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 BelAir (53)

Thursday
Oct122017

Midsummer Night's Dream

Midsummer Night's Dream ballet choreographed 2015 by Alexander Ekman, with assistant ballet director Mikael Jönsson, for the Royal Swedish Ballet. Music by Mikael Karlsson; lyrics by Mikael Karlsson and Anna Von Hausswolff. Performance seen here was staged in September 2016 by the Royal Swedish Ballet at the Stockholm Opera (Artistic Director Johannes Öhman). Stars Dragos Mihalcea (The Dreamer), Jenny Nilsson (Hostess), Sarah-Jane Brodbeck (Mistress), Lea Ved, Ross Martinson, Amanda Åkesson, Devon Carbone (Love Couples), Daria Ivanova, Desislava Stoeva (The Dreamwomen), Johnny Mcmillan (Mr Canon), Ross Martinson (A Bubbler) and Daniel Norgren-Jensen (A Chef On Pointe), Clyde Emmanuel Archer (Man with the Flag), Preston McBain, Devon Carbone (Headless Men), and Anna Von Housswolff (A Singer). Also features string quartet Dahlkvistkvartetten, percussionist Niklas Brommare, and pianist Henrik Måwe. Set design by Alexander Ekman; costume design by Bregje Van Balen; lighting design by Linus Fellbom; live processing by Roger Bergström and Maria Grönlund; sound design by Lars-Göran Ehn and Andrea Rea; makeup by Betina Stähle and Virginia Vogel; production manager was Ann-Christin Danhammar. Film directed by Tommy Pascal; Director of Photography Charles Sautreuil; produced by Xavier Dubois; line producer Coline Jolly.   Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B-

This ballet was inspired by the customary Swedish Midsummer Eve Festival celebrated on a Friday late in June, originally to honor the sun on the longest day of the year. It has nothing to do with the Shakespeare play (except that perhaps the festival and the play both can be traced back to ancient Pagan traditions). Ekman's Act 1, a depiction of the festival, begins when the Dreamer (Dragos Mihalcea seen below) is awakened early and closes when the Dreamer puts flowers under his pillow at the end of the longest day of the year.  Act 2 is the dream that follows (during the shortest night of the year):
 

The Festival has a lot to do with hay. Throwing hay around reminds me of Ekman's A Swan Lake, which had famous scenes about throwing water around:

Ekman likes to present the audience with the unexpected. Next below you see that the stage has been extended over the orchestra pit. The music for this Midsummer Night's Ballet is provided by musicians on the stage in the background:

Here's Ekman's version of the traditional ring dance around a decorated pole (phallic symbol):

The celebration includes games like the sack race below for kids of all ages and toasts for the adults. Only in a ballet could one try to drink a toast while jumping in a sack:

The Swedes like to have festival feasts at long tables. Standing next to the table is the blond vocalist Anna von Hausswolff, who co-wrote the music and appears constantly wandering about the stage singing:

Of course, there's plenty of beer, wine, and spirits:

 

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Monday
Oct092017

The Golden Age

The Golden Age ballet. Music by Dmitri Shostakovich. Choreography by Yuri Grigorovich to libretto by Isaak Glikman and Yuri Grigorovich. Staged 2016 at the Bolshoi Ballet. Stars Nina Kaptsova (Rita, a young girl), Ruslan Skvortsov (Boris, a young fisherman), Mikhail Lobukhin (Yashka, gang leader), Ekaterina Krysanova (Lyuska, Yashka’s accomplice), and Vyachslav Lopatin (night club compere). Pavel Klinichev conducts the Corps de Ballet and Orchestra of the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre of Russia. Lighting design by Mikhail Sokolov; sets and costumes by Simon Virsaladze; choreography assistants Regina Nikiforova and Andrey Melanin. Produced by François Duplat; filmed by Vincent Bataillon. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+

Has any great people suffered more bad luck than the Russians? Have they ever had a Golden Age? Well, the Golden Age depicted in this ballet was part of the Russian Revolution and lasted 5 years between the end of the Russian Civil War (1923) and the beginning of Stalin's Cultural Revolution (1928), which in turn led to the Great Terror of 1934-1939. 5 years is a short time span for an era.

