Titles by Category

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.

December 2. I just posted a review of the 2016 Royal Ballet Nutcracker. We have on our Alphalist a thorough rundown and grade on each of the 10 Nutcracker Blu-rays you could order for a Christmas present!

I just updated and added screenshots to the Priory title The Grand Organ of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Finally we have reported on all 5 of the Priory organ Blu-rays. These exemplary recordings include a Blu-ray video, a DVD video, and a CD! Each of these titles has a fine program of organ music played by virtuoso musicians. In addition, there are fabulous bonus extras with information about the cathedrals, the towns where they are located, the details of each organ instrument, and a discussion of each selection that is played in the recital. Never before was so much value in recordings conveyed for such a modest price.  To see information on all these Priory titles, just go to the left navigation bar and click on "Priory" under "Titles by Publisher." Then all 5 Priory stories will be instantly produced for your enjoyment! _______________________________________________________________________________

Entries in Arthaus Musik (123)

Wednesday
Oct042017

Tosca

Puccini Tosca opera to libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Directed 2001 as a 35mm celluloid film opera movie by Benoît Jacquot at a movie studio in Germany. Stars Angela Gheorghiu [when she was young] (Floria Tosca), Roberta Alagno [then he was hot] (Mario Cavaradossi), Ruggero Raimondi [when he still looked scary] (Baron Scarpia), Maurizio Muraro (Cesare Angelotti), Enrico Fissore (Sacristan), David Cangelosi (Spoletta), and Sorin Coliban (Sciarrone). Antonio Pappano [when he was just getting started with the Royal Opera] conducts the Royal Opera House Orchestra, the Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Director Terry Edwards), and The Tiffin Boys Choir (Chorus Master Simon Toyne). Set designs by Sylvain Chauvelot; costume designs by Christian Gasc. Released 2017, package includes 2 discs: a 2K (old fashioned) Blu-ray and a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. It's important to note, however, that this title does not have the High Dynamic Range (HDR) feature or any of the advanced sound technology available with the new 4K films. As  best I can tell, the only difference between the two discs in the package is the higher 4K resolution. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+

Jacquot is a movie director who also loves opera. He did the mildly controversial Werther HDVD which we graded A+. Subject Tosca is the only movie shot on 35 mm film that has remained good enough to benefit from Blu-ray presentation and has qualified to be covered on this website.  (At first we covered the impressive Joseph Losey Don Giovanni, which was one of the best opera movies. But we eventually excluded it because of thin sound and a print that showed its age and didn't benefit from Blu-ray standards.)

The music and singing for Jacquot's Tosca opera movie was recorded first. Then the singers acted out their ports singing as the movie cameras rolled. This lip syncing is, for mysterious technical reasons, off in several places in the movie. Sometimes this defect is not noticeable because you get the impression that you are hearing the characters sing thoughts in their minds. Other times you assume the defect was intended because, as you will soon see, Jacquot has his own agenda in making movies and is not much concerned with the idea of maintaining a suspension of disbelief!

The movie was made in a studio---there is no stage and no natural location. The few set pieces and props are sumptuously conceived but surrounded by an utterly black and empty universe in the background. Act 1 is in a church as seen (in part) below:

Act 2 plays out in the palace of Scarpia, the police chief:

And in Act 3 we see here Tosca at the prison:

There are natural locations (interior and exterior) shown throughout the film, but always in an absurdly ugly and grainy mode shot from a hand-held camera:

And the director shifts many times to primitive B&W images---this is an art movie, not an opera production: 

The film is further full of motion-picture tricks like, as seen next below, extreme manipulation of depth-of-field-of-focus:

 

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Sep202017

Ernani

Verdi Ernani opera to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Directed 2017 by Jean-Louis Grinda at the Opéra Monte-Carlo. Stars Ramón Vargas (Ernani), Ludovic Tézier (Don Carlo), Alexander Vinogradov (Don Ruy Gomez de Silva), Svetla Vassilieva (Elvira), Karine Ohanyan (Giovanna), Maurizio Pace (Don Riccardo), and Gabriele Ribis (Jago). Daniele Callegari conducts the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Monte-Carlo Opera Chorus (Chorus Master Stefano Visconti). Set design by Isabelle Partiot-Pieri; costumes by Teresa Acone; lights by Laurent Castaingt; film direction by Stéphan Aubé; produced by Frederic Allain (Wahoo). Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here's a YouTube clip:

