PDA

View Full Version : Operas by Berlioz on DVD, Blu-ray, and CD



Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 11:56 PM
Berlioz: Les Troyens on blu-ray
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41Z-oZhOCpL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

This is a performance that was mostly flawless in terms of orchestra, conducting, most singers, and chorus.

I found the acting rather good, especially Antonacci and Graham.

I liked the staging very much, with the mirrors. I thought that it was clever and interesting. There were several successful ways of treating various scenes in my opinion - this is an opera that I love, and I wasn't disappointed with the solutions that they found as is often the case when you love a work too much .

The flow of the performance was nice, with the chorus entering and leaving and moving on stage very well and the distribution of performers on the stage admirably well done, given that Les Troyens requires a particularly large number of people and stage directing can easily get overwhelmed with a too-crowded stage - they didn't.

I liked the ballets, with the beautiful flying birds effect.

I generally like minimalistic stagings and thought that this one was very tasteful, liked the colors, the lighting.

The filming/editing was efficient and unobtrusive.

Sound quality in my blu-ray disc was excellent, and the HD images were crystalline.

The bonuses were interesting and informative, with extended and deep interviews with the main creators of the performance.

In summary, for me, when you combine all these assets - most importantly and beginnig with a very well conducted opera with excellent singing - you get a top 5 product.

---------------------

(This wasn't exactly a full review - it was an answer to a person who didn't like it - but I have edited out some parts to make it approach a little more the review format - still, just a few fragments

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 11:58 PM
Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust - Concert version on DVD
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51cs-YThMXL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

Outstanding! There isn't a single note that isn't beautiful. The damn thing (pun intended) is exquisite from the beginning to the end. The orchestration has stupendous musical pictorialism (e.g. the thrilling tone painting in the ride to the abyss). There are hypnotic, dreamy moments. There is sublime romanticism. There are exciting moments of pandemonium (literally). The poetry is superb - what a libretto! There are excellent tenor, baritone, and mezzo arias. There is sublime choral music. The length of the work is just right. Nothing is superfluous, nothing is excessive, nothing is missing. This was conceived as a concert piece, therefore there is no recitatif, because the score and the arias tell it all. And it ends (like it starts) delicately and peacefully, instead of a big oom-pah-pah. Perfect! What a masterpiece!

This version has superlative singing by all artists, and exquisite conducting.

Absolutely first rate! A+!

What I don't understand is why it doesn't enjoy more popularity and why it's relatively rarely performed or staged in its opera form. There are great theatrical opportunities in it, with nasty Méphistophélès (oh boy, he is despicable) and other assorted demons, a damsel in distress, taverns, forests, peaceful prairies... A good stage director would have lots of interesting aspects to deal with. Sure, it takes a big orchestra and chorus, but only four singers, and it only lasts 2 hours and 10 minutes. It seems accessible to most companies - not to mention the concert form. And it is so damn good, so why don't we see it everywhere?

Maybe it is because of competition with the vastly more popular (but in my opinion vastly inferior) Gounod's Faust.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 12:00 AM
Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini on DVD
Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/511Z8pCu0dL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

A+. The string of spectacular operas by Berlioz that easily find a spot among my favorites continues.

I don't know how to highlight any arias since just like La Damnation de Faust I found it uniformly good from beginning to the end - without being as intense as the Damnation of Faust; this one is lighter, being it comic rather than dramatic - but it is lively and varied.

Berlioz himself provided the best appraisal of his own work: "I cannot help recognizing that it contains a variety of ideas, an energy and exhuberance and a brilliance of colour such as I may perhaps never find again." I only disagree with the "never find again" part, as his subsequent works proved - this one was an early one.

The extreme variety of this work according to some can be taxing - I read a critic saying that "the effect can be claustrophobic and exhausting, as the music piles on more harmonic, rhythmic and contrapuntal complexities than any ear can process immediately." Sure, it does pile on all that, but I don't find the effect exhausting at all, but rather exhilarating. It's a wild ride, and a very pleasant and entertaining one.

The singing in my version - Salzburg 2007 conducted by Gergiev - was not stellar but it was adequate. Burkhard Fritz was in the title role; Maija Kovalevska - young Latvian soprano with killer legs (the most beautiful and sexy legs I've seen in a while in any opera, conveniently and thoroughly displayed in a mini-skirt in one scene) was Teresa, and Laurent Naouri whom I like a lot was Fieramosca. The Wiener Philharmoniker was impecable.

Staging: this is the ultimate Eurotrash, stage-director-out-of-control production. Brace yourselves: there are robots (three of them, one just like C3PO), a helicopter, a shark, and a winged vehicle for a pop star Pope. And yet... and yet... it works. It gets to be charming and interesting in many ways. When I read the description of the staging and saw some pictures in the material that came with the DVD, I was completely convinced that I would throw up upon seeing it, but the whole thing ends up being rather enticing, to my deep surprise. Still questionable, of course, since Berlioz's opera is good enough without robots, but because the score is such a rollercoaster, I guess the even wilder staging was a good fit. And I'm thankful for that mini-skirt.

I remain completely puzzled with the fact that Berlioz remains so marginal in the standard repertoire. Sure, his operas are hard to stage, expensive, unreasonably demanding on opera companies, and rather difficult for the singers - but they are the real thing: extremely exquisite and beautiful.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 12:02 AM
Berlioz: Béatrice et Bénédict on CD
At the time when I reviewed this for another site, there was no DVD of Béatrice et Bénédict so I listened to this CD, and said the following:

I confess that for the first time I'm a little disappointed with Berlioz. Maybe it's the fault of the CD, which I found to be relatively bland, with correct singing but not exactly enthusiastic or remarkable. Maybe there are better versions, and I'll welcome suggestions.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51-ffvp2FqL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

There is delicate and melodious music, and I loved some arias and duets, especially Vous soupirez, madame? ... Nuit paisible et sereine, the last one in Act I. I also enjoyed Je vais d'un coeur aimant, and a couple of others. The overture is nice.

