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 EuroArts (119)

Thursday
Sep282017

Legends of the Rhine

The Berliner Philharmoniker Legends of the Rhine concert has the following pieces:

1. Schumann Symphony No. 3
2. Wagner "Einzug der Götter in Walhall" (from Das Rheingold)
3. Wagner "Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt (from Götterdammerung)
4. Wagner "Funeral March" (from Götterdammerung)
5. Wagner "Waldweben" (from Siegfried)
6. Wagner "Walkürenritt" (from Die Walküre)
7. Wagner "Isoldes Liebestod" (from Triston und Isolde)
8. Wagner "Prelude 3 Act" (from Lohengrin)

Since 1983, the Berliner Philharmoniker has each year given a summer concert at the Waldbühne (Forest Stage) located in a popular Berlin park. The crowd dresses informally, but the musical fare is more formal than a pops concert. In 2017, the guest conductor was Gustavo Dudamel. Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here is a clip from this disc:

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

Thursday
Sep212017

Beethoven Symphony No. 2 and Symphony No. 7

Seiji Ozawa conducts the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Beethoven Symphony No. 2 and Beethoven Symphony No. 7 at the Ozawa Matsumoto Festival. Symphony No. 2 was performed 2015 and directed for TV by Mari Inamasu. Symphony No. 7 was performed 2016 and directed for TV by Yo Asari. The Beethoven Choral Fantasy is a bonus extra with the Saito Kinen Orchestra, the Matsumoto Festival Chorus, Martha Argerich (piano), Lydia Teuscher and Rie Miyake (sopranos), Nathalie Stutzmann (alto), Kei Fukui and Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (tenors), and Matthias Goerne (baritone). Only the 2 symphonies are reviewed here. Reviewed music was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Released in 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+ blended grade. See below for grades for each symphony recording.

Readers of this website know about our relentless battle against the dread disease DVDitis. We were in part inspired to combat DVDitis by a series of wonderful symphony concerts recorded around 2008 mostly by Ozawa and the Saito Kinen Ochestra. These recordings were engineered by NHK (the Japanese National Broadcasting Company), and they demonstrate the high quality that can be achieved by shooting a symphony orchestra in a manner that takes full advantage of HD cameras.

Unfortunately, the recording industry did not follow the example set by Ozawa and NHK. Instead the industry continued to shoot symphony recordings as DVD titles. Then the DVD recordings were republished in Blu-ray format as an extra profit center. This practice was understandable, because at that time there were more customers for DVD than for Blu-ray discs. But now we have several hundred Blu-ray discs published in recent years by many recording firms that are obsolete and dead-on-arrival from DVDitis.

So as far as symphony recordings are concerned, we are now (September 2017) starting from scratch with little (other than the NHK recordings mentioned above) to be proud of. We take hope, however, from the fact that the market is finally shifting away from DVD to 2K and 4K HD displays. When this shift is recognized, the recording companies will start making (we hope and predict) modern symphony recordings.

Now back to the recordings on the subject disc. Were these recordings made from the beginning to take advantage of HD video? Or are they just more victims of DVDitis? Alas, we see that they are not as good as the NHK demo discs we admire so much. But they are steps in the right direction.

Symphony No. 2

Let's look first at Symphony No. 2 recorded in 2015. I'm not going fire my full Gatling gun of statistics today---for all the details, please consult my Symphony No. 2 Wonk Worksheet. For more background information on DVDitis, see our special article describing the dread disease. My opening screenshot is of my favorite musician of all time, the Saito Kinen blind first violinist, who is being helped up on the riser by a colleague. (If you know this gentleman's name, please let me know.)

