PDA

View Full Version : French Romantic (Thomas, Gounod, Delibes, etc) opera on DVD/Blu-ray/CD



Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 10:38 PM
Leo Delibes: Lakmé on DVD
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51ASHY932GL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

Not impressed. I'll give it a B. Very old and stuffy production, technically old, but still, with good singing, particularly by Dame Joan Sutherland.

Pros: Lyricism. It's got some nice pastel shades and some dreamy arias. Three or four of them are outstanding. Dôme épais le jasmin à la rose s'assemble (the Flower Duet barcarolle) is really beautiful, has that dreamy quality that. Où va la jeune hindoue (a.k.a. the Bell song) is a little bizarre when it gets into some outbursts of coloratura - but is a nice display of vocal agility anyway, and the fact that the coloratura alternates with the narration that Lakmé is doing, then recurs, ends up producing a very enticing effect, and this production has a very impressive performance by Dame Joan Sutherland. A third outstanding moment came with Fantaisie aux divins mensonges, a very lyric tenor piece that reminds me of some Italian belcanto tenor arias. Other nice moments were C'est le dieu de la jeunesse, a sort of conventional love duet but nice nevertheless - except for the very end when the orchestration gets a little annoying, I cared more for the vocal music. Dans la forêt près de nous is another nice love duet. The entr'acte between the second and third acts is nice and recovers the melodie of Dans la forêt. Lakmé! Ah! Viens dans la forêt is a good tenor piece. So, yes, good lyricism, some melodious and delicate music.

But now the cons: a collection of some good arias doesn't a fabulous opera make. As much as Lakmé can be very alluring, it can also be very banal and formulaic in some other parts (like most of the third act), and I found some moments to be truly awful. Case in point, the Entr'acte between acts I and II, what was that???? And when the *third* consecutive ballet with the vestals came up, I couldn't stand it anymore, and was thinking - Léo, can you please drop these ballets and move on? And then, some of the moments with that annoying Miss Bentson and those silly Rose and Ellen had me thinking - haven't I seen this in something by Gilbert & Sullivan?

So, it was very uneven. Some of the stuff in Lakmé is frankly populist in my opinion, and not very good at it. If Delibes' other 22 operas and operettas are any worse in terms of cons and not as rich in pros (which I assume they are, since I don't know of any other that has enjoyed equivalent fame to Lakmé's), I guess one could say that he was more successful as a ballet composer.

But the pros listed above earn it a B, which is still good (that means I actually liked it); not all operas can be As. However, I think that I'll enjoy Lakmé in the future rather cut down to bits and pieces (I can see myself listening to everything that I mentioned in the cons by navigating directly to those parts in the DVD menu) than in its entirety.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 10:40 PM
Thomas: Mignon on DVD
No commercial DVD version exists. I saw recorded from TV a production is from the Théatre Français de la Musique. All singers are unknown to me (their names are Lucile Vignon in the title role, Alain Gabriel as Wilhelm, Annick Massis as Philine, Christian Treguier as Lothario, and Jean-Marc Salzman as Laerte) as well as the conductor (Jean Fournet) at the helm of the Orchestre Régionale de Picardie. Staging is traditional and simple, and mostly effective since it doesn't disturb the focus on the beautiful melodies. The singers are good, with the lyric tenor singing the role of Wilhem Meister less good than the others, but not terrible. The title role is by an attractive young mezzo and she does well. Philline is sung by a rather good coloratura soprano. The bass role of Lothario is very successful in this production, and so is the brief appearance of another bass in the role of Antonio.

Mignon in my opinion is an *extremely* beautiful opera. Ambroise Thomas has been criticized for the sugary score and equally sugary vocal music, but in this case I must have some common genes with flies (I remember the sci-fi movie The Fly) because I'm a sucker for sugar. Some of the show stoppers in this opera are truly remarkable numbers; for example, Mignon's arias Connais-tu le pays and Elle est là, prés de lui, and Wilhelm's arias Adieu, Mignon, and Elle ne croyat pas dans sa candeur. The frequent use of a harp gives to the score a delicate and elegant character. The plot is predictable but it is not really the point - it is just the vehicle for a parade of lyric singing that is quite compelling. With a better libretto this opera would have been an A+, but still, in spite of its predictable and undramatic story line, it is still an A-.

It is hard to understand why Mignon hasn't enjoyed a revival and isn't part of the current standard repertoire, after its enduring success since its creation until World Ward II. By then it had clocked more than 1,600 performances at the Opéra-Comique alone. But then, it seems to have disappeared from sight; like I said there is no commercial DVD, although there is an apparently very good recording from Sony with Antonio de Almeida conducting, and Horne, Vanzo, Welting, Zaccaria, and von Stade in a trouser role. It is available relatively cheap at Amazon.com and for a bargain at Amazon market vendors.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51h8WgpIy8L._SL500_AA300_.jpg
One possible explanation is the success of Thomas' student Massenet, who ended up overshadowing his teacher. Yes, Massenet's operas are generally superior, but there is enough space left for Mignon; it is still a very, very good opera. This is screaming for a revival. I can depict Elina Garanca as Mignon and Roberto Alagna as Wilhelm, with René Pape as Lothario. (Yes, I'm more favorable to Alagna after his excellent performance in Don Carlo, and he seemed to have enough chemistry with Elina in the recent Met Carmen).

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 10:45 PM
Gounod: Mireille on blu-ray


http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41C0UFTQtxL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

This is a rather perfect production. The scenarios are among the most beautiful I've ever seen; one would believe it's a filmed version, so well the countryside is reproduced on stage (except for the rather static waters of the Rhône river). The conductor couldn't be any better - Marc Minkowski - and he extracts from the Orchestre de l'Opéra National de Paris enthusiastic, energetic, resonant, full sounds. It's a pleasure to see his conducting technique, his connection with his orchestra, how he motivates them and makes them try their best for him, and the video editor appropriately showed us several shots of the Maestro in action. The singing is top notch. We get Inva Mula in the title role and her timbre is so beautiful that it justifies the purchase of this blu-ray in itself. She is very comfortable in this tessitura, but it is not easy to sing this opera, since at the very end and after the voice fatigue of the entire 150 minutes settles in, the vocal score goes to the very top of her range and she shows some strain. Regardless, she is pretty, acts fairly convincingly, and sings divinely. I've always liked Inva Mula, and I wonder why she hasn't enjoyed as much success as other leading ladies. She looks slightly less good than Miah Persson, and her lyric soprano voice is angelic like Kathleen Battle's, except that it is more powerful than Kathleen's. Charles Castronovo also does very well in the role of her love interest, Vincent. Franck Ferrari as Ourrias does a more than adequate job, and all supporting roles are well sung, with some good looking young females like Amel-Brahim Djelloul. The technical quality of this blu-ray is impeccable with gorgeous image and sound, a good fit for such a beautiful staging and such excellent conducting.

So, all good, right? Nope.

Where is the weak link, then?

It's one Charles Gounod, aided and abetted by his librettist Michel Carré.

This is a very mediocre opera. The arias, with a few exceptions, are uninspired, with little melodic punch. The orchestration is pathetic in many points, with the hallmark of incompetence: making the orchestra play the same music of the vocal score. Mr. Gounod, although I don't really like you, you've done better elsewhere. Can you please make your orchestra provide some commentary, some nuance, some color, some counterpoint, instead of merely repeating the vocal score??? It's not all bad. The overture is pretty good, and there are some nice farandoles, and here and there Gounod seems to wake up; but overall, this is a minor work.

