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 11.  Finally we have a good grade (A-) to brag about for the new Don Quixote from the Vienna State Ballet.  Recently we posted a F+ grade for the new C Major Bruckner Symphony 3 and an F- grade for that C Major Mahler S1-10 Box performed by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. How can a major publishing house turn out something that gets an F-?

We recently posted more than you wanted to know about that Brahms Cycle Box from Belvedere. Now you can buy the 3 discs in the box independently. We bunched the 4 different deals together near the top of the Journal.

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


Entries in Dallas Opera (1)


Death and the Powers 

Tod Machover Death and the Powers opera to a libretto by Robert Pinsky (from a story by Randy Weiner and Robert Pinsky). Directed February 2014 at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, Texas by Andrew Eggert (with assistance from Allegra Libonati) using original stage directions of Diane Paulus. Stars baritone Robert Orth (Simon Walter Powers, an aging Jillionaire), mezzo-soprano Patricia Risley (Simon's Trophy Wife), soprano Joélle Harvey (Miranda, Simon's step-daughter), tenor Hal Casalet (Simon's protégé whom Simon rescued as a deformed infant foundling), counter-tenor Frank Kelley (The United Way, an important charity in the United States), baritone David Kravitz (The United Nations), and bass Tom McNichols (The Administration). Nicole Paiement conducts The Simon Walter Powers Post-Organic-Age Orchestra (a small ensemble of unidentified mechanical devices and electronic gadgets), the Miseries Chorus, and the Chorus of Operabots. Visionary technology provided by Opera of the Future Group and MIT Media Lab. Production designs by Alex McDowell; choreography by Karole Armitage; costumes by David C. Woolard; lighting by Donald Holder; sound design by Chris Full; wig and make-up by David Zimmerman; visual design and software systems by Peter Torpey; media design by Matt Checkowski, sound technology by Ben Bloomburg; robot mechanical design and technical development by Bob Hsiung; robotic control systems by Michael Miller; interaction design by Elena Jessop.

The credits in the previous paragraph relate to what the live audience in Dallas saw. In addition, there was a simulcast of the opera to some 10 locations in Dallas and other cities. It appears WFAA, a Dallas TV station, was responsible for the vision and sound simulcast transmissions and that the Blu-ray recording we review here is the same electronic document as the simulcast. TV credits: Jerry Cadigan was the Production Manager; Don Hazen was Facilities Manager; and Aaron Butler was Director with Assistant Director Rob Horning; cameras were operated by Chris Brock, Chris Cook, Bryan Walor, Chuck Crosswhite, Jim Conrad, Bill Sons, Bobby Hester, and Dode Bigley.

It appears this title is published jointly by the Dallas Opera and the MIT Media Lab. There are no bonus extras, but the keepcase booklet has a lot of information including a detailed synopsis. Sung in English. There are subtitles in English only. The video is 1080i. Released 2015, the LPCM stereo sound was recorded at 48kHz/24-bits. The surround audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital recorded at 48kHz (no word-length given).

This title is currently available only from www.cdbaby.com, a company that sells recordings from independent sources at reasonable prices. Grade: B+ (but "A+" if you like science-fiction, contemporary opera, poetry, or robots)

Background: This piercing-point opera is set in the not-too-distant future but after the demise of the human race and the end of the Organic Age. Operabots conduct a ceremony they are hard-wired to perform in which they recount the end of us: Simon Walter Powers, an American inventor and industrialist, became the richest man ever. Falling gravely ill from a stroke, he used his wealth to create The System, an artificial intelligence heaven. He passed into the System in a bid for immortality. But then things got out of control.

Time for screenshots. Below are Operabots, perhaps the only sentient beings left in the universe in the new Inorganic Age. They are gathered for their periodic In Memoriam celebration of the end of the era of fat and sugar. Death and the Powers is, I assert, the only opera in history in which the real stars are the set and the props, all of which were created by and now belong to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. (The MIT Media Lab is an important media think-tank and agar disk for advanced (read digital) communication science).

The Operabot below is puzzled. Death and the Powers (hereafter "D/a/t/P") touches on a huge number of science-fiction clichés and tropes in a clever and (I think) light-hearted libretto by poet Robert Pinsky. Some have suggested that D/a/t/P is an opera of ideas. I think that's asking too much of opera. I see this work as a brilliant send-up or satire of the science-fiction genre of literature. The libretto was published in Poetry (magazine) in 2010, and it's a fairly easy read. There were some cuts and changes in the original poem for the Dallas production. If you don't know the poem, it would be tricky to follow this live or in video. So the subtitles in English help a lot:

As the ceremony begins, four of the Operabots receive downloads of the minds and memories of the four main human characters. Below we see Simon Walter Powers (Robert Orth) relive the stroke which set him on his mission to gain immortality by inventing the System. (Simon is not a new character for us. He's the same grumpy, rascally, insanely-rich cuss we encounter in The Perfect American, where Walt Disney is sung by Christopher Reeves. And he's a clone of J.Howard Marshall II played by Alan Oke in Anna Nicole.

Now Nicholas is downloaded. He was grievously maimed and starving when Simon found and took pity on him. Simon later invented artificial limbs and other cures for Nick, who grew up being treated like the son Simon never had. Nick was fanatically loyal to Simon and followed him into the System:

Now Simon is close to death and headed for the System. Nick (Hal Casalet), part robot himself, is now in charge of saving Simon. Evvy, Simon's "third and final wife" (Patricia Risley) is saying good-by. In the shadows is Miranda (Joélle Harvey) who is dubious:

Word-play from poet Pinsky:

As a small diversion, here's the similar scene with Walt Disney in The Perfect American. But poor Disney came too early. He was trapped in a world of mechanical and chemical science. Powers comes later in an electronic world full of virtual virtues and digital delights:

D/a/t/P is an opera, so the big four line up like in Verdi for a quartet celebrating The System. For a moment the music sounds like a fugue from Bach after he hit his thumb with a hammer:


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