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of this to come to my attention would be London Symphony Orchestra title LSO3038, Ravel, Dutilleaux & Delage, which was originally made to show (in SD I think) on French TV.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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Wednesday
Mar232011

Aida

Verdi Aida opera to libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni. Directed 2006 by Franco Zeffirelli at the Teatro alla Scala. Stars Violeta Urmana (Aida), Roberto Alagna (Rabamès), Ildiko Komlosi (Amneris), Giorgio Giuseppini (Ramfis), Carlo Guelfi (Amonastro), Marco Spotti (The King), Antonello Ceron (Messenger), and Sae Kyung Rim (Priestes) in singing roles as well as Luciana Savignano, Roberto Bolle, and Myrna Kamara of the ballet. Riccardo Chailly directs the Orchestra e coro del Teatro alla Scala (Chorus Master Bruno Casoni). Sets by Franco Zeffirelli; costumes by Maurizio Millenotti; lighting by Gianni Mantovanini; choreography by Vladimir Vassiliev; directed for TV by Patrizia Carmine. Released 2008, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B

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

Wednesday
Mar232011

Adventures of Pinnochio

Jonathan Dove The Adventures of Pinocchio opera to libretto by Alasdair Middleton. Directed 2008 by Martin Duncan at Sadler's Wells Theater (James Bonas Assistant Director).  Stars Victoria Simmonds (Pinocchio), Jonathan Summers (Geppetto), Mary Plazas (The Blue Fairy), Rebecca Bottone (Cricket/Parrot), Graeme Broadbent (Puppeteer/Ape-Judge/Ringmaster/Big Green Fisherman), Allan Clayton (Lampwick), Mark Wilde (Cat), James Laing (Fox/Coachman), Carole Wilson (Pigeon/Snail), Paul Gibson (Barker), Ben Kerslake (Arlecchino), Gillene Herbert (Rosaura), Nicholas Butterfield (Pantalone), Jeremy Peaker (Owl Doctor/Bricklayer), Campbell Russell (Craw Doctor), Hazel Croft (Beetle Doctor), Edward Thornton (Coal-Merchant), and Anthony Cunningham (Drum Maker). Dancers are Ted Sikström, Stacy Abalogun, Marie Andersen, and James Roberts. David Parry conducts the Orchestra (Anthony Kraus Assistant Conductor) and Chorus (Bernhard Schneider Chorus Master) of Opera North. Set and costume design by Francis O'Connor; lighting by Davy Cunningham; movement direction by Nick Winston; directed for video by Thomas Grimm; sound production by James Whitbourn; produced by Ferenc van Damme and Hans Petri. Released 2009, disc has 5.1 Dolby TrueHD sound. Grade: C

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

Wednesday
Mar232011

Adriana Lecouvreur

Francesco Cilea Adriana Lecouvreur opera to libretto by Arturo Colautti. Directed 2009 by Lorenzo Mariani at the Teatro Regio Torino. Stars Micaela Carosi (Adriana Lecouvreur), Marcelo Álvarez (Maurizio), Marianne Cornetti (La Principessa di Bouillon), Alfonso Antoniozzi (Michonnet), Simone Del Savio (Il Principe di Bouillon), Luca Casalin (L'abate di Chazeuil), Antonella De Chiara (Madamigella Jouvenot), Patrizia Porzio (Madamigella Dangeville), Carlo Bosi (Poisson), Diego Matamoros (Quinault), Giuseppe Milano (Un Maggiordomo), and Carola Iannuzzi (Una Cameriera). Renato Palumbo conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio Torino (Chorus Master: Claudio Fenoglio). Sets by Nicola Rubertelli; costumes by Luisa Spinatelli; choreography by Michele Merola; lighting by Claudio Schmid; TV direction by Matteo Ricchetti. Released in 2010, disc has 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio surround sound. Grade: B-

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

Wednesday
Mar232011

Admeto

 