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

Tuesday
Aug082017

Così fan tutte

Mozart Così fan tutte opera and dance program to libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Directed 2017 by choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker at the Opéra national de Paris! Singing stars are Jacquelyn Wagner (Fiordiligi), Michèle Losier (Dorabella), Frédéric Antoun (Ferrando), Philippe Sly (Guglielmo), Paulo Szot (Don Alfonso), and Ginger Costa-Jackson (Despina). The corresponding dancing stars are Cynthia Loemij (Fiordiligi), Samantha Van Wissen (Dorabella), Julien Monty (Ferrando), Michaël Pomero (Guglielmo), Boštjan Antončič (Don Alfonso), and Marie Goudot (Despina), all supported by other dancers of de Keersmaeker's Rosas dance company.  Philippe Jordan conducts the Paris Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Chorus Master Alessandro di Stefano). Set and lighting design by Jan Versweyveld; costume design by An D'Huys; choreography by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker; dramaturgy by Jan Vandenhouwe. Directed for video by Louise Narboni. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here we have a piece with opera singers and dancers paired up to present a combination opera and dance production in the vein of the Pina Bausch Orpheus und Eurydike. Except that Così fan tutte is a vastly more elaborate work than the Christoph W. Gluck Orpheus. This concoction lasts about 3 hours, which suggests de Keersmaeker is trying to keep as much of the text as she can while weaving her dancers into the libretto. What a challenge!

Thursday
Dec012016

Hänsel und Gretel

Engelbert Humperdinck Hänsel und Gretel opera with revised libretto by Hans-Josef Irmen (based on, but different from the traditional poetry of Adelheid Wette, the composer's sister). Directed 2007 by Johannes Felsenstein at the Anhalt Theatre Dessau. Stars Ludmil Kuntschew (Peter, the broom maker/the Witch), Alexandra Petersamer (Gertrud, Peter's wife), Sabine Noack (Hänsel, the son), Cornelia Marschall (Gretel, the daughter), and Viktorija Kaminskaite (Sandman/Dewman). Markus L. Frank conducts the Dessau Anhalt Philharmonic and the Anhalt Theatre Children's Choir (Chorus Master Dorislava Kuntscheva). Set and costumes by Steghen Rieckhoff; dramaturgy by Susanne Schulz; directed for TV by Brooks Riley. Released  2009, disc has 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: B+

Overture and Act 1 -  Hunger

Arthaus offered this Hänsel und Gretel the same year (2009) the Royal Opera House released their glittering traditional version with Opus Arte.  But director Johannes Felsenstein in Dessau had a secret weapon to make make up for his relatively unknown musicians and tight budget for sets and costumes: a point of view. Felsenstein gives each Act of the opera a meta-meaning that relates to the history of the German people in the 20th century.

The theme of the Overture and Act 1 is Hunger. The Overture is filled with grim archive images such as this:

And there is no doubt that our Hänsel und Gretel are living on the brink of starvation:

Except that today a neighbor shared a bit of milk with the destitute family:

But even this meager treat gets ruined:

Mother orders the children to scour the forest for berries. Fail not in finding something to eat, or else:

 

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Sep012016

Rossini Opera Festival

Rossini Opera Festival box set released 2016. Below are the discs. Each of them has already been reported on this website, and you can get more details by using the links provided:

1. Demetrio e Polibio. 2012. (Grade: NA)

2. Sigismondo. 2012. (Grade: NA)

3. Adelaide di Borgogna. 2013. (Grade: NA)

4. Le Comte Ory. 2014. (Grade: NA)

Sunday
Aug142016

Beethoven Symphonies 1-9

Beethoven Symphonies 1-9 (or Beethoven Complete Symphonies) box set. Philippe Jordan conducts the Orchestre de L'Opéra National de Paris in all nine Beethoven symphonies. Other performers featured in Symphony No. 9 are Ricarda Merbeth (Soprano), Daniela Sindram (Mezzo-Soprano), Robert Dean Smith (Tenor), Günter Groissböck (Bass), and the Choeurs de L'Opéra National de Paris (José Luis Basso Chorus Master).  Grade: Help! 