The good HDVD of a symphony concert will have plenty of large-scale shots of the entire orchestra. Next below is a head-on shot that's pretty good. But the angle is a bit low and a couple of players are not shown on the left:

The next angle below is impressive. Everybody is on board, and you can see quite well where the different sections of the band are located. On the right are 8 violas, 6 cellos, and 3 basses. All the violins are massed on the left front, and it's pretty easy to spot all the winds. Believe it or not, in many DVD-style videos we have reviewed you will not find a single clip of this fine quality:

Part-orchestra shots like the next image below help us see better the various large sections:

And next below is one of many multi-section views. All told, there are 50 large-scale shots in this 34 minute recording, which is a goodly number that distinguishes this recording from the vast majority of Blu-ray symphony discs published so far:

There are also 82 clips of smaller forces. My favorite of these would be the four violas seen next below.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Sep152017

Dvořák Requiem

Dvořák Requiem. In 2014 Philipe Herreweghe conducts the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and the Collegium Vocale Gent in a performance of Dvořák's Requiem.  Features soprano Ilse Eerens, alto Bernarda Fink, tenor Maximilian Schmitt, and bass Nathan Berg. Directed for video by Leonid Adamopoulos. Released 2017, disc has dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: B+

Herreweghe, the Collegium Vocale Gent, and Leonid Adamopoulos teamed up in 2012 to give us a warm, beautiful Bach Christmas Oratorio, that we graded B+, which is a good grade on this website. I'm happy to report that this Requiem is a breathtaking performance, extremely nuanced and professional on all counts, that Herreweghe leads with intensity and focus. The orchestral and choral sounds are ravishing, with the woodwinds coming through especially well.  I was also impressed by the strong soloists and the choir's balance. The conclusion of the Sanctus is especially thrilling.

Now to some screenshots. The video is very clear thanks in part to bright lighting in the concert hall. But the forces used for this performance are huge! You would probably need 4K resolution to get clear shots of all the performers in a single image. The image next below qualifies as a whole-orchestra shot; but at this range it's really hard to distinguish the various instruments:

The large forces on the stage doubtless contributed to the decision to shoot the video DVD style. But as you see below, there are at least a few large-scale, part-orchestras shots that help the viewer get properly oriented to where the sections of the orchestra are located:

And there are some nice section shots like we see next below --- first the cellos and then the second violins:

Here's a good view of most of the chorus:

And next below is a realistic view of the 4 soloists in their environment:

 

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Monday
Sep112017

Tosca

Puccini Tosca opera to libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Directed 2017 by Philipp Himmelmann at the Easter Festival in Baden-Baden. Stars Kristine Opolais Floria (Tosca), Marcelo Álvarez Mario (Cavaradossi), Marco Vratogna (Baron Scarpia), Alexander Tsymbalyuk (Cesare Angelotti), Peter Rose (Il Sagrestano), Peter Tantsits (Spoletta), Douglas Williams (Sciarrone), and Walter Fink (Un carceriere). Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker, Philharmonia Chor Wien (Chorus Masters Walter Zeh and Anette Schneider), and Cantus Juvenum Karlsruhe. Set design by Raimund Bauer; costume design by Kathi Maurer. Executive Producer was Alexander Pereira. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Preliminary info here needs confirmation and  completion. If you have seen this, please help us with a mini-review of this title!

Monday
Sep112017

La Grande Danza

La Grande Danza: Aterballetto dance compilation. Triple bill of dances performed 2017 by the Aterballeto Dance Company at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan. All performances directed for TV by Andreas Morell. The dances are as follows:

1. Words and Space. Choreography by Jiří Pokorny. Music by Georg Friedrich Händel. Sound design by Sawaki Yukari; costumes by Carolina Mancuso; sets and lighting by Carlo Cerri.

2. Narcissus. Choreography by Giuseppe Spota. Music by Joby Talbot. Costume design by Francesca Messori; sets and lighting by Carlo Cerri; on-stage video designs by OOOPStudio.

3. Phoenix. Choreography by Philippe Kratz. Music by Borderline Order. Costume design by Costanza Maramotti; sets and lighting by Carlo Cerri.

Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: Help!

