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 Decca (47)

Wednesday
Jan042017

Turandot

Puccini Turandot opera to a libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni and as completed by Lucio Berio. Directed 2015 by Nikolaus Lehnhoff and assistant Daniel Dooner at Teatro alla Scala. Stars Nina Stemme (Turandot), Aleksandrs Antonenko (Calaf), Maria Agresta (Liù), Alexander Tsymbalyuk (Timur), Angelo Veccia (Ping), Roberto Covatta (Pang), Blagoj Nacoski (Pong), Carlo Bosi (Altoum), Gianluca Breda (Mandarino), Azer Rza-Zada (Prince of Persia), Barbara Rita Lavarian (First Handmaid), and Kjersti Ødegaard (Second Handmaid). Riccardo Chailly conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala and the Childrens' Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala School (Chorus Master Bruno Casoni). Sets by Raimund Bauer; costumes by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer; lighting by Duane Schuler; choreography by Denni Sayers. Directed for TV by Patrizia Carmine. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio surround sound. Grade: Help!

There are several clips from this production on YouTube. It's hard to tell if any of them come from this video, but the one below gives you a good idea about the fairly radical designs used in this show. Richard Lawrence, writing in the April 2017 Gramophone (page 115), accepts the designs as a "feast for the eye", praises all the lead singers, and approves the ending by Luciano Berio. He gives the disc his "firm recommendation for an eminently watchable offering from the theatre of the opera's premiere."

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

 

Monday
Apr252016

Giulio Cesare 

Handel Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar) opera to libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym. Directed 2012 by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurie at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival. Stars Cecilia Bartoli (Cleopatra), Andreas Scholl (Cesare), Philippe Jaroussky (Sesto), Anne Sofie von Otter (Cornelia), Christophe Dumaux (Tolomeo), Ruben Drole (Achilla), Jochen Kowalski (Nireno/a), and Peter Kálmán (Curio). Giovanni Antonini conducts Il Giardino Armonico. Released 2016. Grade: Help!

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

Friday
Oct232015

The Merry Widow

Franz Lehár The Merry Widow operetta to libretto by Viktor Léon and Leo Stein. Directed by Susan Stroman at the Met. Stars singers Renee Fleming (Hanna), Nathan Gunn (Danilo), Kelli O'Hara (Valencienne), Alek Shrader (Camille de Rosillon), Sir Thomas Allen (Baron Zeta), and Carson Elrod (Njegus). Sir Andrew Davis conducts The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet. Designs by Julian Crouch; costumes by William Ivey Long; choreography by Susan Stroman; directed for TV by Gary Halvorson. Released 2015. Grade: Help!

Preliminary information needs to be confirmed. Please help us by writing a comment that we can place here as a mini-review of this title.

Saturday
Oct032015

Falstaff

Verdi Falstaff opera to libretto by Arrigo Boito. Directed by Robert Carsen at the Metropolitan Opera. Stars Ambrogio Maestri, Angela Meade, Stephanie Blythe, Lisette Oropesa, Franco Vassallo, Paolo Fanale, and Jennifer Johnson Cano. James Levine conducts the Metropolitan Opera, Orchestra & Chorus. Released in 2015. Grade: Help!

Early information woefully incomplete and needs confirming.

Please help us with a comment or mini-review for this title!

Monday
Aug102015

Rusalka 

Dvořák Rusalka opera to libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil. Directed 2014 by Laurie Feldman reviving the 1933 Otto Schenk production. Stars Renée Fleming (Rusalka), Piotr Beczala (Prince), Dolora Zajick (Jezhibaba), John Relyea (Water Gnome), Emily Magee (Foreign Princess), Julie Boulianne (Kitchen Boy), Vladimír Chmelo (Gamekeeper), Alexey Lavrov (Hunter), Dísella Lárusdóttir (First Wood Sprite), Renée Tatum (Second Wood Sprite), Maya Lahyani (Third Wood Sprite), and Amir Levy (Noble). Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts The Metropolitan Opera and Chorus. Sets by Günther Schneider-Siemssen; costumes  by Silvia Strahammer; lighting by Gil Wechsler; choreography by Carman De Lavallade; sound editing by John Bowen, directed for TV by Barbara Willis Sweete; produced by Mia Bongiovanni. Released 2015. Grade: Help!

This will be the same as the Rusalka recently broadcast by the Met to movie theaters. Because the Met has already recouped at least some of its investment in this, the retail price will likely be attractive.