Richard Osborne in the December 2016 Gramophone at pages 51-53 condemns this box for weak sound quality. The presentation of technical information about this box seems confusing. Nobody seems to want credit for the video.   One has to wonder if sloppiness in the cover also suggests carelessness in the recordings. Can you sometimes judge the book by its cover?

Please help us with a comment or review of this title.

Friday
Jul152016

Rigoletto

Giuseppe Verdi Rigoletto opera to libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Directed 2006 by Gilbert Deflo at the Zurich Opera House. Stars Leo Nucci (Rigoletto), Piotr Beczala (Duke), Elena Moşuc (Gilda), László Polgár (Sparafucile), Katharina Peetz (Maddalena), Kismara Pessatti (Giovanna), Rolf Haunstein (Monterone), Valeriy Murga (Marullo), Bogusław Bidziński (Borsa), Morgan Moody (Count Ceprano), Angela Kerrison (Countess Ceprano), Manuel Betancourt (Usher), and Martina Welschenbach. (Page to the Duchess). Dancers: Camilla Hoffmann, Megan Laehn, Julia Cheremeteff, Patricia Fässler, Eric Müller, Maurizio Tuozzo, Christian Altenburger, and Marc Meyer. Nello Santi conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Zurich Opera House (Chorus Master Ernst Raffelsberger). Stage production by Aglaja Nicolet; set design by William Orlandi; lighting by Jürgen Hoffmann; choreography by Megan Laehn; directed for TV by Felix Breisach. Released 2008, disc features 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

The Duke (Piotr Beczala) is a libertine who also has a fatal attraction to women:

Rigoletto (Leo Nucci) is a hunchback jester who is a favorite of the Duke:

There's an orgy going on, and it's interrupted by Count Monterone (Rolf Haunstein), who claims that his daughter has been dishonored by the Duke with encouragement from Rigoletto:

Monterone challenges the Duke and puts a curse on Rigoletto:

Rigoletto is shaken by the curse. He's also surprised on his way home by an encounter with a professional assassin named Sparafucile (László Polgár) who offers his services. H'm. If Rigoletto could have Monterone killed, would that dispel the curse?

 

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Jun262016

Verdi Messa da Requiem

Verdi Messa da Requiem concert. In 2013, Mariss Jansons conducts the Bavarian Symphony Orchestra and the Bavarian Radio Chorus (Chorus Master Michael Gläzer) at the Golden Hall of Vienna’s Musikverein. Soloists are Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano), Marina Prudenskaja (mezzo-soprano), Saimir Pirgu (tenor), and Orlin Anastassov (bass). Video was directed by Michael Beyer. Released 2014, the music was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling; the disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B

Mariss Jansons

Krassimira Stoyanova Left and Marina Prudenskaja on the Right

Saimir Pirgu Left and Orlin Anastassov Right

This Verdi Messa da Requiem was a Gramophone "Editor's Choice" selection for the month of January 2015. Mike Ashman at page 75 praises Jansons' "operatic" approach to the work showing "a good sense of theatre." He also praised the video in its DVD version stating, "It's atmospherically filmed without encompassing an architectural tour of the venue and points intelligently to vocal and instrumental leads."  H'm, this would prepare me to find a pretty grim case of DVDitis in the Blu-ray; instead, this disc turned out to be a pleasant surprise!  A gripping and dramatic performance was matched by thoughtful and careful filming by director Michael Beyer.

For more on the dread disease "DVDitis" see our special article on how to make a decent video of a large orchestra for viewing on HD TV.  Briefly, DVDitis is a malady that afflicts Blu-ray videos with content that is only appropriate for a DVD. We use a Wonk Worksheet to accurately diagnose DVDitis in a Blu-ray recording. For more information about all this and the abbreviations used below, refer to our Wonk Worksheet form and Wonk Worksheet Instructions):

Following are statistics, obtained using a Wonk Worksheet, on the various types of video clips found in subject Verdi Messa da Requiem video:

Conductor = 87
C/B = 26 (conductor over the backs of musicians)
Soloist(s) not realistic = 101 (the soloists here are the 4 star singers)
*Soloist(s) realistic = 105
Solos, S§, SG, & misc. small-scale = 188 (small-scale shots that are needed for DVDs)
*L§, LG, & misc. large-scale = 34 (large-scale shots tend to look good only in HDVDs)
*PO = 23 (part-orchestra)
*WO = 7 (whole-orchestra)
IO = 22 (instrument only)
*Other high value = 4 (here “architectural” shots)

There's a total of 597 clips over 87 minutes of music in this video, which yields a pace of 8.7 seconds per clip. Supershots (marked above with an *) amount to 29% of the total clips, while conductor shots come in at 19%.   51% of soloist shots are realistic.

