Titles by Category

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.

December 2. I just posted a review of the 2016 Royal Ballet Nutcracker. We have on our Alphalist a thorough rundown and grade on each of the 10 Nutcracker Blu-rays you could order for a Christmas present!

I just updated and added screenshots to the Priory title The Grand Organ of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Finally we have reported on all 5 of the Priory organ Blu-rays. These exemplary recordings include a Blu-ray video, a DVD video, and a CD! Each of these titles has a fine program of organ music played by virtuoso musicians. In addition, there are fabulous bonus extras with information about the cathedrals, the towns where they are located, the details of each organ instrument, and a discussion of each selection that is played in the recital. Never before was so much value in recordings conveyed for such a modest price.  To see information on all these Priory titles, just go to the left navigation bar and click on "Priory" under "Titles by Publisher." Then all 5 Priory stories will be instantly produced for your enjoyment! _______________________________________________________________________________

Entries in Opus Arte (219)

Saturday
Dec022017

The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker ballet. Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Choreographed by Peter Wright after Lev Ivanov. Directed 2016 by Peter Wright.

Stars Gary Avis (Drosselmeyer); Francesca Hayward (Clara, Drosselmeyer's god-daughter); Alexander Campbell (Hans-Peter/The Nutcracker, Drosselmeyer's nephew), and:

  • Act 1. Luca Acri (Drosselmeyer's Assistant); Caroline Jennings and Susan Nye (Maiden Aunts); Barbara Rhodes (Housekeeper); Christopher Saunders (Dr. Stahlbaum, Clara's father); Elizabeth McGorian (Mrs. Stahlbaum); Caspar Lench (Fritz, Clara's  brother); Benjamin Elia (Clara's Partner); Kristen McNally (Grandmother); Alastair Marriott (Grandfather); Christina Arestis (Dancing Mistress); Johannes Stepanek (Captain); Fernando Montaño (Harlequin); Leticia Stock (Columbine); Marcelino Sambé (Soldier); Mayara Magri (Vivandière); Lukas Bjørneboe Brændsrød (St. Nicholas); Nicol Edmonds (Mouse King)
  • Act 2. Lauren Cuthbertson (Sugar Plum Fairy); Federico Bonelli (The Prince); members of the London Oratory Junior Choir (Singers); Christina Arestis, Johannes Stepanek, Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani, Fernando Montaño, Tierney Heap and Eric Underwood (Spanish Dance); Itziar Mendizabal, Ryoichi Hirano, Reece Clarke, and Nicol Edmonds (Arabian Dance); Luca Acri, Marcelino Sambé (Chinese Dance); Kevin Emerton and Paul Kay (Russian Dance); Meaghan Grace Hinkis, Emma Maguire, Mayara Magri, and Leticia Stock (Dance of the Mirlitons); Yuhui Choe (Rose Fairy); Matthew Ball, James Hay, Tomas Mock, Valentino Zuccheti (Rose Fairy Escorts); Claire Calvert, Helen Crawford, Hikaru Kobayashi, and Beatriz Stix-Brunell (Leading Flowers).

In addition, artists of The Royal Ballet and students of the Royal Ballet School portray Snowflakes, Relatives, Friend's of Stahlbaum family, Soldiers, Mice, Servants, Children and other roles.

Boris Gruzin conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Peter Manning) and the London Oratory Junior Choir (Choir Director Charles Cole). Designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman; lighting by Mark Henderson; production consultant was Rolan John Wiley; staging by Christopher Carr; ballet mistress was Samantha Raine; ballet master was Jonathan Howells; assistant ballet mistress was Sian Murphy; principal coaching by Christopher Carr, Jonahtan Cope, Viviana Durante, and Jonathan Howells; Benesh notators were Mayumi Hotta and Lorraine Gregory. Directed for screen by Ross McGibbon. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: B

I did a detailed review of this same production (with an earlier set of star dancers) in 2013. I gave it a B and declared it not competitive with stronger competition. I went on to say, "The Peter Wright production could be competitive again if the Royal Ballet would revive it with (1) new sets and costumes, (2) drill the female corps more thoroughly, (3) write new divertissement dances, and (4) make a clean, bright video." Now we have our revival, so let's see how the Royal Ballet has done by The Nutcracker between 2009 and 2016. 

