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.

__________________________________________________________________________

Entries in FRA (8)

Thursday
Oct162014

Ciboulette

Reynaldo Hahn Ciboulette operetta to a libretto by Robert de Flers and Francis de Croisset. Directed 2013 by Michel Fau at the Opéra Comique. Stars Julie Fuchs (Ciboulette), Jean-François Lapointe (Duparquet), Julien Behr (Antonin), Eva Ganizate (Zénoble), Ronan Debois (Roger), Cécile Achille (Françoise), Jean-Claude Sarragosse (Monsieur Grenu), Guillemette Laurens (Madame Grenu), Patrick Kabongo Mubenga (Auguste/Victor),  François Rougier (Le Patron/Le Maire), Safir Behloul (Grisard), Bernadette Lafont (Madame Pingret) Michel Fau (La Comtesse de Castiglione), and Jérôme Deschamps (Le Directeur d'Opéra). Laurence Equilbey conducts the Orchestre Opéra de Toulon and the Accentus chorus. Directed for TV by François Roussillon. Released 2014, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

According to Wikipedia, this is one of the last masterpieces of French operetta with a frothy story how a cute farm girl attracts many suitors before finally reeling in a big-fish aristocrat. It appears to have been the most popular operetta ever at the Opéra Comique. Sounds like fun; and with François Roussillon backing this, how can you get hurt? Well, for one thing, this is an expensive disc; so you might not want to buy it just out of curiosity.

According to David Baker writing in the March Opera News at page 54-55, the mise-en-scène is rather austere and the show is an "odd blend of sophistication, fatalism, and nostalgia."  He reports there's little or no dancing; musical numbers alternate with non-singing stage actors making "comments wryly on the slapstick clichés." Baker says, "Initiates in French language and culture will appreciate the droll understatement; other spectators may find it thin gruel." Well, I don't know much about French culture. But I usually dread watching an English or American operetta because of all the silliness. Perhaps a French operetta may be something I can more easily tolerate. 

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

Saturday
Feb012014

Katia Kabanova

Leoš Janáček Katia Kabanova opera to libretto by the composer based on The Storm, a play by Alexander Nikolayevich Ostrovsky. Directed 2008 by Robert Carsen at the Teatro Real in Madrid. Stars (in order of appearance) Oleg Bryjak (Dikoj), Miroslav Dvorský (Boris), Dalia Schaechter (Kabanicha), Guy De Mey (Tichon), Karita Mattila (Kát'a), Gordon Gietz (Kudrjáš), Natascha Petrinksy (Varvara), Marco Moncloa (Kuligin), Itxaro Mentxaka (Glaša) and María José Suárez (Fekluša). Jiří Bělohlávek conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Real (Chorus Master Peter Burian). Dancers are Ana Aguilar, Magdalena Aizpúrua, Diana Bernedo, Vanesa Calderón, Sandra Cardozo, Leticia Castro, Lorena Díaz, Henar Fuentetaja, Rebeca González Lázaro, María González, Marta Gorriz, Salome Jimenez, Amaia Otcabide, Marta Marcelli, Carmen Mayordomo, Natalia Méndez, Carolina Pastor, Yara Paz, Vanesa Tejedor, Almudena Ramos, Licía Rey Castillo, Diana Samper, Isabel Sánchez, Ainhoa Sarmiento, Beatriz Silva, Izaskun Valmaseda, and Aisha Wizuete. Sets and costumes by Patrick Kinmonth; lighting by Robert Carsen and Peter van Praet; choreography by Philippe Giraudeau; sound supervision by Jean Chatauret; directed for TV by François Roussillon; produced by Tony Hajal). Released 2010, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

Director Robert Carsen now has 6 opera credits in HDVD where he specializes in updating older works with clever new designs and overlays while avoiding the inexplicable excesses of Regietheater or Eurotrash. (See also our reviews for Armide Rinaldo,  TannhäuserDie Zauberflöte, and Semele.)  For this Katia Kabanova, Carsen chucks out forests, villages, and period furniture. Instead, he and Kinmonth cover the entire stage with about 1 inch of Volga river water and add a huge mirror behind to create more water images through reflection.

