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.

October 15. We are getting again into symphony titles and the existential issue of DVDitis. I just posted a story on a Mahler 2 recording at the Gewandhaus that might be considered DOA from the dread plague.

I recently put up a story about the 3rd version (!) of the same Giselle production published by Opus Arte. I recently posted a story about the Ekman Midsummer Night's Dream ballet (which has nothing to do with Shakespeare). I also just posted two stories about Shakespeare's The Tempest. The first is a definitive stage play version by the RSC. The second is an updated review of The Tempest movie staring Helen Mirren as Prospera (the female version of Prospero). The movie is streamlined - try it first. Then move on to the RSC "real deal", which is probably the best The Tempest ever made for home viewing.

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Entries in Alpha (3)

Monday
Oct242016

Vespro della beata vergine

Monteverdi flare Vespro della beata vergine (Vespers for the Blessed Virgin) concert performance in 2014 at the Versailles Chapelle Royale. Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Monteverdi Choir and The English Baroque Soloists (orchestra). Olivier Schneebeli conducts the Juvenal Choir of the Versailles Center for Baroque Music. Directed for video by Stéphan Aubé; produced by Frédérick Allain. Combo pack has a DVD and a Blu-ray disc.  Released 2015, it appears the Blu-ray was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling. The keepcase package has a Dolby Digital logo. But it appears from disc metadata that disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. There are no bonus features or subtitles. But there is an excellent booklet which has the Vespro text in Latin, French, and English. In addition to normal stereo and surround choices, there is also a special sound file for "3D" playback.   Grade: A

This is an astonishingly high-quality recording because it's:

  • Sir John Eliot Gardiner's last (of 3) recordings of the Monteverdi Vespers
  • The first HDVD to be recorded completely in the Chapelle Royal at Versailles
  • Our first chance in HDVD to see the Monteverdi Choir in concert
  • The first time the English Baroque Soloists Orchestra has recorded in HDVD
  • Our best opportunity yet to see ancient instruments in HD
  • The first recording you can enjoy in true "Binaural Sound" (if you can figure it out)
  • A dual-disc title with a Blu-ray and DVD. Watch both and you'll never watch another DVD

We'll cover all these points in some detail (out of order) as we enjoy some screenshots.

The venue for this concert is the Royal Chapel (Chapelle Royal) at Versailles, seen below in the first picture (a stock photo). It's the church where Marie Antoinette married Louis XVI. I've visited Versailles 3 times, but I've yet to see the Royal Chapel. It's connected to rest of the castle, but I think it's too small to expose to throngs of tourists. You have to take a special guided tour.  Now folks like Cecilia Bartoli and Lang Lang can rent the Hall of Mirrors to make a concert recording. But my impression is only sacred music can be performed in the Chapelle Royale:

This is obviously a spectacular place for a concert video. It's also a place creating dramatic sound effects. You can see a balcony above the altar that holds tall organ pipes and runs all around the main floor. For this performance, the orchestra is on the ground floor in front of the altar and the main floor is covered with seats for the audience. From time to time members of the orchestra and the chorus leave the temporary stage to take positions on the balcony and to the sides and to the rear of the audience. Below is a shot with a member of the choir on the balcony opening the work:

Below is the shot above as it appears in the DVD. Can you tell the difference?

Next below is a view with all the singers on stage. It's hard to put into words how beautiful this music is. John Quinn, writing for MusicWeb International, says, "Watching and listening to this performance of the Monteverdi Vespers has been a thrilling experience." The best way I can explain it is this: the pictures you see here are from one of the most beautiful music videos ever made, and the musicians sound even better than they look:

Monteverdi published his Vespro della beata vergine in 1610, the same year Shakespeare wrote The Winter's Tale. Vespro soon fell into obscurity and was rarely performed. 350 years later, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, while attending college, founded the Monteverdi Choir and revived Vespro in a famous concert (performed in 1965). Since then Gardiner has been in the vanguard of the early music movement and also served many orchestras as conductor in most genres of music. He has made hundreds of distinguished recordings including highly-regarded versions of the Vespro.  Subject title is Gardener's attempt to republish Vespro della beata vergine one last time using state-of-the-art video and sound to outshine all recordings of this work made before:

 

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Tuesday
Oct042016

Alcina and Tamerlano

Handel Alcina opera to a libretto by an unknown author and Handel Tamerlano opera to libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym. Both operas directed 2015 by Pierre Audi at la Monnaie using (I think) the same support staff for a coordinated package. Christophe Rousset directs Les Talens Lyriques (Concert Master Gilone Gaubert-Jacques). Costumes by Patrick Kinmonth.