At the outset I'll say that the choreography, sets, and costumes are basically identical in 2009 and 2016 except that in Act 2 the 4 rather insipid Chinese dancers from 2009 are reduced to 2 in 2016.  Now let's look at 7 screenshots from the 2016 Act 1 showing the Stahlbaums' party and Clara's dream. For each of these 7 shots there is a doppelgänger in the 2009 review for you to compare if you like.

In 2016, Clara is danced by the warmly brunette Francesca Hayward and her friend is portrayed by Benjamin Ella:

Clara's mom (Elisabeth McGorian), dad (Christopher Saunders), and grandfather (Alastair Marriott) are the same:

Gary Avis is the same splendid Drosselmeyer:

And the dream battle upfolds the same. If you compare these 7 shots from 2009 and 2016, you can clearly see that MacGibbon has better cameras in 2016 than before. The 2016 images are sharper and MacGibbon was able to get better color even in the dark scenes. The generally "washed out" look from 2009 is gone.  In my 2009 viewing, I complained that the costumes looked old and worn. Now I see that my criticism of the costumes arose in part because the 2009 cameras generally were not able to make pretty images of them. Another difference between 2009 and 2016 is that MacGibbon in 2016 generally increased the range of his camera views throughout. He was able to do this, of course, thanks to the greater resolution available from the 2016 gear. So this time the ROB has produced the "clean, bright video" I asked for.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Nov282017

Renée Fleming In Concert

Renée Fleming In Concert two disc "box" set, released 2017. Christian Thielemann conducts both concerts. Below are the discs. Both have already been reported on this website, and you can get more details by using the links provided:

1. Richard Strauss: Renée Fleming In Concert. Vienna Philharmonic. 2011. (Grade: D+)

Includes the following performances:

1. "Befreit" ("Released")
2. "Winterliebe" ("Winter Love")
3. "Traum durch die Dämmerung" ("Dream at Dusk")
4. "Gesang der Apollopriesterin" ("Song of the Priestess of Apollo")
5. "Mein Elemer!" ("My Elmer" from the opera Arabella)
6. Eine Alpensinfonie

2. Bruckner Symphony No. 7 & Wolf Lieder. Dresden Staatskapelle. 2012. (Grade: N/A)

Includes the following performances: 

1. Hugo Wolf songs: "Verborgenheit",  "Er ist's", "Elfenlied", "Anakreon's Grab", and "Mignon" (Second Verson)
2. Richard Strauss "Befreit"
3. Bruckner Symphony No. 7

 

Monday
Nov272017

Pas de Deux

Pas de Deux ballet compilation with performances by many of the famous Royal Ballet stars from recent years. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

All told, there are 19 titles listed below counting the various double and triple versions Opus Arte has published of some ballets. There are 16 pas de deux performances on the disc from the 14 ballets listed below. So it appears there will be 2 versions for two of the titles. Or maybe there will be two different pas de deux scenes from one or two titles. Sorry for all the confusion.

How many of the 19 titles do you already own? (We have all of them.) As soon as we get complete information, we will report on exactly which duos appear in the compilation. Here are the ballets represented:

Saturday
Nov182017

Anastasia

Anastasia ballet. Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Bohuslav Martinů. Choreography by Kenneth MacMillan as realized by Deborah MacMillan. Staged 2016 at the Royal Ballet.

Stars Christopher Saunders (Tsar Nicholas II); Christina Arestis (Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna); Rory Toms (Tsarevitch Alexey); Olivia Cowley (Grand Duchess Olga); Beatriz Stix-Brunell (Grand Duchess Tatiana); Yasmine Naghdi (Grand Dutchess Marie); Natalia Osipova (Grand Duchess Anastasia); Thiago Soares (Rasputin); Kristen McNally (Anna Vyrubova/Matron/Peasant woman); Alastair Marriott (Tsar's Aide-de-Camp); Ryoichi Hirano, Valeri Hristov, Alexander Campbell, and Edward Watson (Four Officers). 