The libretto is not any better. Rich dad promises pretty young girl to older rich pretender but she loves young handsome pauper. The two rivals fight, it looks like the young handsome guy gets killed, oh wait, he survived; regardless, she dies of unfulfilled passion. Curtain. Yawn. This formulaic storyline drags on and on, with terrible pace, lots of unnecessary scenes, and no dramatic impact.

It is somewhat strange to see such a talented team stage such a weak opera. They even manage to make this disaster of an opera enjoyable. Minkowski is so outstanding that he almost makes this music sound good. So I don't regret buying this blu-ray, but I wonder what this same team would have done with better material

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 10:46 PM
Adolphe Adam: Le Toréador ou L'Accord Parfait on DVD
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51wJeQmIlPL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

The Théatre Imperial de la Musique in Compiègne, France, once more brings us a revival of a long forgotten French opera - this time, Adolphe Adam's Le Toréador, an opéra-comique that was very popular in its day, although not as much as Adam's better known work, Le Postillon de Longjumeau.

This non-pretentious work is light, simple, and short (run time 80 minutes). There are only three characters - Coraline (Ghyslaine Raphanel), a former opera singer married to retired toreador Don Belflor (Mathieu Lécroart), and her lover Tracolin (Franck Cassard).

Don Belflor is a philanderer, Coraline is unhappy, then her former suitor Tracolin, a flautist, comes to town and reconnects with her. They become lovers. Tracolin traps Don Belflor into believing that another woman (who is only mentioned and does not come to the stage) is in love with him, so that Coraline can catch him planning to cheat on her, confront him, and get from him the agreement that he'll be allowed to have his mistresses, as long as he allows her to keep Tracolin at home as her lover. Don Belflor, afraid of the scandal and willing to keep her dowry, agrees (thus the subtitle "The Perfect Agreement"). Curtain.

The most famous number is Ah! Vous dirais-je, maman, better known to English speakers as the melody of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

This is a semi-staged version with the orchestra behind the singers on stage, and a few props (table, chairs, a window, a door).

The three singers are not good-looking people, and two out of three don't sing very well. The only one who shows adequate singing is the bass, Mathieu Lécroart. The Orchestre Français seems a bit anemic as well, under the baton of Albéric Magnard.

Musically, I find this opera to be a minor work, with some entertaining moments, but nothing extraordinary.

Technically speaking, this DVD is very weak. Camera work is primitive, the image is 1.33:1, English subtitles that can't be turned off and are often inaccurate, no choice of sound track, no extras. Sound balance is deficient: the singers are too loud and the orchestra too distant.

Verdict: not recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 10:48 PM
Halévy: Clari on DVD

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51yrbC-YIxL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

It's hard to classify this as French opera. It comes from Halévy's stint in Italy; it was written for the Théâtre Italien de Paris; and it is so decisively Italianate and so Rossini-like, that I'd rather classify it as Italian (not to forget, the libretto is in Italian).

I loved it, but for me, the real trouble with the opera (not the performance) comes from the fact that Halévy tries hard, but he is not Rossini.

There is one fundamental problem with this opera: pace. It's like a Rossini opera, but with half the tempo. It is sloooow, painfully slow for this kind of music. Halévy lacks the dynamic Rossini crescendo, the hectic pace, the delirious rhythm that are the Rossinian hallmarks. This is a good answer to those who have doubted me in my old thread about how Rossini is underestimated. People tend to think of Rossini as an entertainer who composed easy music, but actually Rossini was a spectacular musical genius, and his style can be imitated, but not matched.

Clari as composed by Halévy is a very good, entertaining, and pleasant opera. But if Rossini had composed it, it would have been faster, 40 minutes shorter (2 hours rather than 2 hours and 40 minutes), and instead of being merely very good, it would have been a masterpiece.

This said, let's go back to the performance and the DVD product. It is pretty much perfect. This is an absolutely first rate DVD, with excellent sound and image, and all the technical bells and whistles.

My first experience with the Orchestra La Scintilla wasn't good, but this time I loved them. And I'm not fond of the Opernhaus Zürich with their over-the-top Regie productions, but this one was right on target. Adam Fischer got his forces on the right mood, and the result is a full and enticing sound. The staging is *very* successful, effective, and original.

The singers are very good and the acting is exquisite. Paradoxically, I'm a little less thrilled with Cecilia Bartoli here. I think she is showing some wear and tear, some fatigue. I think she is not as bright here as in, for example, her Il Turco in Italia DVD. Oh well, all good things in life decline with time. But she's still very good, no doubt about it.

I'm particularly fond of Eva Liebau's Bettina. What a beautiful voice, and what a polished technique! John Osborn and Oliver Widmer are a pleasure to listen to, as well.

The historical awareness of this production with the insertion of an aria from Rossini's Othello à la Malibran, as well as an aria from Halévy's La Tempesta, were delightful.

In summary, I'll give to this DVD my "highly recommended" seal of approval. If only Halévy had impacted on this opera a faster tempo, we'd have had in our hands something for the ages.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 10:49 PM
Lalo: Le Roy d'Ys on DVD
I'm watching this now, barely got to half of the running time (108 minutes) but I'm sure I have formed my opinion already, which is unlikely to change even though the most famous number from this opera is still to came in the last act (Vainemant, ma bien aimée).

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51AnGqPhthL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

First, technically: mostly, impecable product, with linear PCM stereo track or Dolby Surround and excellent sound engineering and balance by Dynamic's proprietary method ODS, subtitles in five languages, insert with text in four languages including an essay on the composer and the opera, and the synopsis. Very sharp image on 16:9 format.

This is a live composite recording over three nights in April of 2008, at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie, with their chorus and orchestra, conducted by Patrick Davin.

The very, very, very pretty Giuseppina Piunti (it's her on the cover picture but that picture doesn't even start doing her beauty any justice) sings the role of Margared. Guylaine Girard is Rozenn, Eric Martin-Bonnet is the king (title role, but with very little stage time), Sébastien Guèze is the leading tenor singing Mylio (young and good looking, ladies!) while Werner Van Mechelen is the evil baritone Karnac (it's him on the cover). Léonard Graus is Saint Corentin (we have a walking talking statue here, folks, like in Don Giovanni), and Marc Tissons completes the cast in the minor role of Jahel.

OK, so, the good points are the technical quality of the product, and the beauty of the leading soprano.

And that's about it, folks. Everything else goes downhill from this point on.

First of all, Giuseppina is spectacular-looking, but can't sing, not even for her life if need be. She can yell, though, and she spends the entire opera yelling really loud.

So do all the others, almost. It's a yelling festival. The one guy who refrains from the terrible yelling is the baritone, and while he's nothing to write home about, he earns the best singing in this production, since he doesn't yell. And he gets to kiss Giuseppina's neck and squeeze her boobs, so, he got the best part, no doubt.

Oh, OK, I just got to the part with the statue, a bass, and he doesn't yell either. Too bad he's got only a few lines. When we listen to him, we almost remember that this is supposed to be an opera.

The other female is less good looking (nice boobs, though), and almost as bad as Giuseppina in terms of singing. The young tenor is appalingly bad. You gotta see it to believe it, folks! Another yeller, and worse of all, he yells off-pitch.

The acting couldn't be more stiff and artificial. OK, so Giuseppina can't sing *and* can't act. Not good. Not even her looks will save her in my appreciation or lack thereof.

The staging is quite ridiculous. Where on Earth have they found those costumes? Gee, the enemy soldiers look like overgrown lobsters, and the locals are only a little bit less ridiculous with their shiny green outfits. And why go through the trouble of making the King look silly with his artificially bald head on the top and long hair on the bottom? What were they thinking?