But there aren't many arias, duets, or ensembles to start with; the whole thing is full of recitativo secco.
By comparison, the libretto of Benvenuto Cellini is a lot more exciting. I don't understand those who say that the libretto for Benvenuto Cellini is vapid. Sure, it's not da Ponte, but it's not bad either. A lot happens: an attempt at kidnapping, a duel, a death, a strike, a race against a deadline, intrigue, rivalry, a capricious pope, and so forth. By comparison, in Béatrice et Bénédict nothing much happens. They are against marriage and pretend to disdain each other, then their friends tell them that they love each other; they believe it, and impulsively get married, curtain. That's about it. Somarone is an annoying character and is not in Shakespeare, while other worthy characters who are in the play are not in the opera. It's Much Ado About Nothing without the ado. It all feels rather insufficient. It's sort of pale when compared to the other highly dynamic and varied operas that Berlioz composed.

Béatrice et Bénédict has some beautiful music since Berlioz doesn't know how to *not* compose beautiful music, but it is the lesser work when compared to his other three operas, in my opinion.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 12:03 AM
Berlioz: Les Troyens on Blu-ray
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/510OxMPS4yL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

OK, for the next four hours I'll be watching this and posting simultaneously about it.

This is of course my second favorite opera, after the Ring. And this is a controversial production. I own and love the Gardiner/Chatelet version. This is the Gergiev/Valencia/La Fura dels Baus version.

First impact: it's 1080p unlike most opera blu-rays which are 1080i. And yes, it makes a difference. Spectacularly sharp image! DTS-HD Master audio. Technically speaking, this product from Unitel Classica is perfect, with substantial and complete liner notes, bonus features, documentary, trailers, fabulous sound balance, subtitles in several languages including original French. Running time for the opera, a round 240 minutes.

Opening chorus and orchestra: very energetic. It looks like this will be a good performance, musically. Cassandre makes her entrance. Elisabete Matos is old for the role and her voice falters, but she does have stage presence and dignity. So far I like this thing!

Chorèbe comes in, dressed in a sort of ridiculous looking Star Trooper uniform - and he's too fat for it. He sings well (Gabriele Viviani). Actually, very well. Cassandre is on a wheelchair (why?) and Matos is really mismatched when compared in age to young Viviani - whose voice is also a lot more potent than hers. Her acting though is better than his.

The Trojan horse is high-tech, full of computer screens - it's a Trojan Horse, get it? (Computer virus). The images projected on a screen backstage are a lot more low tech which doesn't make for a beautiful effect in my opinion. So, we're into it for only 20 minutes and there's a lot of highs and lows already.

End of the Cassandre/Chorèbe duo - well sung but with distracting visuals and poor acting. In direct comparison, I like better the same scene in the Gardiner version, with the fabulous Antonacci. But this is not bad and I'm enjoying it. We'll see how this unfolds.

Dieux Protecteurs, the next chorus number, is nothing short of spectacular, both from the stage and from the pit.

On the other hand, the Combat de Ceste is done with boxers on a ring. Not cool.

The highs and lows pattern continues, because this rather silly scene is followed by a very beautiful scene for the pantomime Andromaque et son fils.

The scene with the two serpents devouring Lacoon is utterly ridiculous and visually unpleasant. Again, it distracts from the tragic chorus music.

Act I finale, the Marche Troyenne, is again spectacular. By now I'm coming to expect one good scene, one bad scene, and so forth.

I'd give a 7 out of 10 to act I. Overall, inferior to Gardiner's.

Act II is starting now.

Énée seems to be sung by a weak link - Lance Ryan. Darn, this may ruin the whole thing!
Very impressive scene with Hector's shadow, well sung by Yuri Vorobiov, and visually striking.

Now the second tableau, the women. It starts very well with the beautiful choir Puissante Cybèle. All in red lighting. Alma's Boob-O-Meter registers that the dancers are topless - but they are rather unnecessary and again, distracting. This production doesn't seem to have a sense of theatrical propriety.

The scene when Cassandre is inviting her peers to kill themselves definitely lacks theatrical impact. Acting is week. Singing is fine. Visuals are fine. But something is missing. The very end of the scene is interesting, with the blood. But overall, fail.

Still, I give to second act a higher note than the first - 8 out of 10. Gardiner remains ahead.
This is the end of La Prise de Troie. Pause for snack. Next, Les Troyens à Carthage (acts III, IV, and V).

Oh well, this starts very badly. Here the 1080p image works against this product. The cover picture does seem interesting, with the singers inside this spaceship/particle accelerator thingie. But when this scenario actually comes up on stage, it looks incredibly fake and cheap, because the high-def image allows us to see that it's all made of inflated plastic tubes.

Didon (Daniela Barcellona) makes her entrance hanging from wires, in a rather ridiculous costume (her hairdo makes her look like a huge Minnie Mouse), and sings only reasonably, nothing great (I hope she'll warm up later). Something tells me that this production will derail rapidly; I'm starting to like it a lot less.

I swear that I just saw a Klingon in the chorus.

OK, folks, the very beautiful scenes in the Gardiner blu-ray when we get to the parade of laborers (constructeurs, matelots, laboureurs) here instead are simply pathetic. I've rarely seen something this unappealing. Terrible. I'll be giving this act a 3 out of 10 if this doesn't improve.