  • Act 1. Luca Acri, Tristan Dyer, and and Marcelino Sambé (Three Officers); Mica Bradbury (Maid).
  • Act 2. Marianela Nuñez (Mathilde Kschessinska); Federico Bonelli (Kschessinska’s Partner); Vincenzo Di Primo  (Revolutionary).
  • Act 3. Natalia Osipova (Anna Anderson); Edward Watson (Anna Anderson's husband); Tristan Dyer (Anna Anderson's Brother-in-Law).

Artists of the Royal Ballet appear as Officers, Guests, Soldiers, Revolutionaries, Nurses, Peasants, Visitors, Relatives.

Ballet masters were Christopher Saunders, Gary Avis, and Jonathan Howells; ballet mistress was Samantha Raine; principal coaching by Jonathan Cope and Viviana Durante. Simon Hewett conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Sergey Levitin). Electronic music provided by the studio of The Technical University of West Berlin (Fritz Winckel and Rüdiger Rüfer); designed by Bob Crowley; lighting design by John B. Read; staging by Gary Harris; directed for the screen by Ross MacGibbon. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+

This is from the 2016 revival at the ROH. Both Laura Morera and Natalia Osipova were well received in the lead, but Osipova is the more famous and got the star berth in the video.

Grand Duchess Anastasia was the youngest daughter of the last Russian Tsar. We now know that the Bolsheviks murdered Anastasia (then age 17) with all the rest of the Tsar's family on July 17, 1918. But Kenneth MacMillan never knew this---he died before the true fate of Anastasia was revealed through DNA sleuthing. Some 30 women claimed to be Anastasia. One of them, a Polish peasant named Franzisca Schanzkowska, was successful at this in a way truly stranger than fiction---all this is brilliantly explained in the keepcase booklet by Frances Welch, a Russian history expert. Suffice to say now that when MacMillan choreographed this work, he didn't know if his ballet was a sad true story of ironic suffering or a depiction of a fraud perpetrated by a mental patient. So MacMillan wrote a ballet that works fine either way!

Below we encounter Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna (Christina Arestis) with her four daughters. They are, from left to right, Grand Duchess Marie (Yasmine Naghdi), Grand Duchess Tatiana (Beatriz Stix-Brunell), Grand Duchess Olga (Olivia Cowley) and Grand Duchess Anastasia (Natalia Osipova):

The family enjoys an outing on the royal yacht. The woman in gray is Anna Vyrubova (Kristen McNally), the Tzarina's best friend (MacMillan has lots of fine touches like this on stage to keep you on your trivia toes):

Anastasia, the naughtiest of the 4 girls, takes off her roller skates to cavort with the young officers. They treat her like a little sister:

Christopher Saunders below bears a remarkable resemblance to Tsar Nicholas II. Here he reads with Tsarevitch Alexey (Rory Toms). Alexey is heir to the throne, but he suffers from a terrible case of hemophilia:

Even a simple fall at play is a life-threatening crisis for Alexey. The peasant priest Rasputin (Thiago Soares) has a way of helping Alexey recover from his injuries. Rasputin leveraged this talent into bizarre influence over the Tsarina and her daughters:

Even though the Russian Empire is being depleted by WWI, the Tsar and Tsarina take out time to introduce Anastasia to society at a glittering ball. Rasputin is always hovering about:

The stage design gives many hints that all of Act 1 is taking place at a mental hospital in the mind of Franzisca Schanzkowska. Most of these design elements are hard to see in screenshots, but you can't miss the unreal chandeliers:

 

Click to read more ...

Friday
Oct132017

Giselle 

Giselle ballet. Libretto by Théophile Gautier after Heinrich Heine.  Music by Adolphe Adam revised by Joseph Horovitz. Choreography by Marius Petipa after Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. 2016 production and additional choreography by Sir Peter Wright at the Royal Opera House. Stars Marianela Nuñez (Giselle), Vadim Muntagirov (Count Albrecht), Bennet Gartside (Hilarion), Johannes Stepanek (Wilfred), Elisabeth McGorian (Berthe), Gary Avis (Duke of Courland), Christina Arestis (Bathilde), Jonathan Howells (Leader of the Hunt), Itziar Mendizabal (Myrtha), Olivia Cowley (Moyna), Beatriz Stix-Brunell (Zulme) as well as Yuhui Choe, Alexander Campbell, Francesca Hayward, Luca Acri, Yasmine Naghdi, and Marceline Sambé (Pas de Six). Barry Wordsworth conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Peter Manning). Designs by John Macfarlane; original lighting by Jennifer Tipton re-created by David Finn; staging by Christopher Carr; directed for screen by Ross MacGibbon. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