To create land mass for the protagonists in contemporary dress, (up to) 27 Kát'a ghosts (dressed in Kát'a's signuture white dress) splash about as stage hands putting duckboard platforms together to form the banks of the Volga, a fitting room at home, the garden, and other locations. When not moving boards, the ghosts have many opportunities to act as a silent chorus and to fall into the water, thrash about, and drown. Never before was the death of a character so often foreshadowed. In special honor of all those wet bottoms, here's a shot of the Kát'a ghosts at the curtain call:

Here's a shot (from the storm scene) of the ghosts in action:

Carsen's final striking design element is the use of low lighting throughout. This opera could have been called "The Storm." When the opera opens, the storm is already raging in Kát'a's heart. The build-up in the clouds is unrelenting before the outbreak of the storm over the Volga and Kát'a's devastating breakdown. The dark mise-en-scène is intended to contrast with the white clothes that Kát'a's likes to wear.

Below are three of the main characters. On the left is Kabanicha (Dalia Schaechter), widow of a rich merchant. On the right is her weak and alcoholic son, Tichon (Guy De Mey), who is married to Kát'a.  Kát'a (Karita Mattila) is in the center dressed in white. Extremely religious and pious, she is the most docile and meek wife and daughter-in-law that you could imagine. Here Kát'a receives an all too common and undeserved tongue lashing from Kabanicha, the most aggressive and overbearing mother and mother-in-law you could imagine:

Kabanicha has a foster daughter Varvara (Natascha Petrinksy). Varvara is young and a bit rebellious. She has no illusions about her obnoxious foster mother or her weakling foster brother. "I know what you are thinking about!" she says as she pours out Tichon's vodka. Carsen views Varvava as a reprehensible trouble-maker. But I think Varvara is the most normal character in the opera. Still, I agree with Carsen that Varvara could not comprehend how troubled Katia would be following her adultery.

 

Click to read more ...

Monday
Jan272014

Mireille

Charles Gounod Mireille opera to libretto by Michel Carré based on an epic poem by Frédéric Mistral. Directed 2009 by Nicolas Joel at the Paris National Opera. Stars Inva Mula (Mireille), Charles Castronovo (Vincent), Franck Ferrari (Ourrias), Alain Vernhes (Ramon, Mireille's father), Sylvie Brunet (Taven), Anne-Catherine Gillet (Vincenette), Sébastien Droy (Andreloux, a shepherd), Nicolas Cavallie (Ambroise, Vincent's father), Amel-Brahim Djelloul (Clémence), Ugo Rabec (Ferryman), Christian Rodrigue Moungoungou (citizen of Arle), Sophie Claisse (voice from on high), and Alexandre Duhamel (Echo). Marc Minkowski conducts the Orchestre et Choeurs de l'Opera national de Paris (Choir Master Patrick Marie Aubert). Set design by Ezio Frigerio; costumes by Franca Squarciapino; lighting by Vinicio Cheli; choreography by Patrick Ségot; video direction by François Roussillon. Sung in French. FRA (François Roussillon & Associates) provides French subtitles (great for students learning French). There are also subtitles in English, German, Spanish, and Italian.  Released 2010, Blu-ray disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+

You can imagine how nerve racking it could be for everyone involved with an opera production to have a recording session also imposed on them. Crews of audio techs and camera operators crawl around getting in the way.  It's a bit like letting soldiers and sailors go to the same bar. There's going to be competition for the girls and the whisky, and somebody may wind up with a broken jaw. The best way to avoid these problems is to have the recording forces involved in the production from the beginning. Here's a screenshot showing how the FRA  folks deal with this:

Can you believe your eyes? The people making a recording get equal billing with the Paris National Opera itself! The movie of the opera is just as important as the live performance. The opening of the video is presented with movie-style credits for the star singers, the main executives, plus FRA. All the artists involved did their work with the dual objective of sounding and looking good for the live audience and the video viewers.