Another problem is that in spite of all the high-tech sets, this production is rather static. These huge tubes make the chorus look sort of small and lost, down there. We're far from the fluidity and the movement of the Gardiner production, with the chorus coming in and out with movements amplified by the mirrors. Instead, what we have here is the same problem with Lepage's Ring: this particle accelerator / space age thingie is just too big and makes the stage look crowded.

The female leads are unattractive. One wonders why in the hell would Énée fall in love with this Didon. Her sister Anna is played by an even less attractive woman (Zlata Bulicheva - who does sing reasonably well).

In a trouser role, Oksana Shilova does very well as Ascagne, with a beautiful voice and nice looks.

Lance Ryan has a terrible accent in French. He sounds like a hillbilly. The weak acting continues.

Yep. Act III doesn't get any better than a 3 out of 10.

OK, this thing is surprising, the highs and lows continue. After the dreadful act 3, act 4 opens very well, with, for the first time, truly beautiful visuals, great orchestral playing, imaginative ballet for the Chasse Royale et Orage pantomime (with the dancers from the Mariinsky that Gergiev imported with him - they are gorgeous, and topless). Next, the high level continues with the first truly great singer in this production delivering a very beautiful moment - Stephen Milling as Nardal. By now they have removed the big particle accelerator and the stage looks, for a change, spacious and sleek. So far, act 4 is getting from me a 10 out of 10.

OK. Weird. For the ballets Pas des almées, Danse des Esclaves, and Pas d'Esclaves Nubiennes, we get instead a sort of fashion show with people in strange space-age clothes with erect penises and people on leashes like dogs. Okaaaaay... We're getting a little Eurotrashy. Fortunately the gorgeous Russian ballerinas are back, this time in black bikinis. Then we get a real ballet with two male dancers who do well. In spite of the Eurotrash, I actually like these scenes. Two female dancers now. Very cute (especially the brunette) and talented.

The Nubian slaves scene is very beautiful as well, with nice choreography. The orchestra does a very good job throughout these ballet scenes, rendering beautifully Berlioz's thrilling music.

Iopas' song Ô Blonde Cérès is well performed by Eric Cutler. The fourth act continues to be *very* satisfactory. If they deliver a good Nuit d'Ivresse at the end of it, it will boost significantly my appreciation of this production. We'll see (it's the make it or break it moment).

So far so good. Act IV continues to deliver beautiful images, good singing, and good orchestral playing. The quintet is very successful.

The septet however suffers from Lance Ryan's weak singing and dreadful accent. When he is drowned by the other six singers, things improve. Again for the first time, the use of the computer screens is helpful rather than distracting, with beautiful effects.

OK, Nuit d'Ivresse now. Pretty good. Even Lance Ryan does better than expected. Daniela Barcellona sings beautifully. The scene is very atmospheric with the two singers being slowly raised in a strange contraption until they get into a kind of sphere (the cave, I suppose). Mercure passes by inside a communications satellite, to deliver his line Italie, Italie, Italie.

I give to act IV 9.5 out of 10, knocking half a point down due to Lance Ryan's singing. But definitely this time the production delivered the magic of Berlioz's music and the extreme beauty of this opera. I'd say that act IV justifies the purchase of this blu-ray in spite of the extremely uneven performance (as evidenced by my scores of 7, 8, 3, and 9.5 for the first four acts).

If in act V they are able to maintain this level of quality this thing will be rescued, but given what I've seen so far, I'm half expecting that they'll not do well in act V, to continue the up and down trend.

It opens beautifully, though, with a space shuttle, Hylas as an astronaut, and Earth in the background. Hylas is sung by Dmitri Voropaev, and he does a decent job with Vallon sonore (another highlight of this opera) but could have been better.

Panthée is Giorgio Giuseppini, a good singer who delivers in his short role, singing Préparez tout. The Par Bacchus duo however is a letdown, a bit too comic for the situation, and with weak singers (Yuri Vorobiov, Vincent Pavesi). Oh well, in an opera with so many characters, one can't expect too much of these two minor roles.

Next we have Lance Ryan murdering the beautiful aria Inutiles Regrets... Ah! Quand viendra l'instant. Pity.

The scene of the four shadows (Cassandre, Priam, Chorèbe, Hector) is interesting.

The dramatic duo between Didon and Énée, however, is again spoiled by Ryan's appalling singing. This scene is fortunately the last one featuring Énée, so I'm looking forward to the last two scenes of the opera, which are thankfully Lance Ryan-free. The Trojans depart, in a spaceship, headed to outer space.

I give to the first scene of act V a 7.5.

Second scene - starts beautifully with a well-sung duet between Didon and Anna. The usual problem with updated versions happens again: the libretto says that the Trojans are gone, their ships are still visible at sea. However, the images show spaceships traveling in space.

Barcellona sings very well the rage scene, but her acting remains subpar. Je vais mourir is beautiful and the imagery is fine. We get to Adieu, fière cité. Good, too.

The whole scene is quite effective and gets 8.5.

So far, act V has an average of 8. We are now in the very last scene. Very stylish, with the laptops making a beautiful effect, all in bluish lighting, turning red when the queen stabs herself. There is no last line "Carthage is over, now Rome." Pity. 8 again. So the average for act V remains 8.

7, 8, 3, 9.5, 8.