Handel Admeto opera to libretto by Aurelia Aureli and Ortensio Mauro. Directed 2006 by Axel Köhler at the Halle Handel Festival (Händel-Festspiele). Stars Matthias Rexroth (Admeto), Romelia Lichtenstein (Alceste), Mechthild Bach (Antigona), Tim Mead (Trasimede), Raimund Nolte (Ercole), Melanie Hirsch (Orindo), Gerd Vogel (Moraspe), and Howard Arman/Alex Köhler (Voice of Apollo). Howard Arman conducted the Handel Festival Orchestra (playing historical instruments) at Opernhaus Halle. Stage design by Roland Aeschlimann; costumes by Marie-Thérèse Jossen; masks by Mario Ansinn; lighting by Matthias Hönig; directed for TV by Ute Feudel. Released in 2009, this disc features 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C+

This is from the Halle Handel Festival, which usually stages one Handel opera each summer. Over time, the festival has staged most if not all of Handle's many operas. But when a organization does only one opera a year, don't expect miracles. The only singer in this production who gets better with repeated viewing is Raimund Nolte, baritone, in the role of Hercules. Nolte has it all: a steady pleasant singing voice, great diction which allows you to hear clearly the words he sings, good looks, trim figure, and acting ability. Matthias Rexroth is an excellent counter-tenor, I think, but I still fatigue of men singing in that register. Tim Mead is striking as Thrasymedes, but also wearisome. The directing and design is mildly interesting, and the comic touch helps break the monotony of the slow-paced libretto. The Handel Festival Orchestra sounds great throughout the disc, and the recording is fine. Students of early opera and Handel lovers will probably find things here to like. For the rest of us who might be interested just in trying Handel, a better bet would be the Giulio Cesare or Orlando HDVDs.

Wednesday
Mar232011

Acis and Galatea

Handel Acis and Galatea opera to libretto by John Gay, Alexander Pope, and John Hughes. Directed 2009 by Wayne McGregor (assistant Laïla Diallo) at the Royal Opera House. The singing stars are Danielle de Niese (Galatea, a Nymph), Charles Workman (Acis, a Shepherd), Paul Agnew (Damon, a Shepherd), Matthew Rose (Polyphemus), Ji-Min Park (Coridon, a Shepherd), Juliet Schiemann (Chorus Soprano Soloist), and Phillip Bell (Chorus Tenor Soloist). The dancing stars from the Royal Ballet are Lauren Cuthbertson (Galatea), Edward Watson (Acis), Steven McRae (Damon), Melissa Hamilton (Damon), Eric Underwood (Polyphemus), and Paul Kay (Coridon). Other dancers are Olivia Cowley, Cindy Jourdain, Kristen McNally, Iohna Loots, Samantha Raine, Brian Maloney, Liam Scarlett, Johannes Stepanek, and Dawid Trzensimiech. Christopher Hogwood conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (leader: Kati Debretzeni) and the The Royal Opera Extra Chorus (Chorus Master: Stephen Westrop). Continuo: harpsichord by Julian Perkins; theorbo by Jan Čižmář; cello by Andrew Skidmore. Chamber organ by Steven Moore. Designs by Hildegard Bechtler; lighting by Lucy Carter; film director was Jonathan Haswell. Released in 2010, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: D+

2009 was 250 years after the death of Handel, so in that year (and 2010) we got more of his works in HDVD than we maybe really wanted. Handel was very successful in his day, but his librettos and music can now seem tiresome. Still, true opera lovers and fans of early music adore Handel. And with enough effort, a Handel opera can be brought to life for all of us even today; the best proof of this is the Glyndebourne Giulio Cesare (Opus Arte).

The Royal Opera House tried hard for impressive results in this  Acis and Galatea, but the bomb comes up a dud because its many moving parts don't fit together. Although this is presented as an opera, it was directed by Wayne McGregor, a famous choreographer. The result: I dig McGregor's choreography; but I don't like the designs he commissions or his directing.