We have established the following rules-of-thumb to determine when a Blu-ray with star soloists is afflicted by DVDitis:

A good symphony HDVD with star soloists should have a slow pace with more than 10 seconds per video clip on average. 20 to 40% of the clips should be large-scale "supershots." TatL conductor shots should be less than 20% of the clips in the video. Over 50% of soloist shots should be realistic.

This video passes 3 of the 4 tests. The only test it flunks is the pace test.  But the pace of 8.7 seconds per clip is closer to the pace of a good HDVD (10 seconds per clip and longer) than to the 5 seconds per clip often encountered in DVDs.

Sound quality is good. There is excellent presence to the bass drum during hair-raising moments such as opening of the Dies Irae!  As you can see from all our screenhots, Beyer's picture quality is gorgeous with state-of-the-art video resolution and natural color saturation. Further Beyer has mastered the art of achieving close-to-perfect focus throughout the entire relevant depth-of-field-of-focus.

If you are comparing this review to the Blu-ray dics released by Decca of Barenboim performing Messa da Requiem with the Teatro alla Scala, I will offer the following comments:

  • Similar to Barenboim, there are no Latin subtitles included in this Blu-ray.  Subtitles in English, German, French and Korean appear to be adequate.  (Personally, I am not in the habit of watching subtitles in concert works because to me  they distract from the music.)
  • The Barenboim performance, directed by Andy Sommer, contains 52 cuts in the 2:28 duration of the opening of the Dies Irae.  This present Beyer production contains 26 cuts in the same section (over a duration of 2:25 due to an ever so slightly quicker tempo). This illustrates why the pace in subject title is so much slower and better than in the Barenboim recording. Well, 26 cuts in the Dies Irae is still too many, but it's a step in the right direction!
  • The Golden Hall of Vienna’s Musikverein is relatively small. The big orchestra with chorus is cramped, and this results in cluttered views of musicians and choristers. I did not see many video errors. However, both the large-scale and small-scale shots in this title are perhaps more utilitarian and “not as pretty” as the pictures you would get in in larger concert halls. (See also another Barenboim title I recently reviewed, Bruckner Symphony No. 8, shot by Andreas Morell at the Berlin Philharmonie with its large stage. Morell captures many images showing the exquisite symmetry of motion that exits in a symphony orchestra performance. This would be too much to hope for at the Golden Hall.)

Now lets turn to screen shots to illustrate the dry text that one contends with in our symphony reviews. We start with 2 architectural shots of the beautiful Golden Hall:

And next (extraordinary tricky and successful) shot below is a combo of an architectural view and trumpets playing off stage during the Dies Irae:

 

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Mar192016

Sibelius Symphonies 1-7

 

Sibelius 7 Symphonies (or Sibelius Complete Symphonies) box set. Hannu Lintu conducts the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Helsinki Music Centre between 2012 and 2014. Also includes introductions discussing the musical themes for each symphony and extensive other documentary material about Sibelius the man.  Directed for TV by Timo Anttila and Mika Paavilainen. Released 2015, music was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling, and disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B for the entire box.

I contribute a few remarks about this set as I noted more positives than negatives during my comparison to the HDVDarts.com criteria.

Musically, the performances have been very satisfying to me. I appreciate the feeling of "event" and gravitas that permeates each performance --- with conductor, orchestra, and audience all contributing to this feeling appropriately.  There is a sense of reverence and respect for an important national figure. John Quinn of MusicWeb International concluded the performances to be "top class."  In January 2016, Gramophone magazine gave the box it's "Editor's Choice" award for the month in the DVD/Blu-ray category.

From an audio perspective, the discs have 48kHz/24-bit sound files. The audio has been recorded at a realistic perspective, and is both clear and detailed. The video quality has a resolution that is on the soft side (i.e., a little fuzzy) when compared to the crystal clear and sharp images from the best NHK titles reviewed on this site.

To evaluate potential DVDitis and consistency among the 7 symphonies, I worked up statistics for 2 of them: Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 5.  I chose these as they represent the first and last concert sessions.  Although the statistics do show technical differences, I can report that that the concerts "feel" quite consistent.