Final average, 7.1

Pros:

1080p blu ray with spectacular image and sound
Gergiev and the Orquestra de La Comunitat Valenciana play beautifully
Some moments of sublime visual beauty (especially in Act IV) and nice singing, with about half of the singers doing well
Interesting documentary as a bonus

Cons:

Dreadful Act III
Weak singer in the role of Énée, and about the other half of the singers doing poorly
Rather bad acting across the board
Ridiculous costumes and fake-looking sets - don't expect the visual fireworks of the Valencia Ring - this is definitely not at that level of visual quality
Questionable update to the space age
Overcrowded, static staging

It's hard to say "recommended." Act IV is recommended. The rest, not as much. The Gardiner version is much, much better. For someone who doesn't know Les Troyens, this is definitely NOT recommended, since only in act IV they really convey the extreme beauty of this opera. Get the Gardiner instead. For someone who already knows several versions of this opera, this production does have some beautiful moments and some redeeming qualities, it's not a totally wasted buy.

Soave_Fanciulla
January 3rd, 2012, 03:42 AM
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51wngmjxLfL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

So I borrowed this from the library, and here I am watching it, and thinking *** every two or three minutes. Why isn’t Faust old at the beginning? Why is he carrying a milk pitcher? Who are the strange people dressed in baggy white trousers and beanies? Why is there a solar eclipse in act 1? And a (lamentably old fashioned) cell phone? Why does the chorus grab torches and yet more milk pitchers to go to war? Are we in some kind of dairy factory? That white tower with liquid swishing around in it might be a milk silo... Oh good, mysterious bed-like structures, or are they coffins for the local Michelin Man? And one of the most stirring military marches in operatic history illustrates – putting a ladder up against the silo. That’s so that that the slightly portly tenor can be made to run up it while trying to sing. Oh of course, he has to empty his pitcher into the silo, the dairy industry needs him. Oh wait, the milk’s on fire. And the tenor has fallen into the silo and is being processed through it. Must be hard to sing as you’re being squeezed through a tube, but he’s still sounding great. Meanwhile the subtitle writer is obviously addicted to the same substance as the director: “I return with boredom in my bags” (no French subtitles).

Now Mephistopheles has appeared. He looks like an escapee from the Matrix, and is being lit from the floor, like a child with a torch scaring the other kids. I'm a bit dubious about the shiny yarmulke. He’s tempting Faust with... a patent leather shoe. OK, it’s obviously a better offer than staying in the milk factory, Faust fell for it. The other workers are clutching brandy bottles and dancing on the coffins. Mephistopheles now has a whip and is having a lot of fun cracking it out of sync with the music. A tree has mysteriously appeared in the factory and Faust is smoking a hookah under it. He is now also part of the black yarmulke club and is completely stoned, but amazingly he is still singing while borne aloft by six stage hands. Faust has had a vision of Marguerite and has been given the other shoe (a bit Life of Brian, isn’t it). We’re back on the silo but he managed not to fall in this time. The milk’s on fire again though.

I won’t go on, you get the message. The singing is impeccable and the music brilliantly beautiful, but this production distracts rather than illustrates. Get the concert DVD, or a good CD, or wait for the brilliant Lepage Met version, however long it takes.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 14th, 2013, 02:59 AM
Les Troyens on DVD

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51QQRI0jC7L._SY300_.jpg

Les Troyens, grand opéra in five acts, sung in French (November 4, 1863, Théâtre Lyrique, Paris)
Music by Hector Berlioz
Libretto by Hector Berlioz, based on Virgil's Aeneid

Conductor James Levine - 1983 live, composite recording at the Metropolitan Opera House
This performance was divided in three acts
Orchestra - Metropolitan Opera
Chorus - Metropolitan Opera

Stage Director - Fabrizion Melano
Sets, Costumes, and Visual Effects - Peter Wexler
Lighting Design - Gil Wechsler
Video Director - Brian Large

Cast

Enée - Plácido Domingo
Chorèbe - Allan Monk
Panthée - John Cheek
Narbal - Paul Plishka
Ascagne - Claudia Catania
Cassandre - Jessye Norman
Didon - Tatiana Troyanos
Anna - Jocelyne Taillon
Hylas - Philip Creech
Priam - John Macurdy
Hécube - Barbara Conrad
Iopas - Douglas Ahlstedt
and many other comprimarios

A 1984 Deutsche Grammophon - The Metropolitan Opera release
NTSC 4:3, PMC Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1, region code zero (worldwide), running time 250 minutes
Subtitles in French, german, English, Spanish, and Chinese.
Bonus: Picture Gallery "Les Troyes at the Met", trailers
Insert: Credits, list of musical numbers with characters and durations, a one-and-a-half-page essay that is about the production rather than about the opera, a four-and-a-half-page detailed synopsis, all repeated in English, German, and French. Three production pictures, one in color and two in black-and-white

Available on Amazon.com for $26, [clicky (http://www.amazon.com/Berlioz-Troyens-remastered-Jessye-Norman/dp/B000OONQ1M/)]

--------

Well, for this review I won't be talking about the opera, the circumstances of composition, the performance history, etc., because you can all buy an excellent guidebook authored by a guy I really like. He is cool, I swear - I know him from very young age and actually I meet him every morning on the mirror when I brush my teeth:

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/414VdpLOo0L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Available on our own e-store [here (https://www.createspace.com/4088473)] or on Amazon.com, worldwide, for around 10 bucks. :biggrin:

So, without further ado, let's comment on this DVD.

Those who are used to the modern technology of blu-ray discs will find this product to be deficient in image and sound. Image is grainy and dark, and sound is uneven and poorly balanced, with the orchestra predominating over the singers, whose voices get even more muffled when they walk away from the microphones. Audience coughing noise and stage noise are present. Subtitles are very large and intrusive.

The prominence of the orchestra is not necessarily a bad thing, because the sounds coming from the pit are compelling. Maestro Levine applies vivid, rapid tempi, and the orchestra is very resonant and full, although with a couple of less than ideal passages. Sometimes it is all too abrupt; the transitions are not smooth and elegant as this opera requires - a bit too noisy!

