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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Saturday
Dec022017

The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker ballet. Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Choreographed by Peter Wright after Lev Ivanov. Directed 2016 by Peter Wright.

Stars Gary Avis (Drosselmeyer); Francesca Hayward (Clara, Drosselmeyer's god-daughter); Alexander Campbell (Hans-Peter/The Nutcracker, Drosselmeyer's nephew), and:

  • Act 1. Luca Acri (Drosselmeyer's Assistant); Caroline Jennings and Susan Nye (Maiden Aunts); Barbara Rhodes (Housekeeper); Christopher Saunders (Dr. Stahlbaum, Clara's father); Elizabeth McGorian (Mrs. Stahlbaum); Caspar Lench (Fritz, Clara's  brother); Benjamin Elia (Clara's Partner); Kristen McNally (Grandmother); Alastair Marriott (Grandfather); Christina Arestis (Dancing Mistress); Johannes Stepanek (Captain); Fernando Montaño (Harlequin); Leticia Stock (Columbine); Marcelino Sambé (Soldier); Mayara Magri (Vivandière); Lukas Bjørneboe Brændsrød (St. Nicholas); Nicol Edmonds (Mouse King)
  • Act 2. Lauren Cuthbertson (Sugar Plum Fairy); Federico Bonelli (The Prince); members of the London Oratory Junior Choir (Singers); Christina Arestis, Johannes Stepanek, Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani, Fernando Montaño, Tierney Heap and Eric Underwood (Spanish Dance); Itziar Mendizabal, Ryoichi Hirano, Reece Clarke, and Nicol Edmonds (Arabian Dance); Luca Acri, Marcelino Sambé (Chinese Dance); Kevin Emerton and Paul Kay (Russian Dance); Meaghan Grace Hinkis, Emma Maguire, Mayara Magri, and Leticia Stock (Dance of the Mirlitons); Yuhui Choe (Rose Fairy); Matthew Ball, James Hay, Tomas Mock, Valentino Zuccheti (Rose Fairy Escorts); Claire Calvert, Helen Crawford, Hikaru Kobayashi, and Beatriz Stix-Brunell (Leading Flowers).

In addition, artists of The Royal Ballet and students of the Royal Ballet School portray Snowflakes, Relatives, Friend's of Stahlbaum family, Soldiers, Mice, Servants, Children and other roles.

Boris Gruzin conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Peter Manning) and the London Oratory Junior Choir (Choir Director Charles Cole). Designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman; lighting by Mark Henderson; production consultant was Rolan John Wiley; staging by Christopher Carr; ballet mistress was Samantha Raine; ballet master was Jonathan Howells; assistant ballet mistress was Sian Murphy; principal coaching by Christopher Carr, Jonahtan Cope, Viviana Durante, and Jonathan Howells; Benesh notators were Mayumi Hotta and Lorraine Gregory. Directed for screen by Ross McGibbon. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: B

I did a detailed review of this same production (with an earlier set of star dancers) in 2013. I gave it a B and declared it not competitive with stronger competition. I went on to say, "The Peter Wright production could be competitive again if the Royal Ballet would revive it with (1) new sets and costumes, (2) drill the female corps more thoroughly, (3) write new divertissement dances, and (4) make a clean, bright video." Now we have our revival, so let's see how the Royal Ballet has done by The Nutcracker between 2009 and 2016. 

At the outset I'll say that the choreography, sets, and costumes are basically identical in 2009 and 2016 except that in Act 2 the 4 rather insipid Chinese dancers from 2009 are reduced to 2 in 2016.  Now let's look at 7 screenshots from the 2016 Act 1 showing the Stahlbaums' party and Clara's dream. For each of these 7 shots there is a doppelgänger in the 2009 review for you to compare if you like.

