Titles by Category

Here's news about high-definition video disc ("HDVD") recordings of opera, ballet, classical music, plays, fine-art documentaries, and paintings. In the journal below are independent (and hard-to-find critical) reports on hundreds of HDVDs. Pick the best titles for your excelsisphere.

Feb 11.  Finally we have a good grade (A-) to brag about for the new Don Quixote from the Vienna State Ballet.  Recently we posted a F+ grade for the new C Major Bruckner Symphony 3 and an F- grade for that C Major Mahler S1-10 Box performed by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. How can a major publishing house turn out something that gets an F-?

We recently posted more than you wanted to know about that Brahms Cycle Box from Belvedere. Now you can buy the 3 discs in the box independently. We bunched the 4 different deals together near the top of the Journal.

We just updated our manifesto about the best ballet and dance videos.

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Tuesday
Jan022018

Mahler Symphony No. 9

Mahler Symphony No. 9 concert. Riccardo Chailly conducts the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig. Audio production by Sebastian Braun; directed for TV by Ute Feudel; produced by Günter Atteln and Paul Smaczny. Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C

This title is one of a series of all the Mahler symphonies performed by the Gewandhaus Orchestra under Chailly. Like the rest of the titles in this series, it sports good audio and picture quality. Rob Cowan, writing in the February 2015 Gramophone (page 36) gives his blessing to the performance as well stating "This . . . is Chailly off the leash, liberating the music in a way that is impassioned, positive, fitfully fractured, and often ethereal." But Cowan didn't realize that this title also suffers from poor video content.

TV director Feudel does provide some nice shots. First below we have a fine whole-orchestra view:

Next we have one of the few part-orchestra shots:

Four horns make up the whole horn section for this symphony:

Below is a nice view of some violas. The angle is high enough for you to clearly see the players:

But in the next view, the angle on the cellos is too low:

Below is a good shot of the contrabassoon---it is nicely framed, presenting player and instrument equally:

 

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Tuesday
Jan022018

2017 New Year's Concert a/k/a Silversterkonzert 

2017 New Year's Concert a/k/a Silversterkonzert by the Berliner Philharmoniker (Berlin Philharmonic) conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at the Berlin Philharmonie. Features mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. Here is the program:

1. Antonín Dvořák Carnival Overture
2. Igor Stravinsky "Pas de deux" from Apollon musagète
3. Richard Strauss Zueignung (orch. by Robert Heger) with Joyce DiDonato
4. Richard Strauss Wiegenlied with Joyce DiDonato
5. Richard Strauss Müttertändelei with Joyce DiDonato
6. Richard Strauss Morgen with Joyce DiDonato
7. Richard Strauss Die heiligen drei Könige aus Morgenland with Joyce DiDonato
8. Leonard Bernstein, 3 Dance Episodes from On the Town
9. Leonard Bernstein, "Take Care of this House" from the White House Cantata with Joyce DiDonato
10. Dmitri Shostakovich Suite from The Golden Age

Released 2018, the disc has 5.1 dts sound. Grade: Help!

What a relief to get something other than waltzes and fast polkas with which to celebrate! Please help us with a comment about this disc!

Here's an official trailer:

Sunday
Dec312017

Best Ballet / Dance Blu-rays 

(Jan. 2, 2018) Ballet and modern dance are the fine arts that have benefited most from Blu-ray technology.  We've written a review with screenshots for all 137 (more or less) Blu-ray ballet or dance titles that meet our basic quality standards and earned a grade higher than "D." This gives us the best resource on the Internet for learning about ballet and dance Blu-rays.

To get you started, we list our 11 favorite Blu-rays of traditional ballet works. Then we name our 17 favorite contemporary dance titles. Of course, there are links to the full reviews. Finally, we have added a discussion of the standards we apply in judging ballet and dance videos.

Traditional Ballets

The top four are our super-favorites; then follow 7 titles in alphabetical order:

1. Swan Lake. Nureyev. Paris Opera Ballet. Agnès Letestu and José Martinez at Paris Opera Ballet. This was the first fine-arts title published in HD. Tie: Swan Lake. Nureyev. Vienna State Ballet. This has better production values but weaker direction than the older show from the Paris Opera Ballet. Check out both reviews to see which version would suit you better.

2. flare The Sleeping Beauty. Petipa. Bolshoi Ballet. The Russians spent about a billion dollars on renovations to the Bolshoi. This SB was the first production in the reopened house. It's royal.