Now, what we have here is Jessye Norman's Met debut, and she is simply phenomenal in the role of Cassandre, both in voice and facial expressions. Then we get Plácido Domingo as Enée, in his prime - he is admirable and blows away the competition, to the point that I was trying to show to a friend how beautiful the Nuit D'Ivresse duet is, and I showed to her a couple of other versions; she wasn't impressed. Then I played Domingo's and Tatiana Troyano's version that is on this DVD, and she immediately said "Oh wow, now I see why you like this so much!"


[Link to video deleted by Admin - video no longer available]

This traditional staging is very static and ponderous. There is no dynamic movement, almost. It's a matter of standing and singing, with all these heavy costumes (and they do look a bit ridiculous). Even the chorus stays pretty much in place, in contrast with modern productions such as Sir John Eliot Gardiner's or Sir Antonio Pappano's. Lighting is on the really dark side. The sets do get more attractive and brighter for the Carthage part.

So, the advantage of this version is the singing, which is of very high quality by all three principals (although I'd say, a tiny bit less for Troyanos than for her two colleagues). One would ask then, what's the point of watching the DVD? We might as well get a CD or disconnect the TV image and listen to this as an audio recording only. No, there actually are some parts that are still visually compelling (the suicide scene by the Trojan women is rather successful, for example), and I like the facial expressions of some of the singers/actors.

To rate this product, we need of course to take into account that the opera itself is A+++ and my second favorite of all time. So, just the sheer fact that this is Les Troyes justifies the purchase, in my opinion (but then, yes, I'm biased - others may not like it as much, although I think they should...). Singing here is A+ and generally superior to what we can find in other video versions, and again, in itself recommends the purchase. Everything else, though - technical aspects of the product such as sound and image, staging, costumes, subtitles, insert, and even orchestra/conducting, are far less compelling than what one can find in Gardiner's and Pappano's blu-ray versions. So, overall I'd say B+, recommended (and for Jessye Norman and Plácido Domingo fans, this is of course a mandatory buy).

Now, one thing must be said - if you're planning on buying this for your only contact with the opera, don't. It doesn't entirely do the opera justice - the heavy staging and abrupt orchestral playing won't ever transmit the same dramatic and musical experience you can have of Les Troyens with more modern versions. Buy it for the singing, if you already know well and/or own one of the top versions.

Amfortas
December 14th, 2013, 03:10 AM
I haven't seen this production in quite a while, but it holds a soft spot in my memory--my first exposure to this great opera.

EDIT: Just played the video clip. OMG! Virgil via Shakespeare via Berlioz . . . So gorgeous! Tears and chills, and I don't care who knows it.

Moments like this remind me why it's great to be alive!

Soave_Fanciulla
December 14th, 2013, 04:09 AM
I'm afraid I can't really watch this without getting the giggles about Domingo's tights. Better heard than seen.

Amfortas
December 14th, 2013, 04:45 AM
I'm afraid I can't really watch this without getting the giggles about Domingo's tights. Better heard than seen.

Well, yes, and there's also the whole "Gene Simmons called, he wants his boots back" thing.

But I actually remember liking the much-maligned, over-the-top period look of this production. It lent a kind of slightly perverse, baroque twist to the chaste, Virgilian classicism--something I sense, at some indefinable level, in Berlioz's music as well.

OperaFanNH
December 14th, 2013, 05:01 AM
Les Troyens on DVD

Those who are used to the modern technology of blu-ray discs will find this product to be deficient in image and sound.

Hi Alma. You just described me. I'm spoiled. Wherever possible, I always opt for Blu-Ray disks now. I bought your Les Troyens book, and know that you recommended for Blu-Ray Les Troyens, the 2010 Susan Graham, John Eliot Gardiner disc. I'm also looking at the 2013 David McVicker's Covent Garden one. In fact, I'm actually leaning towards the latter choice, even though Amazon has almost no reviews on the new one, and lots of positive reviews on the former one. I can't decide which. Any thoughts? THANKS! Ken

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 14th, 2013, 05:22 AM
Hi Alma. You just described me. I'm spoiled. Wherever possible, I always opt for Blu-Ray disks now. I bought your Les Troyens book, and know that you recommended for Blu-Ray Les Troyens, the 2010 Susan Graham, John Eliot Gardiner disc. I'm also looking at the 2013 David McVicker's Covent Garden one. In fact, I'm actually leaning towards the latter choice, even though Amazon has almost no reviews on the new one, and lots of positive reviews on the former one. I can't decide which. Any thoughts? THANKS! Ken

Ken, when we published the book, the Covent Garden one wasn't available on blu-ray yet. Soave and sospiro and Elektra and Contessa and I all together attended that production live at Covent Garden and loved it. You won't believe this, but I haven't bought the blu-ray yet. I'm not sure what's stopping me... maybe it's because I keep such good memories of that gorgeous day in London with great company and great opera... I'm afraid if I watch the blu-ray it won't be the same thing, and I'll somehow spoil those memories...

Soave on the other hand did buy it, and might be better able to advise you, since I'm sure she owns the Gardiner as well.

I think those two productions are by far the best ones for this opera. Our interviewee Anna Caterina Antonacci (we had the pleasure of meeting her in person backstage, then the interview happened a couple of days later) was in both productions, and she talks about them in the interview. She underlines how different they are - one is on period instruments, the other one with a modern orchestra. She seems to like both. I like both as well.

They are both visually and musically impressive. Best is to have both.

Even though I haven't seen the Covent Garden blu-ray, if I were absolutely forced to pick only one, I guess I'd pick the Covent Garden one, by a hair.

OperaFanNH
December 14th, 2013, 01:01 PM
Ken, when we published the book, the Covent Garden one wasn't available on blu-ray yet.....