In 2016, Clara is danced by the warmly brunette Francesca Hayward and her friend is portrayed by Benjamin Ella:

Clara's mom (Elisabeth McGorian), dad (Christopher Saunders), and grandfather (Alastair Marriott) are the same:

Gary Avis is the same splendid Drosselmeyer:

And the dream battle upfolds the same. If you compare these 7 shots from 2009 and 2016, you can clearly see that MacGibbon has better cameras in 2016 than before. The 2016 images are sharper and MacGibbon was able to get better color even in the dark scenes. The generally "washed out" look from 2009 is gone.  In my 2009 viewing, I complained that the costumes looked old and worn. Now I see that my criticism of the costumes arose in part because the 2009 cameras generally were not able to make pretty images of them. Another difference between 2009 and 2016 is that MacGibbon in 2016 generally increased the range of his camera views throughout. He was able to do this, of course, thanks to the greater resolution available from the 2016 gear. So this time the ROB has produced the "clean, bright video" I asked for.

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Tuesday
Nov282017

The Lovers' Garden

The Lovers' Garden ballet. Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Choreographed by Massimiliano Volpini. The Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala is directed and staged 2016 by Mauro Bigonzetti at the Teatro alla Scala. Stars Nicoletta Manni (A Woman), Roberto Bolle (A Man), Marta Romagna (Queen of the Night), Claudio Coviello (Don Giovanni), Christian Fagetti (Leporello), Mick Zeni (Il Conte di Almaviva), Emanuela Montanari (Rosina), Walter Madau (Figaro), Antonella Albano (Susanna), Valerio Lunadei (Guglielm), Angelo Greco (Ferrando), Vittoria Valerio (Fiordiligi), and Marta Gerani (Dorabella). Features the following string quartet members and soloists of the Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala: Francesca Manara and Daniele Pascoletti (violin), Simonide Braconi (viola), Massimo Polidori (cello), Andrea Manco (flute), Fabian Thouand (oboe), and Fabrizio Meloni (basset clarinet). Set and costume design by Erika Carretta; lighting design by Marco Filibeck. Released 2018, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

A mash up of Mozart chamber and opera music with new choreography for the Ballet alla Scala ---an intriguing idea!

Here's a YT clip:

Tuesday
Nov282017

Pique Dame

Tchaikovsky Pique Dame opera (The Queen of Spades) to a libretto by Modest Tchaikovsky. Directed 2016 by Stefan Herheim at the Dutch National Opera. Stars Misha Didyk (Herman), Alexey Markov (Count Tomsky/Plutus), Vladimir Stoyanov (Prince Yeletsky), Andrei Popov (Chekalinsky), Andrii Goniukov (Surin), Mikhail Makarov (Chaplitsky), Anatoli Sivko (Narumov), Larissa Diadkova (The Countess), Svetlana Aksenova (Liza), and Anna Goryachova (Polina/Daphnis). Mariss Jansons conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Chrous of the Dutch National Opera (Chorus Master Ching-Lien Wu), and the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderkoor (Chorus Master Caro Kindt). Decor and costumes by Philipp Fürhoffer; lighting by Bernd Purkrabek; video direction by Misjel Vermeiren. Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here's an official trailer:

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Tuesday
Nov282017

Le nozze di Figaro

Mozart Le nozze di Figaro opera to libretto by Lorenza da Ponte. Directed 2004 by Jean-Louis Martinoty at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. Stars Pietro Spagnoli (Il Conte d'Almaviva), Annette Dasch (La Contessa d'Almaviva), Rosemay Joshua (Susanna), Luca Pisaroni (Figaro), Angelika Kirchshlager (Cherubino), Sophie Pondjiclis (Marcellina), Alessandro Svab (Antonio), Antonio Abete (Bartolo), Enrico Facini (Don Basilio), Pauline Courtin (Barbarina), and Serge Goubioud (Don Curzio). René Jacobs conducts the Concerto Köln and the Chœur du Théâtre des Champs Elysées. Set design by Hans Schavernoch; costume design by Sylvie de Segonzac; lighting design by Jean Kalman; choreography by Cookie Chiapalone. Produced by François Duplat; directed for video by Pierre Barré. Released 2017, has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Why did it take so long for this to come out in Blu-ray? It was recorded in 2004 and released in 2007 in a highly-regarded DVD with 5.1 Dolby Digital.  I usually don't show YT clips in SD.  But I make an exception here with two clips below showing how pretty this production was (note how crude the subtitles look). The question remains whether this older film is good enough to benefit from Blu-ray presentation. If you have seen the new Blu-ray, please give us your opinion on this!