Musically: mediocre chorus, mediocre orchestra. Oh well, to make it worse, the gorgeous aria Vainemant, ma bien aimée has just started, and God, it was murdered by this youngster. He should be ashamed. And think that this was recorded over three nights, so this may have been his best effort of the three nights. I wonder how horrible he was in the other two.

Now the opera itself: it's kind of a lost opportunity because the libretto is not terrible, the story has potential (a love triangle, the two princesses love the same guy (Mylio), he picks one (Rozenn - the one who in this production is not as good looking, stupid boy, LOL), the other (Margared) allies herself with the kingdom's enemy Karnac for revenge, and opens a dam to flood the city and kill everybody; then repents, throws herself into the rising waters, and the Deus Ex-Machina (the walking/talking statue of the saint) saves the people. Not bad. But musically, It's hard to say since I had never heard it before (except for the most famous tenor aria which is a common concert piece), so it may be that the terrible singers and the mediocre orchestra are just spoiling it for me, but I don't think so. It does sound pretty lame in terms of orchestration and vocal writing, with just a few exceptions.

So here is the bottom line:

Get some pictures of Giuseppina Piunti from Google Images, and forget about this DVD.

Not recommended.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_iBcNzv2OWKo/SyicGGvoz-I/AAAAAAAAAsg/rM03H5LPzHc/s320/Giuseppina_Piunti,_Le_Roi_d%27Ys_(Liege_2008).jpg


PS - Now I've finished it, and I have to report that the staging got even worse at the end. First of all, unlike the libretto says, the statue doesn't appear in the final scene. Second, we don't get to see Giuseppina jumping to her death, she only runs through a catwalk. But worst of it, they did manage to get an impressive effect of the overflowing dam using liquid nitrogen, but then, when everybody is singing "the waters are still rising" they lower the waters some 2 or 3 minutes before they were supposed to do it (before her sacrifice and the saint's intervention to lower the waters). This may win the cake for the most ridiculous operatic staging I've seen - you know, it's not Regie, they did try a straightforward traditional staging, it's just because of these laughable mistakes (the costumes, the waters receding too soon... and again, they recorded this over three days, go figure, didn't anybody tell the stage director that the waters were receding ahead of time?!?!).

Oh well, the curtain calls show Giuseppina looking lovely with a big smile, and when she bows we can see a generous dose of her breasts. There is salvation for this DVD after all, during the last few seconds.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 10:50 PM
Halévy: La Juive on DVD
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41bXAm%2BmzsL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

Grand Opéra, running time 178 minutes for the opera, and 68 minutes for bonus features - a 56' documentary on Neil Shicoff and his casting as the jew Eléazar, and a 12' short directed by Sidney Lumet (wow!) apparently with an encore of this opera's most famous aria, Rachel, quand du Seigneur (Caruso's favorite).

This is a Deutsche Grammophon product, with the usual high level of quality. The outstanding sound comes with three choices: LPCM Stereo, DTS surround and Dolby Digital surround. Perfect balance and clarity, impressive fullness/ressonance (one feels like one is sitting right there by the orchestra), but unfortunately we do listen to *a lot* of audience noise/cough.

Unlike what the DVD backcover says, the image is widescreen, not 4:3. Good definition (but the fact that hi-def cameras weren't used shows) and colors. Subtitles are found in original French, English, German, Spanish, and Chinese.

The liner notes include an essay about the opera, very detailed synopsis, and full chapter list with singers listed for each aria.

In summary, technically speaking it is all comme il faut.

The orchestra and chorus of the Wiener Staatsoper are excellent. The conductor is Vjekoslav Sutej. This is a live performance from 2003 (a revival) in Vienna. It's the first and only recording of this opera on DVD.

Staging (originally produced in 1999) is sort of minimalistic and at times tasteful, at other times a bit exhuberant (it's grand opéra, after all; for example, there is a huuuuuge chandelier on stage at several points; I mean, really huge, you have to see it to believe it!) with most costumes in sober black and white or pastel colors, and a large pannel of a series of small glass doors which can be also pulled up to reveal an inclined plan. There is an update to some time in early 20th century (pre WWI, I suppose, going by the costumes), in spite of the fact that this opera is supposed to show events of 1414, continuing the silly trend of most stage directors (in this case Günter Krämer) to always place an opera in any year *but* the one the creators of the work have intended.

Neil Schicoff as Eléazar is simply spectacular in his acting; he seems to have been born to play this role. He sings fairly well too in this role, although I've never been a fan of his voice, especially on the high side of his register.

Soprano Krassimira Stoyanova in the title role of 'the jewess' Rachel is not physically attractive and is too old for the role. Her singing starts very weak in ACT I but as she warms up it becomes significantly better (but one would still want a fresher, younger, less wobbly voice for the role of Rachel). Her acting is a lot less convincing than Schicoff's.

Léopold, Rachel's love interest, is played by tenor Jianyi Zhang, another unfortunate casting with an unpleasant voice and a number of serious vocal failures, and the weakest acting of them all - why a rather polished production like this one couldn't hire a better tenor?

Walter Fink the bass as Le Cardinal de Brogni is generally better than Zhang but has his share of (smaller) failures as well (it is hard for him to sustain a note when he is singing on his lowest side, although he does maintain volume).

La Princesse Eudoxie is sung by Simina Ivan and does relatively well (her role is a lot less demanding) however her French pronounciation is rather bad.

Edit - I typed the above before watching act IV, which opens with a superb dramatic duet featuring Rachel and Eudoxie. Both sopranos did very well, which raised my opinion of their singing, and changed my idea that Eudoxie's role is not demanding. Following this scene, the bass also did very well in his aria.

So musically we have an excellent orchestra and a good conductor (although I wonder how this would have sounded with faster tempi, it does seem to go too slowly at times; I don't know if it is the fault of the score or that of the conductor since I have never listened to La Juive before except for a couple of arias), great chorus, a superb actor and passable singer in Neil Schicoff, but unfortuntately the latter's acting talents are not really matched by the other principals, whose singing is also very uneven (everybody in this production seems to do rather poorly when singing at the top of their range, or at the bottom in the case of the bass). Edit - oh well, the singing is better than I initially thought (see above).

Now, regarding the opera itself, I'm finding it exceedingly beautiful, with a fabulous overture, very dramatic music and plot which has great theatricality thanks to the excellent libretto by Eugène Scribe, and some very melodious moments (e.g. during the religious Jewish singing, the beautiful first few scenes of Act IV and of course the show stopper Rachel aria).

Regardless of any shortcomings, this product is worthy of being recommended due to Neil Shicoff's one-man show.

I like this very much (in no small measure because I'm liking the opera itself). It is a bit slow and taxing due to the long running time, but it is a beautiful opera in a more than decent performance, well packaged by DG.

Recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 10:51 PM
Thomas: Le Songe d'une Nuit d'Eté on DVD
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51MKECD3MKL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

Stage director Pierre Jourdan and the Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne bring us another relatively poorly known French opera as part of his effort to revive their national post-baroque repertoire, released as a collection called "L'Opéra Français." While some of these DVDs are uneven either due to poor singing or to lower quality works (e.g., their Le Toréador, or their L'Education Manquée), this 1994 live staging succeeds (like other good ones in the collection such as Dinorah, and Haydée).

First, because it is a more polished performance than the other ones put together by this regional company (Théâtre Français de la Musique), since it was done in celebration of the opening of the Eurotunnel between Great Britain and France, gathering the support of artists and organizations from both sides of the Channel including various local governments and entities as well as Radio France, so, they must have had more money to hire a better crew. For example, the lavish costumes were provided by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Continental Europe also provided some help with the Cracow Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra - the choir is local, from Compiègne; the conductor is Michel Swierczewski (they play and sing very well, with lively tempi).