Before the Russian Revolution, the most important art movement in Russia was that of the Wanderers, mostly romantic and impressionist artists who traveled about the vastness of Russian putting on exhibitions to enlighten people. A nice example of the art of the Wanderers is the Girl with Peaches (1887) by Valentin Serov shown next below:

Painting in Russia after the Wanderers was probably headed toward the natural realism of, say, Zinaida Serebriakova (1884-1967). She was an aristocrat who became a wanderer in foreign countries after 1917 and died a French citizen. Below we see her famous Self-Portrait at Toilet (1909) and her also famous Bathhouse (1913):

But then along came the Communists. The devastation of the Civil War forced Lenin in 1922 to allow limited free enterprise under the New Economic Policy (NEP).  This is now viewed as a golden time when "Russian Futurism" flourished. One popular futurist style was "rayism":

And Communist propaganda sprang up as "Agitprop" art. Below is a banner for the New Economic Policy and a poster urging punishment for lazy workers:

Now let's get back to our Golden Age ballet video. The first screenshot below is the final curtain call. I chose this to open with because it gives a clear view of the main set, which is a futurist-style stage in a seaport town where the local Komsomol (Young Communist League) performs. It's 1923. The sign on the back wall reads "АГИТ БРИГАДА" which are cognates for "Agit Brigades" or Propaganda Forces:

Next below we see a scene from a show put on by the Fishermen Agit Brigade. The girls must belong to the local Fish Cleaning and Packing Agit Brigade. The hero of the fishermen is Boris (Ruslan Skvortsov):
 

Now consider below a 1923 painting, Black and Violet, by the Russian futurist artist Kandinsky:

Kandinsky's figures remind me of the Priest, General, and Tycoon who get lampooned in the Boris's Agitprop play:

The People are victorious over the forces of Reaction. Boris is dancing with Rita (Nina Kaptsova), a mysterious new girl who actually isn't a member of the Fish Cleaning and Packing unit:
 

Boris and Rita in love:
 

Rita isn't a member of the Fish Cleaning and Packing unit because she has a double life. She performs with the Agit groups, but she also works as as show girl at the new night club near the City Hall shown below. On the back wall is the name of the club, ЗОЛОТОЙ ВЕК, or, in English, "The Golden Age":

 

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Friday
Sep292017

Pelléas et Mélisande 

Debussy Pelléas et Mélisande opera to libretto by Maurice Maeterlinck. Directed 2016 by Benjamin Lazar at the Malmö Opera. Stars Marc Mauillon (Pelléas), Jenny Daviet (Mélisande), Laurent Alvaro (Golaud), Stephen Bronk (Arkel), Emma Lyrén (Geneviève), Julie Mathevet (Yniold), and Stefano Olcese (Doctor / Shepherd). Maxime Pascal conducts the Malmö Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Chorus Master André Kellinghaus). Stage design by Adeline Caron; costume design by Alain Blanchot; make-up by Mathilde Benmoussa; lighting by Mael Iger; stage direction assistance by Elizabeth Calleo and Katrina Sörensen Palm; directed for video by Corentin Leconte; produced by Xavier Dubois. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Heres a short YouTube clip:

Friday
Sep292017

I Puritani

Bellini I Puritani opera to libretto by Carlo Pepoli. Directed 2016 by Emilio Sagi. Stars Miklós Sebestyén (Lord Gualtiero Valton), Nicolas Testé (Sir Giorgio), Javier Camarena (Lord Arturo Talbo), Ludovic Tézier (Sir Riccardo Forth), Antonio Lozano (Sir Bruno Roberton), Annalisa Stroppa (Enrichetta di Francia), and Diana Damrau (Lady Elvira Valton). Evelino Pidò conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Real de Madrid (Chorus Master Andrés Máspero). Stage design by Daniel Bianco; costume design by Peppispoo; lighting design by Eduardo Bravo; filmed and edited by Jérémie Cuvillier; produced by Xavier Dubois; executive produced by François Duplat. Released 2017, 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.

Friday
Sep082017

The Art of Svetlana Zakharova

The Art of Svetlana Zakharova 4 Disc Set released 2017. Below are the discs for four ballets featuring Svetlana Zakarova at the Bolshoi. Each of these has already been reported on this website, and you can get more details by using the links provided:

1. Swan Lake. Tchaikovsky. 2015. (Grade: D+)

2. flare La Bayadère. Minkus. 2013. (Grade: A+)

3. flare The Sleeping Beauty. Tchaikovsky. 2012. (Grade: A+)

4. La fille du pharaon. Pugni. 2010. (Grade: A)

Probably the only reason to buy this Swan Lake would be to have the Zakharova performance. Also note that this title overlaps the similar Art of David Hallberg in that both boxes have the same The Sleeping Beauty disc.