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

Monday
Jul272015

Jonas Kaufmann Box Set

Jonas Kaufmann box set with 4 operas featuring Jonas Kaufmann. 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. Bizet Carmen. 2014. (Grade NA)

2. Gounod Faust. 2014. (Grade NA)

3. Massenet Werther. 2014. (Grade A+)

4. Puccini Tosca. 2014. (Grade NA)

Released 2015. Grade: Help!

We have reviewed only one of these 4 titles, the excellent Werther, which is a traditional production, but made as a movie using the staged version as a location. All the other titles included in the box are updated (not traditional) productions which seem to have been popular with the Amazon customers, mostly for great singing. Early indications are that this will be priced aggressively to give the buyer a good discount. If you are older and set in your ways, you might not be that thrilled with this box. But if you are young and money is be a bit tight, this could be a good value, especially if the Amazon third-party vendors get this in inventory.

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

Sunday
Jul122015

Guillaume Tell

Rossini Guillaume Tell opera to a libretto by Étienne de Jouy and Hippolyte Bis. Directed 2013 by Graham Vick at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro. Stars Nicola Alaimo (Guillaume Tell), Juan Diego Flórez (Arnold Melcthal), Marina Rebeka (Mathide), Amanda Forsythe (Jemmy), Veronica Simeoni (Hedwige) Simon Orfila (Walter Furst), Simone Alberghini (Melcthal, Arnold's father), Luca Tittoto (Gesler), Alessandro Luciano, (Rodolphe), Celso Albulo (Ruodi), and Wojtek Gierlach (Leuthold/Hunter). Michele Mariotti conducts the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna (Chorus Master Andrea Faidutti). Set and costume designs by Paul Brown; choreography by Ron Howell; lighting design by Giuseppe Di Iorio; directed for screen by Tiziano Mancini. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: A-

Guillaume Tell is a French grand opera, and one usually expects to see grand opera presented as a vast spectacle in a major opera house with lavish sets, costumes, and props supporting a famous cast of singers and an elaborate ballet. (For a modern French grand opera done this way, see our review of the Verdi Les vêpres siciliennes staged at the Royal Opera in 2013.) The critics seem to agree that the singers in this Guillaume Tell are as good as any group ever put together for any recording of this opera. But this production didn't take place in a real opera house. It was performed in Pesaro at the 2013 Rossini Opera Festival at the Adriatic Arena: 

The Adriatic Arena is primarily a sports venue seating 15,000 for professional basketball. For the summer opera festival, a small opera house seating 1500 is assembled inside the huge building. A special set is built for the Rossini opera to be staged that year. These sets have often been ingenious, but there are severe limitations on what the designers can do. In the next  screenshot below, which comes from the end of Guillaume Tell, you see how a "scenery malfunction" on the back wall of the set accidentally exposed some of the seats in the sports arena with cast members sitting around waiting for their curtain calls.

Of course, the show went on. But this humorous event does illustrate how challenging it must be to stage a French grand opera in an improvised space (like a Roman arena, a stage floating in a lake, or a sports stadium). To do this, you have to call in a director who will grin, bear it, and improvise. Enter Graham Vick, "known for his experimental and revisionist stagings of traditional and modern operas" (Wikipedia). To Vick, the Pesaro set isn't a huge headache---it's a carte blanche to have fun:

At Pesaro, the orchestra doesn't have a pit. The harp sticks up 3 feet above the stage floor. Good thing the score doesn't call for four harps!

And there's no regular curtain. No problem---just make a big banner to raise and lower like they used to do on  May Day in Moscow:

The single set is a big, plain white triangle with a video screen across the back, a room on the left that can be revealed with a sliding door, a balcony, and a sort of fly space. The Latin words EX TERRA OMNIA are on the  back wall. The best translation for this would probably be "All comes from the earth." This whole opera is all but full of beautiful chorus singing. Below we see the peasants early on lamenting their troubles with foreign domination. This sure does look like a number of stagings we have from Christof Loy, who specializes in ultra-low-cost productions:

Vick himself says (in a bonus extra) that it would be kitsch to try to depict the Alps on this limited stage. The art of the theater is, he insists, to show human nature. Well, this gives Vick a lot of leeway. In the next shot we see a number of Vick conventions: the aristocratic Austrians in their elite separate quarters look down on the peasants at work cleaning a floor, a large painting of the Matterhorn is reflected in a lake that could not exist at the foot of an Alpine peak, a boat that will sail across a river by being lifted into the fly, a movie camera used by the German-speaking oppressors records the humiliations of the peasants, and there is movie-location electric lighting gear. All of this is totally incongruous with a tale about a shooting a crossbow, a weapon that disappeared with the invention of gunpowder. Vick is, of course, aware of all this. He's throwing out human-nature archetypes across the stage for us to assemble in our minds in a collective consciousness of bad guys and good guys:

 

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Tuesday
Jun022015

Die Zauberflöte

 

 Mozart Die Zauberflöte opera to a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. Directed by Pierre Audi at the Salzburg Festival (Grosses Festspielhaus) as part of the huge Salzburg Festival M22 Project to record all the Mozart operas in HD in 2006. Stars Paul Groves (Tamino), Genia Kühmeier (Pamina), Christian Gerhaher (Papageno), Irena Bespalovaite (Papagena), Diana Damrau (Queen of the Night), René Pape (Sarastro), Inga Kalna (First Lady), Karine Deshayes (Second Lady), Ekaterina Gubanova (Third Lady), Franz Grundheber (Speaker/First Priest), Xavier Mas (Second Priest), Michael Authenrieth (Third Priest), Burkhard Ulrich (Monostatos), Simon O'Neil (First Armoured Man), Peter Loehle (Second Armoured Man), and Members of the Vienna Boys' Choir (The Three Boys) . Riccardo Muti conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor (Chorus Master Thomas Lang). Stage design by Karel Appel; costume designs by Jorge Jara; video direction by Brian Large; produced by Bernhard Fleischer. Released 2015 in HDVD, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

This title was originally released in 2010 in a box set of all of the Mozart operas on 33 DVDs. Decca and the vendors did a miserable job of introducing this to the marketplace in HDVD; for a long time, I  thought this was maybe vaporware or vendors confusing a DVD with Blu-ray. Now I've got the Blu-ray package in my hand, and it's for sure that Decca has released this as an HDVD. Mike Ashman, writing in the May 2015 Gramophone (page 87), seems to have had the Blu-ray, but he could not generate enthusiasm for this production because of its "mock primitive art" and "cartoonish" costumes. Still, there's plenty of talent on display here, and Amazon customers seem to like it.

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

Tuesday
Apr142015

Otello

Verdi Otello opera to libretto by Arrigo Boito. Directed 2012 by Elijah Moshinsky at the Met. Stars Johan Botha (Otello), Renée Fleming (Desdemona), Falk Struckmann (Iago), Michael Fabiano (Cassio), Renée Tatum (Emilia), Stephen Gaertner (Montano), Eduardo Valdes (Roderigo), James Morris (Lodovico), and Luthando Qave (A Herald). Semyon Bychkov conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus, and Ballet (Chorus Master Dorald Palumbo). Sets designed by Michael Yeargan; costumes by Peter J. Hall; lighting by Duane Schuler; choreography by Eleanor Fazan; stage direction by David Kneuss; directed for TV by Barbara Willis Sweete. Music Producer was Jay David Saks; Supervising Producers were Mia Bongiovanni and Elena Park; Producers were Louisa Briccetti and Victoria Warivonchik. Released 2014, 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.

Thursday
Oct162014

Lohengrin

 Richard Wagner Lohengrin opera to libretto by the composer. Directed 2009 by Richard Jones at the Munich Festival. Stars Jonas Kaufmann (Lohengrin), Anja Harteros (Elsa), Wolfgang Koch (Telramund), Michaela Schuster (Ortrud), Christof Fischesser (König Heinrich), and Evgeny Nikitin (Herald). Kent Nagano conducts the Bayerisches Staatsorchester. Set and costume design by Ultz; lighting design by Mimi Jordan Sherin; video direction by Karina Fibich. Released 2014, disc has dts-HD Master Audio surround sound. Grade: Help!

Another 5-year-old  performance that Decca is finally publishing. Why the delay? Well, this came out in DVD in 2010. Many Amazon customers loved the singing but hated the direction by Richard Jones. Sales of the DVD were probably not red-hot.

But see the stoutly enthusiastic comment (slightly edited) below from John Aitken defending Jones and stating that the production gained popularity over time through several revivals. So it appears that the time is finally ripe for this Lohengrin.

We would, of course, welcome more comments about this title.

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