Even though I haven't seen the Covent Garden blu-ray, if I were absolutely forced to pick only one, I guess I'd pick the Covent Garden one, by a hair.

Decision made. THANKS Luiz for a great response. You made it easy (well, you and my own leanings, and reading the interview with Anna Caterina Antonacci, etc. The new Covent Garden one it is. I still am hoping to one day decide I was wrong NOT to have Les Troyens in my Top 10, (let alone Top 3!) We'll see.

BTW...my first and only Les Troyens was the Jessye Norman, Placido Domingo one from years ago. I had that one on Laserdisk, then decades ago when Laserdisks went pretty darn extinct, I made the huge mistake of trying to archive it on VHS!!!!! ARGHHH! Then, I copied the VHS to a DVD-recorder, and now I ended up after all these decades with an absolutely awful, cringe-worthy copy of Les Troyens. I'm hoping the new one will re-energize my love for the opera.

[And FWIW, if I were you, having seen this actual production in person, and loving it so, and having it as such a wonderful personal, friendly experience too...I'd buy it for yourself in a heartbeat. I'll bet rather than you saying "it's not as wonderful as I remember", you'll remember all the nuances that you hadn't realized you forgot.]

Dark_Angel
December 14th, 2013, 06:22 PM
Troyens is not one of my very favorite operas, but I do own the three video versions MET, Gardiner, and newest Pappano ROH and I like the Gardiner the best if I only keep one.

Antonacci as Cassandra is slightly better in Gardiner (although she is brilliant in both) and I definitely prefer Susan Graham as Dido over Westbroek ROH. McVicar stage design for ROH is visually dynamic and thrilling a real spectacle yet I think the more clever Gardiner staging with abstracted visuals and use of large overhead mirror even more interesting and effective carries story better.

The dance movements in ROH were not handled very well for me compared to the "cirque de soliel" style fluid movements of Gardiner that had lots of visual flare and panache, the strong point for ROH is Brian Hymel as Aeneas. So worth having all three but my vote for top version goes to Gardiner......

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51ExjtV4QyL._AA280_.jpg

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 14th, 2013, 07:01 PM
Ahem, Les Troyens *should* be one of your favorite operas. If only Maria Callas had had some role in it (I'm not sure in what capacity)...

But yes, re-reading my own posts, I did say this, in the past:

"Well, I'd have to re-watch the Gardiner to refresh my memory, but it is certainly magnificent. I like it very much, and it may still be the best one out there. The younger Antonacci rocks. Visually maybe the newer ones are more appealing, but overall, the Gardiner may still be the standard, I think. And it wasn't too shabby, visually. Those mirrors were very interesting. Besides, it's the only one that includes the original ending with Clio, the Muse of History, and I love that scene; I wish Berlioz had kept it."

So, it might be that I'm giving the edge to the ROH due to the emotional link to it - that's where I met my OL friends, that's where I met Anna Caterina Antonacci in person.

By the way the *new* Met production is not too shabby either, although in my comparison between that one and the ROH, I gave the edge to the latter - see my review [here (http://operalively.com/forums/showthread.php/1411-Les-Troyens-at-the-Met-%28December-21-2012%29-Opera-Review?p=23539&viewfull=1#post23539)].

But then, my review of the ROH live show was full of superlatives. [here (http://operalively.com/forums/showthread.php/1411-Les-Troyens-at-the-Met-%28December-21-2012%29-Opera-Review?p=23539&viewfull=1#post23539)]

So, I don't know. Hard to say. These are all very fine productions of an outstanding opera, and they are to be commended because staging, playing, and singing Les Troyens is not easy.

OperaFanNH
December 14th, 2013, 07:08 PM
Troyens is not one of my very favorite operas, but I do own the three video versions MET, Gardiner, and newest Pappano ROH and I like the Gardiner the best if I only keep one.

THANKS for chiming in. I like the juxtaposition of it NOT being one of your favorites, yet still owning all the video versions. But, of course!

I actually haven't ordered yet, so anything's possible. But, now I know, even if what I buy isn't THE singular best one, it's right up there...and who knows, it may only represent my FIRST on Blu-Ray anyway. THANK YOU!

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 14th, 2013, 07:11 PM
THANKS for chiming in. I like the juxtaposition of it NOT being one of your favorites, yet still owning all the video versions. But, of course!

I actually haven't ordered yet, so anything's possible. But, now I know, even if what I buy isn't THE singular best one, it's right up there...and who knows, it may only represent my FIRST on Blu-Ray anyway. THANK YOU!

Ken, I think the conclusion is that you'll have to suck it up and buy both. Come on! Buy! Buy! Buy! (that's Soave's old war chant).

OperaFanNH
December 14th, 2013, 07:12 PM
So, I don't know. Hard to say. These are all very fine productions of an outstanding opera, and they are to be commended because staging, playing, and singing Les Troyens is not easy.

Sounds like you're hedging just a bit. Solution: Buy the Covent Garden one, and get reminded of why you liked it so much. Or prove yourself wrong.

One of the reasons why I want to give Les Troyens every chance to become a favorite of mine is exactly what you said...the scale of the work, and the huge amount of man (and woman) hours required to get a production ready from so many involved. It's like The Ring in that way. It's just a massive opera, and with so much work involved, I figure if I don't think it's a great opera, I've probably missed something. We'll see...

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 14th, 2013, 07:14 PM
It's like The Ring in that way.

Yes, it's nicknamed "The Latin Ring" for a reason.

OperaFanNH
December 17th, 2013, 10:33 PM
Ken, I think the conclusion is that you'll have to suck it up and buy both. Come on! Buy! Buy! Buy! (that's Soave's old war chant).

