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 Erato (16)


Only the Sound Remains

Kaija Saariaho Only the Sound Remains double-bill opera. The two operas are Always Strong and Feather Mantle, both based on traditional Noh plays from Japan, with Saariaho contributing the libretto and music for each.  Directed 2016 by Peter Sellars at the Dutch National Opera. Stars Philippe Jaroussky (Ghost/Angel) and Davóne Tines (Priest/Fisherman). Also stars dancer Nora Kimball-Mentzos. André De Ridder conducts the Dudok Kwartet (string quartet) and four singers from the Dutch Chamber Choir. Scenography by Julie Mehretu; costumes by Robby Duiveman; lighting by James F. Ingalls; choreography by Nora Kimball-Mentzos; computer music design by Christophe Lebreton; and sound projection by David Poissonnier. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Grade: Help!

Neither the stories nor the music here appear to owe much to the Western canon. Saariado trucks with the ethereal, not the dramatic. Critics find this production either (1) boring and unengaging or (2) mesmerizingly beautiful and transporting. Since not many Westerners are familiar with Noh, here is a synopsis for each opera:

Always Strong
Sodzu Gyokei, a priest serving at the temple of the royal court, is praying for Tsunemasa, who died in the battle of the Western Seas. Tsunemasa was a favourite of the Emperor, who had given him a lute named Seizan (Blue Mountain). Gyokei now offers the instrument at the altar of the deceased, performing a service for the salvation of his soul. While the prayers and music for Tsunemasa to become a Buddha resonate, the faint shadow of a man appears. Gyokei asks who it is, and the shadow replies that he is the ghost of Tsunemasa, lured there by the sound of the prayers. Then the shadow vanishes and only the sound of his voice remains, telling the priest how it misses the old days. This happy moment, however, is short-lived. Tsunemasa’s ghost is tormented by visions of the battle in which he fought. He wants the lights to be extinguished and disappears.

Feather Mantle
One spring morning, as the fisherman Hakuryo sets out to go fishing with his companions, he finds a beautiful feather robe hanging on a pine branch. When he plans to take it home, a Tennin (angel) appears and asks him to return the robe to her. At first Hakuryo refuses. But he is moved by the angel’s lament that she cannot go back to heaven without it. He will give her the robe in return for seeing her perform a celestial dance. When the fisherman again expresses distrust, she responds: ‘Doubt is for mortals; with us there is no deceit.’ The Tennin dances in the feather robe; one of the dances represents the waxing and waning of the moon. Eventually she disappears in the haze beyond the peak of Mount Fuji.

And here is a trailer:


Lucia di Lammermoor

Donizetti Lucia di Lammermoor opera to libretto by Salvadore Cammarano. Directed 2016 by Katie Mitchell at the Royal Opera House. Stars Diana Damrau (Lucia), Charles Castronovo (Edgardo), Ludovic Tézier (Enrico), Taylor Stayton (Arturo), Kwangchul Youn (Raimondo), Rachael Lloyd (Alisa), and Peter Hoare (Normanno). Daniel Oren conducts the Orchestra (Associate Concert Master Ania Safonova) and Chorus of the Royal Opera House (Chorus Director Renato Balsadonna). Designs by Vicki Mortimer; lighting design by Jon Clark; Movement Director and Associate Director Joseph Alford; Fight Directors Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown. Directed for screen by Margaret Williams. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 Dobly Digital sound. Grade: Help!

The team of Mitchell, Mortimer, and Clark that did the downstairs/upstairs split stage in Written on Skin now brings you a split-stage version of Lammermore with, per Mitchell, a "strong feminist agenda."  Mark Mandel, writing in the March 2018 Opera News (pages 53-54) says "Some will find this Lucia too bloody or too busy, but [for Mandel] it goes beyond even Callas and Sutherland . . .  in bringing Lucia to dramatic life." Well, with that expert seal of approval, this Lucia has just shot to the top of my next buy list. But, hold your horses, Mark Pullinger, writing for the January 2018 Gramophone (pages 86-87) notes that the Mitchell approach to this work got both boos and applause on opening night. Pullinger says the split screen was frequently annoying in the opera house, but works better on screen with Margaret Williams "cutting between shots lke a TV drama." Well, whatever you think about Mitchell's update, there's little doubt about the worthiness of the singing cast and the orchestra---so this should be a good addition to your bel canto library to go along with the A+ traditional version we have from the Met with Netrebko in the role of Lucia.

