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.

January 12. We just posted La grande danza, a new, B+ dance title from ATERBALLETTO, the leading modern dance group in Italy.

We resently posted reviews of Chailly conducting Mahler Symphony No. 5, Mahler Symphony No. 6, Mahler Symphony No. 7, and Mahler Symphony No. 9 at the Gewandhaus zu Leipzig. We continue our valiant search for symphony titles that are not infected with DVDitis (alas, most are).

Mahler Symphony No. 3 is 90 minutes long and therefore seldom played or recorded. We just posted a review of M3 performed by The Lucerne Festival Symphony. Although flawed by DVDitis, it's probably the best M3 recording ever made.

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


Entries in Naxos (8)


Gergiev at the Proms

Gergiev at the Proms concert. Valery Gergiev conducts the Münchner Philharmoniker at the BBC Proms in 2016. Features Behzod Abduraimov on Piano and Alexei Petrenko as  reciter. Video Director was Simon Broughton. Released 2018, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here is the bill for the concert:

1. Ravel Bolero
2. Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3
3. Ustvolskaya Symphony No. 3 "Jesus Messiah, Save Us!" (Alexei Petrenko recites)
4. Strauss Der Rosenkavalier Suite
5. Berlioz  "Rákóczy March" ("Hungarian March")

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Missa Salisburgensis

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber Missa Salisburgensis concert. Václav Luks conducts Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704 at the Salburg Cathedral. The concert also includes other sacred works by Monteverdi. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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Handel Messiah oratorio to libretto by Charles Jennens. At Easter 2016 Rubén Dubrovsky conducts the Bach Consort Wien and the Salzburger Bachchor (Chorus Master Alois Glassner) at the Basilica Stift Klosterneuburg in Austria.  Stars Hanna Herfurtner (soprano), Gaia Petrone (alto), Michael Schade (tenor), and Christian Immler (bass). Subtitles in German and English only.  Produced by Martin Pichl. No videographer credited. Released in 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD sound output. This is published by Naxos as its own label. Grade: C+

We start with two shots of the exterior of the Basilika Stift Klosterneuburg (Basilica of the Neuburg Monastery Foundation). The images are clear throughout, but the colors seemed muted:

Next below is a nice whole-orchestra view. I suspect the photography here substantially understates the splendor of the interior. Also remarkable is the fact that this picture was probably made by a drone! Yes, this title could have been called “Messiah Takes Flight”, as a good portion appears to have been filmed by a flying camera. While the images below look pretty, please be warned that many are snapshots taken from moving sequences. The panning and zooming sometimes diverts attention from the images themselves. (I couldn't hear any droning sound, so I could be wrong that a drone was used. Perhaps cameras were hung from wires.)

The forces seen above are quite modest: 8 violins divided equally between 1st and 2nd, 2 violas, 2 cellos, 2 double basses, 2 oboes, 2 trumpets, 1 bassoon, 1 organ, and 1 timpani. There are 24 choristers (probably 6 each of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass).  The sound is of standard Blu-ray quality. The church is highly resonant, but this is conveyed without being distracting.

And here next below is a dramatic view from the altar facing, I think, toward the entrance of the basilica. Would a drone be allowed to fly this close to the side of the building? Perhaps this was made from a small stationary camera operated by remote control:

Next below is a weak and poorly-framed shot of conductor Dubrovsky:

But next a much stronger shot of the conductor:


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Bohème (Golovneva)

Puccini La Bohème opera to libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Directed 2014 by Orpha Phelan at the Malmö Opera. Stars Olesya Golovneva (Mimì), Joachim Bäckstöm (Rodolfo), Vladislav Sulimsky (Marcello), Maria Fontosh (Musetta), Daniel Hellström (Schaunard), and Miklós Sebestyén (Colline). Christian Badea conducts the Malmö Opera Orchestra & Chorus and Malmö Children’s Chorus. Choreography by Lynne Hockney; stage and costume designs by Leslie Travers; lighting design by Thomas C. Hase; video direction by Volker Werner. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Early YouTube clips about this production (which seem to have been withdrawn) suggested to me tacky updating. But it did seem to me that the singing is better than the mise-en-scène and that Olesya Golovneva is more appealing than the artwork of her on the keepcase. Henson Keys, writing in the November 2017 Opera News (52-53) goes all out in support of this Bohème.  He says,"Golovneva is the most touching Mimì of my many experiences with this opera." Wow! He further praises all the rest of the cast as "youthful, fresh-voiced singers who are also superb actors." So this may yet be a hit even with the competition of 11 other Blu-ray Bohèmes now on the market.

Here are a couple of official clips about the Malmö effort:


Little Women

Mark Adamo Little Women opera to a libretto by the composer. Directed 2000 by Peter Webster at the Houston Grand Opera. Stars Stephanie Novacek, Chad Shelton, Margaret Lloyd, Stacey Tappan, Joyce DiDonato, Gwendolyn Jones, Daniel Belcher, James Maddalena, Katherine Ciesinksi, Derrick Parker, Chen-Ye Yuan, Jessica Jones, Marie Lenormand, Kathleen M. Manley, and Kerri Marcinko. Patrick Summers conducts the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra. Sets by Christopher McCollum; costumes by Melissa Graff; lighting  by David M. Plevan; directed for TV  by Brian Large. Released 2010, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: A-

In recent years I've listened to scores of HDVD operas in foreign languages or British English. What a relief to get one sung in American tongue! Still, I used the English subtitles because a lot of the vocabulary of teen-age girls and their family members in 1865 is new to me. Alas, even though this disc is region free and is being offered all over the world for sale, it has no subtitles in languages other than English. A suppose Naxos was uncertain how much to invest in this title. It's a prime example of Americana; as such, it might not have enough appeal outside the U.S.A to pay for the expense of foreign language subtitles.