Thursday
Sep072017

The Art of David Hallberg 

The Art of David Hallberg 2 Disc Set released 2017. Below are the discs for two ballets featuring David Hallberg at the Bolshoi. Both have already been reported on this website, and you can get more details by using the links provided:

1. Marco Spada. Daniel-François-Esprit Auber. 2014. (Grade: A+)

2. flare The Sleeping Beauty. Tchaikovsky. 2012. (Grade: A+)

Hard to image a more delightful 2-disc combo than this one. We have compelling reviews up for each of these titles. With any sort of discount this combo pack becomes irresistible. 

But note this title is similar to the Art of Svetlasa Zakharova box in that both boxes have the same The Sleeping Beauty disc.

Monday
Aug072017

Lulu

Alban Berg Lulu opera to libretto by the composer (3-act version completed by Friedrich Cerha in 1979). Directed 2015 by Dmitri Tcherniakov at the Bayerische Staatsoper. Stars Marlis Petersen (Lulu), Bo Skovhus (Dr. Schön/Jack the Ripper), Daniela Sindram (Gräfin Geschwitz), Matthias Klink (Alwa), Rainer Trost (Der Maler (Painter)/Ein Neger (Negro)), Martin Winkler (Ein Tierbändiger(Animal Trainer)/Ein Athlet), Pavlo Hunka (Schigolch), Christian Rieger (Der Medizinalrat/Der Bankier/Der Professor), Rachel Wilson (Eine Theater-Garderobiere/Ein Gymnasiast/Ein Groom), Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Der Marquis), Christoph Stephinger (Der Theaterdirektor), Elsa Benoit (Eine Fünfzehnjährige (15 year-old girl)), Cornelia Wulkopf (Ihre Mutter (Mother of the Girl )), Heike Grötzinger (Eine Kunstgewerblerin (Gallery Owner)), John Carpenter (Ein Journalist), Leonard Bernad (Ein Diener (Servant)), and Nicholas Reinke (Der Polizeikommissär). Kirill Petrenko conducts the Bayerisches Staatsorchester. Costume designs by Elena Zaytseva; choreography by Tatiana Baganova; set design by Dmitri Tcherniakov; lighting design by Gleb Filshtinksy; video direction by Andy Sommer; produced by François Duplat. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here a long clip from the Bavarian State Opera about this production; images on subject disc will be similar:

Please help us with a comment or mini-review about this title.

 

Sunday
Jul162017

New York City Ballet in Paris

New York City Ballet in Paris show of 4 one-act works, each to pieces of French music, choreographed by George Balanchine and performed in 2016 in the Paris Théâtre du Châtelet as part of Les Etés de la Danse (The Summers of Dance Festival). This was shown as a Great Performances broadcast on PBS over two nights in February 2017. Works performed are:

1. Walpurgisnacht Ballet from the Charles Gounod Faust opera, first performed as an independent piece by the NYCB in 1980. Stars Sara Mearns, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Louren Lovette, Kristen Segin, and Sarah Villwock. Costumes by Karinska (Barbara Karinska: 1886-1983, Balanchine's favorite costume designer); lighting by Mark Stanley.

2. Sonatine by Ravel, a pas de deux originally written for Violette Verdy and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux in 1975. Stars Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz with solo pianist Elaine Chelton. Lighting by Mark Stanley.

3. La Valse, also created to famous music of Ravel (in 1951).  Stars Sterling Hyltin, Jared Angle, and Amar Ramasar with Marika Anderson, Meaghan Dutton-O'Hara, Gwyneth Muller, Lauren King, Antonio Carmena, Ashley Laracey, Zachary Catazaro, and Ralph Ippolito. Scenery by Jean Rosenthal; costumes by Karinska; lighting by Mark Stanley.