Here are two helpful YouTube clips about this production:


Il trionfo

Handel Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno oratorio to a libretto from Benedetto Pamphili. Directed 2016 by Krzysztof Warlikowski with assistant Marielle Kahn at at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Stars Sabine Devieilhe (Bellezza), Franco Fagioli (Piacere), Sara Mingardo (Disinganno), Michael Spyres (Tempo), with the participation of Christine Angot. Extras are Mama Bouras, Margot Briosne Frejaville, Sherine Colin, Johanna Costa, Léa De Carvalho Massabo, Amani Djelassi, Thaïs Drujon D’astros, Hélène Fouque, Rui Jin, Colette Levron, Elena Parniere, Pablo Pillaud-Vivien, Nangué Sabaly, Marina Saïd, and  Marie Signoret-O. Emmanuelle Haïm conducts Le Concert d’Astrée. Continuo: Felix Knecht and Oleguer Aymami (Cellos); Nicola Dal Maso (Double Bass); Laura Monica Pustilnik and Rémi Cassaigne (Lutes); Benoît Hartoin and Philippe Grisvard (Harpsichords); and  Benoît Hartoin (Organ). Stage and costume designs by Malgorzata Szczesniak and Barbara Creutz; dramaturge by Christian Longchamp; lighting by Felice Ross; choreography by Claude Bardouil; video designs by Denis Guéguin and Fabien Laubry; musical assistance was by David Bates; language coaching by Rita de Letteriis. Directed for video by Stéphane Metge. Produced by Françoise Gazio.   Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: Help!

Handel wrote 3 versions of Trionfo:

1. HWV 46a, Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno (Triumph of Time and Disillusionment). This was his 1st oratorio.

2. HWV 46b, Il trionfo del tempo e della verità (Triumph of Time and Truth)

3. HWV 71, Triumph of Time and Truth (everything reviewed and rewritten in English). This was his last oratorio!

Subject title is HWV46a, where it all began, in which Handel originally closely followed the Catholic libretto about the victory of beauty over the temptations of sex. But as David Vickers shows in the September 2017 Gramophone at page 90, "None of the moral that godly virtue is preferable to carnal selfishness survives in Krzystaf Warlikowsk's rigidly subversive staged production." So in Aix-en-Provence Beauty winds up cutting her wrists and bleeding to death at the end of a production that Vickers finds to be "convoluted, clumsy, crass, and joyless." Well, that at least explains why this Aix-en-Provence show has generated so much interest.

There is a ton of stuff on YouTube showing the aggressive staging of this oratorio, but I can't find anything I  can connect for sure to subject disc. To get a some idea about this, consider these two clips:



Les pêcheurs de perles

[Review scheduled for completion June 30]

Bizet Les pêcheurs de perles opera to libretto by Eugène Cormon and Michel Carré. Directed 2016 by Penny Woolcock (based on a 2010 English production). Stars Diana Damrau (Leïla), Matthew Polenzani (Nadir), Mariusz Kwiecien (Zurga), and Nicolas Testé (Nourabad). Gianandrea Noseda conducts the The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Chorus Master Donald Palumbo). Sets by Dick Bird with assistance of Scott Laule; costumes by Kevin Pollard; lighting by Jen Schriever; projection designs by 59 Productions; movement direction by Andrew Dawson; fight direction by J. Allen Suddeth; music production by Jay David Saks; directed for TV by Matthew Diamond. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio. Grade: Help!

Most people probably think of The Pearl Fishers as a work preserved forever in amber. But Woolcock sets it in modern times, and the critics seemed to love it. For example, Richard Lawrence, writing in the April 2017 Gramophone at page 110 says, "The opera is no masterpiece, but this production should win it many new friends."