Tuesday
Nov282017

Renée Fleming In Concert

Renée Fleming In Concert two disc "box" set, released 2017. Christian Thielemann conducts both concerts. Below are the discs. Both have already been reported on this website, and you can get more details by using the links provided:

1. Richard Strauss: Renée Fleming In Concert. Vienna Philharmonic. 2011. (Grade: D+)

Includes the following performances:

1. "Befreit" ("Released")
2. "Winterliebe" ("Winter Love")
3. "Traum durch die Dämmerung" ("Dream at Dusk")
4. "Gesang der Apollopriesterin" ("Song of the Priestess of Apollo")
5. "Mein Elemer!" ("My Elmer" from the opera Arabella)
6. Eine Alpensinfonie

2. Bruckner Symphony No. 7 & Wolf Lieder. Dresden Staatskapelle. 2012. (Grade: N/A)

Includes the following performances: 

1. Hugo Wolf songs: "Verborgenheit",  "Er ist's", "Elfenlied", "Anakreon's Grab", and "Mignon" (Second Verson)
2. Richard Strauss "Befreit"
3. Bruckner Symphony No. 7

 

Monday
Nov272017

Pas de Deux

Pas de Deux ballet compilation with performances by many of the famous Royal Ballet stars from recent years. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

All told, there are 19 titles listed below counting the various double and triple versions Opus Arte has published of some ballets. There are 16 pas de deux performances on the disc from the 14 ballets listed below. So it appears there will be 2 versions for two of the titles. Or maybe there will be two different pas de deux scenes from one or two titles. Sorry for all the confusion.

How many of the 19 titles do you already own? (We have all of them.) As soon as we get complete information, we will report on exactly which duos appear in the compilation. Here are the ballets represented:

Here's an official trailer:

Monday
Nov272017

The Grand Organ of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Richard Lea plays the following selections on the grand organ of the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral:
1.        Tielman Susato & Henry Purcell  "Mohrentanz and Rigaudon"         
2.        Jon Kristian Fjellestad  "Toccata"
3.        G. Ronald Mason "A Song of Sunshine"                 
4.        Stephen Adams (arr. Dr. A. H. Claire) "The Holy City"                
5.        J. S. Bach "Liebster Jesu Wir Sind Hier BWV 731"             
6.        Joseph Bonnet   In Memoriam - Titanic             
7.        "Prelude on Londonderry Air" (arr. Noel Rawsthorne)           
8.        George Martin  "Theme One" (arr. Dr. A.H. Claire)          
9.        Paul McCartney "Save The Child"  (arr. A. H. Claire)          
10.      Franz Liszt "Fantasia and Fugue on 'Ad Nos Ad Salutarem Undam'" 

Priory specializes in church and organ music. The package has a Blu-ray, a DVD, and a CD! Per the publisher, this is the first organ recital to be released in Blu-ray. Recorded and produced by Paul Crichton; filmed and edited by Richard Knight; Associate Producer was Callum Ross; Executive Producer was Neil Collier. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Grade: A

Unlike later editions in this series that take place in centuries-old Anglican cathedrals, this title is filmed in a modern, Roman Catholic cathedral. Here we see the exterior of the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, completed in 1967:

The interior is one massive room with the altar in the center and the organ console nearby:

Below is a shot of the cathedral from the ground level:

The design aesthetic, while using elements of traditional church iconography, certainly feels more at home in a modern-art museum than a typical cathedral:

Below we see Organist and Assistant Director of Music for the Metropolitan Cathedral, Richard Lea:

For a few moments during "Theme One" by George Martin, organist's assistant Charlotte Rowan joins Lea in an unusual 4-hands organ passage:

 

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Nov182017

Anastasia

Anastasia ballet. Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Bohuslav Martinů. Choreography by Kenneth MacMillan as realized by Deborah MacMillan. Staged 2016 at the Royal Ballet.