4. Symphony in C to the Georges Bizet Symphony No. 1 in C Major, created in 1947.  (The original name of the ballet was  Le Palais de Cristal). This ballet is performed by more than 50 dancers led by Tiler Peck, Andrew Veyette, Teresa Reichlen, Tyler Angle, Alston Macgill, Anthony Huxley, Brittany Pollack, and Taylor Stanley. Costumes by Marc Happel; lighting by Mark Stanley.

L'Orchestre Prométhée plays under NYCB Resident Conductor Daniel Capps. Produced by François Duplat; directed for TV by Vincent Bataillon. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audo  Grade: A

Alastair Macaulay, the chief dance critic for the New York Times, saw this on PBS TV and gave his stamp of approval to the program and the dancing on February 15, 2017. He also praised the filming by Vincent Bataillon for "sensitive camerawork, in which the screen alternates, excitingly and musically, between long shots showing the full company and full-length views of leading dancers." Right on Alastair! As we have demonstrated on this website, Bataillon is in a class by himself as the leading ballet videographer in the world. Alas, Alastair also expressed the hope that the TV show will become a DVD. Oh, forgive the print critics: they know not what they are missing! (Turns out this was published in Blu-ray and as a DVD, and recently Amazon was selling the Blu-ray a bit cheaper than its homely cousin.)

Can't wait for screenshots! First below is a pretty whole-stage shot from the opening of Walpurgisnacht Ballet. I did a Ballet Wonk Worksheet on this title. Across all 4 works on the disc, 50% of Bataillon's video clips show the entire stage:

And next below is a beautiful part-stage, whole-body shot from the same scene as above. 46% of Bataillon's clips are from this range. So 96% of the clips on this disco show the whole bodies of the dancers:

Sara Mearns:

I think the dancer center in the lighter dress is Lauren Lovette:

Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz in the Sonatine duet:

It was hard to get screenshots from the dark La Valse. The next 4 views below are the best I could do. Ravel's music becomes increasingly disjointed and neurotic before it collapses into a death spiral:

 

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Wednesday
Apr052017

Moses und Aron

Schönberg Moses und Aron opera to libretto by the composer. Directed 2015 by Romeo Castellucci at the Paris Opera House. Stars Thomas Johannes Mayer (Moses), John Graham-Hall (Aron), Julie Davis (Ein junges Mädchen or Young Girl), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Eine Kranke or An Invalid Woman), Nicky Spence (Ein Junger Mann or A Young Man), Michael Pflumm (der nackte Jüngling or The Naked Youth), Chae Wook Lim (Ein Mann or A Man), Christopher Purves (Ein anderer Mann/Ephraimit or Another Man/Ephraimit), Ralf Lukas (Ein Priester or A Priest), Julie Davies, Maren Favela, Valentina Kutzarova, and Elena Suvorova (Vier Nackte Jungfrauen or Four Naked Virgins), Shin Jae Kim, Olivier Ayault, Jian-Hong Zhao (Drei Älteste or Three Elders), as well as Béatrice Malleret, Isabelle Wnorowska-Pluchart, Marie-Cécile Chevassus, John Bernard, Chae Wook Lim, and Julien Joguet (Sechs Solostimmen or Six Solo Voices). Philippe Jordan conducts (1) the Orchestre et Chœurs de l'Opéra national de Paris and (2) Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine or Chœurs d'enfants de  l'Opéra national de Paris (Chorus Master José Luis Basso and Deputy Chorus Master Alessandro di Stefano). Sets, costumes, and lighting by Romeo Castellucci; choreography by Cindy Van Acker;  artistic collaboration by Silvia Costa; dramaturgy by Piersandra Di Matteo and Christian Longchamp. Directed for film by Stéphane Lissner; produced by François Duplat and Laurent Métivier. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

This is the first HDVD of Moses und Aron (there are some CDs and two DVDs). This is some of Schönberg's most difficult music, but the score is now 85 years old and no longer sounds particularly strange to modern ears. Castellucci's stupendously abstract production occupies some of the no-man's land located between opera, ballet, and staged oratorio and appears to me to be as aggressively up-to-date as possible. I suspect this title will be considered "important" for years to come. If you have seen this Castellucci show in Paris, Madrid, or on disc, we would be happy to hear from you.