Next let's look below at a full-stage opening shot of peasant girls bringing in a harvest. There is a lot of light on stage, and the video is both luminous (with a kind of unearthly, hazy glow) and beautifully detailed:

Mireille takes place in the Provence district of France, an arid region with a rugged landscape. Provence often experiences strong winds (up to 60 miles per hour) called the Mistral, which can blow south for days from the Alps through Provence and on out over the Mediterranean Sea. (Note: "Mistral" is also the name of the author of the original poem about Mireille.) The Mistral clears the air and gives the region the brilliant light that was prized by the impressionist painters like Matisse and Van Gogh. Director Joel and Roussillon paint the region with a fierce, dry, sandy-pink sky dazzling the inhabitants of a parched domain. Below we see the sorceress Taven (Sylvie Brunet) approach. Ominously, Taven notes the "happy hearts of the young girls" who still don't understand how quickly things can get tough in life:

Motion pictures have locations and sets that outclass anything you can put on a stage. But for beauty and clarity of the images, especially of actors and their faces, FRA has capabilities that outshine what, say, David Lean could do. The rest of the screenshots below provide ample evidence of this. These shots look pretty good on a computer screen---on my late-model plasma TV display, they are almost unbelievably beautiful both in composition and execution. I never get tired of looking at Roussillon's portraits of Mireile (Inva Mula):

Mireille is the daughter of a prosperous farmer. She is in love with Vincent (Charles Castronovo), a poor but sweet lad who ekes out a living weaving baskets:

Mireille and Vincent entertain the workers by singing a favorite love song:

 

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jan142014

Dido and Aeneas

Henry Purcell Dido and Aeneas opera to a libretto by Nahum Tate. Directed 2008 by Deborah Warner at the Paris Opéra Comique. Stars Malena Ernman (Dido), Christopher Maltman (Aeneas), Judith Van Wanroij (Belinda), Hilary Summers (Sorceress), Lina Markeby (Second Woman), Céline Ricci (First Witch), Ana Quintans (Second Witch), Damian Whiteley (Sailor), and Marc Mauilon (Spirit). Fiona Shaw speaks the Prologue. William Christie conducts Les Arts Florissants Orchestra and Choir (Chorus Master François Bazola). Sets and costumes by Chloé Obolensky; lighting by Jean Kalman; directed for TV by François Roussillon; produced by Tony Hajal and David Kulas. Sung in English; subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian. Released 2010, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+

This is a beautiful, zany, short production of a fine baroque opera. But to fully enjoy it, you may need same background and some help.

First, we should review who Dido and Aeneas were. Aeneas was a Trojan prince whose mother was Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of the sex drive and fecundity. When Troy fell, the gods send Aeneas to Italy to be the father of the Roman people and nation. The Roman author Virgil wrote the epic poem The Aeniad as a literary and moral constitution for the newly formed Roman Imperial state headed by Augustus, the first Roman Emperor. The Aeniad was a retelling of Homer's The Odyssey with Aeneas as the hero instead of Odysseus. Dido was the Queen of Carthage, a port on the coast of North Africa. The winds carried Aeneas to Carthage, where he met and had an affair with Dido. To Aeneas, Dido was just another temptation to overcome and leave behind on his way to Italy. All of this was important to the new imperial family in Rome. It allowed them to claim that they were descended from the goddess Aphrodite. All the lives lost in their incessant wars and savage blood sports would easily be replaced with new offspring of citizens and slaves alike. The death of Dido was fiction. But in a few decades the Romans in fact utterly destroyed the rival city of Carthage and the peoples of North Africa never recovered from this.

The Purcell baroque opera Dido and Aeneas (about 1689) had a prologue of which there is now no trace. This gave director Warner carte blanche to create her own. And how more creative could one be in an opera prologue than to come up with 6+ minutes of recitation of obscurely related classical and English literature delivered by a stage actress with no music at all? What Warner put together does make sense, but only a English speaking person with a PhD in English Literature would be able to track Warner's prologue in a theater. And this Warner served up in English to a French audience!

Well, I'll attempt to give our readers in Argentina, Germany, Lithuania, Pakistan, China, and Korea, etc. an explanation of the following passages of Warner's prologue:

  • Ovid Narcissus and Ecco story
  • Excerpts from The T. S. Elliott poem The Waste Land (with a detour to Shakespeare's Tempest)
  • The William Butler Yeat's poem He wishes for the Cloths From Heaven

Hang on and you will be able to enjoy Warner's prologue like an English professor!