Second, because Ambroise Thomas' music is first rate (terrific overture, by the way), and this opéra-comique (a form of operetta with extensive spoken dialogue) is quite interesting, loosely based on Shakespeare's play but with a broader approach, incorporating as a character Shakespeare himself, Falstaff, and Queen Elizabeth I. Musically speaking this opéra-comique is very satisfactory, with incredibly beautiful lyricism and some spectacular arias for lyric coloratura soprano. It's very French in its melodic style, and really worth listening to.

Third, because this time they have gathered impressive singers, especially Jean-Phillipe Courtis as Falstaff and Ghylaine Raphanel as Queen Elizabeth I. Lesser roles are well served too, and the cast is made of young and attractive singers/actors/actresses. Other good singers include Alain Gabriel as Shakespeare, and Cécile Besnard as Olivia. The lesser roles of Lord Latimer, Jeremy, Jarvis, and Nelly are respectivelly sung by Franco Ferrazzi, Gilles Dubernet, Vassilis Handis-Jourdan, and Micaela Mingheras.

The plot loosely mixes the story in A Midsummer Night's Dream with Queen Elizabeth I's fictional attempt to steer young Shakespeare clear of a life of debauchery to which his friend Falstaff (a clever idea!) is trying to attract him. The queen wants the young poet to develop his literary career instead of engaging in boozing and frolicking with young women. This approach reminds me of the movie Shakespeare in Love, and it works.

One thing working against this opéra-comique is its length: 197 minutes. It could use some cuts.

The traditional staging is beautiful, and direction is good, making good use of the large stage and providing singers/actors with good directions, resulting in generally good acting across the board. Video direction is appropriate.

The DVD is unfortunately a Kultur release with their usual spare means. We get 1.33:1 image (of good color and definition, though) and only one sound track: Dolby 2.0 (with good fullness and balance, though - so, older technology but not poorly done). Obligatory subtitles are in English only; one laments the absence of original language (French) subtitles, and the fact that we can't turn them off. No bonuses, no liner notes. Bare-bones as usual for Kultur.

Thomas reworked this score to make of it a full opera 36 years later, adding recitatives instead of spoken dialogue. The version we have here is the first one (1850) with the spoken dialogue (I guess it is fitting, because it gives to the work a more "stage play" feel that is appropriate to the Eurotunnel occasion which tries to bring together an English playwright and a French composer). The good quality libretto is by Joseph Bernard Rosier and Adolphe de Leuven.

Recommended, if you have 3 hours and 17 minutes to spare. If this is too long for you, it would still be enjoyable if you just skipped the spoken dialogue and went directly to each aria/duo/ensemble, because most of the vocal writing is sublime.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 10:53 PM
Thomas: Hamlet on DVD
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51fIkdwcXlL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

Opéra in five acts, music by Ambroise Thomas, French libretto by Jules Barbier & Michel Carré, after the French adaptation of Shakespeare's play, by Alexandre Dumas, père & Paul Merice, premiered on 3/9/1868 at Paris Opéra, salle Le Pelétier.

October 2003(LI) - Bertrand de Billy - Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona

Stage directors: Patrice Caurier & Moshe Leiser
Video Director: Toni Bargalló

Hamlet - Simon Keenlyside
Ophélie - Natalie Dessay
Gertrude - Béatrice Uria-Monzon
Claudius - Alain Vernhes
Laërte - Daniil Shtoda
Ghost of Hamlet's father - Markus Hollop
Marcellus - Gustavo Peña
Horatio - Lluís Sintes
Polonius - Celestino Varela

EMI Classics, 2004 - 2 DVDs, Region zero
16:9 image, LPCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Optional subtitles in original French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Catalan
Running time 176 minutes
Liner notes only contain credits and chapter listing with characters and duration, but there is also a PDF file with the full libretto that can be accessed via computer DVD-Rom drive. Another extra is a showreel of other EMI productions.

This one seems to be a bit of a mixed bag, folks.

What follows is my review of the first DVD, containing Acts I and II. Maybe I'll change my mind later (I'm known for doing this) once I watch the other three acts, but so far, my verdict is more negative than positive.

First, the technical aspects. Very disappointing sound quality since this is a modern DVD with modern technology; it is not acceptable to have bad sound engineering with poor balance of bass/treble resulting in thin sound with lack of density and fullness. I can correct it with my receiver settings and equalizer but I shouldn't need to do this. The balance between singers and orchestra is not good either, with the latter tending to disappear specially in the chorus parts to the point that we have to keep playing with the volume buttons; up for the orchestral parts, down for the singing which otherwise gets too loud. Lousy, lousy job by the sound engineers. (I used the DTS 5.1 track, I haven't checked out the two other tracks). the image is not that much better than the sound. Due to the dark lighting, the image is often blurry and grainy, substandard for today's expectations.

Second, I do generally like minimalistic stagings, but I prefer them visually appealing. This staging with a bunch of non-descriptive moving brick walls, dark lighting and bland costumes (with an indecisive mix of modern for the gentlemen and more ancient-looking for the ladies, and an over-abundance of overcoats) doesn't really add anything to the work. Sometimes there is interesting colorful lighting that varies with the moods; neat, but generally speaking, I've seen better. Also, in spite of the large stage, there isn't the best dynamic utilization of space, and the staging actually looks static.

Orchestra - with some annoying failures (such as a weak trumpet player) and while I'm no authority in orchestras and conducting (I've been trying to learn), de Billy's interpretation of the score doesn't seem to my relatively uneducated ears to be anything to write home about. It kind of lacks brilliance, it doesn't shine, in my humble opinion, and seems a bit slow in terms of tempi (for example in the first half of the Pantomime in Act II that seems to drag on and on - couldn't it be a bit brisker?). Adding to the sound engineering trouble, in that scene the mikes don't catch the singers' voices very well.

Acting - good. Simon and Natalie are of course two accomplished actors, and their dramatic impact can always be expected to be at the very least, good. But on the other hand, Simon does seem a bit uni-dimensional here, unlike his usual self (for instance, I found him a lot more nuanced as Posa in Don Carlo). He seems to sail through this with the same sort of facial expression, seems a bit disengaged.

Singing - while Simon is his usual excellent self, Natalie is not in the best of shapes here, eight months after her return from vocal chord surgery. One can tell that she is being careful and not pushing the high notes too hard. This is in-between her two surgeries, and something just isn't quite right. It can be noticed rather clearly, for example, at the end of her Act II aria Adieu, dit-il, ayez foie!. She is visibly saving herself and insecure about letting it all out, which is more painfully noticeable since what follows, Dans son regard plus sombre, Gertrude's first aria, is sung by a vocally healthy Béatrice Uria-Monzon who doesn't need to hold back, making Natalie pale in comparison.

By the way, Béatrice is a good-looking woman, why in the hell did the make-up department come up with this crazy idea of presenting her with the front half of her scalp showing? Was it to make her look more brainy? Fail, I'd say. Why make of this attractive lady someone much less visually appealing? Suffice to say that when she is sporting the queen's crown (which then hides the shaved front) she looks ten times better - why not make her look this good throughout the entire opera? I suppose it is to make her look a bit repulsive given her sinful relationship with Claudius. It may be that this is what is behind this concept, but given my biased overvaluation of female singers' - cough cough - assets, it always drives me mad when a fine looking lady like her is made ugly due to some stage director's concept. What a waste! Her singing is great, though.

Alain Vernhes as Claudius is a lot less good, both in singing and in acting.