Symphony No. 4 (recorded in November 2012)
Duration: 38 min, 25 sec
Total Cuts: 148
⦁ 20 = conductor-only
⦁ 13 = conductor over backs
⦁ 16 = solos
⦁ 53 = small sections
⦁ 18 = close-up images of instruments
⦁ 20 = large sections
⦁ 9 = most or full orchestra
This equates to approximately 80% of shots being suitable for lower-resolution viewing, and 20% for HDVD.  The average cut length is over 15 seconds.

Symphony No. 5 (recorded in September 2014)
Duration: 33 min, 25 sec
Total Cuts: 223
⦁ 63 = conductor-only
⦁ 4 = conductor over backs
⦁ 7 = solos
⦁ 96 = small sections
⦁ 31 = large sections
⦁ 22 = most or full orchestra
This equates to approximately 76% of shots being suitable for lower-resolution viewing, and 24% for HDVD.  The average cut length is 9 seconds.

My impression of these concerts having positive technical merits stems primarily from their relatively slow "pace" (longer average cut length).  Also, the camera work is interesting. In particular, the cameras often shoot from higher angles than one usually sees. Then instruments, bows, and musicians' backs do not so often mar the images by blocking the views of other nearby musicians.

I did notice some changes in style between 2012 and 2014.  The 2012 imagery included many extreme close-ups and instrument-only shots (e.g. the valves of a French horn, a bow moving over the strings).  I did not notice these in the 2014 concert.  The 2012 videography also includes a couple of other features that could have become very annoying except that they only occurred rarely - the use of blurring to transition between images, and the use of image fading (such that 2 different images are visible concurrently).  I counted 3 instances of each effect in the 2012 recording, with none in 2014.  Panning is typically done slowly and tastefully, although it does periodically cause a blip in focus.

Hank McFadyen has generously contributed screenshots to this article (with associated commentary) taken from several of the symphonies at random. The first shot is not a valuable whole-orchestra view because the camera is too far away and you can't see the musicians well. You might call this an ant-hill shot:

But next below is a wonderful whole-orchestra view. The resolution is a bit soft. But at this range and with this view, you can see where all the different instruments are located on the stage:

The next view below uses the same camera crane position as above, but the cameraman has zoomed in for a part-orchestra shot. (You can tell this is from a different symphony than the preceding shot---the horns are in a different place on the stage.)

And in the next shot below we zoom in even closer. From this range the TV director can provide an image with all the members of each of the string sections or of several string sections playing together:

And here's a shot of many of the winds playing while the strings rest:

And here's a beautiful angle of smaller woodwind sections working together:

 

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Mar012016

Bruckner Symphony No. 4

Bruckner Symphony No. 4 (the "Romantic"). Franz Welser-Möst conducts the Cleveland Orchestra at the Stiftsbasilika Monastery in St. Florian, Austria in 2012. Produced by Herbert G. Kloiber and Felix Breisach; video director was Brian Large. Released 2013, music was recorded with 48 kHz/24-bit sound sampling, and the disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: A-

When I started this blog in 2006, I thought the arrival of HD video would soon lead to many HDVDs of architectural wonders. Alas, to date there has been no HDVD devoted solely to buildings, but we have seen snippets of film of palaces and opera houses in various music titles. Now we have a Bruckner Symphony No. 4 performed in a church so cramped that getting a superior music video was not possible. The producers came up with the idea of giving us also fabulous shots of the building to compensate, and Brian Large (best in the business) was recruited to pull this off. So I'll start with two "whole-orchestra" screenshots in the  St. Florian Stiftsbasilika:

Next below we have a shot of the building from the rear of the orchestra. There's an organ on the balcony over the main entrance to the church:

Here's a better view of the organ (which is not used in the symphony performance). It is called "The Bruckner Organ," because Bruckner played it for years as organist at the church. Bruckner is buried in a large, bone-filled crypt under the church near the organ:

Below is a real whole-orchestra shot that also shows more details of the altar. You can also see 3 cameras just a foot or so from the musicians:

The next whole-orchestra shot below must have been made with a telephoto lens from near the Bruckner Organ at the other end of the nave. The strings are jammed together like riders on the Tokyo subway:

 

Click to read more ...

Page 1 2 3 4 5 ... 13