Ovid's book Metamorphoses was plagiarized so much by Shakespeare and other English writers that it seems now to be an honorary title of English literature even though it was written in Latin shortly after The Aeniad. The poet Ted Hughes wrote a dramatization of Ovid's Narcissus and Ecco story which is recited by actress Fiona Shaw playing the roles of both Narcissus and Echo. This part of the Prologue is easy enough to understand. Narcissus stands for Aeneas. Ecco stands for Dido, who, although a Queen of a thriving country, falls for a man who, she hopes, will love and nourish her.  Below we see Fiona Shaw launch into the Narcissus and Ecco dialogue:

So far so good. But now we must tackle lines 111 to 136 of the brutally esoteric poem, The Waste Land.  But before we do this, we also need to take that detour into Shakespeare's Tempest! Of all the vast writings of Shakespeare, his most popular poem is the following song about a man who drowned at sea:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

Every line of this song has worked its way into the life and lore of English-speaking peoples in countless ways. You soon will see one of these ways in our segment from The Waste Land, which begins:

Here's lines 111 to lines 136 of The Waste Land. It's another dialogue a bit like the Ted Hughes conversation between Narcissus and Echo:

  “My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
“Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
  “What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
“I never know what you are thinking. Think.”

  I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

  “What is that noise?”
                          The wind under the door.
“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”
                           Nothing again nothing.
                                                        “Do
“You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
“Nothing?”

       I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
“Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?”   
          
                                                                           But
O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—
It’s so elegant
So intelligent
“What shall I do now? What shall I do?”
“I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
“With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?
“What shall we ever do?”
                                               The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

The lines in quotes are spoken by a neurotic woman desperate to communicate with her man---like Ecco, she wants to be touched. The lines without quotes are the man's responses. The man has no energy for his relationship to the woman. He is worried about external, objectively threatening things happening around them. When the woman demands to know his thoughts, he quotes something inane from Shakespeare that everybody knows. The man has no time for small talk---he's waiting for a knock on the door. The waste-land woman stands for Dido. The man is Aeneas waiting for a sign from Jove to sail for Italy. I couldn't resist including this screenshot where Shaw makes herself look like a man:

The last segment in the prologue is the Yeat's poem. The speaker in this poem is the man Yeats.  In our prologue, the speaker is Dido, and the poem works fine with a woman's voice. Dido isn't exactly poor, but she has nothing to offer Aeneas except her dreams. They will be dashed. (I changed the pronoun in the title):

“She Wishes For the Cloths From Heaven”

HAD I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams 

This ends our dissertation on the Warner Prologue except to say I wish Warner had cast a gent to play Narcissus and the man waiting for the knock on the door. Let's move on now to the musical body of the opera.

In the next screenshot, we see Dido (Malena Ernman). She is a grieving widow. She is also the Queen of Carthage, burdened with all the dangerous affairs of state. She is shocked to see how she has fallen for this strange visitor Aeneas; and how, hoping to see a King in charge again, she has spread her dreams under his feet. Her sister Belinda (Judith Van Wanroij on the left) and The Second Woman (Lina Markeby) encourage this new love, which they think can be a source of relief for Dido as well as strengthen the State:

Aeneas (Christoopher Maltman) knows that he is bound by fate for Italy, but his sense of duty is overcome by love:

Dido has mysterious enemies, a coven of witches led by a Sorceress (Hilary Summers):

 

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Jan112014

Armide

Jean-Baptiste Lully Armide opera to libretto by Philippe Quinault. Directed 2008 by Robert Carsen at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Stars Stéphanie d'Oustrac (Armide), Paul Agnew (Renaud), Claire Debono (Glory, Phénice, and Lucinde), Isabelle Druet (Sagacity, Sidone, and Mélisse),  Laurent Naouri (Hatred), Nathan Berg (Hidraot), Marc Mauillon (Ubalde and Aronte), Marc Callahan (Artémidore), Andrew Tortise (a Danish knight), Virginie Thomas (the nymph) and Anders J. Dahlin, Francesca Boncompagni, and Violaine Lucas (other demons in disguise). William Christie conducts the orchestra and choir of Les Arts Florissants. Mise en scène and direction by Robert Carsen; set and costumes by Gideon Davey; choreography by Jean-Claude Gallotta; lighting by Robert Carsen and Peter Van Praet; television direction by François Roussillon; produced by Tony Hajal and David Kulas. There is a bonus extra with excellent discussion of the production by Carsen, Christie and others. Released 2010, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

The baroque composer Lully is considered the father of French opera. (He literally gave his life to music when he accidentally stabbed his foot beating out time with his long staff, which led to an infection and gangrene.) Lully worked closely with the poet and dramatist Philippe Quinault.  Armide, dated 1686, is considered to be their masterpiece. Lully worked during the reign of Louis XIV (the Sun King), which is, of course, also the time and place where today's art of ballet was born. 