The opera itself - Not that great. It's a long one, could use some judicial cuts. This is one of the three operas by Ambroise Thomas that I know, and I like Mignon much better, and Le Songe d'Une Nuit d'Eté better. Judged exclusively on theatrical merits, it doesn't hold a candle to Shakespeare's play. Musically, it's got some boring passages and the best parts are few and in-between. Certainly Ô vin, dissipe ma tristesse is beautiful, but like I said, the beautiful moments get lost in some longueurs and it is generally less theatrical than The Bard's own work. It's a case of an opera that suffers from the strong competition provided by its own source material, basically because the librettists are no Boito. While in Verdi's Ottello the libretto not only preserves the source material's impact and literary quality, but it actually adds to it and skilfully adapts the much longer text into a compact package (like good librettists must do, because it takes a lot longer to tell a story by singing than by reciting), there is no such luck here. It's not as poetic, it's overlong, and it changes the story for the worse (they have Hamlet sort of alive at the end).

*break*

I'm back, and I've watched acts III and IV (almost, still one chapter to go to finish act IV) and yes, for your delight, I have changed my mind.

So let's talk about this a little bit.

What's wrong with this thing?

1) There is no enthusiasm in the pit. (Not Simon's fault)
2) Natalie, knowing very well that she wasn't at her healthy best, was saving herself in acts I and II (not Simon's fault)
3) The libretto sucks. It kills all the wit, all the ironic flair of Hamlet's calculated madness, all the maddening manic laughter alternating with despair, the tortured doubt, the ambivalence. Instead, the libretto makes of the singers/actors a bunch of whiny wimps (not Simon's fault). Whoever has read Hamlet, the original (9/10 of educated humankind), knows very well that Jules Barbier and Michel Carré can't compete with Shakespeare, and "être ou ne pas être" will never have the same appeal of "to be or not to be." I'm using hyperbole, but it's true. It's not that it can't be accomplished. It can. Boito did it for Verdi. But Barbier and Carré were unable to do it for Thomas. This much is crystal clear.
4) Thomas is not Verdi. You know, Shakespeare needs some boldness. Some pizzazz. Thomas is too delicate for Shakespeare (not Simon's fault).

Then, we have three extraordinary singers/actors, facing a mediocre work, in a less than ideal staging. These extraordinary people are good-looking Mr. Keenlyside, good-looking Ms. Uria-Monzon in spite of the make-up artist who must hate women, and not-so-good-looking-but-who-cares-she-can-use-what-she's-got Ms. Dessay. All three have been granted by whatever God you all believe in (I'd say, by a lucky genetic set-up) rather superior voice skills.

Then you put these people together (surrounded by some mediocre supporting singers/actors like Alain Vernhes and the others) in a less-than-inspired night at the pit, with some neutral not-so-successful staging/scenarios, and what happens? They get bored.

They can't get themselves into it, during acts I and II, they seem unfocused, uninterested, just going with the bland flow (and one of them is saving herself for later because she knows she isn't totally healed yet). Then there is intermission. They go back to their rooms, and think, "what the heck, what are we doing here? We're better than this. Let's go back there and have some fun."

OK, in this sea of mediocrity, there are three artists here who are way superior to the others. Then act III starts, and instead of annoying Claudius, the plot throws Simon together with Béatrice, they look at each other, and say, 'Yeah, babe, let's do it'!. Then they put together a formidable, goose-bumping, for-the-ages performance of Hamlet, ma douler est immense! followed by an equally good Pardonne, hélas! ta voix m'accable!, and finished by outstanding Ombre terrible et chère, one of the highlights of this opera.

Whew, we the public think, we got what we paid for!

But there is more, folks.

Natalie is next. Poor Natalie, she's been through a surgeons' knife. She's been holding back. She's been saving herself for later.

But what is it with this woman and Mad Scenes???

Does she have something in her own personality that resonates there? Does she have some borderline personality traits herself? Because she sure looks natural when she's cutting on herself and bleeding all over the place.

Whatever, let's not get too psychiatric about good old Natalie (I mean, old in the good sense, rgz, don't kill me please, I'm still relatively young to die). It may just be because she is an outstanding actress.

But oh boy, she can do a wicked Mad Scene! It's devastating! And since we're getting close to the end of her participation, vocal chord surgery or not, now it is time to let go, to give it her best, and oh boy, does she deliver!!! Et maintenant, écoutez ma chanson!. Oui, je t'écoute, Natalie, et je te remercie. OUTSTANDING! FABULOUS! SUBLIME!

So, yes, my ladies, whatever failures this production has, it's not Simon's fault.

And Natalie Dessay rocks.

By the way, I've tried the Dolby 5.1 track, and it is just as bad.

Anyway, thanks to Simon, Natalie, and Béatrice, it is "recommended."

And I haven't even finished watching it yet. Now it's Natalie doing Le voilà! She is dying. Too bad. We won't be seeing her any longer. Bye bye, Natalie, and thank you.

Act V is next.

PS - Act V, not as good as III and IV. This *is* uneven. But I confirm my "recommended" because the second half of act III and the entire act IV in themselves more than justify the purchase of this DVD.

Herkku
September 16th, 2012, 09:11 AM
Lakmé (Delibes) by Opera Australia

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/91KTZe3a5BL._AA1500_.jpg

I took the liberty to copy my own review from another site.

I was so eagerly waiting for this Lakmé on blu-ray that I even preordered it, having read the enthusiastic customer reviews in the American Amazon. As it turned out, I'm not completely won over, although there is much good in it, even moments of greatness.

So, we have a modern live performance of Delibes's Lakmé, of which there cannot be very many. Of course, there is the audio recording (in studio, I presume) with Natalie Dessay in the title role, but for a video comparison we must go back to the late Joan Sutherland, another Australian performance on DVD, which I have never seen.

The hype, if you can call it that, has been about the soprano Emma Matthews singing Lakmé herself. Let me assure you, she is excellent in executing the Bell Song, but as for the rest of the opera, she seems so concentrated on her singing and following the conductor with her eyes, that real moments of passionate singing AND acting are few - mind you, they exist! She looks older than I had thought - not a spring chicken - but beautiful all the same. The voice is good and she seems to sing quite effortlessly, so one might expect her to be able to abandon herself more to acting, as she occasionally does.

Gérald, the British soldier falling in love with Lakmé, is sung by Aldo Di Doro, a tenor new to me. He has a reasonably beautiful voice, but is even less passionate in both his singing and acting. Nilakantha, Lakmé's father and a priest, Stephen Bennett, is not at all intimidating, although he sings decently enough. Dominica Matthews as Mallika gives good support to Lakmé in the Flower Duet. The three English ladies seem to be the most lively characters in the production.

The direction, costumes and sets are plausible, but (I may end up stoned for this) somewhat provincial. Emmanuel Joel-Hornak conducts the orchestra unobtrusively. The picture and sound quality are impeccable. I didn't notice anything to complain about the more darkly lit moments on my equipment, opposed to comments in amazon.com.

All in all, there is not much current competition and this is much more than a stopgap. Emma Matthews is the star of the performance and is well worth hearing, even if not all one could wish for.

Soave_Fanciulla
September 16th, 2012, 10:05 AM
This arrived a couple of days ago, It sounds... stolid, but as you say there is really limited choice so it's better than nothing. I love that Dessay CD though.

Dark_Angel
September 18th, 2012, 01:21 AM
I had to copy this over from a "misc" composer thread of a couple months ago......

Delibes Lakme..........Opera Australia

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51364RnHHYL._SL500_AA300_.jpghttp://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51ASHY932GL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

A worthy new Lakme which surpasses the 1976 Sutherland overall.