It's encouraging to see the Met release this so quickly in Blu-ray after so many years of being snubbed by them.  I understand the Met is hard up to increase revenues. So maybe they will soon be offering the HT crowd more of their treasures. 

If you saw this live or in a movie house, we would love to hear from you!


Andrea Chénier

Umberto Giordano Andrea Chénier opera to libretto by Luigi Illica. Directed 2015 by David McVicar at the Royal Opera House. Stars Jonas Kaufmann (Andrea Chénier), Željko Lučić (Carlo Gérard), Eva-Maria Westbroek (Maddalena Di Coigny), John Cunningham (Major-Domo), Basil Patton (An Old Gardener, Gérard’s Father), Denyce Graves (Bersi), Rosalind Plowright (Contessa Di Coigny), Peter Coleman-Wright (Pietro Fléville), Andrew Carter (Flando Fiorinelli), Peter Hoare (The Abbé), Adrian Clarke (Mathieu), Michael Kenneth Stewart (Orazio Coclite), Carlo Bosi (The Incredibile (An Incroyable)), Roland Wood (Roucher), Andrew Hobday (Maximilien Robespierre), Elena Zilio (Madelon), Ed Lyness (Madelon’s Grandson), Eddie Wade (Fouquier-Tinville), Yuriy Yurchu (Dumas), Basil Patton (Gravier De Vergennes), Irene Hardy (Laval-Montmorency), Judith Georgi (Idia Legray), and Jeremy White (Schmidt). Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and the Royal Opera Chorus. Set design by Robert Jones; costume design by Jenny Tiramani; choreography and movement by Andrew George; lighting design by Adam Silverman. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Grade: Help!

So far this is the only HDVD in which the character of Maximilien Robespierre appears.  According to Michael White, writing in The New York Times (January 27, 2015), there really was a poet named Andrea Chénier who went to the guillotine in the French Terror. Otherwise, this is a another version of the Tosca story (Luigi Illica wrote the librettos for both Andrea Chénier and Tosca) with bad-guy Gérard and good-guy Chénier both after the girl, Maddalena Di Coigny. While praising the production values, the singing of the main stars, and Pappano's work with the orchestra, White is dogged by a lack of enthusiasm for the score or the libretto.

But Patrick Dillon, writing in the February 2017 Opera News (page 48) gives this title a ringing endorsement and a "Critic's Choice" award as a "singers' opera" well-done by all concerned.

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



Tristan und Isolde

Wagner Tristan und Isolde opera to libretto by the composer. Directed 2007 by Patrice Chéreau at the Teatro alla Scala. Stars Waltraud Meier (Isolde), Ian Storey (Tristan), Michelle DeYoung (Brangaene), Gerd Grochowski (Kurwenal), Matti Salminen (King Marke), Willy Hartmann II (Melot), Ryland Davies (Shepherd), Ernesto Panariello (Steersman), and Alfredo Nigro (Voice of a young sailor). Daniel Barenboim conducts the Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala (Chorus Master Bruno Casoni). Sets by Richard Peduzzi; costumes by Moidele Bickel. Released 2015. Grade: Help!

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La donna del lago

Rossini La donna del lago opera to libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola. Directed 2015 by Paul Curran at the Met with assistant directors Sara Erde, Gregory Keller, and Elise Sandell. Stars Joyce DiDonato (Elena), Juan Diego Flórez (King Giacomo V (James V) disguised as Uberto), John Osborn (Rodrigo), Daniela Barcellona (Malcolm Groeme), Oren Gradus (Douglas), Olga Makarina (Albina, Elena's confidant), Eduardo Valdes (Serano, a servant to Douglas), and Gregory Schmidt (Bertram, servant to the King). Michele Mariotti conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Chorus Master Donald Palumbo). Musical preparaton by Dennis Giauque, Donna Racik, Gregory Buchalter, Joshua Greene, and Liora Maurer. Sets by Kevin Knight; costumes designed by Kevin Knight with Ryan Moller; lighting by Duane Schuler; projection designs by Driscoll Otto with David Bengali; stage band conductor is Gregory Buchalter.  Directed for HD TV by Gary Halvorson; music producer was Jay David Saks. Supervising Producers were Mia Bongiovanni and Elena Park; Producers were Louisa Briccetti and Victoria Warivonchik. Released in 2015, has LPCM stereo (48kHz/24-bit) and 5.1 Dolby Digital (48kHz) surround sound. Grade: A