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

Here is a short clip of Narcissus which shows some of OOOPStudio's projected video work:

Wednesday
Aug092017

Dvořák Symphony No. 8

2017 Europakonzert: Mariss Jansons conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker this year in its traditional "Europakonzert" on May 1 celebrating the founding of the orchestra on May Day. Normally, this event occurs in a different European city in a beautiful venue of historical significance. For 2017, the concert was held outdoors in front of the main Byzantine castle at Paphos, Cyprus. Features clarinetist Andreas Ottensamer. Directed for TV by Henning Kasten. Here's the program:

1. Weber, Overture to Oberon

2. Weber, Clarinet Concerto No. 1 (Andreas Ottensamer)

3. Koncz, Hungarian Fantasy on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber

4. Dvořák, Symphony No. 8 

5. Brahms, Hungarian Dance No. 5

Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound, with "high resolution" audio, i.e. 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Grade: Help!

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

Friday
Jun232017

Die Liebe der Danae

Richard Strauss Die Liebe der Danae opera to libretto by Joseph Gregor after Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Directed 2016 by Alvis Hermanis at the Salzburg Festival. Stars Krassimira Stoyanova (Danae), Tomasz Konieczny (Jupiter), Norbert Ernst (Merkur), Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Pollux), Regine Hangler (Xanthe), Gerhard Siegel (Midas alias Chrysopher), Pavel Kolgatin, Andi Früh, Ryan Speedo Green, and Jongmin Park (Four Kings), Mária Celeng (Semele), Olga Bezsmertna (Europa), Michaela Selinger (Alkmene), and Jennifer Johnston (Leda). Franz Welser-Möst conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor (Chorus Master Ernst Raffelsberger). Set design by Alvis Hermanis; costume design by Juozas Statkevičius; choreography by Alla Sigalova; lighting design by Gleb Filshtinsky; dramatic advisor was Ronny Dietrich; video design by Ineta Sipunova, Directed for TV by Agnes Méth. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Grade: Help!

Here's an official clip which looks great!

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

 

Friday
Jun232017

Faust

Charles Gounod Faust opera to libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. Directed 2016 by Reinhard von der Thannen at the Salzburger Festival. Stars Piotr Beczała (Faust), Ildar Abdrazakov (Méphistophélès), Maria Agresta (Marguerite), Alexey Markov (Valentin), Tara Erraught (Siébel), Paolo Rumetz (Wagner), and Marie-Ange Todorovitch (Marthe). Alejo Pérez conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Philharmonia Chor Vienna (Chorus Master Walter Zeh). Set design by Reinhard von der Thannen; choreography by Giorgio Madia; lighting design by Franck Evin; dramatic advisor was Birgit von der Thannen. Directed for TV by Tiziano Mancini. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Grade: Help!

Here's an official trailer:

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

 

Wednesday
Jan182017

Experimentum Mundi

Giorgio Battistelli Experimentum Mundi opera (composed 1981). Staged and directed 2013 by the composer himself at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. Percussion by Nicola Raffone; voce recitante (both spoken and sung narration) by Peppe Servillo. Star performers and "accidental musicians" include male craftsmen and female citizens of Albano Laziale, a suburb of Rome. Filmed by Giancarlo Matcovich. The aspect ratio of the video is given as 16:9. But the film (while recorded at 30fps) is in "letterbox" format similar to the Cinemascope picture ratio of 1:2.35 that was used in Written on Skin. The music was recorded for stereo and surround using 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. This is the only HDVD so far that has the score reprinted in the keepcase booklet (the front page of the score is also on the keepcase cover). But we know of no resource with the text of the libretto.    Grade: A

The Latin title of this unique work, Experimentum Mundi, translates into English as "Experience of the World." Battistelli isn't speaking of experiencing the whole globe. To the contrary, what we experience here is a tiny and disappearing part of the world. The word "opera" means "works." So the term "experimental opera" refers both to Battistelli's composition and to the real-world crafts that are celebrated in the piece. Enough of theory for now. Let's jump right into screenshots.