This is the third Opus Arte publication of a Blu-ray disc of the Peter Wright Giselle by the Royal Opera! The first version came out in 2009 with Cojocaru and Kobborg, and I gave it an A-. Five years later the second version was released (in 2014) with Osipova and Acosta, and I gave that one an A. Now, just three years later we have the third recording with Marianela Nuñez as Giselle and Vadim Muntagirov as Albrecht, both seen in my opening screenshot below. Since this is my third visit to this production, this review will be short, and I will say little about the plot of Giselle. You can learn a lot more about the ballet by reading my earlier reviews of this production from 2009 and 2014.

Nuñez is a great dancer and actress, but she is approaching retirement age. 8 years prior to this she was cast as Myrtha in the 2009 Giselle production!

Next below Gary Avis as the Duke of Courland with his daughter Bathilde played by Christina Arestis:

Now we see Bennet Gartside as Hilarion proving that Albrecht is a slumming impostor:

And Giselle learns she is a jilted girl:

Next below four views of Giselle's mad scene:

 

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Oct122017

The Tempest

Shakespeare The Tempest play. Directed 2017 by Gregory Doran at the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre. Stars (alphabetical order) Alison Arnopp (Spirit), Simon Russell Beale (Prospero), Laura Cairns (Spirit), Elly Condron (Iris/Spirit), Joe Dixon (Caliban), Daniel Easton (Ferdinand), Caleb Frederick (Mariner/Spirit), Samantha Hay (Ceres), Sarah Kameela Impey (Spirit), Tony Jayawardena (Stephano), Matthew McPherson (Francisco), Joseph Mydell (Gonzalo), Oscar Pearce (Antonio), Mark Quartley (Ariel), Jenny Rainsford (Miranda), Darren Raymond (Boatswain), Joe Shire (Master of the Ship), Oliver Towse (Adrian), Simon Trinder (Trinculo), James Tucker (Alonso), Tom Turner (Sebastian), and Jennifer Witton (Juno). Also features musicians Samantha Hay and Jennifer Witton (sopranos), Max Gittings (flutes/whistles), Nick Lee (guitar), James Jones (percussion), and Bruce O'Neil and Gareth Ellis (keyboards). Production design by Stephen Brimson Lewis; digital character creation by The Imaginarium Studios; video by Finn Ross; lighting by Simon Spencer; music by Paul Englishby; sound by Jeremy Dunn and Andrew Franks; movement by Lucy Cullingford; screen direction by Dewi Humphreys; screen production by John Wyver. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+

This is a huge and elaborate production coming to us from the best resource for Shakespeare plays that has existed since the death of the Bard. On the whole it is quite excellent. The performances are engaging, the play is funny and affecting in equal measure, and the disc itself presents high quality audio and visuals. Of course the biggest talking point will be the elaborate use of visual projection and lighting to really make this production stand out. This includes not just projections on backdrops of different sizes and shapes, but also a real-time motion capture projection of Ariel. As the actor Mark Quartley moves around the stage, his suit sends information to computers behind the scene that then create the animated avatar (using 27 separate projectors). So when Mark moves, the spirit apparition moves along with him. This technology took two years to perfect, and the final product reflects the care taken by all involved. As elaborate as the visual side of this production is, at its core this is still a stage play done with the care that one would expect from the Royal Shakespeare Company; the visuals add extra verve without distracting from the play or the performance.

The stage itself is static - there are no changes in scenery. Instead the production relies on various lighting cues and projections to clue the audience as to changes in setting. The stage is a flat area painted to look like dirt, flanked on both sides by wooden scaffolding that doubles at various points as the wrecked ship, the walls of Prospero and Miranda's dwelling, and wooded areas. The scaffolding also provides a second level for side actors to perform.