BTW, Decision made. Thanks Almaviva and Dark_Angel for suggestions, thoughts, etc. I ended up ordering the more recent Covent Garden one. (Yes, just one!) I was tempted with the earlier Gardiner one, but I'm not a big fan of period instruments...and that was probably the clincher to go with the later one. We'll see how it goes one day...

Also, BTW, as it happens, I recently bought a nice set of Star Trek movies! And, just now finished watching Star Trek: First Contact. (Big second storm here in NH, so home bound, and movie time!) There's a scene where the First Officer (Riker) enters the Captain's (Jean-Luc Picard's) room, and guess what music he happened to be listening to? Yup, music from Les Troyens. Such a classy Captain, eh? (From which aria? I've no clue! But, I'll bet you would.)

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 18th, 2013, 12:43 AM
BTW, Decision made. Thanks Almaviva and Dark_Angel for suggestions, thoughts, etc. I ended up ordering the more recent Covent Garden one. (Yes, just one!) I was tempted with the earlier Gardiner one, but I'm not a big fan of period instruments...and that was probably the clincher to go with the later one. We'll see how it goes one day...

Also, BTW, as it happens, I recently bought a nice set of Star Trek movies! And, just now finished watching Star Trek: First Contact. (Big second storm here in NH, so home bound, and movie time!) There's a scene where the First Officer (Riker) enters the Captain's (Jean-Luc Picard's) room, and guess what music he happened to be listening to? Yup, music from Les Troyens. Such a classy Captain, eh? (From which aria? I've no clue! But, I'll bet you would.)

Yes, I do... Of course I do. It's not for nothing that this is my second favorite opera. It's Hylas' song that Picard is listening to (beginning of act V). And you can count me among the big fans of Star Trek as well, so, enjoy! :hifive:

[Do notice that there is a sub-genre called Klingon Opera - a topic of some of the shows]

Just to make things harder for you, hehehe, I'd say that the period instruments in Gardiner's Les Troyens don't take anything from the opera, and like Anna Caterina Antonacci told me, they are still quite loud! That was a mighty good orchestral performance. I'd say it's rather perfect. But then, the Royal Opera House also has a phenomenal orchestra.

Again, buddy, you need both!!!

OperaFanNH
December 18th, 2013, 02:06 AM
[Do notice that there is a sub-genre called Klingon Opera - a topic of some of the shows]


I look forward to your Guidebook!

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 18th, 2013, 03:27 AM
I look forward to your Guidebook!

As soon as I learn the language I'll publish the guidebook.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dKeMPo5LSI


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmZx4yqguYk

Ann Lander (sospiro)
August 19th, 2014, 05:03 PM
Interesting review of the McVicar Les Troyens in Gramophone (http://www.gramophone.co.uk/review/berlioz-les-troyens).

I'd be interested in the thoughts of those who've either seen it live or watched the DVD. I don't scrutinise operas too closely when I'm there; unless the singing is particularly poor I just tend to enjoy the performance as a whole. So I would never have noticed this " ... However, McVicar miscalculates in Act 2 scene 1, where the music indicates precisely where the boy should enter ..."

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
August 19th, 2014, 06:56 PM
Interesting review of the McVicar Les Troyens in Gramophone (http://www.gramophone.co.uk/review/berlioz-les-troyens).

I'd be interested in the thoughts of those who've either seen it live or watched the DVD. I don't scrutinise operas too closely when I'm there; unless the singing is particularly poor I just tend to enjoy the performance as a whole. So I would never have noticed this " ... However, McVicar miscalculates in Act 2 scene 1, where the music indicates precisely where the boy should enter ..."

Well, the reviewer praises a lot the performance (which is one that you and I and Nat, Sarah, and Marta loved) so I tend to agree with what he is saying. However, this bit "McVicar miscalculates in Act 2 scene 1, where the music indicates precisely where the boy should enter" sounds to me like nit-picking. I mean, come on, this is an opera that lasts for almost five hours and it is darn well staged... why should one pick on one small moment? You know, critics often feel that hey need to say at least something negative to be taken seriously, and I believe this is one such occasion. Then, the other aspect he mentions - "Antonio Pappano also misses one or two tricks" - I certainly did not notice it (and I do pay a lot of attention to orchestras). I thought the orchestra and conducting were fabulous, but then, we saw it live; one can't know for sure if something less successful was done the day they recorded it for DVD - there were no cameras when we were there so necessarily the DVD has a different performance - and no, I haven't bought it yet, believe it or not. I guess I'm afraid of ruining the magic - that was such a special evening - in great part because of the company of OL members - that I kind of am afraid that if I watch it again I won't feel the same impact, so I've been avoiding it. About Carthage being "less successful", this is a notion that puzzles me. Well, Carthage necessarily must have a much lighter atmosphere as compared to Troy, and that's exactly what McVicar tried to do. Troy is grim and depressing, Carthage is happy and colorful. What's not to like?

So, let me put it this way... I agree with everything positive the critic said, and disagree with everything negative. While there is no perfect production, that one was darn close to being perfect - or at least, so I recall it, with the added subjective effect that Marta and I were meeting you, Nat, and Sarah.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
September 3rd, 2017, 06:54 PM
Béatrice et Bénédict on blu-ray disc

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71uqfO61f8L._SX342_.jpg

Béatrice et Bénédict, opéra-comique in two acts, sung in French
Music by Hector Berlioz
Libretto by Hector Berlioz, after William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing
Premiered at the Theater der Stadt Baden-Baden on August 9, 1862.

