening I was surprised to discover that I didn't hate the symphony any more---so the documentary was working. On second listening I began to wonder, "Is this better than the recording of Symphonie fantastique in HDVD by Ozawa and the Saito Kinen Orchestra?

So for my third listening I did many movement-by-movement comparisons of the Thomas and Ozawa versions. According to Gramophone magazine, the San Francisco Symphony is the 13th best in the world, and the Saito Kinen ranks 19th. And surely you wouldn't expect any festival orchestra to be competitive with the likes of the San Francisco band when they are recording in their own lair (Davies Hall) with its state-of-the art recording facilities. Well, the Saito Kinen group is competitive, and I now have even more respect than before for their singular accomplishments. But the comparison showed me that the Thomas recording is the better of these two HDVDs.

Seeing the musicians perform in HDVD makes what you hear more impressive than merely listening to the music, say, from a CD. The video record of the San Francisco Symphony performance of Symphonie fantastique is probably as good as could be expected with today's technology. The light was bright enough to allow high resolution camera work, but also warm enough to avoid eye-strain and give everybody and everything a healthy glow. The Davies Hall stage is equipped with the normal long range cameras plus special cameras that move about by remote control within the orchestra. Davies Hall also has a command center for the video work that was invented by Dr. Strangelove. It gives Strangelove (here TV director Gary Halvorson, I think) the ability to plan and make many different short close-ups of the musicians in rapid succession throughout the show.

So while Thomas is frantically conducting the mass of players before him, Strangelove is engaged in equally frantic  efforts to follow the score and the music in making his movie. The players know this.  At any time, and especially when musical ball is passed to him, anybody can become the star! This must be an exciting and intimidating new aspect of working as as classical musician.

Although the mikes are almost invisible, the quality of this recording proves that Davies Hall is extraordinarily well equipped to record the sounds of the musicians.  As is pointed out in one of the extras on this disc, when the video shows, say, the concertmaster, his violin is what the viewer hears. Because the TV director in Davies Hall has such extraordinary control over that you see and hear, the TV director becomes a kind of second conductor! Thomas is the conductor from the perspective of the players and the live audience. But Strangelove determines what we get in our home theater. The difference between a great recording and an reference recording comes from the quality of the gear and the skill of staff placed under the control of Strangelove.

This mini-review is getting too long, so I will end by saying that "Keeping Score" changed me from a hater to lover of Symphonie fantastique.  Because of the excellent documentary and the brilliant recording, this HDVD belongs on every shelf. This earns for this HDVD the grade of A+.

Wednesday
Jul202011

The Berlin Concert: Live from the "Waltbühne"

The Berlin Concert---Live from the "Waltbühne". Stars Plácido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, and Rolando Villazón singing opera favorites at the Berlin Waltbühne, (or Forest Theater) in 2006. Marco Armiliato conducts the Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin. Here are the selections performed:

1. Verdi Overture to Nabucco

2. Cilea "È la solita storia del pastore" from L'Arlesiana

3. Puccini "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi

4. Massenet "Ah! Parais! Parais, astre de mon ciel" from Le Mage

5. Verdi "Già nella notte densa" from Otello

6. Bizet Entr'acte from Carmen

7. Bizet "Au fond du temple saint" from Les Pêcheurs de perles

8. Rossini Overture to Semiramide

9. Grever Júrame

10. Lehár "Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss"  from Giuditta

11. Ernesto de Curtis "Non ti scordar di me"

12. Puccini "O soave fanciulla" from La Bohème

13. Mascagni Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana

14. Furio Rendine Vurria

15. Bernstein "Tonight" from West Side Story

16. Rossini La Danza

17. Puccini "Quando men vo" from La Bohème

18. Pablo Sorozabál "No  puede ser" from La tabernera del puerto

19. Verdi "Libiamo ne' lieti calichi" or "Brindisi" from La traviata 

20. Lehár "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Das Land des Lächelns

Directed for video by Frank Hof. Released  2008, disc has 5.1 PCM and 5.1 dts-HD sound. Grade: B+

The Waldbühne, part of the Olympic Stadium complex in Berlin, seats 20,000 in Greek-style outdoor amphitheater discomfort. There's a utilitarian stage topped by a high-tech circus tent canopy---Berlin is famous for these edgy/ugly architectural experiments. To their credit, the producers of this event dressed up the stage quite well, the orchestra wore white tie, and the show looked as elegant as possible outdoors. Still, this one-shot performance had be miked and amped with wires everywhere supporting giant screens with images of the action.

