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 24.  Finally we have some good grades with an A for the recent Met The Pearl Fishers (Les pêcheurs de perles) and a B- for an earlier The Pearl Fishers from Naples. Also, we recently gave an A- for the new Don Quixote from the Vienna State Ballet

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

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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:

 

Tuesday
Dec262017

The Sleeping Beauty

The Sleeping Beauty ballet. Music by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky. Directed by Kevin O'Hare. Choreography by Frederick Ashton, Anthony Dowell, and Christopher Wheeldon (based on tradition of Marius Petipa). Production at Royal Opera House by Monica Mason and Christopher Newton after Ninette de Valois and Nicholas Sergeyev. Stars Marianela Nuñez (Princess Aurora), Vadim Muntagirov (Prince Florimund), Kristen McNally (Carabosse), Claire Calvert (Lilac Fairy), Christopher Saunders (King Florestan XXIV), Elizabeth McGorian (The Queen), and Alastair Marriott (Cattalabutte). Koen Kessels conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Peter Manning). Original designs by Oliver Messel and Peter Farmer; lighting by Mark Jonathan; staging by Christopher Carr; directed for TV by Ross MacGibbon. 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:

Tuesday
Dec262017

Mahler Symphony No. 1

Mahler Symphony No. 1 "Titan" concert. Riccardo Chailly conducts the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig in 2015. Directed by Ute Feudel; produced by Paul Smaczny. 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.

a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0789TKQB4/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=culturevult05-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399373&creativeASIN=B0789TKQB4" target="_blank"><

Saturday
Dec232017

Tosca

Puccini Tosca opera to libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Directed 2017 by Philipp Himmelmann (apparently replacing director Bartlett Sher on short notice) at the Easter Festival in Baden-Baden. Stars Kristine Opolais (Tosca), Marcelo Álvarez Mario (Cavaradossi), Marco Vratogna (Baron Scarpia), Alexander Tsymbalyuk (Cesare Angelotti), Peter Rose (Il Sagrestano), Peter Tantsits (Spoletta), Douglas Williams (Sciarrone), Philippe Tsouli (a Boy), and Walter Fink (the Jailer). Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Philharmonia Chor Wien (Chorus Masters Walter Zeh), and Cantus Juvenum Karlsruhe (Chorus Master Anette Schneider). Set design by Raimund Bauer; costume design by Kathi Maurer; lighting by Reinhard Traub; video designs by Martin Eidenberger. Executive Producer was Alexander Pereira. Directed for TV by Andres Morell. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: F+

When I first saw (in EuroArts PR) the front cover above with Opolais staring out in horror, I thought, "Great! Tosca as a modern thriller, maybe set in Fascist Italy." I remembered the Bertolucci movie The Conformist. Wrong. Subject Tosca is set in a futuristic total-surveillance state.  Now putting Tosca in the time of Big Brother is perhaps not a bad idea. But it would require a lot of work and money to build convincing sets, design costumes for the future, and also an expensive rewrite the libretto to get rid of cannons, Napoleon, hiding in wells, firing squads, and the like. It appears subject Tosca was originally to be directed by Bartlett Sher, but Phillip Himmelmann was brought in to replace Sher on short notice. Getting a new opera director in the door as an emergency hire sounds really dangerous!

Well, Himmelmann had some experience to fall back on. As you can see from the first screenshot below, he did an unusual Tosca in 2007 at Bregenz:

Maybe it was the big eye at Bregenz that gave Himmelmann the idea for his surveillance state at Baden-Baden. Next below is a picture the audience at Baden-Baden never saw, but Andreas Morell included it in his film. Subject Tosca opens in a Catholic church, but it's an unusual Catholic church. The Christian cross has been replaced by a monumental double circle structure, which is the Unity Logo of the Unity Cult (my terms) that has taken over society. The Unity Logo might reminds one of an eye, or a camera lens, the business end of a pistol, or the sacred unity of a people---all things that one might encounter in a future dictatorship:

So far so good. Himmelmann sent in his carpenter and seamstress. But from here on things start to fall apart, and one gets the impression this may have been the only opera in history that was directed by email.  Next below we see the church Sacristan (Peter Rose) and "the boy." In the libretto, the boy is the shepherd who sings a sad solo in the "Puccini interlude" or prelude to Act III.  (The shepherd is tending his sheep on the meadows that still existed in the heart of Rome in 1800.) Himmelmann promotes the boy to a larger (but mostly mute) role as assistant or apprentice to the painter Cavaradossi. But what 12-year-old boy who works for a painter will always looks so clean and be dressed in such sharp clothes? In the image below, the Sacristan is showing an inappropriate degree of interest in the youngster. Apparently the Unity Cult encourages sex with children---bad hombres!