3. Romeo and Juliet. McMillian. Royal Opera Ballet. The Royal Opera House has 2 recordings out now of this---get Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta. Tie: Romeo and Juliet. La Scala. MacMillan. This splendid title is fully competitive with the ROB.

4. Raymonda. Vikharev. La Scala. Surprise! This has the grand adagio of the pas classique hongrois, considered by many to be the greatest scene from all of Petipa. There is no competition for this disc, and anyone with a serious interest in ballet has to get it.

5. flare La Bayadère. Grigorovich. Bolshoi Ballet. The second grand new production at the Bolshoi to be released in Blu-ray.

6. Cinderella. Wheeldon. Dutch National Ballet. Features wife and husband team of Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding.

7. Don Quixote. Ratmansky. Dutch National Ballet. Again we have Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding. Don Quixote usually puts us to sleep. Still, we picked this in part because the ballet is so popular. The Don and Sancho Panza are played by famous comic actors with no dance experience, and that helped us stay awake.

8. Giselle. Bart and Polyakov. Paris Opera Ballet. If you can only buy one Giselle, it has to be this one from the Paris Opera Ballet. But we like to show Act 1 from the Royal Opera House disc with Natalia Osipova and then switch for Act 2 to the Paris Opera Ballet. This can give guests a bit of jet-lag, but they soon get over it. 

9. A Midsummer Night's Dream. Balanchine. Pacific Northwest Ballet. Good example how a regional company can do a grand job.

10. New York City Ballet in Paris. Balanchine. New York City Ballet. Finally we get a fine disc of 4 Balanchine neoclassical works from the New York City Ballet, all beautifully filmed by Vincent Bataillon.

11The Nutcracker  Tomasson. San Francisco Ballet. This is the best ballet for kids. Tie: The Nutcracker. Nureyev. Vienna State Ballet. This version is aimed at older children and adults. It stresses dancing more than glitz.

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Friday
Dec292017

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet ballet. Music by Sergei Prokofiev. Libretto by Leonid Lavrovsky and Sergei Prokofiev. Staged 2015 at the San Francisco Ballet based on choreography by Helgi Thomasson.  Stars Maria Kochetkova (Juliet), David Karapetyan (Romeo), Pascal Molat (Mercutio), Joseph Walsh (Benvolio), Luke Ingham (Tybalt),  Ricardo Bustamante (Lord Capulet), Sofiane Sylve (Lady Capulet), Anita Paciotti (Nurse), Myles Thatcher (Paris), Wan Ting Zhao (Rosaline), Rubén Martín Cintas (Lord Montague), Lacey Escabar (Lady Montague) Jim Sohm (Friar Lawrence), and Martino Pistone (Prince of Verona) along with many other dancers and extras. Martin West conducts the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.  Lighting design by Thomas R. Skelton; sets and costumes by Jens-Jacob Worsaae; fight direction by Martino Pistone; directed for film by Thomas Grimm; executive producer Andrew Carl Wilk. Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B

This production might be called R&J Light. It lasts 116 minutes, whereas other shows based on the Prokofiev music run more like 151 minutes (La Scala). This video was originally intended to be shown in movie theaters. It starts off looking like a traditional video made from a live performance, but it seems to gradually turn into a movie that was made with a ballet stage as its location. In the shot below, it's evident that the San Francisco Ballet had a smaller budget and fewer dancers than, say the ROB or the La Scala Ballet. For example, in the street scene below, we see there are 2 harlots instead of 3, but the harlots in San Fran show more leg than the competition:

I had a bit of trouble keeping the players straight in San Fran. I prefer the way the ROB handles this with accurate color-coding of the feuding clan members and their allies. Below from left to right we see Lord Capulet (Ricardo Bustamante), the Prince of Verona (Martino Pistone), and Lord Montague (Rubén Martín Cintas):

Lady Capulet (Sofiane Sylve):

The next shot below shows the party in honor of Juliet (and of Paris, who has asked to marry Juliet).  For more about the politics involved in this story, see my reviews of the productions from the Royal Opera Ballet and the La Scala Ballet:

Below Romeo (David Karapetyan) and Juliet (Maria Kochetkova) fall in love at the party:

 

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Wednesday
Dec272017

2018 New Year's Concert 

2018 New Year's Concert by the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic) conducted by Riccardo Muti. Recorded January 1, 2018 at the Goldener Saal des Wiener Musikvereins. Directed by Hennig Kasten. Released 2018, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Features the following numbers:

1. Johann Strauss, Jr. "Entrance March" from the Operetta The Gypsy Baron
2. Josef Strauss "Wiener Fresken" ("Viennese Frescos"), Waltz
3. Johann Strauss, Jr. "Brautschau" ("Bride Shopping"), Polka
4. Johann Strauss, Jr. "Leichtes Blut" ("Light of Heart"), Fast Polka
5. Johann Strauss, Sen. "Marienwalzer" ("Maria Waltz")
6. Johann Strauss, Sen. "William Tell Galop"
7. Franz von Suppé Overture to Boccaccio
8. Johann Strauss, Jr. "Myrthenblüten" ("Myrtle Blossoms"), Waltz
9. Alphons Czibulka "Stephanie Gavotte"
10. Johann Strauss, Jr. "Freikugeln" ("Magic Bullets"), Fast Polka
11. Johann Strauss, Jr. "Tales from the Vienna Woods", Waltz
12. Johann Strauss, Jr. "Fest-Marsch" ("Festival March")
13. Johann Strauss, Jr. "Stadt und Land" ("Town and Country"), Polka Mazurka
14. Johann Strauss, Jr. "Un ballo in maschera" ("Masked Ball"), Quadrille
15. Johann Strauss, Jr. "Rosen aus dem Süden" ("Roses from the South"), Waltz
16. Josef Strauss "Eingesendet" ("Letters to the Editor"), Fast Polka

The information we have now says nothing about the traditional encores of "Wiener Blut" and "The Blue Danube."

Wednesday
Dec272017

Fedora

Umberto Giordano Fedora opera to a libretto by Arturo Colautti. Directed by Rosetta Cucchi at the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genova (assistant director Stefania Panighini). Stars Daniela Dessì (Fedora), Fabio Armiliato (Loris), Alfonso Antoniozzi (De Siriex), Daria Kovalenko (Olga), Margherita Rotondi (Dimitri), Manuel Pierattelli (Desirè), Alessandro Fantoni (Baron Rouvel), Luigi Roni (Cirillo), Claudio Ottino (Boroff), Roberto Maietta (Gretch), Davide Mura (Lorek), Sirio Restani (Lazinski), and Sebastiano Carbone (Peasant Boy). Valerio Galli conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Carlo Felice Theatre (Chorus Master Patrizia Priarone). Set design by Tiziano Santi; light design by Luciano Novelli, costume design by Claudia Pernigotti. Video Director was Matteo Ricchetti. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

In Memoriam:  the esteemed soprano Daniela Dessì died on March 20, 2016. Opera News (August 21, 2016) called her "the most versatile Italian soprano of her generation." Her long-time partner in life and on the stage, Fabio Armiliato, delivered her eulogy and sang at her funeral. Dessì was born in Genova. This title was filmed in Genova in March 2015, apparently before her illness was evident, at the Teatro Carlo Felice.  It appears this will be the last Blu-ray disk that will appear with Dessì and Armiliato singing together. We have Dessì on several other Blu-rays, the most remarkable of which is her Tosca with Armiliato as Cavaradossi. This version of Tosca always sticks in my mind as the epitome of Italian opera.

Here is an official clip from Dynamic:

Wednesday
Dec272017

Gergiev at the Proms

Gergiev at the Proms concert. Valery Gergiev conducts the Münchner Philharmoniker at the BBC Proms in 2016. Features Behzod Abduraimov on Piano and Alexei Petrenko as  reciter. Video Director was Simon Broughton. Released 2018, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here is the bill for the concert:

1. Ravel Bolero
2. Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3
3. Ustvolskaya Symphony No. 3 "Jesus Messiah, Save Us!" (Alexei Petrenko recites)
4. Strauss Der Rosenkavalier Suite
5. Berlioz  "Rákóczy March" ("Hungarian March")

Here is an official clip from Naxos:

Please help us with a review of this title!

Wednesday
Dec272017

La forza del destino

Verdi La forza del destino opera to libretto by Francesco Piave. Directed 2008 by David Pountney at the Wiener Staatsoper. Stars Alastair Miles (Il Marchese di Calatrava/Padre Guardiano), Nina Stemme (Leonora), Carlos Álvarez (Don Carlo di Vargas), Salvatore Licitra (Don Alvaro), Nadia Krasteva (Preziosilla), Tiziano Bracci (Fra Melitone), Elisabeta Marin (Curra), Dan Paul Dumitrescu (Un alcalde), Michael Roider (Mastro Trabuco), Clemes Unterreiner (Un chirurgo), and dancers of the Wiener Staatsballett. Zubin Mehta conducts the Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper (Chorus Master Thomas Lang). Set and costume design by Richard Hudson; lighting design by Frabrice Kebour; choreography by Beate Vollack; video by fettFilm (Momme Hinrichs & Torge Møller); directed for TV by Karina Fibich. Released 2018, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

This one is a decade old! Where was it hiding since 2008?