The weather is rarely perfect for these events---this time it was hot and humid with Armiliato about to die from heat stroke. The singers had to mug and ham it up in an effort to connect to the vast sea of ants all over the mountain side before them. All this doesn't mesh too well with the new high-definition cameras showing what everything really looks like.

Well, nobody could complain too much about the 3 stars doing stuff like "O mio babbino caro." But we still got the impression that our heroes seemed a bit harassed, unrehearsed, and jet-lagged. And why not? This audience is interested in celebrities, not arias. We note also that the producers included more than a few shots taken with standard definition cameras, and this is anathema to us HDVD fans. If you want to add a singing concert to your collection, we suggest you skip this title and start at Baden-Baden with the Deutsche Grammophon The Opera Gala. But if you can afford two discs of opera favorites, you will probably be happy with the Berlin Concert also.

Wednesday
Jul202011

Benvenuto Cellini

Hector Berlioz Benvenuto Cellini opera to a libretto by Léon de Wailly and Henri Auguste Barbier. Directed 2007 by Philipp Stölzl at the Salzburg Festival. Stars Burkhard Fritz, Maija Kovalevska, Laurent Naouri, Brindley Sherratt, Mikhail Petrenko, Kate Aldrich, Xavier Mas, Roberto Tagliavini, Adam Plachetka, and Sung-Keun Park. Also features dancers Gabrio Gabrieli, Francesco Pedone, Marie Seeger, Tobias Wozniak, and acrobats Silke Adolph, Andy Arndt, and Thomas Dürrfeld. Valery Gergiev conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor (Chorus Master Andreas Schüller). Stage design by Philipp Stölzl;  costumes by Kathi Maurer; lighting by Duane Schuler; video projections by Stefan Kessner and Max Stolzenberg; dramatic advisement by Ronny Dietrich; choreography by Mara Kurotschka; video direction by Andreas Morell. Released 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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Friday
Jul152011

Barenboim West Eastern Divan Salzburg Concerts

Barenboim West-Eastern Divan Salzburg Concerts. Daniel Barenboim conducts, in 2007, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in performances of the  following works:

1. Beethoven Leonore Overture III

2. Schoenberg Variations for Orchestra

3. Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique"

4. Mozart Sinfonia concertante in E flat major (bonus)

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra was founded as a peace initiative by Barenboim and the late Edward Said with musicians from Israel, Palestine, other Arab countries, and Iran. The works listed were conducted by Barenboim at the 2007 Salzburg Festival; soloists in the Sinfonia are Mohamed Saleh (oboe), Kinan Azmeh (clarinet), Sharon Polyak (horn), and Mor Biron (bassoon). TV direction by Agnes Méth. Released 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound.  Grade: C+

The picture quality is rather mediocre for the three major numbers, probably due to low lighting, equipment issues, and modest budgets for cameramen and editing. In contrast, the video in the Sinfonia is quite good as the lights were brilliant in the small hall and there is much less to cover with the resources available. The sound in the three major numbers is also uninspiring with miking and editing problems that we don't encounter often in recordings of the major orchestras. But again, the sound for the Sinfonia is excellent.

This is a unique orchestra. It is a political and social experiment in that it brings together players from many countries who might well be at other times arming themselves to fight one another. To help overcome rehearsal obstacles faced by the group, Barenboim has recruited top musicians from Europe to teach and play similar to way the Saito Kinen orchestra operates. Guy Braunstein (1:26:07), the lst Concertmaster with the Berliner Phliharmoniker and who grew up in Tel Aviv, sits in the middle of the first violins in all of the selections on this disc. I also recognize in all the selections Kyril Zlotnikov (1:31:06), a Russian cello star who often plays in Barenboim's Berlin Staatskapelle. The performer who benefits the most from from this disc is Mor Biron, who plays all the bassoon solos. He was 25 when this was made and looks like a student, but he's not. He was taken into the bassoon section of the Berlin Philharmaniker early in 2007.

