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 Opera Australia (10)

Friday
Jul152016

Rigoletto

Verdi Rigoletto opera to libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Directed 2010 by Elijah Moshinsky at the Sydney Opera House. Stars Alan Opie (Rigoletto), Emma Matthews (Gilda), Paul O'Neill (Duke), David Parkin (Sparafucile), Elizabeth Campbell (Giovanna/Maddalena), Christopher Hillier (Count Ceprano), Jane Parkin (Countess Ceprano), Andrew Moran (Marullo), David Corcoran (Borsa), Gennadi Dubinsky (Count Monterone), Jodie McGuren (Page), and Clifford Plumpton (Court Usher). Giovanni Reggioli conducts the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra (Concertmaster Aubrey Murphy) and the Opera Australia Chorus (Chorus Master Michael Black). Designs by Michael Yeargan; lighting by Robert Bryan; directed for TV by Cameron Kirkpatrick. Executive Producer was Chris Yates; Supervising Producer was Sam Russell; Audio Director was Tony David Cray. Released  2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: D

The vast majority of orchestras we hear in Blu-ray opera recordings are excellent. But the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra deployed here sounds like a regional band or even a semi-pro community effort. This is evident right from the start in the Act 1 Prelude, and it continues to drag down the production while undermining the singers throughout. The SQ is OK, but the best recording engineers can't help a weak performance. Can director Moshinsky, who has worked all over the world and done Rigoletto numerous times, salvage something here with good personal directing and stagecraft?

Moshinsky sets this Rigoletto in 1960, when people were doing the twist and cameras had flashbulbs. Glamorous blonds were the hottest ever, especially at wild parties in unidentified European jurisdictions:

Below meet the Duke (Paul O'Neill). He's putting the make on Countess Ceprano (Jane Parkin) while her husband look on and steams:

The inspiration for the designs is the movie La Dolce Vita, which stared Anita Ekberg:

The Duke has an official hunchback clown named Rigoletto (Alan Opie) as part of his entourage.  Next below we see Rigoletto dealing with Count Monterone (Gennadi Dubinsky).  Monterone is upset because his underage daughter is at the party:

And here she is, pretty in pink, being tutored by the Duke (the daughter is an uncredited moot role that's not in the libretto):

I was a twister in 1960. But at no time during my life have I known of one person putting a curse on another. This technique of negotiating, like dueling,  has gone out of style. But Monterone threatens Rigoletto with a curse. Rigoletto goes to his dressing room. A stranger named Sparafucile is waiting. Sparafucile is a hit man making a cold call as part of his marketing plan:

 

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Tuesday
Oct082013

Carmen (Shaham)

Bizet Carmen opera to libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. Directed 2013 by Gale Edwards at the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour. Stars Rinat Shaham (Carmen), Dmytro Popov (Don José), Andrew Jones (Escamillo), Nicole Car (Micaëla), Ariya Sawadivong (Frasquita), Tania Ferris (Mercédès), Sam Roberts-Smith (Remendado), Luke Gabbedy (Dancaïre), Adrian Tamburin (Zuniga), and Samuel Dundas (Moralès). Brian Castles-Onion conducts the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra (Associate Concertmaster Huy-Nguyen Bui) and Chorus (Chorus Master Michael Black). Sets by Brian Thomson; costumes by Julie Lynch; lighting by John Rayment; sound designed by Tony David Cray; site designed by Eamon D'Arcy; choreography by Kelley Abbey; recording produced by Sam Russell; directed for TV by Cameron Kirkpatrick. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

Gordon Smith showed this Carmen to the L'OperaDou Jury in November 2013. It's set on a stage suspended above the water of Sydney Harbour with the famous Sydney opera house in the background.  The jury thought it a bold and interesting show. Some jury members thought there are more layers to be found in the characters' psychology than can be portrayed in an open-air performance, but they found the sound surprisingly good. Jury members especially liked Carmen, Don José, Micaëla, the quintet at the beginning of Act II, the chorus, and the choreography. The overall verdict was "A-." 