Tuesday
Dec262017

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet ballet. Music by Sergei Prokofiev. Libretto by Leonid Lavrovsky and Sergei Prokofiev. Staged 2017 at the Teatro alla Scala with choreography by Kenneth MacMillan revived by Julie Lincoln. Stars Roberto Bolle (Romeo); Misty Copeland (Juliet); Antonino Sutera (Mercutio); Mick Zeni (Tybalt); Marco Agostino (Benvolio); Riccardo Massimi (Paris); Alessandro Grillo (Lord Capulet); Emanuela Montanari (Lady Capulet); Luigi Saruggia (The Duke); Chiara Borgia (Rosaline); Monica Vaglietti (Nurse); Matthew Endicott (Friar Lawrence); Christian Fagetti (Mandolin solo); Virna Toppi, Denise Gazzo, and Beatrice Carbone (Three Gypsies); Giuseppe Conte (Lord Montague); Francesca Podini (Lady Montague); Vittoria Valerio, Agnese di Clemente, Marta Gerani, Danieal Cavalleri, Chiara Fiandra, and Alessandrea Vassallo (Six Friends of Juliet); and dancers from the Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala. Patrick Fournillier conducts the Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala. Set design by Mauro Carosi; costume design by Odette Nicoletti; lighting design by Marco Filibeck. Video direction by Lorena Sardi; photography directed by Luciano Cricelli. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+

It's old Verona, and the Montague clan (colored coded in green) is the favorite of the street people, especially the 3 Gypsy girls dressed in colorful garb. But Tybalt, a nephew to the Capulet clan, dressed in red, approaches in the background coming down the steps. He's a stuffy law-and-order type. You know the Montagues and the Capulets have been feuding for a long time, and today is no exception:

Romeo (Roberto Bolle), a younger, carefree kind of guy, is fond of cavorting with the Gypsy girls. (I think MacMillian in London called these girls "harlots", but the folks in Milan are more respectful.)
 

Below on the far right is a better shot of Tybalt (Mick Zeni). The aging Lord Capulet has no son, and Tybalt, blood nephew to Lady Capulet, is now defacto leader of the Capulet knights. Romeo is the Montagues' son. His best friend is Benvolio (Marco Agostino), who also wears Montague green. A more important friend of Romeo is Mercutio (Antonino Sutera). Mercutio is neither Montaque nor Capulet. He's related to the Duke, and he wears teal. He's bound to Romeo only by friendship. But the fact that he runs with the Montague men is a dire threat to the the Capulets:

Tybalt is pretty nasty---he takes out his anger on the Gipsy girls. Later when Tybalt is killed, the girls will spit on and kick his corpse!

Soon a serious fight breaks out:

The Duke (Luigi Saruggia) himself arrives to keep the peace.

A closer look at Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio:

The Duke seizes weapons and uses diplomacy---but nothing is going to work for long:

 

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Tuesday
Dec262017

Antony and Cleopatra

Shakespeare Antony and Cleopatra play. Directed 2017 by Iqbal Khan at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Stars Joseph Adelakun (Scarus/Mardian), Ben Allen (Octavius Caesar), Kristin Atherton (Iras), Will Bliss (Soothsayer), David Burnett (Pompey), Antony Byrne (Mark Antony), James Corrigan (Agrippa), Paul Dodds (Menas), Patrick Drury (Lepidus/Schoolmaster), Waleed Elgardi (Alexas), Sean Hart (Eros), Amber James (Charmian), Luke MacGregor (Proculeius/Menecrates), Anthony Ofoegbu (Diomedes), Dharmesh Patel (Ventidius), Lucy Phelps (Octavia), Josette Simon (Cleopatra), Jon Tarcy (Demetrius), Marcello Walton (Maecenas), and Andrew Woodall (Enobarbus). Set design by Robert Innes Hopkins; lighting design by Tim Mitchell; music by Laura Mvula; sound by Carolyn Downing; movement by Villmore James; fights by Kev McCurdy. Screen direction by Robin Lough; produced by John Wyver. Has a director's commentary. Released 2018, 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 is an official clip:

 

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