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 19. I just posted a short review on András Schiff Plays Bach. We are getting again into symphony titles and the existential issue of DVDitis. I just posted stories on a Mahler 4 recorded at the Gewandhaus and an earlier Mahler 2 recorded at the same venue. Both titles are crippled by the dread disease.

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 Warner Classics (2)

Thursday
Sep032015

Angels Sing --- Libera in America

Angels Sing --- Libera in America boys' choir concert. Recorded live in August 2014 at The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC. Singers are Marc Alvares, Shay Balsekar, Henry Barrington, Anthony Blake, Ciaran Bradbury-Hickey, Tiarnan Branson, Gabriel Collins, Kavana Crossley, Thomas Delgado-Little, Ben Fairman, Daniel Fontannaz, Alex Gula, Matthew Jansen, Timothy Lee, Sam Leggett, Isaac London, Matthew Madine, Eoghan McCarthy, Alessandro Mackinnon-Botti, Michael Menezes, Alex Montoro, Sammy Moriarty, Jakub Niedermaier-Reed, Rocco Tesei, Cassius O'Connell-White, Matthew Rangel-Alvares, Bertramo Smart, Camden Stewart, Sam Wiggin, and Lucas Wood. Robert Prizeman directed and conducted the Libera choir and a chamber orchestra assembled for this event. Music produced and mixed by Sam Coates, Ian Tiley, and Robert Prizeman. There is also a short feature about the choir and the trip to America. Produced by Daniel Hart, John Rexroad, and Steven Philipp. There is no credit for the video on the keepcase or in the keepcase booklet. There are no subtitles for the music or for short comments made by the boys during the performance. THe music was recorded using 48kHz/24 bit sound sampling. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: D+

Libera is a famous boys' chorus based in South London. Typically much of their music is sung in Latin. For their trip to America in 2014, most of the music was arranged to be sung in English. Here is the 55 minute main program exactly as described in the keepcase booklet:

1. Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee
2. How can I keep from singing
3. Morning has broken
4. America the beautiful
5. Wayfaring stranger
6. Amazing grace
7. What a wonderful world
8. The Prayer
9. Be still my soul
10. How great thou art
11. Rest in peace
12. Sanctus
13. Song of life
Extra Features:
1. Ave Maria
2. Voca me
3. How shall I sing that majesty

Libera has been remarkably popular in England for many years, and they have made about 25 albums of music. Here's a comment to me about them from a reliable American expert:

I had never heard of this group, but just listened to their rendition of Ode to Joy.  From what I heard, these boys have the same, finely trained choral tone and technique as any of the best English boy choirs.  I can see why they are gaining appeal.  They are taking a fine, traditional boys choir from England and giving them more popular arrangements (and other effects, i.e. lighting, staging, etc.) to broaden their appeal.  I would much prefer to hear them sing the British choral standards in a cathedral with organ.  However, marketing them this way almost guarantees a broader audience and in the end, might even open up some people’s ears to the conventional boy choir.  So I’m all for it! 

I personally think the singing and music recording on this record is terrific, and I enjoyed the easily accessible arrangements by Robert Prizeman, the Libera leader. So I'll not be critical of the music or the singing on this title.

The Libera in America concert was published in DVD, Blu-ray, and in a CD. I suspect the Libera management folks are spreading themselves a bit thin in this regard as I was quite surprised by problems I see in the  Blu-ray picture quality and video content. Time for screenshots.

Here's the opening scene. This is live before a big audience in a huge cathedral. The orchestra is split into two sections wide apart. To get all this in a single view, the camera has to be far back, and the choir looks rather insignificant. This is a situation where we need 4K resolution to get a decent shot!

In the next next two shots the cameras are as close as possible while showing all the singers. In the first picture the resolution is disturbing soft. And I think the second picture was made with a SD camera, which is unacceptable in 2014:


Now cameras get closer in attempts to frame all the boys from the side. But as you can see in the next two shots, the images are still soft:

So is this a standard definition DVD spiffed out in Blu-ray livery? Well, suddenly we get some full-face shots that look to me like they were made with HD cameras:

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Friday
Apr172015

Les vêpres siciliennes

Verdi Les vêpres siciliennes opera to libretto by Charles Duveyrier and Eugène Scribe. Directed 2013 by Stefan Herheim at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Stars Lianna Haroutounian (Hélène), Bryan Hymel (Henri), Michael Volle (Guy de Montfort), Erwin Schrott (Jean Procida), Neal Cooper (Thibault), Jihoon Kim (Robert), Jean Teitgen (Le Sire de Béthune), Jeremy White (Le Comte de Vaudemont), Nicholas Darmanin (Daniéli), Michelle Daly (Ninetta), and Jung Soo Yun (Mainfroid). Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Vasko Vassilev) and Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Director Renato Balsadonna). Dramaturgy by Alexander Meier-Dörzenbach; set designs by Philipp Fürhofer; costume designs by Gesine Völlm; lighting design by Anders Poll; choreography by André de Jong; directed for the screen by Rhodri Huw. Music was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

Les vêpres siciliennes is a French grand opera, an opulent, melodramatic genre that flourished and withered shortly before the American Civil War. Vêpres is considered by experts to be B-grade Verdi. This new production of Vêpres directed by Stefan Herheim at The Royal Opera played late 2013 to mixed print reviews. It came out in HDVD about 15 months later and immediately became a best seller! Why?

Herheim gives the HDVD opera fan (the kind with a HT and high-def TV) everything he could ask for. First, there's a real grand opera with lavish sets and costumes, a big orchestra, star singers, and double choruses portraying all the lugubrious, contrived, switch-back, high-drama situations that anyone could possible image or desire. Every twist in the plot is embellished with it's own glorious aria, duet, trio, quartet, or chorus number, all marching along in endless procession as midnight approaches. This is your money's worth. Second, for the younger set, Herheim provides a stylish update: instead of being set in the late-middle ages, the opera happens in 1850 in a Paris opera house. Third, for the intellectuals, there's a modern overlay with imaginary characters appearing throughout (such as a young boy in various costumes) which have meanings that are (usually) relatively easy to grasp from context (few Eurotrash-level mysteries). Finally, Herheim adds dancing whenever he can. Some of the ballet dancers do double duty as silent characters, and the chorus gets to do a lot of peasant dancing as well. (The Royal Ballet pulled out of this production on short notice, probably because its choreographer wanted to mount a discrete 40-minute show right in the middle of the opera, as was customary in Paris in 1850. Herheim then hired completely new free-lance forces to work under André de Jong, and the result is the best use of ballet in an opera that I know of.) So you wind up with more than your money's worth. Now to screenshots.

"The Sicilian Vespers" is the name (here in English) of a successful popular uprising by the people of Sicily against French occupation forces in 1282. Legend says John of Procida, a Sicilian physician and diplomat, led the uprising, which was signaled by the ringing of church bells at vespers on the Monday after Easter. Here we see Erwin Schrott as Procida, who has a ballet school at his palace. He's been reading in the newspaper about the French invasion of his country:

Guy de Montfort, the new French governor, heard about the girls at the ballet school. He and his men break in to rape them. Montfort gets first pick:

From this union a child named Henri Nota will be born. But neither Henri nor Montfort will know about any of this for many years:

The people of Sicily chafe under French rule:

Lianna Haroutounian plays Hélène, a Sicilian aristocrat. (Marina Popslavskaya was scheduled to sing this, but Haroutounian became a real-life heroine when Popslavskaya called in sick.) Hélène's brother was recently executed for sedition, and Hélène is being held hostage by Montfort. But she is fearless in urging her people to resist the occupation (Hélène holds her brother's skull):

 

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