Armide began with a long (20 minute +) allegorical Prologue praising King Louis XIV. This was considered obligatory even though it was unrelated the the story to follow.  Director Carsen explains (in the bonus extra) that this production of Armide is uncut. So Carsen had to come up with a way to make the dry prologue relevant to today's audience. The solution was to turn the prologue into a funny mock lecture on Louis XIV by tour guides at the Versailles museum. Here we see Wisdom (or Sagacity) on the left (Isabelle Druet) and Glory on the right (Claire Debono) making a presentation to tourists with the aid of giant slideshow visuals of art glorifying the Sun King:

Below is another of the images from the slide show. I couldn't resist this chance to show how good a painting can look on HD television. I've been saying for years that fine-art painting and sculpture are natural subjects for HDVDs. (Alas, only two titles have come out, both about Vincent Von Gogh) :

Baroque operas produced during the reign of the Sun King were richly staged with huge casts of characters in fantastic costumes, elaborate ballet numbers, and large choral formations. Carsen can only hint at this with the budget of a contemporary opera house. But he does have 10 professional dancers to deploy and the chorus will do a lot of pageant-style dancing also. The video of our tour guides continues when a group of students from a college dance department (I'm making this up) are led through Versailles. When they get to the Hall of Mirrors, they know what to do:

The students are taking this course for credit, so a professor has to be with them. All those late-night sessions drinking French wine have taken their toll on our poor prof, and he is so sleepy. While the students continue the tour, he finds a cozy place to take a nap, and he starts to dream. This was a brilliant move by Carsen. For now on, his show depicts the prof's dream of the story of Armide, and Carsen can use any design element he can afford:

Oh, yes. This is an opera about Armide. We are now in the time of the Crusades. We are in Damascus, where the King is a magician. Armide (Stéphanie d'Oustrac), the King's beautiful, unmarried niece, is a witch:

 

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Jan022014

The Turn of the Screw

Benjamin Britten The Turn of the Screw chamber opera to a libretto by Myfanwy Piper based on the novella by Henry James. Directed 2011 by Jonathan Kent at Glyndebourne. Stars Miah Persson (Governess), Toby Spence (Quint), Thomas Parfitt (Miles), Joanna Songi (Flora), Susan Bickley (Mrs. Grose), and Giselle Allen (Miss Jessel). Jakub Hrůša conducts members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Designs by Paul Brown; lighting designed by Paul Henderson; sound supervision by Jean Chatauret; music produced by Sébastian Chonion; produced by George Bruell and Toni Hajal; directed for film by François Roussillon. Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

Gramophone praised this disc twice in 2013. Mike Ashman gave it his "strong recommendation" in the November issue at page 93. The "Britten Centenary Issue" (page 39) says that "Jonathan Kent's production is perfectly handled and he draws some outstanding performances from his cast."

It's astonishing how much is accomplished in this opera with so few people in front of the scenery. On the stage are 6 singers (no chorus). In the pit you find 14 persons: a string quartet, double bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, harp, piano, drummer, and a baton (some musicians play several related instruments).  Together these 20 souls keep you squirming for almost 2 hours under the turning screw. Here's the pit:

I'm not a musicologist, but I suspect that Brittian's score may be the greatest piece ever written for 8 to 24 players (24 is my definition of a small chamber orchestra). The runner-up would be Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, which also was scored originally for 13 players. TTotS has been regularly produced all over the world since its premiere thanks to its well-known story and the relatively modest forces that are required to put it on.