Wednesday
Feb062013

Der Rosenkavalier

Richard Strauss Der Rosenkavalier opera to libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Directed 2010 by Brian FitzGerald at the Sydney Opera House. Stars Catherine Carby, Cheryl Barker, Manfred Hemm, Emma Pearson, Andrew Brunsdon, Jacqueline Dark, Henry Choo, and Warwick Fyfe. Andrew Litton conducts the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra and Opera Australia Chorus. Designs by Carl Friedrich Oberle; lighting by Nigel Levings. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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

Monday
Jan072013

Turandot 

Puccini Turandot opera to a libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni. Directed 2012 by Graeme Murphy at the Melbourne Arts Centre. Stars Susan Foster, Rosario La Spina, Hyeseoung Kwon, Jud Arthur, Shane Lowrencev, Andrew Moran, Graeme Macfarlane, David Corcoran, and Benjamin Rasheed. Andrea Licata conducts the Orchestra Victoria, the Opera Australia Chorus, and the Opera Australia Children’s Chorus. Choreography by Graeme Murphy; set and costume designs by Kristian Fredrikson; lighting by John Drummond Montgomery; audio direction by Tony David Gray; TV direction by Cameron Kirkpatrick. Chris Yates was Production Executive; Sam Russell was Producer. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

The L'OperaDou Jury watched this in March 2013, and gave it an "A" grade. Here are some (slightly edited) comments from Jury members:

“The choreography, chorus movements, and set design were superb. The music was stirring and delightful. The tenor sang beautifully, despite being a bit wooden—unlike Timus his father, who moved me to tears with his farewell.

“This was my first taste of Turandot and I very much enjoyed it, although I found the plot rather simple and predictable. The characters were good, the music powerful, and the voices wonderful.

“Great staging in terms of the number of singers and dancers, the costumes, and the interplay of flags and the choreography. I almost felt I was there, in China! The voices were beautiful, and I particularly enjoyed those of Turandot and Liu.

“Excellent production, and while the casting of the two main characters may not be ideal, their voices are more than a match for these challenging parts. Together with the spectacular staging and expert choreography, this has to be the best production of Turandot currently available on Blu-Ray."

This Opera Australia show is obviously a good title, because Gordon Smith and his Jury are not easy to please. Still, I do wonder if any of our current Turandot Blu-rays would in fact be clearly "the best." We are lucky to have two other versions that I graded A (both with Maria Guleghina singing Turandot). Probably the more famous of these two would be the old Met war-horse version designed by Zeffirelli. But I still like the less opulent Valencia version even better, because to me it conveys more emotional impact. Now comes our Opera Australia version, which, from what little I've seen so far, sports a more up-to-date design that maybe has been influenced by the ceremonial spectacles at the Olympic Games. So we probably have a Turandot in Blu-ray to suit almost anyone. And there is still room for others to try for an A+ recording of this popular opera.

We would still welcome a more thorough review from someone on the Opera Australia Turandot.

Wednesday
Sep052012

La Traviata (Matthews)

Verdi La Traviata opera to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Directed by Francesca Zambello at the Sydney Opera House. Stars Emma Matthews, Gianluca Terranova, Jonathan Summers, Margaret Plummer, Martin Buckingham, James Clayton, and Christopher Hillier. Brian Castles-Onion conducts the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra and the Opera Australia Chorus. Stage design by Brian Thomson; costume design by Tess Schofield; lighting design by John Rayment. Released 2012, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio Sound. Grade: A+

This title was maybe seen for the first time in the Western hemisphere on September 9 and 15, 2012 at a gala sneak-preview event of L'OperaDou in Nîmes, France. Celebrities from all over the Riviera region were there to enjoy the show and the interval (intermission) at Gordon Smith's estate pool. The paparazzi were disappointed, however, as everyone stayed dressed and dry. 

Videos of opera performed outdoors at festivals and the like usually are disappointing in HDVD recordings. Sets, props, and directions that will look good to the distant live viewers too often look garish or crude close up and in HD. The biggest exception to this in earlier years was the Madama Butterfly at Sferisterio Opera Festival Macerata where the disigners were able to keep everything intimate even though it was done outdoors. Apparently Opera Australia found a different way to handle their outdoor production of La Traviata---instead of going intimate, they went gargantuan to the point of filling the sky with fireworks. I would not have thought this could work. But look at these (slightly edited) comments from the L'OperaDou Jury:

"Opera Australia’s production of “La Traviata” on Sydney Harbour was “stunning”, “magical”, “transcendental”, “enchanting”,  and “luminous.”  Our audiophile expert declared, “The sound engineer deserves a medal.”

Everyone was very much aware of the tremendous sense of occasion communicated by the grandiose production set against the iconic backdrop of the iconic Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and a glittering skyline. There was great praise from everyone for the cast, particularly Emma Matthews.  One of our Australian Jury members even said, “We thought that no one could ever rival Joan Sutherland… but I think Emma Matthews does.” Jonathan Summers as Germont was also singled out for special praise by several Jury members."

Jury quotes:

“Emma is superb and in fine voice. The setting is magical and I loved the fireworks! Congratulations to Sydney Opera, to the whole cast and production team!"