Of the forces on stage, two persons are traditional classical musicians, and each of them wears white tie. Below is Battistelli, the composer and conductor. He was born in 1953 in Albano Laziale and started work on Experimentum Mundi at about age 20. After much trial and error, he finished the piece in 1981 when he was 28. It was his first opera, and he's written about 20 others since. I'm confident this was performed at night in the open-air arena that's part of the Auditorium Parco della Musica. There's no light except from small spots turned on from time to time as the piece progresses. This turns out to be extremely dramatic, but was doubtless a tough project for film-maker Matcovich:

The other white tie is on percussionist Nicola Raffone. He provides, of course, leadership in the performance and some melody with his drums (no keyboard instruments). He's the principal in a most unusual and much augmented percussion section:

Another driving force is the "voce recitante" or narrator Peppe Servillo, a self-taught singer, actor, and composer. He's a kind of bridge between the classical musicians and the worker-percussionists. So he gets to wear an open shirt and doesn't have to shave. He has a beautiful singing voice which he uses in a few bars. But mostly he adds tremendous personality to a somewhat quirky and obscure libretto:

The world that Battistelli wants us to experience is the world he knew as a child in his small town (then rather distant from Rome) as he wandered about watching and listening to all the craftsmen working at their trades. All the members of the augmented percussion section are men. Battistelli had to figure out a way to get a feminine touch into the mix. He also loved the sights and sounds of the ladies praying in church. He recruited four ladies (originally five) to provide a feminine background sound.  The ladies repeat names, prayers, and other repetitive text in a kind of murmur. You can't understand anything they say and there are no subtitles. Battistelli doesn't call the ladies "worshipers." He calls them "witches" or "fortune-tellers." The murmuring sound provides filler and a softening buffer for the cacophony that is conjured up by the men. The ladies from rear to near are Paola Calcagni, Anna Rita Severini, Elvira Battistelli, and Tiziana Delle Chiaie:

The piece opens with the odd sound of eggs dropping into a pool in the batter that the pastry-maker (Marcello Di Palma) will turn into pasta. Whipping and mixing sounds open up a rhythmic "singing line" for the entire opera to come. Originally, the narrated text was in French. Now it's in Italian. The translation of "Open waffle iron" maybe should have been, "Flat uncovered grill."

The narrator directs our attention to the next craft to be in the spotlight and to add new sounds: the cobblers or shoemakers:

The cobblers are Giovanni Piersanti and Guido Salustri. They make whirring sounds sharpening their tools and pounding noises as they work the leather over their lasts. (I should point out that all the craft activities in this work are performed manually---there are no power tools around.):

One of Battistelli's objectives as a composer was to break free of the chains in classical music that bind the orchestra to precise time-keeping and regular rhythms. Masons Ciro Paudice and Luigi Battistelli come in next with the sloppy, slushy, irregular sounds of mixing mortar. Later they will build a wall:

 

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Friday
Jan132017

Mata Hari

Mata Hari ballet choreographed and directed by Ted Brandsen. Music by Tarik O'Regan with orchestration by Anthony Weeden. Libretto by Janine Brogt. Staged 2016 at the Dutch National Opera. Stars (in order listed in disc booklet) Anna Tsygankova (Born Margaretha Zelle, later known as Mata Hari), Casey Herd (Rudolph McLeod, Margaretha's husband), Jozef Varga (General Kiepert), Artur Shesterikov (Vadim De Masloff), Young Gyu Choi (Shiva), Wen Ting Guan (Temple Dancer), Emanouela Merdjanova (Friede McLeod, Rudolph's mother), Erica Horwood (Isadora Duncan), Nadia Yanowsky (La Madame), Edo Wijnen (Master of Ceremonies), Anatole Babenko (M. Guimet), Roman Artyushkin (Lieutanant Ladoux), Wendeline Wijkstra, Pascalle Paerel, Hannah de Klein (three Aunts), Wolfgang Tietze, Peter Leung, Matthew Pawlicki-Sinclair (three Uncles), and Nicolas Rapaic (Adam Zelle, Margatetha's father) as well as students and pupils of the Dutch National Ballet Academy. Matthew Rowe conducts the Dutch National Ballet Orchestra. Sets and lighting by Clement & Sanôu; costumes by François-Noël Cherpin; video directed by Jeff Tudor. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound (sound info on back of package above is wrong and was corrected on the disc I bought). Grade: B