Emma Matthews unknown to me previously does an outstanding job here singing the showcase arias with great skill and acting the part quite well, very impressive singing. Sutherland looked too old for the lakme part and acting is generic by contrast, not much romantic chemistry developed. I think that new Lakme's maid Malika is actually her sister Dominica Matthews (they look like sisters at curtain bows) and sing the "flower duet" very beautifully. The male singers are OK but nothing outstanding (same comment applies to Sutherland version)

The new production is very rich and colorful with dazzling costumes finely detailed, the act 2 market place really comes alive and captures the exotic qualities of Indian location. The older Sutherland has dance sequences cut from new version, most notably opening act 2 in market place which I will miss but expensive today to hire professional dance group in addition to singers. Otherwise the new production is much preferable with great sharp picture quality DVD (also blu ray) rich colors and better sound.....although new conductor does not surpass orchestral work of Richard Bonynge (Sutherland's husband)

Did view the "extras" section on DVD where director gives us some little inside scoops, notice the hand movements during Lakme's Bell Song below, used a professional mime coach to employ extra visual hand/body movements to help tell the story of the song, hmmmm......

http://www.contrabandevents.com/images/uploads/large/0314e87aeb975a575cb85ab2cd45598b.jpg



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EzQTTDyBr8&feature=player_detailpage

Herkku
September 18th, 2012, 07:09 AM
Nice to have a comparison with the older video recording. I wasn't aware that one could be found in the Misc section. Surely there is no harm in having two reviews.

Dark_Angel
September 18th, 2012, 02:20 PM
Nice to have a comparison with the older video recording. I wasn't aware that one could be found in the Misc section. Surely there is no harm in having two reviews.

I did not see the "delibes" subheading for this thread so originally just put it in misc composer thread.....trying to keep all impressions together for future reference of readers. :angel:


Since Lakme is rarely seen in DVD release this will have to be our go to version for sometime to come, a de facto first choice overall

Herkku
September 18th, 2012, 07:35 PM
I do agree. It's not that bad. Maybe I like this particular opera more on audio only and let my imagination do the rest.

Herkku
September 22nd, 2012, 10:39 PM
Gounod: Faust

Another old review.

938

I had great misgivings about this, because the performance dates back to 1985, because I hadn't heard Araiza singing anything else than Mozart and Rossini, and because I hadn't heard Gabriela Beňačková sing anything else than The Bartered Bride. But as it was within my reach in a department store (as opposed to Amazon), I couldn't resist. I have always loved the music and the recording with Domingo and Freni, in spite of Freni's pronunciation.

Here we have a performance from the Vienna State Opera, basically a classic one, although with some excessive use of dancers, where they are not needed. At least we are spared from the full ballet scene which was a must-have during the French Grand Opera age.

The plot (based on Goethe) hardly needs explaining. Faust, an old philosopher, makes a pact with the devil to regain his youth. He makes Marguerite pregnant, kills her brother in a duel, and comes back from his further adventures to find Marguerite waiting death sentence for having killed her fatherless child.

Raimondi as Méphistophélès is as good as you would expect. Araiza raises admirably to the challenges of the title role. The late Walton Grönroos (a fellow countryman of mine) copes with the role of Marguerite's brother, Valentin. Siebel, described as a student of Faust, is sung by Gabriele Sima quite well, as is Martha, Marguerite's neighbour, by Gertrude Jahn.

But the real revelation here is Gabriela Beňačková as Marguerite, a role famous for Bianca Castafiore in the Tintin cartoons and a role taken as a step-in by Christine in The Phantom of the Opera! I think The Phantom himself would have been proud of Gabriela's performance. She has a most agreeable voice, she can cope with the florid singing in the Jewel Aria, she has the high notes and certain power with them, and everything between. If she had been born a little later, she would be world-famous.

The conductor is Erich Binder, who generally makes a good job, but the first duet between Faust and Méphistophélès is simply too fast.

The picture quality is not the same as we have used to with more recent productions, but it's not bad either. The sound is perfectly good. If you are interested, you can't go very wrong with this.

Herkku
September 22nd, 2012, 10:56 PM
Saint-Saëns: Henry VIII

Another old review.

939

Camille Saint-Saëns did compose 13 operas, although only one of these, Samson et Dalila, is known, and if not so frequently performed, has at least been recorded quite often. Saint-Saëns was a child prodigy and lived a long life. He was a prolific composer, producing symphonies, orchestral poems, concertos, chamber music, choral works etc. right till the end of his life. Still, he is remembered by only a handful (or maybe two) of works: The Third Symphony, S&D, The Carnival of the Animals, Danse Macabre, Havanaïse, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso and The 2nd Piano Concerto. For all his professionalism, he simply failed to rise among the greats.

I'm afraid that this opera also has justly been forgotten. The story is interesting enough historically. The libretto seems to offer endless opportunities for great arias and ensembles. The Viking Opera Guide describes the music as being of "superior quality", but I beg most strongly to disagree! IMHO it never rises from the level of agreeable to memorable, let alone great - not for a minute. A pity. I can only imagine what the likes of Donizetti and Verdi might have achieved with this material.

In the course of historic events we are dealing with a predecessor of Donizetti's Anna Bolena. Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon for over twenty years. Catherine gave birth to two sons, both of whom were shortlived, had several miscarriages, only a daughter Mary surviving. So Henry became frantic about having a male heir and began to look elsewhere to find a more suitable spouse, his eyes falling on one of the queens maids-of-honour, Anne Boleyn. This time, he didn't have Catherine executed, but asked the Pope for an annulment of their marriage. As this was not granted, he forced the archbishop of Canterbury to grant the annulment and proclaimed himself the head of the Church of England. A kind of key moment in the opera is when Catherine burns a love letter from the Spanish ambassador to Anne. I'm not sure if Henry would have given a damn, since Anne was already pregnant with his child. So, Henry VIII could marry Anne Boleyn, and the story continues in Donizetti's opera.

The performance here comes from Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne and is conducted by Alain Guignal and directed by Pierre Jourdan. Philippe Rouillon in the title role looks very much like Henry VIII depicted in paintings, and sings and acts with the appropriate authority. Michele Command and Lucile Vignon make the most of their roles of Catherine and Anne.

So, if you are not interested to hear everything that Camille Saint-Saëns has composed, I can't really recommend this DVD.

P.S. With a rarity like this I find it inexcusable not to have a booklet containing some information about the work.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
September 23rd, 2012, 03:30 AM
Boieldieu: La Dame Blance on CD

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/5121esyS2HL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

La Dame Blanche, opéra-comique in three acts, music by François Adrien Boieldieu (1775-1834), libretto by Eugène Scribe after several episodes in five different novels by Walter Scott, premiered on December 10, 1825.

Ensemble Orchestral de Paris conducted by Marc Minkowski, Choeur de Radio France, chorus master François Polgar

Georges Brown - Rockwell Blake
Anna - Annick Massis
Gaveston - Laurent Naouri
Dickson - Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
Marguerite - Sylvie Brunet
Mac-Irton - Bernard Deletré
Jenny - Mireille Delunsch

Studio recording done in November 1996. Released by EMI Classics in 1997, DDD, 2CDs
The insert has an essay and synopsis in English and French, and track list with names of arias/duets/ensembles and characters/duration. No libretto. The insert says that the libretto in French and English translation are to be found in the EMI Classics website like they always say, but I'm still to find a single one there (has anybody had any luck with this?). However for French speakers the libretto is not really necessary since it is easy to understand both the spoken French and the sung lines, in this recording.