"Un régal au niveau des voix, de la mise en scéne, de l’orchestre et les décors. Emma Mattews est sublime."

“Congratulations on this amazing technical feat, the magical colours, the lights, the fireworks and the amazing décor with such an extraordinary backdrop. It was also a very emotional experience, particularly thanks to Emma Matthews and Jonathan Summers as Germont the father.”

The Jury then went on to give an "A+" grade.

Wow! What was Gordon serving at the bar? Could this production really be better than the HDVD productions we now have of La Traviata from La Scala, the Royal Opera House, and the Salzburg Festival? Well, maybe. After all, possibly the best HDVD we have now of Don Giovanni comes from Opera Australia.

Still, I don't interpret the Jury A+ verdict quite that way. I think the Jury was properly impressed by the event created by Opera Australia to show off their country and cultural accomplishments, and this event was hugely entertaining even to the picky Jury. And I think the singing, acting, and stage directing must also have been competitive with all the others. So if you think this kind of show would appeal to you or your friends, go for it.

 

Tuesday
Jun122012

Lakmé

Leo Delibes Lakmé opera to a libretto by Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille. Directed 2011 by Roger Hodgman, based on a production by Adam Cook. Stars Emma Matthews, Aldo Di Toro, Stephen Bennett, Dominica Matthews, Edmond Choo,  Roxane Hislop, Jane Parkin, Angela Brun,  Luke Gabbedy, Benjamin Rasheed, Nara Lee, and Adrian Tamburini. Emmanuel Joel-Hornak conducts the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra (Leader Huy-Nguyen Bui) and the Opera Australia Chorus (Acting Chorus Master Anthony Hunt). Set and costume design by Mark Thompson; lighting design by Nigel Levings; assistant direction by Naomi Edwards; audio direction by Tony David Cray; TV direction by Cameron Kirkpatrick. Chris Yates was Production Executive; Sam Russell was Producer. Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

Opera Australia’s sumptuous production of Lakmé with Emma Matthews in the title role caused a sensation when it was shown to the OperaDou Jury in June 2012. Audiences in Europe have had few opportunities to see OA productions until now. The realization that so much wonderful music-making takes place in Australia was a big surprise. We understand OA is publishing more productions in HDVD. If they are all up to the standard of Lakmé, we have quite an operatic feast to look forward to!

It was a joy to see more long shots than we usually get in HDVD opera discs.  The sharpness of the high- definition image makes this possible and gives a greater impression of “being there.”  Jury members also loved Mark Thompson's lavish sets and gorgeous costumes. One of the Jury members was a retired first violinist who has played in performances of Lakmé at the Paris and Lyon operas. He was amazed at the quality of the OA production and the clarity of the HDVD video and audio recordings.

The Jury heaped praise on Emma Matthews. She is so believable as Lakmé, and she displays effortless command over her pure, clear voice. She brought tears to the eyes of Jury members with her famous coloratura aria, the “Bell Song.”  The Jury also cited Aldo Di Toro for his performance and clear tenor voice.

We had three Australians at one showing! They beamed with pride at what their national opera has achieved. They regretted, however, that the disc did not have shots of the iconic Sydney Opera House where this performance was filmed. Said one Aussie, “I’d like to look out over the harbor at the opera house and have that feeling of being on my yacht as I’m sipping champagne....” Well, perhaps the producers can fix that in their next OA release!

Monday
Jun042012

Don Giovanni (Rhodes)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Don Giovanni opera to libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte.  Directed 2011 by Göran Järvefelt at the Sidney Opera House. Stars Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Conal Coad, Rachelle Durkin, Daniel Sumegi, Henry Choo, Jacqueline Dark, Taryn Fiebig, and Andrew Jones. Mark Wigglesworth conducts the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra (Concertmaster Aubrey Murphy) and the Australian Opera Chorus (Chorus Master Anthony Hunt). Designs by Carl Friedrich Oberle; lighting by Nigel Levings; rehearsed by Matthew Barclay; assistant direction by Johanna Puglisi; directed for TV by Cameron Kirkpatrick; audio by Tony David Cray. Production Executive was Chris Yates; producer was Sam Russell.  Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

The L'OperaDou Jury tried this title on July 14, 2012 and the verdict was the grade of "A."  All but one member of the jury had seen DG at least once before (some many times). The jury found that Teddy Tahu Rhodes was the best Don Giovanni they had ever seen. He's handsome and thin with a decent six-pack (which you only see briefly). More important, he can act out an aura of malicious good humour that makes him a credible great seducer. All the other stars were excellent or at least decent in their roles. This is a straight-forward traditional production that doesn't take itself too seriously. Göran Järvefelt did a splendid job of blocking and directing so that every scene makes good sense---a trick task in an opera where something is always happening. And this show ends with a bang that will impress even the most jaded opera fan.