The designs are a garbage dump of mismatched and ugly elements. The background for the first scene is an abstract but rather pleasing "pastoral" image of rocks, water, and green forestry. After the opening, the scenery becomes increasingly surreal and arbitrary. I think I understand the enormous blue-black circular blob that dominates much of Act II. It's an anti-sun and symbol for the evil giant Polyphemus (yes, our old Cyclops friend from the Odyssey, but here with two eyes and not yet blinded like McGregor's sun). The big blob looks dramatic for a few moments. But because it's impossible to ignore, it soon becomes an obnoxious distraction. The dancers all wear nude-colour tights appropriate for modern abstract choreography. But the singing stars are outfitted in inconsistent and ugly "rustic grunge" and the chorus wears yet a third look which I call "business casual." Another example of ugly visual incongruity are scenes littered with surreal, cold stones and twisted driftwood mixed in with realistic, warm, soft-textured stuffed animals.

Now let's move to directing. All the singing characters have a dancing double (the double for shepherd Damon is a male and female dancing team!). Additional forces from the Royal Ballet upstage the Royal Opera Chorus throughout. This might remind you of the Pina Bausch "dance opera" Orpheus und Eurydike. But with the Bausch work the opera folks are definitely supporting the dance. In McGregor's Acis and Galatea the singers and dancers attempt peaceful co-existence but it turns out to be an example of MAD, or mutually administered destruction.

Deeply-brunette Danielle de Niese is forced to appear as a blond in a revoltingly ugly wig with a long ratty braid. The wig makes her look like a trafficked woman street walking in the Hamburg red-light district using the stage name "Heidi." Charles Workman as shepherd Acis is dressed like a college student; Paul Agnew as the shepherd Damon looks like a hobo. But the worst directing disaster is Matthew Rose singing Polyphemus naked to the waist. Now Rose can sing the role, and he would look OK in a caveman suit. But why did McGregor force his audience to look at Rose's slovenly torso? Polyphemus is supposed to be terrifying or maybe funny, but Rose just looks pitiful. McGregor's disquieting abuse of Rose is exacerbated by matching him up with the lithe and statuesque dancing double Eric Underwood.

The upshot of all is a production that is, alas, irritating and tiresome to watch. We have so many wonderful HDVDs  out, I can't recommend this Acis and Galatea unless you have a special reason to want to see it.

Tuesday
Mar222011

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould film. Michèle Hozer and Peter Raymont direct this film depicting Glenn Gould's life. Released  2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+

This is the second HDVD documentary produced about the life and art of Glenn Gould. The other, Glenn Gould: Hereafter, has already been reviewed and recommended on this site. For the Glenn Gould aficionado, both titles are probably already must-owns. But for the less fanatical of us, the idea of purchasing two documentaries about the same subject might be overkill. On the surface the two titles are similar: both use SD footage of interviews and performances by Gould plus new interviews and discussion with HD video. There is quite a bit of overlap of historical footage.

But the two films diverge in the scope and tone of the modern-day material. Hereafter is primarily concerned with the legacy of Gould and his still considerable influence (the interviews in Hereafter are not with anyone who knew Gould personally, but rather with fans who fell in love with Gould's playing after his death). Genius Within takes a more direct approach. The interviews are all of friends, colleagues, or former lovers of Gould, who attempt to portray the kind of man Gould was. Where Hereafter is reverential to the utmost degree, Genius Within attempts to show Gould in a more neutral, well rounded light. We learn of an extremely gifted and talented man aware of the power of his fame. And we also learn of his idiosyncrasies and flaws. 

Genius Within also does a better job than Hereafter in explaining why Gould became such a phenomenon. I didn't know much about Gould before watching the these two films. Genius Within gave me clearer understanding than Hereafter of Gould's unique way of playing classic works.

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