Ballet doesn't mesh well with biography. True, MacMillan made 3 ballets connected to famous real persons, Mayerling, Isadora, and Anastasia. Mayerling, a marvelous work, is a true-crime story, not a biography. Isadora was inspired by the life of Isadora Duncan, but it's an experimental mashup of dancing and readings from texts. Anastasia asks the question whether a lady in a hospital was the Russian Grand-Duchess, a fraud, or just plain crazy. Spartacus is, it appears, fiction loosely suggested by the life of a real slave Spartacus who challenged the ancient Roman state. Copeland's Billy the Kid is per Wikipedia "not so much a biography of a . . . desperado as it is a perception of the pioneer West." Finally, see our review of Chaplin, a series of scenes inspired by the life of Charlie Chaplin which we decided is, "not a biography or a comedy."

If you want a biography, you buy a book that has 600 pages of facts and nuanced analysis of a life. Ballet can't remotely compete with that. But in Mata Hari, Brandsen and Brogt have attempted to present, though vastly over-simplified, an explanation of who Magraretha Zelle was and why her life ended before a firing squad.

Their ballet gives you something to think about. But is it a biography? We will go through an analysis using screenshots. Each step of the way, we will see what Brandsen and Janine Brogt tell us. Then we will refer to the Wikipedia article on Mata Hari to see history says---and this we will relate in "[]" brackets. Pardon me for using Wikipedia. I haven't got time to find a reliable book about Mata Hari, if such a thing exists.

Let's get started. In our first screenshot below we see Magraretha Zelle at about age 8 (young dancer not credited). She's already preternaturally attractive and adorable. But her mother is gone and her father Adam (Nicolas Rapaic), wearing the red scarf, soon will also leave her.  To the right we meet her three sets of uncles and aunts:

Adam Zelle departs, never to return. He leaves his scarf behind, which Margaretha will desperately clutch for the rest of her life: 

Margaretha (Anna Tsygankova ) isn't an heiress, but there's money to support her. She grows up interested in the arts and is seen here posing for a painter:

Her conservative, bourgeois, and repressed relatives treat her strictly, perhaps in over-reaction to scandal caused by her parents. So as Margaretha finishes her schooling she has been correctly treated but starved for love. She is beautiful but isolated, creative but restricted, and ambitious but surrounded by reactionaries. Already the blue-print for a Mata Hari is there, but Margaretha is too dutiful and respectful to rebel. Instead she dreams of a man who can take her to a better place:

[Janine Brogt's concept of Margaretha's childhood is artistically intriguing, but it is all but total fantasy. Margaretha grew up in a normal Dutch family with a mother, father, and three brothers. There were no collateral relatives in the picture. Both of Margaretha's parents died while she was a teenager, and she lived for some time with her Godfather, who took his duties seriously. The future Mata Hari entered a training program to become a kindergarten teacher! But the Godfather jerked her out of the program when the director started hitting on her. So at 18, our heroine was a normal girl with a lot of sex appeal, a modest education, no inheritance or boyfriend, and not much advice. What does such a girl do? She answered a newspaper ad from an army officer looking for a young wife. How boring.]

Meet Rudolph McLeod (Casey Herd), an army officer 20 years Margaretha's senior. He is the guy she's been waiting for:

But there's something wrong with Rudolph that Margaretha cannot fathom: a domineering possessive mother (Emanouela Merdjanova):

Rudolph drinks too much and then gets violent, beats, and rapes Margaretha. Her first child is will be the outcomes of the rape depicted below:

 

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