Stars Christopher Saunders (Tsar Nicholas II); Christina Arestis (Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna); Rory Toms (Tsarevitch Alexey); Olivia Cowley (Grand Duchess Olga); Beatriz Stix-Brunell (Grand Duchess Tatiana); Yasmine Naghdi (Grand Dutchess Marie); Natalia Osipova (Grand Duchess Anastasia); Thiago Soares (Rasputin); Kristen McNally (Anna Vyrubova/Matron/Peasant woman); Alastair Marriott (Tsar's Aide-de-Camp); Ryoichi Hirano, Valeri Hristov, Alexander Campbell, and Edward Watson (Four Officers). 

  • Act 1. Luca Acri, Tristan Dyer, and and Marcelino Sambé (Three Officers); Mica Bradbury (Maid).
  • Act 2. Marianela Nuñez (Mathilde Kschessinska); Federico Bonelli (Kschessinska’s Partner); Vincenzo Di Primo  (Revolutionary).
  • Act 3. Natalia Osipova (Anna Anderson); Edward Watson (Anna Anderson's husband); Tristan Dyer (Anna Anderson's Brother-in-Law).

Artists of the Royal Ballet appear as Officers, Guests, Soldiers, Revolutionaries, Nurses, Peasants, Visitors, Relatives.

Ballet masters were Christopher Saunders, Gary Avis, and Jonathan Howells; ballet mistress was Samantha Raine; principal coaching by Jonathan Cope and Viviana Durante. Simon Hewett conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Sergey Levitin). Electronic music provided by the studio of The Technical University of West Berlin (Fritz Winckel and Rüdiger Rüfer); designed by Bob Crowley; lighting design by John B. Read; staging by Gary Harris; directed for the screen by Ross MacGibbon. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+

This is from the 2016 revival at the ROH. Both Laura Morera and Natalia Osipova were well received in the lead, but Osipova is the more famous and got the star berth in the video.

Grand Duchess Anastasia was the youngest daughter of the last Russian Tsar. We now know that the Bolsheviks murdered Anastasia (then age 17) with all the rest of the Tsar's family on July 17, 1918. But Kenneth MacMillan never knew this---he died before the true fate of Anastasia was revealed through DNA sleuthing. Some 30 women claimed to be Anastasia. One of them, a Polish peasant named Franzisca Schanzkowska, was successful at this in a way truly stranger than fiction---all this is brilliantly explained in the keepcase booklet by Frances Welch, a Russian history expert. Suffice to say now that when MacMillan choreographed this work, he didn't know if his ballet was a sad true story of ironic suffering or a depiction of a fraud perpetrated by a mental patient. So MacMillan wrote a ballet that works fine either way!

Below we encounter Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna (Christina Arestis) with her four daughters. They are, from left to right, Grand Duchess Marie (Yasmine Naghdi), Grand Duchess Tatiana (Beatriz Stix-Brunell), Grand Duchess Olga (Olivia Cowley) and Grand Duchess Anastasia (Natalia Osipova):

The family enjoys an outing on the royal yacht. The woman in gray is Anna Vyrubova (Kristen McNally), the Tzarina's best friend (MacMillan has lots of fine touches like this on stage to keep you on your trivia toes):

Anastasia, the naughtiest of the 4 girls, takes off her roller skates to cavort with the young officers. They treat her like a little sister:

Christopher Saunders below bears a remarkable resemblance to Tsar Nicholas II. Here he reads with Tsarevitch Alexey (Rory Toms). Alexey is heir to the throne, but he suffers from a terrible case of hemophilia:

Even a simple fall at play is a life-threatening crisis for Alexey. The peasant priest Rasputin (Thiago Soares) has a way of helping Alexey recover from his injuries. Rasputin leveraged this talent into bizarre influence over the Tsarina and her daughters:

Even though the Russian Empire is being depleted by WWI, the Tsar and Tsarina take out time to introduce Anastasia to society at a glittering ball. Rasputin is always hovering about:

The stage design gives many hints that all of Act 1 is taking place at a mental hospital in the mind of Franzisca Schanzkowska. Most of these design elements are hard to see in screenshots, but you can't miss the unreal chandeliers:

 

Click to read more ...