Even thought this is an amazing score played by top musicians, we do have a concern about the sound quality in subject title. Here's a comment from confrere James Kreh:

The audio recording (with both stereo and multi-channel tracks) offers excellent clarity, with the voices convincingly integrated with the orchestra. With such a small orchestral ensemble performing in a relatively small theater, the singers can be heard without “pushing” their voices nearly as hard as usual in opera. There is one significant technical issue that should be addressed: my OPPO BDP-103 player reports that this disc has a stereo LPCM track encoded at 48kHz/16-bit (just barely an improvement over 44.1kHz/16-bit encoding on CDs). This is not consistent with the de facto minimum standard of 48kHz/24-bit recording and encoding for fine-arts productions on Blu-ray. My player does not display the bit depth for dts-HD Master Audio tracks, but it’s probably safe to assume that the 48kHz sampling rate is also associated with 16-bit audio on the 5.1 soundtrack. It’s very difficult to assess the practical shortcomings of this audio issue on the final result. Experts who have performed A/B comparisons of the same recording encoded at 48/24 vs. “down-rezzed” to 48/16 are in universal agreement that the former is audibly better in terms of resolution, transparency, and potential dynamic range.

One thing is for sure about the sound---the product does not give accurate information for the consumer to know what he's getting. That is, we think, something the entire HDVD publishing industry needs to work on.

François Roussillon was involved in this title from the start and it's published on his FRA label. The picture quality and video content is state-of-the-art in every way. As always with FRA, the packaging and keepcase booklet are themselves works of art.

Now we have the technical stuff out of the way and we can turn our attention to the content of this challenging title. There is a lot to puzzle over in the libretto, but we can cover the main mysteries.

The Henry James TTotS is one of the most famous ghost stories in English literature. The main character is the Governess, who is never named. We will call her "the Governess" or "Miss." The Governess is hired by the Guardian, the uncle and only relative of two orphan children who live at Bly, a rural estate. The 3 conditions of her employment (per the book) are ominous: she must never ask about the history of Bly, never contact the Guardian about the children, and make all decisions concerning the children herself while never abandoning them. These extraordinary demands are, of course, illegal because a Guardian has extensive duties to his wards which he must personally perform and cannot delegate even to the experts he may hire. And why would the Governess agree to take on such onerous responsibility? The libretto states that she was smitten by the handsome, dashing Guardian and agreed to his bidding in a daze of infatuation. Or is it just possible that the Governess had a more sinister motive: that she was tempted to see what it would be like to have absolute, unchecked power over two children who would be isolated and wholly dependent on her?

So now we arrive at the thing about TTotS that has fascinated people ever since it was published in 1898. The book is a masterpiece of ambiguity to the point that even experts can't agree (1) whether there were ghosts that were defeated by the Governess, or (2) whether the children defend themselves against the Governess, or (3) the whole story is a product of the insanity of the Governess.

Well, in this telling by Myfanwy Piper and Jonathan Kent, the ghosts are real and the Governess puts up a valiant fight, but the libretto still raises questions about her motivations and actions. Life is full of secrets and surprises.

I have to explain what I mean when I say the ghosts are "real." As the story unfolds, the Governess discovers that the children have been ruined by psychological and sexual exploitation. The ghosts appear, but they are literary manifestations---still very real---of the damage that has been done.

Now we see the Governess (Miah Persson) on the train to Bly. We read her thoughts as she approaches the mysterious estate. The train ride is brilliantly portrayed onstage and the chamber orchestra gives you the most vivid aural impression one could imagine of a steam-locomotive train:

The housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Susan Bickley) is relieved to have help with the children. Miles (Thomas Parfitt) is about 10 or 11 and is on summer vocation from his boarding school. Flora (Joanna Songi) is about 6 and still plays with dolls. She's in home school. Songi is probably older than Parfitt (I think), but she's  convincing playing a younger sister. (Casting Flora is doubtless harder than casting all the rest of the singers together.)

Miss is enchanted by Bly and the children, who are so mature and well behaved. Here she's at the greenhouse daydreaming about the handsome Guardian. She wishes he could see how well everything is going at Bly:

But there are strange things

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Aug292013

L'heure espagnole and L'enfant et les sortilèges

Updated on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 10:11AM by Registered CommenterHenry McFadyen Jr.