This is a beautiful, lively, delightful opéra-comique, with some very entertaining moments (like the auction), and very melodious vocal writing. It is one of these gems of the repertoire that are inexplicably very rarely recorded or staged (another neglected but worthy opera). It is also historically important, as a precursor and model for many romantic French operas that followed it.

This recording is very good, with a predominantly French cast that adds clarity to the diction, and is homogeneously good in terms of singing (particularly, Blake and Massis). Conductor and orchestra do well. The sound is of good quality. I can't see any downside. Highly recommended. Also, very cheap at Amazon.com marketplace vendors, starting at $5.65 new. A very good value!

http://www.amazon.com/Boieldieu-La-Dame-Blanche/dp/B000VKW6HO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1348370978&sr=8-1&keywords=la+dame+blanche

Ann Lander (sospiro)
September 23rd, 2012, 07:54 AM
Gounod: Faust

Another old review.

938

I had great misgivings about this, because the performance dates back to 1985, because I hadn't heard Araiza singing anything else than Mozart and Rossini, and because I hadn't heard Gabriela Beňačková sing anything else than The Bartered Bride. But as it was within my reach in a department store (as opposed to Amazon), I couldn't resist. I have always loved the music and the recording with Domingo and Freni, in spite of Freni's pronunciation.



When many of these reviews were posted on 'the other place' I hadn't seen the DVD but now that I have, it's good to compare opinions.

JohnGerald
August 16th, 2014, 02:43 AM
Well, damn!!

Faust, with Alagna and Georghiu and Terfel is excellent, and the two Romeo et Juilette s, one with Alagna and Vaduva and the other with Machaidze and Villazon rock! Since my reviews on amazon.com are their property, I hesitate to do more here, but these performances are among the most romantic of romantic operas. The first is more "French"; the second more "Italian". Villazon and Machaidze are believeable as young lovers, passionate in their singing. Pic and sound are first rate in all three.

JohnGerald
August 18th, 2014, 07:39 PM
I forgot to add the recent release of Robert le Diable on Opus Arte. Hymel, Ciofi, Relyea (who owns the stage when on it!), and Poplovskaya made for interesting listening in my first real foray into Meyerbeer.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
August 23rd, 2014, 02:55 PM
Roméo et Juliette on blu-ray disc

Roméo et Juliette, opéra en 5 actes, sung in French, premiered in Paris (Théâtre Lyrique) on April 27, 1867

Music by Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, based on The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41QkSKUITvL.jpg

This product is available on Amazon for $27; also on DVD, strangely more expensive for $35 but marketplace vendors have the DVD starting from $17. Link to the blu-ray sales point: [clicky (http://www.amazon.com/Charles-Gounod-Rom%C3%A9o-Juliette-Blu-ray/dp/B001LMSP2G/)]

Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, conducted by Opera Lively interviewee maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin (read his interview [here (http://operalively.com/forums/content.php/830-yannick-nezet-seguin)])
Chorus: Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, chorus master Jörn H. Andresen

Production: ORF and Unitel Classica in cooperation with the Salzburg Festival 2008, recorded live from the Felsenreitschule
Staged by Bartlett Sher
Directed for video by Brian Large
Set design by Michael Yeargan
Costumes by Catherine Zuber
Lighting design by Jennifer Tipton
Choreography by Chase Brock
Fight scenes by B. H. Barry

Cast

Juliette - Nino Machaidze
Roméo - Rolando Villazón
Frère Laurent - Mikhail Petrenko
Stéphano - Cora Burggraaf
Le comte Capulet - Falk Struckmann
Tybald - Juan Francisco Gatell
Gertrude - Susanne Resmark
Le Duc de Vérone - Christian van Horn
Le comte Pâris - Mathias Hausmann
Grégorio - Jean-Luc Ballestra
Benvolio - Robert Murray

Product - Deutsche Grammophon released on March 10, 2009 (Nino Machaidze appears courtesy of Decca)
All regions, 1080i HD 16:9, sound tracks PCM 2.0 and DTS HD Master Audio 5.0
Runtime 162 minutes + 16 minutes of bonus (Behind the scenes; Verona documentary; Introductions by Villazón)
Subtitles in French (original language), English, German, Spanish, and Chinese
Insert: 5 production pictures (3 in color); credits, track lists with number titles, characters, and duration; track-by-track synopsis, 2-page essay by Kenneth Chalmers addressing briefly the work and the production (rather well done including brief critic quotes for the singers and conductor), all repeated in English, German, and French.

---------

This open-air production with a spacious stage opens with a shocking scene of a woman being raped, according to the director, with the intention of situating the violent environment of Verona at the time. Very tasty visuals depict in blue the Verona arcades in the background, with wooden plateaus, ramps, and flights of stairs in the foreground. Costumes are luxuriously beautiful with creative headpieces, and as usual everything is masterfully captured by the fabulous camera work of reliable Brian Large - when his name is in the credits we are guaranteed to actually see the action without silly and distracting gimmicks.

The orchestra does admirable work with the overture and the chorus is equally good. The DTS 5.0 sound track renders it all crisply with good mike placement and balance. The opening scene has excellent singing by all comprimarios and good blocking. Soon enough we get to see extraordinarily beautiful Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze doing simply spectacular vocal acrobatics with Gounod's coloratura writing. Falk Struckmann as Juliet's father commands great technique with nice phrasing (he looks like Robert De Niro, hehe). Rollando Villazón makes his entrance. It is nostalgic to see this formerly great singer still in good form in 2008, before he ruined his voice.

In summary so far, the production and its blu-ray recording are all absolutely flawless; we are in for a treat.

Acting is rather convincing across the board. Villazón deals with the romantic singing in the scene when he first sees Juliette with delicate elegance. We get to the highlight of this opera, the phenomenal "Ah! Je veux vivre" waltz song, performed by Nino in record-shattering fashion. This is arguably the best rendition of this aria I've ever heard! In itself it justifies the purchase of this exquisite product. I could rewind and listen again to this over and over. A clip of this standard-setting performance is available on YouTube, but getting it in full DTS master audio is such an experience!


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BC0PENY1Cds

This opera's most notable asset is its series of duets, and we get the first one - the madrigal "Ange adorable" delivered with both great singing and nice acting with good chemistry by the two principals. Juliette looks adorable especially when she first kisses Roméo. By the way, it is not only Villazón who treats us to superior tenor singing. Juan Francisco Gatell as Tybalt is also impressive.

The orchestra is full and resonant, very dynamic, with perfect transitions in the first act finale.

OK, my friends. I'll continue to watch this and maybe add comments as I see the other four acts, but obviously there is no way this performance could go downhill from here, given the outstanding quality of this entire team. It is crystal clear by now that we have here a gem of a product both technically and musically, and I don't anticipate any lower grade than A++, highly recommended. This is likely to be the best rendition of this opera on video.

PS - Watching second act, and "Ah! Lève-toi, soleil" is beautifully done by Villazón (again, what a pity that this singer suffered a vocal accident! Villazón here, three years later than his La Traviata with Netrebko, exhibits even better technique with extremely precise notes). Another impressive comprimario is young baritone Jean-Luc Ballestra as Grégorio.

PS2 - In the third act, continuing the series of excellent comprimarios, Cora Burggraaf in the trouser role of Stéphano does a clever Tourterelle song ("Depuis hier je cherche en vain mon maître") which starts from the audience where she almost stabs a spectator with her blade, and says "Pardon," hehehe.

On another note, unlike in most opera productions, the sword fights in this one are very well done and realistic. They hired a dedicated choreographer for this, showing once more how much care went into this remarkable show.