This is a Glyndebourne new production in July/August 2016, recorded live on August 9, 2016

London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Antonello Manacorda
The Glyndebourne Chorus, chorus master Jeremy Bines
Stage Director and Costume Designer, Opera Lively interviewee Laurent Pelly
Set Designer, Barbara de Limburg
Lighting Designer, Duane Schuler
Dialogue Adaptation, Agathe Mélinand
Film Director, Opera Lively interviewee François Roussillon

Cast

Léonato, Georges Bigot
Messenger, Charles Meunier
Héro, Sophie Karthäuser
Béatrice, Stéphanie d'Oustrac
Don Pedro, Frédéric Caton
Bénédict, Opera Lively interviewee Paul Appleby
Claudio, Philippe Sly
Somarone, Lionel Lhote
Ursule, Katarina Bradic
First Servant, Adrien Mastrosimone
Second Servant, Paul Sheridan
Non-singing actors, Andrew Carter, Anthony Kurt Gabel, Andrew Hayler, Josh Sneesby

Released on blu-ray disc by Opus Arte in 2017, all regions, 1080i HD image, DTS-HD surround Master Audio or LPCM 24-bit stereo, subtitled in English, French, Dutch, Japanese, and Korean. Running time 118 minutes (opera) and 11 minutes (extras, includes a cast gallery and a mini-documentary Béatrice et Bénédict - Rediscovering a Masterwork).

The excellent insert includes a cast list, a 3-page interview with Laurent Pelly, a 4-page essay about the opera and the composer by David Cairns, a 1-page synopsis, all repeated in English, French, and German, a list of chorus members and orchestra instrumentalists, and six production pictures (color).

---------

It is with trepidation and great expectations that I approach this product, which I bought for $27 from Presto Classical (on Amazon, $32.50, and there is also a DVD for $30). One, because it is Berlioz, one of my favorite composers; two, because it's Glyndebourne, one of my favorite opera companies; three, because of Laurent Pelly, one of my favorite stage directors. Add to it the fact that I really like Paul Appleby both as an artist and as a person, after having spent two long interviews and one lunch together with him, and I think I'm in for a treat.

I only know Béatrice et Bénédict from a CD; this will be my first experience with attaching visuals to this opera that initially I didn't like very much when I first heard it, but later grew in my esteem.

OK, so, I'm bracing for it, afraid of being disappointed in the setting of too high expectations. I'm about to pop it into the player. Fingers crossed.

----------

OK, folks, that's a good start. I like this conductor - very elegant and precise gestures, and the orchestra is playing beautifully with great smooth transitions, rendering well Berlioz's extremely beautiful and suave overture. Sound capture is a bit faulty in the fact that it is picking up some ambience noise (I'm listening to it with my Bose headphones and they are good).

The curtain opens up and the chorus sings from inside huge boxes, three of them, in a very funny effect. I knew it. Laurent, you are genial. Costumes are great, in various shades of black and gray, which as I understand, will be only colors used throughout the show (except for the bluish hue on the background - sleek, minimalist staging the way I like).

The movements of the chorus members inside of the boxes are hilarious. When it is the turn of the male singers to sing, they elbow their way to the front row, and vice-versa when it's the females. Nicely done!

The predominantly French cast members deliver the spoken lines with perfectly clear French diction.

Great blocking, with the movements of the chorus members on stage, pushing out the big boxes in bursts that match the music. The initial three huge boxes become a city made of other smaller boxes.

So far, great start with all elements flawlessly done.

We get the first aria with Sophie Karthäuser and unfortunately I don't like her that much. Her pitch is well-controlled and her timbre is not bad in the lower register, but there are two problems: the higher notes sound strident, and she somehow sounds like she doesn't really let go; her voice feels a bit muffled. Oh well, it is often unwise to make this kind of criticism at the beginning; later maybe she will warm up.

The second aria is by Stéphanie d'Oustrac, and no such problems exist. She is excellent. Paul follows, and he is his habitual great self. Paul commands excellent French, and has a predilection for roles in this language, like we discussed in one of his interviews, so it is a pleasure to listen to his perfect delivery.

Therefore, we have two fabulous singers in the title roles. By now I'm quite reassured that I won't need to fear being disappointed.

My main objection when I first reviewed this opera was the same that Laurent Pelly noticed - the lack of much action, with Berlioz having severely abridged Shakespeare's play. I said, it's Much Ado About Nothing without the ado.

Also, I found Somarone to be an annoying character.

With Laurent's advanced sense of theatricality, he took care of these shortcomings, making more action out of the libretto, and adding comic touches to Somarone, who interacts with the conductor and the orchestra in the pit, among other funny elements.

I got now to the beautiful nocturne, the female duet "Nuit Paisible et Sereine," my favorite piece in this opera. Katarina Bradic who sings with Sophie (who does well in this delicate duet) is good. This nocturne resembles another favorite piece for me, "Nuit d'Ivresse" in Les Troyens. It's signature Berlioz!

End of first act.

The second act opens with nice blocking, again, and some very funny comic touches by Laurent Pelly, making of the drinking song by Somarone, something very compelling. This is a lesson in stage directing and blocking! Wow! My friends, you have to see this. It is brilliant!

Next, Stéphanie does a phenomenal job with her more dramatic aria. What a force of nature she is! Her two female counterparts join her for the exquisite trio Berlioz added after the premiere.

Stéphanie acts very well in the last scenes when she finally capitulates in her love for Bénédict. Paul looks a bit stiff but sings gorgeously.

It is abundantly clear that this is a superior product.

Glyndebourne did it again. They put together a well-conducted, well-played, well-staged and well-sung opera that managed to exploit all the strengths of the piece, hiding some of its shortcomings. A pleasure! And no, I was not disappointed. My high expectations were met.

A++, highly recommended.