This is the first HDVD version of this under-appreciated work. Here's a bit of background: It's a fact that James V (1512-1542) was King of Scotland. Legend says he liked to travel about his kingdom in disguise. Imagination also has it that James, while trying to increase taxes, ran afoul of Rodrigo, chief of a powerful clan. The warriors Douglas and Malcolm also supported Rodrigo. Douglas had beautiful daughter, Elena, who lived at Lake Katrine. Elena secretly plighted her troth to Malcolm. But things got complicated with her father Douglas, for political reasons, promised her hand to Rodrigo. The complications increased when King James, disguised as Uberto, visited Elena and fell in love with her also. Civil war broke out. Elena was distressed about which hero to marry. But she was even more distressed watching the Scots heroes trying to kill each other.

The lyric-coloratura mezzo Joyce DiDonato would probably be No. 1 on every casting manager's list for Elena, the Lady of the Lake:

And Juan Diego Flórez, the leading Rossini and bel canto tenor in the world right now, would have to be a perfect King James V (Giacomo V). King James lives, I think, in the Lowlands of Scotland. He is trying to extend his power to the Highlands as well. But several Highland clans are furiously resisting this encroachment by the King on their traditional freedom. King James is also unmarried and looking for a wife. He heard about a mysterious and beautiful Highland lass called the "Lady of the Lake." James decided to put on his disguise as Uberto in an effort to quietly slip into Highland territory and meet the beautiful girl.  In the view below, James has found Elena and, claiming to be lost, asks for directions. You can see the lake indistinctly in the background:

Elena invites Uberto to her modest cottage. This was safe because Elena knows her girlfriends will soon arrive at the cottage to gossip. Uberto is surprised by all these chaperones. But this still doesn't keep him from falling madly in love with Elena while we are treated to delightful singing from the women's chorus. Below we see Elena's best friend Albina (Olga Makarina) take charge. Albina is used to protecting Elena from amorous men, so she slyly brings up Rodrigo, who has asked to marry Elena:

King James was shocked to hear about Rodrigo, the lead warrior resisting James' authority. The King is even more shocked to learn that Elena is the daughter of Douglas, another rebelling warrior. But all these new dangers only serve to increase the King's ardour for Elena:

Elena is flattered by the stranger's attention, but Elena already has a secret sweetheart, the Highland warrior Malcolm (played by mezzo Daniela Barcellona, who appears in trousers, or rather, in kilt).

King James leaves rather quickly rather than risk running into Rodrigo or Douglas behind enemy lines. This was smart, because suddenly Douglas does visit his daughter. The purpose of his visit is to discuss his plan to marry Elena off to Rodrigo (who might soon be King of the Highlanders or perhaps of all Scotland): 

Malcolm visits Elena next. Their love is hidden; not even Albina knows. But now the proposed marriage between Elena and Rodrigo is a most unwelcome development. In a gorgeous duet, Elena and Malcolm reaffirm their mutual love and secretly plight their troth:

The only hero who doesn't visit Elena this day was Rodrigo. As you see in the next screenshot, he's busy in the field raising his Highlander army. (The Met ordered general mobilization and cancelled all vacations and leaves for male chorus members.)