Now we must deal with Marcelo Álvarez as Cavaradossi. Álvarez has been around for a long time, knows the business well, and is still a fine singer. He will probably serve well in roles like Cavaradossi for more years to come on stages in big opera houses. But this guy, with his big belly, bulbous nose, and tendency to make goofy faces, can't be a leading man in a Blu-ray opposite a woman as young and gorgeous as Kristine Opolais. It's out of the question, as you will soon see. And where did they get Marcelo's shirt below?

The church scene in the opening screenshot above is the ugliest and most poorly designed set I can remember. Nothing about it makes any sense. What is a picture of Madonna (who looks like a model for eye makeup) doing in the church of the Unity Cult? Why is the artist using such shabby and primitive tools to paint a huge mural-like poster? And why is the painting on the floor where nobody in the live audience can see it? There are 3 different images of Cavaradossi's painting in the two screenshots below. Why are the images all different, and why is one projected on a wall above the door in this otherwise bare building? And will painters in the future use cheap SD TV sets to monitor their work?

 

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Friday
Dec222017

Mahler Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"

Mahler Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection". Alan Gilbert conducts the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall on 9/10/2011 commemorating the attack on the World Trade Center buildings ten years earlier on 9/11/2001. Singers are Dorothea Röschmann (soprano), Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano), and the New York Choral Artists (directed by Joseph Flummerfelt). Directed by Michael Beyer; produced by Paul Smaczny. This performance is also known as A Concert for New York: In Rembembrance and Renewal. Released 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio Sound. Grade: C+

David Gutman in the February 2012 Gramophone at page 55 has interesting information about this live performance in New York and generally praises it. It appears Gutman only saw the DVD, which is the norm for magazine reviewers. 

For the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the New York Philharmonic performed Mahler's Symphony No. 2 for free. The Philharmonic also set up an outdoor screen and seating so even more New Yorkers could watch the show. The result is a performance charged with emotion - not only was there pressure to perform well in honor the victims of the attacks and the first responders, but many members of the audience were relatives of victims and not typical classical music fans. Of course, the New York Philharmonic was up to the task and perform admirably. The sound is mixed and miked well. However the encoding rate is only 48kHz/16-bit. The picture quality is also good - it may not be the best resolution we have seen but the title is by no means soft and there are no glaring visual defects. The state is well lit and the colors are natural.

Video content, however, is plagued with the dread disease DVDitis, which was perhaps more prevalent in 2011 than today (2017). 

All is not bad though. Below we have a nice establishing shot of the whole orchestra:

And here we have a closer shot of most of the orchestra:

This is a nice large-group shot of the woodwinds and some horns:

A small-scale shot of the violins:

 

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Wednesday
Dec202017

Mahler Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"

Mahler Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection". In 2016 Daniele Gatti conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra & Netherlands Radio Choir at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam (Chorus Master Klaas Stok). Singers are Anette Dasch (soprano) and Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano). Video direction by Dick Kuijs. Released 2017, the music reviewed here was recorded with 96kHz/48-bit sound sampling and played with a 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio file. The disc also has a stereo sound file recorded at 192/24 and a 9.0 Auro-3D file (a first for us). Grade: B+

RCO Live, the in-house publishing arm of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, publishes here their second Blu-ray recording of Mahler Symphony 2. The first was part of their 2012 10-symphony Mahler box-set and was also sold separately from 2012 on as Music Is the Language of the Heart and Soul: A Portrait of Mariss Jansons and Mahler Symphony No. 2. We graded down the first attempt severely for surprisingly poor video content. In 2012, RCO Live had had years to perfect the miking and sound editing used in their CD recordings. Blu-ray video was still a new endeavor for the company, so problems might have been expected. Well, 5 years have passed since 2012, and we had hoped that RCO Live would have learned to make Blu-ray video as good as their sound recordings. However this is has not proven to be the case --- once again we have an RCO Live Blu-ray that is excellent to listen to, but disappointing to look at. Even so, we ended up with a pretty good grade for this recording, so let's now consider why.

First, the main positives. The RCO is considered by many to be the best orchestra in the world. The performance here is the strongest case we have yet come across to support that claim. The RCO musicians play together with almost scary intensity and accuracy. In other recordings (even with top orchestras), Mahler's complicated structures can seem muddled at times. But this doesn't happen with the RCO and Gatti.