Here below we see the royalty on the main stage and the boatsmen on the upper levels:

Prospero explains to Miranda how they arrived on the island. Here we see the basic scenery - dirt and wood, with no elaborate lighting trickery:

Prospero speaks to Ariel, here presented as a dancing spirit projected on the backdrop. This uses the live motion capture technology developed for this performance. (NB: The screenshots here are darker than the picture as it appears in the home theater. While the show is dark, it is not distractingly so. In fact, the visual effects shine all the more given the dark nature of the video.)

A more elaborate meshing of lighting and projection, here representing Ariel's unfortunate time stuck in a tree. Here Mark Quartley plays Ariel twice, once physically in his suit, and again as the motion capture avatar projected on the center screen:

During calmer scenes, the lighting and projections take a break to allow the actors more attention, as shown below:

Stephano comes across the Caliban/Trinculo hybrid beast:

 

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Sep282017

Monteverdi Two Classic Operas

Monteverdi Two Classic Operas Box Set released 2017. Below are the discs. Both already have been reported on this website, and you can get more details by using the links provided:

1. L'Orfeo. 2011. (Grade: B+)

2. L'incoronazione di Poppea. 2012. (Grade: Help!)

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

Thursday
Sep282017

Shakespeare Three Tragedies

Shakespeare Three Tragedies Box Set. This box set includes the Royal Shakespeare Company productions of Hamlet, King Lear and Othello. All three are available individually on this website, and you can get more details by using the links provided:

1. Hamlet. 2016. (No grade yet)

2. King Lear. 2017. (No grade yet)

3. Othello. 2016. (No grade yet)

Released 2017, both discs have 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
Sep252017

Norma

Bellini Norma opera to libretto by Felice Romani. Directed 2016 by Àlex Ollé at the Royal Opera House. Stars Sonya Yoncheva (Norma), Joseph Calleja (Pollione), Sonia Ganassi (Adalgisa), Brindley Sherratt (Oroveso), David Junghoon Kim (Flavio), and Vlada Borovko (Clotilde). Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and the Royal Opera Chorus (Concert Master Peter Manning). Set design by Alfons Flores; costume design by Lluc Castells, lighting design by Marco Filibeck. Directed for screen by Jonathan Haswell. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here the official trailer:

And here's a long (83 min.) and well-done explanation of this production from Pappano, director Àlex Ollé, and others:

Monday
Aug142017

The Royal Opera Collection

The Royal Opera Collection Box Set released 2017. Below are the discs for 15 productions of The Royal Opera. Each of them has already been reported on this website, and you can get more details by using the links provided:

1. Le nozze di Figaro. Mozart. 2009. (Grade: A+)
2. Don Giovanni. Mozart. 2014. (Grade: A)
3. Die Zauberflöte. Mozart. 2008. (Grade A)
4. Macbeth. Verdi. 2012. (Grade A-)
5. La traviata. Verdi. 2011. (Grade A)
6. Carmen. Bizet. 2008. (Grade A+)
7. Parsifal. Wagner. 2014. (Grade N/A)
8. Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci. Mascagni/Leoncavallo. 2016. (Grade N/A)
9. La Bohème. Puccini. 2010. (Grade C+)
10. Turandot. Puccini. 2014. (Grade N/A)
11. Il trittico (Il tabarro, Suor Angelica, Gianni Schicchi). Puccini. 2012. (Grade A)
12. Salome. Strauss. 2010. (Grade A+)
13. Król Roger. Syzmanowski. 2015. (Grade N/A)
14. Gloriana. Britten. 2013. (Grade N/A)
15. Written on Skin. Benjamin. 2014. (Grade B+)

There are 17 operas here (Il trittico has three 1-Act operas rolled into one). This Le nozze is considered by some to be the best opera video ever. The Salome is, per the traffic on this website, one of the most popular Blu-ray opera recordings. The Carmen and Zauberflöte are still the best available recordings in Blu-ray. The Written on Skin is the authoritative recording of this remarkable new opera. We haven't graded all of the titles in this box, but we have given 9 of the titles a B+ or better. So if the price drops below, say $200, you are probably getting at a good discount 10 titles you will really admire plus 5 bonus recordings that likely will unearth for you some buried treasure. If you are new to opera on video, this looks like a great place to start.

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