  • Alcina stars Sandrine Piau (Alcina), Maite Beaumont (Ruggiero), Angélique Noldus (Bradamante), Sabina Puértolas (Morgana), Chloé Briot (Oberto), Daneil Behle (Oronte), Giovanni Furnaletto (Melisso), and Éduoard Higuet (Astolfo). Alcina directed for film by Stéphan Aubé.
  • Tamerlano stars Christophe Dumaux (Tamerlano), Jeremy Ovenden (Bajazete), Sophie Karthäuser (Asteria), Delphine Galou (Andronico), Ann Hallenberg (Irene), Nathan Berg (Leone), and Caroline D'Haese (Zaida). Tamerlano directed for film by Myriam Hoyer.

Released 2016, disc has 5.1 sound output. Grade: Help!

This would seem to be a good value for Handel fans with tasteful, straight-foward productions of 2 complete long operas. But there's no room on the package to give the usual credits for the support team. Per the Alpha-Classics website, this will be published in Blu-ray only (no DVD).

Gramophone gave this it's Blu-ray of the Month award in the January 2017 issue. William Brown, writing in the July 2017 Opera News at pages 51-52 was less thrilled. Of the Alcina, he states, "by excising nine movements of dance muesic and the final chorus, the work becames unusually somber and ends in a hopelessness alien to the opera." Still, it appears this package has been a good seller for the vendors.

Here's a preview clip of this disc with short clips from both operas suggesting excellent singing and vividly good work from Les Talens Lyriques :

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

 

Wednesday
Jan132016

Les Indes galantes

Jean-Philippe Rameau Les Indes galantes opera-ballet to a libretto by Louis Fuzelier. Choreographed and directed 2014 by Laura Scozzi at the Bordeaux National Opera. Stars Amel Brahim-Djelloul (Hébé/Fatime/Phani), Benoît Arnould (Bellone/Alvar), Eugénie Warnier (Roxane), Olivera Topalovic (Amour/Zima), Judith van Wanroij (Emilie/Atalide), Vittorio Prato (Osman), Anders Dahlin (Valère/Tacmas/Carlos/Damon), Nathan Berg (Huascar), and Thomas Dolié (Adario). Christophe Rousset conducts Les Talens Lyriques and the Choeur de L'Opéra National be Bordeaux (Chorus Director Alexander Martin). Sets by Natascha Leguen de Kerneizon; costumes by Jean-Jacques Delmotte; lighting by Ludovic Bouaud. Directed for TV by Olivier Simonnet; produced by Jean-Stéphane Michaux. The opera is sung in French. The publisher Alpha-Classics is a French company and the keepcase is in French. Released 2015, the music is recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling and the disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: C

Jean-Philippe Rameau's first hit was the opera Hippolyte et Aricie from 1733. In 1735, Les Indes galantes (The Amorous Indies) was his first opera-ballet. It's a package of 5 mini-operas: a prologue followed by 4 independent pieces, each running from roughly 30 to 40 minutes. The Prologue is set in a mythological garden (here the Garden of Eden). Bellone, the God of War, enters the Garden and leads the men off to the joy of combat.  Amour then sends the women off to observe 4 stories about love. I'll name the love stories in English:  (1) The Generous Turk, (2) The Incas of Peru, (3) The Flowers of Persia, and (4) The Savages of North America. The folks you see in the Garden are dancers or extras. The protagonists in the love stories are opera singers supported by chorus folk and extras. 

Most of the dancing is in the Garden of Eden. The people with their legs in the air on the keepcase cover art are dancers. Something which I didn't observe myself from the cover art is that the dancers are nude. Our first screen shot shows this complete scene with 11 dancers in all their naked glory:

Rameau has been resting in peace for a long time. But the performance of his prologue in the nude maybe jarred him awake. Nothing in the rest of this show is, of course, historically correct (or politically correct either). I think the original words and music are substantially preserved in each story, but director and choreographer Laura Scozzi radically updated the mise-en-scène and plot elements to be funny (often) and socially beneficial (sometimes maybe). The next shot is from The Generous Turk with Osman, a trafficker in people (Vittorio Prato), his captive Emilie (Judith van Wanroij), and Valèrie (Anders Dahlin), in love with Emilie. This looks like a thriller, but doesn't end up that way:

 

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