Here are two clips that relate to the performance in Paris. There are other clips on YouTube from the later, but similar, performance in Madrid with a different cast:

 

Sunday
Mar262017

Tribute to Jerome Robbins

Tribute to Jerome Robbins compilation of three single-act ballet pieces by Robbins and the world premiere of a single-act ballet by Benjamin Millepied. Performed 2008 at the Paris Opera (Palais Garnier) as a tribute to Robbins, who died in 1998. Works presented (in disc order) are:

1. En Sol by Robbins (23 minutes). Music is Maurice Ravel Piano Concerto in G major. Stars Marie-Agnès Gillot & Florian Magnenet. Elena Bonnay plays piano. Choreography overseen by Jean-Pierre Frohlich; sets and costumes by Erté; lighting by Jennifer Tipton.

2. Triade choreographed by Benjamin Milleipied (21 minutes). Especially commissioned music for piano and two trombones by Nico Muhly.  Stars Marie-Agnès Gillot, Laëtitia Pujol, Audric Bezard, and Marc Moreau. Frédéric Lagnau plays piano. Trombones played by Bruno Flahou and Jean Raffard. Costumes by Benjamin Millepied; lighting by Patrice Besombes.

3. In the Night by Robbins (24 minutes). Music by Frédéric Chopin. Stars dancers Clairemarie Osta & Benjamin Pech, Agnès Letestu & Stéphane Bullion, as well as Delphine Moussin & Nicolas Le Riche. Ryoko Hisayma plays piano. Choreography overseen by Jean-Pierre Frohlich & Christine Redpath; costumes by Antony Dowell; lighting by Jennifer Tipton.

4. The Concert by Robbins (29 minutes). Music by Frédéric Chopin. Stars dancers Dorothée Gilbert, Stéphane Phavorin, Alessio Carbone, and Emmanuel Thibault. Vessela Pelovska plays piano under adverse circumstances. Choreography overseen by Jean-Pierre Frohlich; arrangements and orchestration by Clare Grundman; sets after Saul Steinberg; costumes by Irene Sharaff; lighting by Jennifer Tipton.

Koen Kessels conducts the Paris Opera Orchestra. This project was realized while Gerard Mortier was Director of the Paris Opera. Produced by François Duplat, Antoine Perset, Denis Morlière, and Emma Enjalbert; directed for TV by Vincent Bataillon. Sound recorded with 48kHz/16-bit sampling specs (between CD and typical Blu-ray sound.) Released 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound.  Grade: A

En Sol

En Sol celebrates innocent fun and languid romance at the beach it a manner reminiscent of the musical productions for which Robbins was famous (in addition to his formal ballet work). Fans of this website likely will be very familiar with the En Sol music because we already have in HDVD both a Héne Grimaud and a Martha Argerich rendition of the Ravel Piano Concerto in G major. 12 members of the corps populate the beach while Marie-Agnès Gillot and Florian Magnenet fall in love. You see all 12 members of the corps in their colorful costumes in the first screenshot below:

Marie-Agnès Gillot and Florian Magnenet are, of course, front and center in the shot above. You also see them on the front-cover art work for the disc pictured above.

This video was made at the dawn of the age of HDVD in 2008. But already TV director Vincent Bataillon knew (maybe better than anyone else in the industry) how to take maximum advantage of the power of the new HD cameras (even though this title was also to be published in DVD).

I ran a Ballet Work Worksheet on En Sol. I measured the dance time as 23:33. I counted 34 "camera clips" (where a video clip stops and is followed by a different new video clip) for a pace of 42 seconds per clip. I also figured there were 40 "brain clips" (where the camera keeps running but there is a distinct change in range caused by zooming in or out). With the brain-clip count, the pace is 35 clips per second. The Gillot/Magnenet duet is portrayed in a single clip of 9 minutes and 43 seconds---a video segment that's magnificent in every way! 97% of the clips show the whole bodies of the dancers. There is only 1 clip (a torso shot) that doesn't show whole bodies of the dancers.

In the Night 

With In the Night, Robbins evokes through dance the same feelings of mystery and longing achieved by Chopin in the music of his nocturnes.  Using three sets of dancers, there are three duet scenes (no solos), each quite different and equally wonderful. There's a brief coda to show you all the splendor at once.

Clairemarie Osta and Benjamin Pech:

Agnès Letestu and Stéphane Bullion, stars of our ineffable HDVD ballet La Dame aux camélias. Agnès has a lot of confidence in the strength and skill of Stéphane:

Finally, Delphine Moussin and Nicolas Le Riche:

 

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