Gatti follows Mahler's instruction to play this music slowly enough to allow all the notes to be heard. This recording is the longest of the 7 Mahler Symphony 2 recordings in our library on Blu-ray (4 minutes longer than the shortest version [Boulez]). Gatti also makes the most of the fermatas (optional pauses) throughout the score to add drama. The sound engineering is world-class with awesome fidelity and brilliant miking and mixing in the orchestra's home hall. It seems you can always hear everything, and this is especially noticeable during Mahler's many pizzicato segments, which are hard to record.

Another positive is that the video content in 2016 is much improved over 2012 (more on this later). Finally, this piece has a quite a bit of off-stage music for mystical effect, and this is pretty-well indicated by the video, at least for viewers who know about this.

Now to the main negative. A shocking defect in this recording is poor PQ that is a step backwards from the 2012 recording of M2! This step backward results from severely cutting back on the amount of light put on the stage for the  2016 recording. The next shot below is a typical view of the whole orchestra in 2016---note how gloomy it is:

And next below is a 2016 shot showing more of the hall (this shot was used to indicate off-stage music being played). Note there is only a single row of lights hanging from the ceiling to illuminate the stage (ignore the ceiling lights in the foreground that are used to illuminate the seating area for the convenience of the audience):

Now let's contrast the 2012 lighting to what we find in the 2016 record. The first view next below is from 2012. It's bright with light. Note the multitude of light fixtures hanging from the ceiling that shine on the stage and even block our view of the organ from this perspective. Then look at the next and darker view below from 2016.  There are far fewer lights, the stage is darker, and we now have a clear view of the organ. It seems obvious the reduction of light is the source of the problem with PQ in 2016. The video team doubtless had modern gear. It appears they were expected to get good PQ even with less light by tweaking the cameras, or maybe the tweaking was done in post-production. But the tweaking failed and generally gives us a dank, oppressive PQ.

2012 PQ

2016 PQ

It also appears that a by-product of the image tweaking was creation of unpleasant artifacts in PQ. In 2016, objects on the stage that reflect a lot of light seem to generate a glare of their own. This includes the white sheet music, Gatti's white vest, shiny brass instruments, and even the tops of the heads of several bald musicians. For example, next below you see an image of 8 horns from the 2016 performance. The upper right horn has a dull finish and looks OK. But the images of the other shiny horns are broken up by glare:

Compare the horns above to a similar shot of horns below from 2012. In 2012 the horns looked fine even though the light on the stage was much brighter:

Why did the RCO reduce the lights? Maybe they hoped to cool down the stage to make the musicians and the conductor more comfortable. Next below is a picture of Jansons in 2012 close to the end of the symphony. It's a little hard to see in a still picture, but his hair and face are drenched in sweat. (Gatti in 2016 seems to stay cool the whole time.)

 

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Friday
Dec082017

The Car Man

The Car Man dance production. Music by Georges Bizet and arranged by Terry Davies. Choreographed and directed by Matthew Bourne. Recorded 2015 at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London. Stars Kerry Biggin, Cordelia Braithwaite, Tom Clark, Danny Collins, Pia Driver, Freya Field, Glenn Graham, Tim Hodges, Katy Lowenhoff, Nicole Kabera, Katrina Lyndon, Kate Lyons, Andrew Monaghan, Leon Moran, Liam Mower, Dominic North, Jonathan Ollivier, Danny Reubens, Ashley Shaw, Zizi Strallen, Chris Trenfield, Alan Vincent, and Katie Webb. Set and costume design by Lez Brotherston; lighting design by Chris Davey; orchestrated by Terry Davies; sound design by Paul Groothius; associate director was Etta Murfitt; resident director was Neil Westmoreland. Released 2017. Grade: Help!

As best we can tell, subject title should not be confused with the popular 2001 DVD recording (which was criticised for an extremely fast video pace) of the original 2000 production. Subject title appears to be a new 2015 recording. (We're not sure who directed the video recording). It appears Bizet's music is used wholesale but that Bourne's libretto has only the vaguest connection to the Carmen opera story.  Also, this appears not to be homoerotic--- we think it's about guys fighting over a girl(s) and the mess this makes at the garage.

If you know more about this, please help us out with a comment!

 

Friday
Dec082017

Des Königs Zauberflöte

Des Königs Zauberflöte opera produced as a motion picture film of live theater performances. Based on Die Zauberflöte opera with music by Mozart and a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, with additional dialogue by Klaus Jörg Schönmetzler. Directed by Enoch zu Guttenberg at the Prinzregententheater München in 2013. This is your captain speaking: Fasten your seatbelts---severe turbulence ahead!