Now I'm a guy; as such, I never read the Little Women novel or saw any of the movies, etc. Nor was I looking forward to viewing subject title. So I'm qualified to now to say: it's a great story that could be set anywhere in any era and will probably keep you on the verge of tears much of time. So I'm glad now I finally got my dip into Louisa May Alcott.

How good is the opera? Mark Adamo had the story given to him, and then he wrote both the libretto and the music. I think his libretto is terrific and drives the opera forward well. The music is more than adequate by the standards of today even if it has no tunes I can remember now. Because the music was written for a small orchestra, I think the opera may be staged in smaller houses and student settings for some time to come.

How good is this HDVD of Little Women? It could turn out that this recording from the original production will have a longer life that the opera itself. Fortunately, Brian Large was recruited to direct this for television. The 2000 shoot looks surprisingly good today. True, the colors are faded by 2011 standards, but the soft, slightly sepia tone fits well with the era portrayed in the story. The limitations on Large's gear are readily apparent when Large is required to shoot into a shadowed part of the stage and the picture immediately dissolves into harsh graininess. But most the time, Large stays out of trouble, and his framing, editing, and use of close ups is splendid. The recording of the singing and the tiny orchestra is warm, close, natural, and satisfying.

But now let's get to the real reason why I think this good recording of an obscure new opera may have a long life: all the members of the cast had their hearts 100% committed to this production and its recording. The directing and acting is so good, you could almost drop the music and present this as a play. This is not to belittle the quality of the singing---all of which is very high. But rarely do you get as fine a combination of singing and acting as here. And I'll carry this theme forward one more step: I believe that Stephanie Novacek's performance of Jo in this recording does the best job of combining singing and acting that can be seen in any of the opera HDVDs that have been published to date. This work by Novecek, as captured by Large, is by itself ample reason to buy this disc. I give this title the grade of "A-". That's the best I can do for Little Women in view of the small scale of the orchestration and the lack of foreign language subtitles. Written March 2010 by Henry McFadyen Jr.


The Virtual Haydn

The Virtual Haydn has the complete works for solo piano by Haydn. Tom Beghin plays it all in a 4-disc box set using 7 historical keyboard instruments played in 9 virtual historic rooms. One HDVD is devoted to to a documentary about the project, a concert with 5 Haydn selections, and an interactive feature that lets you hear how the 7 different instruments would sound in each of the 9 rooms (total of 63 examples). In addition, there are 3 Blu-ray audio disks with all of Haydn's keyboard works. Except for a couple of short archive scenes, the video is in high-definition. Sound is 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio. This was published 2009 in Blu-ray only) In terms of content and recording technology, this title from Naxos is one of the  sophisticated videos ever published. Grade X-A+

Who would be qualified to review this astonishing box set? It comes to us from a group of fanatical early music experts teamed up with world-class scientists at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology at McGill University in Montreal. Because the subject here is so specialized, we give it the grade of "X."  If you are interested in historic keyboard music or the cutting edge of music recording and marketing, this title rates an "A+" for you. (If you don't have an HDVD home theater, you will have to get one of those too.)  For the rest of us more mundane souls, this set is still a bargain. It will open your eyes and ears to deeper understanding of the history of Western music. Thanks to the clever programs put together by Tom Beghin, you can get a solid introduction to keyboard Haydn without getting overwhelmed. Or if you have the sitzfleisch for it, you can listen to everything  in only 2 nine-hour days.

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Cyrano de Bergerac

Franco Alfano Cyrano de Bergerac opera to a libretto by Henri Cain. Directed 2007 by Michal Znaniecki at the Palau de les Arts `Reina Sofia`Valencia. Stars Plácido Domingo, Sondra Radvanovsky, Arturo Chacón Cruz, Rod Gilfry, Corrado Carmelo Caruso, Roberto Accurso, Javier Franco, Itxaro Mentxaka,  Nahuel di Pierro, Silvia Vázquez, Miguel Sola, Juan José Navarro, Juan Felipe Durá, Antonio Lozano Mora, Antonio Gómez Cano, Amadis de Murga, and Rubén Belmonte. Patrick Fournillier conducts the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana and the Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana (Chorus Master Francesc Perales). Stage design by Michal Znaniecki; costumes by Isabelle Comte; lighting by Boguslaw Palewicz; video direction by Tiziano Mancini. Released 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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Benvenuto Cellini

Hector Berlioz Benvenuto Cellini opera to a libretto by Léon de Wailly and Henri Auguste Barbier. Directed 2007 by Philipp Stölzl at the Salzburg Festival. Stars Burkhard Fritz, Maija Kovalevska, Laurent Naouri, Brindley Sherratt, Mikhail Petrenko, Kate Aldrich, Xavier Mas, Roberto Tagliavini, Adam Plachetka, and Sung-Keun Park. Also features dancers Gabrio Gabrieli, Francesco Pedone, Marie Seeger, Tobias Wozniak, and acrobats Silke Adolph, Andy Arndt, and Thomas Dürrfeld. Valery Gergiev conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor (Chorus Master Andreas Schüller). Stage design by Philipp Stölzl;  costumes by Kathi Maurer; lighting by Duane Schuler; video projections by Stefan Kessner and Max Stolzenberg; dramatic advisement by Ronny Dietrich; choreography by Mara Kurotschka; video direction by Andreas Morell. Released 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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