Friday
Nov172017

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
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: A-

Here we have another in the series of titles from Priory about English cathedral grand organs. This one is found at the Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucester, near the Welsh border. The cathedral was built in 1089, and the organ itself dates to 1666. Here you can see it rising above the town and the English countryside:

Below are two shots of the cathedral from different sides:

A menacing gargoyle looms:

Below we see the main case of the organ from two sides of the same hall:

 

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Thursday
Nov092017

John Cage - Music for Speaking Percussionist

John Cage Music for Speaking Percussionist compilation. (Also called The Works for Percussion 4 by Mode Records). Performed 2010-2011 at the University of California, San Diego. Features percussionists Bonnie Whiting and Allen Otte. Recorded and edited by Josef Kucera; directed, filmed, and edited by Anton Cabaleiro; produced by Allen Otte and Brian Brandt. Released 2017, disc has uncompressed 48kHz/24-bit PCM stereo sound. (We usually exclude Blu-ray titles with only stereo sound. But we do make exceptions for classical music soloists when the recording otherwise has some special merit. Here we have a famous [among lovers of contemporary music anyway] percussionists performing rarely [or never-before] recorded works with instruments that would probably not benefit much or at all from surround sound. (This is our first title from Mode Records, which is the brainchild of Brian Brandt. Brandt is himself interviewed in another Blu-ray on our Alphlist, the John Cage - Journeys in Sound from Accentus Recordings.)  Grade: A-

There are five pieces of music on this disc:

  • A Flower. (1950) A short "traditional piece" composed by Cage played by singing while tapping on the closed keyboard lid of a piano.
  • The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs. (1942) Another short Cage piece for singer and closed-keyboard-lid.
  • 51'15.657'' for a speaking percussionist by Bonnie Whiting. (2010) Note that "51'15.657'' refers to the length of the piece - 51 minutes and 15.657 seconds. 
  • Music for Two (By One) by Bonnie Whiting. (2011) The two Whiting works are "mashups" of pieces previously written by Cage. These previously-written Cage pieces were not meant to played straight through. Cage intended that future composers would take excerpts from them, combine them in different ways, and take credit for the new work.
  • Connecting Egypt to Madison through Columbus Ohio, Cage, and the History of the American Labor Movement by Allen Otte. (2011) This piece lasts 7'18" and incorporates Music for Marcel Duchamp and Variations 2 by Cage.

The disc also has a valuable 73-minute extra feature of a conversation between Whiting and Otte (her former professor) in which they discuss how Cage notated the works listed above and how he intended them to be used. Finally, the keepcase booklet has 10 (CD sized) pages of information in small print about Cage's composition methods and how performers today turn the scores into performances.

This title will be a special treat for fans of Cage and contemporary music. It can also serve as an excellent introduction to Cage for adventuresome viewers who have maybe heard about Cage but don't know what all the fuss is about. Or was about---Cage started inventing his music before before broadcast TV (in black and white) arrived and he died in 1992. He is now called "post-war (that's WWII) avant garde."

Time for screenshots. Below is Bonnie Whiting playing A Flower on a closed piano. This was invented for 2 performers, a singer and pianist, but Bonnie does it all. Why "invented" in the previous sentence? Schoenberg, who was for sure a composer, helped train Cage. Because Cage had little interest in harmony, Schoenberg called him an "inventor" rather than composer:

A close-up of Whiting as she sings A Flower (which is a song without words):

Below is the complete rig for 51'15.657'' for a speaking percussionist, which includes traditional instruments along with quite a few everyday household objects like pot lids. Apparently Cage did not specify what instruments the performer would use for 51'15.657'' and Music for Two (By One) except to require one or more instruments that are made of metal, wood, skin (drum), or something else.  In the image below, Whiting speaks, rather dramatically, about the philosophy of music creation (we think) :

A better shot of the chandelier of what appears to be cooking containers and pot lids. Also you can see a blue and pink buzzer from the children's game Taboo:

 

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