(Most of the opera singers named in this paragraph play a double role, as is explained below.) Stars Gerd Anthoff (The Real Papageno), Tareq Nazmi (Sarastro/König Ludwig II), Jörg Dürmüller (Tamino/Kaiser Franz Joseph I), Antje Bitterlich (Konigin der Nacht/Ezherzogin Sophie von Österreich), Susanne Bernhard (Pamina/Kaiserin Elisabeth), Jochen Kupfer (Papageno/Max Emanuel Herzog in Bayern), Gudrun Sidonie Otto (Papagena/Lilla von Bulyovsky), Martin Petzold (Monostatos/Fürst Bismarck), Marc-Olivier Oetterli (Sprecher/Alfred Karl Graf Eckbrecht von Dürckheim Montmartin), Michael Mantaj (First Priester/Maximilian Graf von Holnstein), Bernhard Hirtreitter (Second Priester/Dr. Bernhard von Gudden), Miriam Meyer (First Dame | Marie Luise Gräfin Larisch-Wallersee), Olivia Vermeulen (Second Dame/Helene Erbprinzessin von Thurn und Taxis), Hilke Andersen (Third Dame/Esperanza Freifrau Truchsess von Wetzhausen), Matthias Aeberhard (First Geharnischter Mann/Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand), Marcell Bakonyi (Second Geharnischter Mann/Kronprinz Friedrich Wilhelm von Preußen), as well as Nicolas Brunhammer, Elias Mädler, and Valentin Kuchler (Drei Knaben/Pagen der Königlich Bayerischen Pagerie). Nicolas, Elias, and Volentin are soloists from the Tölzer Knabenchor.

Enoch zu Guttenberg conducts the Orchester KlangVerwaltung and the Chorgemeinschaft Neubeuem. Scene designs by Volker Thiele; dramaturgy by Klaus Jörg Schönmetzler; motion picture film direction by Ruth Käch. The motion picture version was released in Blu-ray form in 2017 with music recorded with 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio and Dolby Atmos sound. The Blu-ray is played at 60 frames per second rather than the normal 24 fps.

(Keep your seatbelts on!) Next I'll say a bit more about the various artists who bring this work to us. Then I'll  briefly discuss the 3 layers of artistic creation that are mashed up in this unique title.

1. Farao is a small independent recording company that mostly makes classical CDs. This is the first Farao Blu-ray title. The singers credited above seem to be mostly (if not all) fully-qualified opera singers on their way up---Jochen Kupfer is the only singer who has previously appeared in a Blu-ray opera (as Sixtus Beckmesser). The Orchester KlangVerwaltung (in English this translates as "Sound Administration Orchestra" or maybe better as the "Sound World Orchestra) is an independent band of expert classical musicians, similar perhaps to a festival orchestra, who self-conduct or collaborate with conductors in deciding how to perform their programs. They often work with Enoch zu Guttenberg. Since Enoch doesn't have full responsibility for orchestra performances, he seems to have extra energy to serve as opera stage director and producer. Ruth Käch has one previous video credit on this website.

2. There are 3 sources mashed together in this opera:

  • All the familiar characters from the standard Mozart Zauberflöte libretto are present.
  • In the late 19th century, German aristocrats enjoyed playing roles in German operas (and theater plays) in amateur productions aimed at showing how well-educated they were. This movie portrays a purely fictional effort by the "mad" King Ludwig II of Bravaia and other historical Germen luminaries to put on Die Zauberflöte. That is why Jörg Dürmüller plays the duel roles of Tamino and Kaiser Franz Joseph I. The "King" refered to in the title of Des Königs Zauberflöte is Ludwig II. (Ludwig was the one who built that phony fairly-tale castle in Bavaria that all the tourists think is real. He also got Wagner out of hock and paid for Wagner's theater at Bayreuth.)
  • To make things more zany, director Enoch zu Guttenberg added a "real" Papageno character who sits in the audience. This real Papageno arises from his seat and enters the play to make corrections using text written by Klaus Jörg Schönmetzler.

This mash-up was first presented live on stage in 2010 and again in 2013 in Germany. Video made at the 2013 performances was made into the Des Königs Zauberflöte movie, which was shown in theaters in 2016; the Blu-ray was released in 2017. Grade: Help!

(Unfasten seatbelts!) This show will doubtless be challenging to watch if you are not already well familiar with the text as Mozart knew it. Fortunately, we have written for your enjoyment a complete outline of the original Zauberflöte libretto. Some people complain that Die Zauberflöte is hard to follow and understand. That's because they have never read the entire libretto or our outline of it. The original libretto is completely logical and self-contained (by fairy story standards of logic).

 Good luck with Des Königs Zauberflöte! Here's something from YouTube to get you started:

 

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