We now have 6 HDVDs of Don Giovanni, but none of them is graded A+. So there is still room for another try. Of the titles we have now, the old Gaumont motion picture has the most impressive production values, but the voices were dubbed and it doesn't play in Region A. Subject title from Opera Australia is probably the best choice for a traditional show shot on stage. I personally still prefer the whimsical show from René Jaocobs and Vincent Boussard on harmonia mundi. It has period music and a bunch of mostly young singers you never heard of having a wonderful time taking their crack at the greatest opera ever written. All the other versions are enjoyable but fall down in various ways.

Monday
Jan232012

La Bohème (Kizart)

Giacomo Puccini La Bohème opera to libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Directed 2011 by Gale Edwards at the Sydney Opera House. Stars Ji-Min Park, Takesha Meshé Kizart, José Carbó, Taryn Fiebig, David Parkin, Shane Lowrencev, John Bolton Wood,  Adrian Tamburini, Benjamin Rasheed, Malcolm Ede, and Clifford Plumpton. Shao-Chia Lü conducts the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra (Associate Concertmaster Huy-Nguyen Bui) and the Opera Australia Chorus (Chorus Master Michael Black). Set design by Brian Thomson; costume design by Julie Lynch; lighting design by John Rayment; assistant direction by Matthew Barclay. Directed for TV by Cameron Kirkpatrick; audio direction by Tony David Cray; produced by Chris Yates and Sam Russell. Released in 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B

Anyone who brings out a La Bohème now in HDVD is swimming upstream against a Niagra of competition. So I was surprised that upstart Opera Australia would be so audacious. To their credit, subject title is better than the La Bohème HDVDs from the Royal Opera House and the English National Opera.  Gale Edwards has turned out the best show offered by the Commonwealth countries. But subject title is clearly a notch below the Robert Dornhelm movie versions of this popular work (published by Axiom in Europe and Kultur in the U.S.) and a big notch below the Giancarlo del Monaco version from Teatro Real published by Opus Arte.

Derek Greten-Harrison reviews this Opera Australia show favorably in the June 2012 Opera News (page 60). He was gentle with the singers (all decent if none famous), and liked the updated Berlin-in-Weimar-Republic mise-en-scène. Derek also praises subject disc for "inventive camerawork with a richly detailed image."

(In recent years I've read about 100 serious magazine reviews of opera, ballet, and classical music productions. Almost always these titles have been published as HDVD and DVDs simultaneously. Derek is the first reviewer who has stated that he saw the Blu-ray (or HDVD) version of the title!  Congratulations Derek for being the only reviewer I know of who understands what's going on now in the field of fine-arts video. I hope I'm wrong about this, but I suspect you may one of the few reviewers around who has a high-definition TV!)

Monday
Jan022012

The Mikado 

Gilbert and Sullivan The Mikado operetta. Directed 2011 by Stuart Maunder at the Sydney Opera in Australia. Stars Richard Alexander, Kanen Breen, Mitchell Butel, Warwick Fyfe, Samuel Dundas, Tom Hamilton, Taryn Fiebig, Dominica Matthews, Annabelle Chaffey, and Jacqueline Dark. Brian Castles-Onion conducts the Victoria Orchestra (Concertmaster Adam Chalabi) and the Opera Australia Chorus (Chorus Master Michael Black). Designed by Tim Goodchild; choreography by Carole Todd; lighting design by Derek Coutts; sound design by John O'Donnell; assistant direction by Johanna Puglisi; audio direction by Tony David Cray; TV direction by Cameron Kirkpatrick. The Executive Producer was Chris Yates; the Supervising Producer was Sam Russell. Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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

Friday
Sep162011

Marriage of Figaro

Mozart Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) opera to libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Although titled in English, opera is sung in Italian. Directed  2010 by Neil Armfield at the Sydney Opera House. Stars Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Taryn Feibig, Warwick Fyfe, Jacqueline Dark, Sian Pendry, Peter Coleman-Wright, Kanen Breen, Rachelle Durkin, Clifford Plumpton, Claire Lyon, Katherine Wiles, and Margaret Plummer. Patrick Summers conducts the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra (Concertmaster Aubrey Murphy) and the Opera Australia Chorus (Chorus Master  Michael Black). Designs by Dale Ferguson; lighting by Rory Dempster; directed for TV by Cameran Kirkpatrick. Released  2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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