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La fille du régiment

Donizetti La fille du régiment opera to libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François-Alfred Bayard. Directed 2007 by Laurent Pelly (assistance in directing and dialogue by Agatha Mélinard) at the Royal Opera House. Stars Natalie Dessay (Marie), Juan Diego Flórez (Tonio), Felicity Palmer (La Marquise de Birkenfeld), Alessandro Corbelli (Sergeant Sulpice Pingot), Donald Maxwell (Hortensius), Dawn French (La Duchesse de Crackentorp), Bryan Secombe (A Corporal), Luke Price (A Valet), and Jean-Pierre Blanchard (A Notary). Bruno Campanella conducts the Orchestra (Peter Manning Concert Master) and Chorus of the Royal Opera House (Renato Balsadonna Chorus Master).  Sets by Chantal Thomas; costumes by Laurent Pelly; lighting by Joël Adam; choreography by Laura Scozzi.  Directed for TV by Robin Lough; produced by Peter Byram and Hazels Wright. Released 2015, music was recorded at 48kHz/24-bit and disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital sound output. Grade: A+

The comic opera La fille du régiment isn't as highly regarded as Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore or Don Pasquale. Still, written in 1840, the French version played more than 1000 times at the Paris Opéra-Comique by 1914. After that it lost favor but has recently enjoyed a comeback. This 2007 Dessay/Flórez version at the Royal Opera House was a big hit and came out in 2008 as a prize-winning and popular DVD. Now you can see it in HDVD glory.

The story is simple, so I'll not say too much about the plot. I'll introduce you to the main characters and try to convince you to watch this production for sure if you have any interest in bel canto or comic opera.

It seems the soldiers of the 21st Regiment routed the enemy, but then discovered a new-born baby girl crying on the battlefield. The soldiers "adopted" her and called her Marie. In the first two screenshots (most of which are out-of-order), Marie (Natalie Dessay) and Sergeant Sulpice Pingot (Alessandro Corbelli) revel in Marie's life as "daughter of the regiment." And Marie has promised all her "Daddies" that if she ever marries, she will pick her husband out of their ranks:

Marie serves the regiment in the mess hall and laundry. She also entertains them, here pumping like a rock star with spectacular displays of coloratura extravagance:

The troops adore her:

It seems the French troops were deployed during the Napoleonic Wars in an effort to control the Tyrolean Alps. Here we meet Tonio (Juan Diego Flórez) dressed in traditional Tyrolean costume. He saved Marie's life while they were both climbing a mountain. So now poor Marie find herself fraternizing with the enemy!

The French soldiers catch Tonio and think he's a spy:


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Le Comte Ory

Rossini Le Comte Ory opera to libretto by Eugène Scribe and Charles-Gaspard Delestre-Poirson. Directed 2011 by Bartlett Sher at the Met. Stars Juan Diego Flórez (Comte Ory), Diana Damrau (Comtesse Adèle), Joyce DiDonato (Isolier), Susanne Resmark (Ragonde), Michele Pertusi (Tutor), Stéphane Degout (Raimbaud), Monica Yunus (Alice), Tony Stevenson (Courtier), and Tyler Simpson (Courtier). Maurizio Benini conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera (Chorus Master Donald Palumbo). Sets designed by Michael Yeargan; costume design by Catherine Zuber; lighting design by Brian MacDevitt; music produced by Jay David Saks; directed for video by Gary Halvorson. Released 2015, disc appears to have 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound although the photo of the keepcase back art is ambiguous. Grade: Help!

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


L'elisir d'amore

Donizetti L'elisir d'amore opera to libretto by Felice Romani. Directed 2005 by Otto Schenk at the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus. Stars Rolando Villazon (Nemorino), Anna Netrebko (Adina), Leo Nucci (Belcore), and Ildebrando d'Arcangelo (Dulcamara), Inna Los (Gianneta) and Michael Burggasser (Dulcamera's assistant). Alfred Eschwé conducts the Orchester and Chor der Wiener Staatsoper. Sets and costumes by Jürgen Rose; directed for TV by Karina Fibich. Released 2015. Grade: Help!

Information is incomplete and needs confirmation.

The way they were. This was a much-admired DVD that came out in 2007, the year that HDVD began. We still need a good picture of the back act or other accurate information on credits. Then it remains to be seen how well this looks and sounds republished in HDVD.

If you have seen the Blu-ray version, please help us by writing a comment that we can place here as a mini-review of this title.

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