Trivia comment: mixed in with this eclectic group, I spot my first HDVD female tatoo (1:03:21), and it's a doozy. (Eric Underwood, an American ballet dancer with the Royal Ballet, is proud owner of our first HDVD male tatoo.)

A lot of the "festival" HDVDs we have been getting don't have much more music on them than was traditional for single LP recordings. We have been giving bad grades to most of these skinny titles. To their credit, C Major does put together several different shoots from 2007 to present 2 hours of music on this title. By far the best of the selections provided is the bonus Sinfonia. The Leonore III suffers from the technical weaknesses mentioned earlier; if you have the Opus Arte Fidelio opera HDVD you don't need subject Leonore as well. Moving on to the Schoenberg, I question if anyone should try to record this other than a fully-qualified major orchestra with resources to thoroughly rehearse the thorny piece and present it with complete authority. Then the listener knows he's hearing it the way it's supposed to be, and the listener can form his opinion with confidence. I've been through this twice with the Divan Orchestra, and I don't know what to think. I suspect the Divan Orchestra didn't play it all that well because it's just too hard.
Finally, the Divan orchestra did a decent job with the Tchaikovsky "Pathétique." The problem is, however, that we already have 3 superior "Pathétiques" by famous orchestras in HDVD, so there's no need for this one. If you are interested in the Tchaikovsky 6, a better choice is the Karajan Memorial Concert.

So where do we wind up? If you're interested in youth orchestras or the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, this is a decent title that you will enjoy despite the only fair technical aspects of all of the selections other than the Sinfonia concertante. You could justify buying this is your really, really want a Sinfonia concertante in HDVD. Otherwise, we don't have much enthusiasm for this title, and we give it the grade of "C+."

Wednesday
Jul132011

Aida

Giuseppe Verdi Aida opera to libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni. Directed 2009 by Sonja Frisell at the Met (HD Live) with Stage Director Stephen Pickover and  Assistant Stage Director J. Knighten Smit.  Stars Roberto Scandiuzzi (Ramfis), Johan Botha (Radamés), Dolora Zajick (Ammeris), Violeta Urmana (Aida), Stefan Kocán (The King), Adam Laurence Herskowitz (A Messenger), Jennifer Check (A Priestess), Carlo Guelfi (Amonasto), Christine Freeman (Solo Dancer), and Bradley Shelver (Solo Dancer). Daniele Gatti conducts the Metropolican Orchestra and Chorus (Chorus Master Donald Palumbo). Production by Sonja Frisell; sets by Gianni Quaranta; costumes by Dada Saligeri; lighting by Gil Wechsler; choreography by Alexei Ratmansky; stage band directed by Gregory Buchalter; dramaturgy by Paul Cremo. Video Direction by Gary Halvorson; Music Producer was Jay David Saks; Supervising Producers were Mia Bongiovanni and Elena Park; Producers were Louisa Briccetti and Victoria Warivonchik. Released 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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Wednesday
Apr202011

Belshazzar

Handel Belshazzar opera to a libretto by Charles Jennens. Directed 2008 by Christof Nel with Martina Jochem at the Aix Festival. Stars Kenneth Tarver, Rosemary Joshua, Bejun Mehta, Kristina Hammarström, Neal Davies, Christina Sampson, Lucy Taylor, Andrew Radley, Richard Wilberforce, Vernon Kirk, and Andrew Davies. René Jacobs conducts the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and the RIAS Kammerchor (Chorus Master Tim Brown). Sets by Roland Aeschlimann; costumes by Bettina Walter; lighting by Olaf Freese; filmed by Don Kent. Released 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound.  Grade: Help!

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