Ravel's two one-act operas are directed as a double feature by Laurent Pelly at Glyndebourne in 2012:

1. The disc begins with L'heure espagnole ("The Spanish Hour", or, better perhaps, "The Spanish Pastime." to a libretto by Franc-Nohain.  The stars are  Stéphanie d'Oustrac, Elliot Madore, François Piolino, Alek Shrader, and Paul Gay.

2. Next comes L'enfant et les sortilèges ("The Child and the Spells", or better perhaps, "Spells of a Child") to a libretto by Colette.  The stars are Khatouna Gadelia, Elodie Méchain, Elliot Madore, Paul Gay, Julie Pasturaud, François Piolino, Kathleen Kim, Natalia Brzezińska, Hila Fahima, Stéphanie d'Oustrac, and Kirsty Stokes. (Most of the stars sing several roles.)

Kazushi Ono conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra (Leader Pieter Schoeman) and the Glyndebourne Chorus (Chorus Master Jeremy Bines). Set design for L'heure espagnole by Caroline Ginet and Florence Evrad, adapted for this production by Caroline Ginet; set design for L'enfant et les sortilèges by Barbara de Simburg; lighting by Joël Adam; costume design by Laurent Pelly and Jean-Jacques Delmotte. Directed for TV by François Roussillon; sound supervision by Jean Chatauret; music producer Sébastien Chonion; executive producers George Bruell and Toni Hajal. Plays in all regions.   Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound.   Grade: A for L'heure and Grade: B for L'enfant

These are Ravel's only operas---both short, one-act jewels driven by exquisite orchestration. They are fairly well known, and there are many CDs of the music. But they are not that often performed because they call for a big investment in singers, scenery, and props for the length of the entertainment provided. I found one DVD with both L'huere and L'enfant, and I found another DVD with L'enfant paired with Peter and the Wolf. From what I could tell from the Internet (especially YouTube), this performance at Glyndebourne together with impeccable video and sound recording by François Roussilion "cleans the clock" of all previous recordings. Subject title is probably the only logical thing to buy for either of these operas. 

L'heure espagnole

This is an adult piece of situation and physical comedy about Conceptión, a desperate housewife. Conceptión is  also something of a practical philosopher who has discovered 3 truths: (1) A good man is hard to find. (2) Much harder is it to find a good man who is also romantic. (3) And vastly, vastly harder is it find a good, romantic man who can hold an erection longer than he can hold his breath.

Meet Señor Torquemada, Conceptión's husband (François Piolino). He's a clockmaker surrounded by hundreds of time pieces, but he's always a bit befuddled:

Conceptión (Stéphanie d'Oustrac) is dismayed. Her husband even forgets:

Conceptión reminds her husband to make his weekly appointment with his best client downtown. But others have not forgotten Torquemada's schedule. Ramiro, the mule driver (Elliot Madore), stays in the shop after Torquemada leaves:

 

Click to read more ...

Monday
Nov282011

Atys

Jean-Baptiste Lully Atys opera to a libretto by Philippe Quinault. Directed 2011 at the Opéra Comique  by Jean-Marie Villégier and assistant director Christophe Galland. Stars Bernhard Richter, Stéphanie d'Oustrac, Emmanuelle de Negri, Nicolas Rivenq, Marc Mauillon, Sophie Daneman, Jaël Azzaretti, Bernard Deletré, Paul Agnew, Cyril Auvity, Callum Thorpe, Benjamin Alunni, Arnaud Richard, Jean-Charles di Zazzo, Olivier Collin, Elodie Fonnard, Rachel Redmond, Anna Reinhold, Francisco Fernández-Rueda, and Reinoud Van Mechelen. Also stars the dancers of the Compagnie Fêtes galantes et Gil Isoart de l'Opéra national de Paris. William Christie conducts Les Arts Florissants. Choreography by the late Francine Lancelot and Béatrice Massin; set design by Carlo Tommasi; costumes by Patrice Cauchetier; lighting by Patrick Méeüs; wigs by Daniel Blanc; makeup by Suzanne Pisteur. Filmed for TV and video by François Roussillon; produced by Toni Hajal. Released in 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Richard Lawrence in the March 2012 Gramophone wrote an interesting review warmly praising this Atys in its DVD version. Neither he not the magazine was apparently aware that Atys is also available in HDVD. The poor reviewers at the print magazines too often haven't a clue as to what they are missing.

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