PS3 - Close to the end now, I confirm the above A++ grade. This is among the very best opera discs I've ever seen, and would function together with some other notably flawless products, as a lesson on how to stage, sing, act, conduct, record, film, and package opera. It is not every day that all aspects of an operatic performance and audio/video product are so well done, which makes of this blu-ray disc a cherished item in any opera lover's collection.

PS4 - Curtain calls: nice touch in the fact that Nino and Rollando enter the stage simultaneously, running to each other and hugging. It is also interesting to notice that the savvy Salzburg public applauded maestro Nézet-Séguin just as much as the two principal singers, and with good reason.

PS5- Bonus tracks: Just like he did for the Salzburg Traviata in 2005, Rollando passionately introduces the opera (in German, subtitled, in two parts). The Behind the Scenes featurette has nice Salzburg street scenes and architecture, and we can catch a glimpse of Anna Netrebko attending the rehearsals. We see a happy, 25-years-old Nino Machaidze enjoying herself, seemingly very excited with the opportunity she is getting (she replaced a pregnant Netrebko in short notice). Finally there is documentary showing beautiful Verona that plays like a Travel Channel piece.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
August 23rd, 2014, 03:54 PM
I forgot to add the recent release of Robert le Diable on Opus Arte. Hymel, Ciofi, Relyea (who owns the stage when on it!), and Poplovskaya made for interesting listening in my first real foray into Meyerbeer.

Just a reminder: Meyerbeer has his own thread: [clicky (http://operalively.com/forums/showthread.php/168-Operas-by-Meyerbeer-on-DVD-Blu-ray-CD)]

By the way, I've noticed that in spite of having reviewed numerous video and audio recordings for Amazon, you've been reticent in redoing them here, under the notion that they are Amazon's property. I would challenge this idea. You are still the author. If you are concerned about the issue of copyright, it would be sufficient to slightly change the writing. I've never heard the notion that if someone posts a review on the Amazon site, the person is then forbidden to address the same product elsewhere. If anything, reading about these products enhances Amazon's sales, and I'd be surprised if they wanted reviewers to be silent about the products they sell, once they post a review on their own site. Much the opposite, they even have agreements with operations such as Skimlinks, which grant to websites a few cents every time someone reads a review published there, and the person then goes to Amazon and purchases the product. Our own site used to have this feature - I took it down because in spite of it helping Opera Lively's budget with a few dollars per month, the hyperlinks they insert became a bit invasive. So, I believe that Amazon sees these things as "the more publicity, the better" and wouldn't mind at all to see people review their products elsewhere.

So, review at will, my friend. It will add to the completeness of our reviews section.

Clayton
August 23rd, 2014, 04:17 PM
...
So, review at will, my friend. It will add to the completeness of our review section.

Yes JohnGerald, please do!

JohnGerald
August 23rd, 2014, 04:50 PM
OK, I will.

JohnGerald
August 23rd, 2014, 05:10 PM
I read an interview with Machaidze when this spledid Romeo was released. She substituted for Netrebko when Anna's baby bump got too prominent. Machaidze was totally unfamiliar with the opera and spoke no French. But she learned it in 30 days! That's professionalism, by golly! She, Netrebko and Dessay are the only sopranos who could act like they were teen agers and achieve that "willful suspension of disbelief" that Coleridge referenced.

The French pronunciation is less than perfect (but a lot more understandable than was that of Corelli and Freni when we saw them do Romeo on a Met tour decades ago), but the passion all singers bring to this opera is just part of the exitement it generates.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
August 23rd, 2014, 05:35 PM
I read an interview with Machaidze when this spledid Romeo was released. She substituted for Netrebko when Anna's baby bump got too prominent. Machaidze was totally unfamiliar with the opera and spoke no French. But she learned it in 30 days! That's professionalism, by golly! She, Netrebko and Dessay are the only sopranos who could act like they were teen agers and achieve that "willful suspension of disbelief" that Coleridge referenced.

The French pronunciation is less than perfect (but a lot more understandable than was that of Corelli and Freni when we saw them do Romeo on a Met tour decades ago), but the passion all singers bring to this opera is just part of the exitement it generates.

A pregnant Juliette would have been interesting from the standpoint of Regietheater, hehehe. However, one can't complain of the substitution. They got a soprano who sings just as well and is just as pretty as Anna. Regarding her accent in French, I confess that I didn't pay that much attention to it. I guess I was distracted by her other cough cough assets cough cough. :love8:

PS - Yep, I went back and indeed Nino is a bit lacking in the matter of French pronunciation. For example in the last scene she pronounces "laissé" as "lassé" with an open A.

JohnGerald
August 23rd, 2014, 05:50 PM
I was not going to get into Mme Machaidze's non musical assets for fear of offending the women here. But while I was on the edge of my chair (metaphorically) for the music, there were a couple of near spillover events that got pretty interesting ...

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
August 23rd, 2014, 06:10 PM
I was not going to get into Mme Machaidze's non musical assets for fear of offending the women here.

Hey, I think by now they are used to it, given how frequently I engage in such sins! :love-struck:

JohnGerald
August 23rd, 2014, 06:18 PM
Ego te absolvo ....

Ann Lander (sospiro)
August 24th, 2014, 06:59 AM
... Regarding her accent in French, I confess that I didn't pay that much attention to it. I guess I was distracted by her other cough cough assets cough cough. :love8:

Just proves what I've known all along, you wouldn't think she had a great voice if she looked like this!

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-37ezmxCPOHw/T1wq8QdmjnI/AAAAAAAAAQY/B3dRxhJjspM/s1600/lady.jpg

I rest my case. :biggrin:

Soave_Fanciulla
August 24th, 2014, 07:09 AM
Just proves what I've known all along, you wouldn't think she had a great voice if she looked like this!

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-37ezmxCPOHw/T1wq8QdmjnI/AAAAAAAAAQY/B3dRxhJjspM/s1600/lady.jpg

I rest my case. :biggrin:

Priceless.

MAuer
August 24th, 2014, 11:55 AM
Just proves what I've known all along, you wouldn't think she had a great voice if she looked like this!

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-37ezmxCPOHw/T1wq8QdmjnI/AAAAAAAAAQY/B3dRxhJjspM/s1600/lady.jpg

I rest my case. :biggrin:

Hmmm . . . I think this might be my third grade teacher.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
August 24th, 2014, 12:03 PM
Just proves what I've known all along, you wouldn't think she had a great voice if she looked like this!

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-37ezmxCPOHw/T1wq8QdmjnI/AAAAAAAAAQY/B3dRxhJjspM/s1600/lady.jpg

I rest my case. :biggrin:

What are you implying, here? Everybody knows that by cough cough assets cough cough, I mean her acting, her professionalism, her musical training... Like Nat said, those other assets I'm sure *you* are thinking of, are only assets when they come in handy to feed babies. They are *totally* unimportant in opera! :angel:

I *never* pay attention to a female singer's, erm, anatomy when assessing her skills! I swear!
5044

Ann Lander (sospiro)
August 24th, 2014, 12:25 PM
What are you implying, here? Everybody knows that by cough cough assets cough cough, I mean her acting, her professionalism, her musical training... Like Nat said, those other assets I'm sure *you* are thinking of, are only assets when they come in handy to feed babies. They are *totally* unimportant in opera! :angel:

I *never* pay attention to a female singer's, erm, anatomy when assessing her skills! I swear!
5044

:rotgl:

Hahaha!

JohnGerald
August 24th, 2014, 12:25 PM
Measure the nose; I think it grew ...

Hoffmann
August 24th, 2014, 01:08 PM
Hmmm . . . I think this might be my third grade teacher.

Nope. Latin teacher - for sure.