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Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:12 AM
Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress on DVD

Weird, strange beauty.
Dissonant, halting...
...and yet, strikingly beautiful, especially the somber third act. I give it an A+, and remember here the extraordinary, poignant libretto, in Anne's farewell to Tom:

"Every wearied body must
Late or soon return to dust,
Set the frantic spirit free.
In this earthly city we
Shall not meet again, love, yet
Never think that I forget."

Indeed, this one is unforgettable.

Here is the cover:

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Great performance, excellent acting, singing, staging, everything works.
I'd buy this one. It's not traditional like the Glyndebourne, but it is fabulous.
Andrew Kennedy and Laura Claycom are perfect as Tom Rakewell and Anne Trulove, and William Shimmel's Shadow is bone-chilling.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:14 AM
Stravinsky: Le Rossignol
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I'm stunned!
What a beautiful, poetic, delicate, sublime piece!

Well, the videoclip nature of this film (it is filmed opera, full of special effects, not always tasteful) is distracting but the music is still sublime, and actually in a book that I have that lists opera recordings this production with Natalie Dessay as the nightindale, Vsevolod Grivnov as the fisherman, Albert Schagidullin as the emperor, and Marie McLaughlin as the cook, is considered to be the best available recording of Le Rossignol, and Natalie's performance is lavishly praised.

Yes, Natalie is quite funny when she gives interviews. This DVD has plenty of these in the bonus part (being the opera so short they put lots of fillers). Also, they have the recording sessions, and she always moves her arms like if she were conducting. Weird woman... LOL. But I like her voice. And like I said she is an impressive actress.

Fortunately, the sound track has an option to turn off the special sound effects and only listen to the original sound.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:16 AM
Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex on DVD
I'm highly impressed.

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This is a visually stunning production, with top level singers (Jessye Norman, Bryn Terfel, Philip Langridge). Scenarios, props, costumes, are all very clever and inventive, with striking results.

Staging is by Julie Taymor (the director of the Broadway production of The Lyon King, and the Met's recent Magic Flute). Seiji Ojawa conducts, and there is a very good chorus of 80 men.

The work itself is extremely interesting, haunting, dramatic, impressive, with such well crafted tone-painting that you can follow the drama in the music." It's also focused and short, 57 minutes long. As usual, Stravinsky doesn't disappoint me (I also love Le Rossignol and The Rake's Progress).

There are two major downsides. One is that the narration is in Japanese - I was hoping for the original narration in French. Of course, subtitles are provided in several languages, but it's just that the sounds of the Japanese language - pardon me if there are any Japanese folks here - sound terrible to my ears. The problem must be with my ears, I hope you don't read me wrong, but Japanese for me doesn't sound operatic at all.

In this case, it makes for an even more striking contrast because the libretto, as you know, is in Latin which I find to be one of the most exquisite and beautiful-sounding languages ever known to men. Unfortunately there are no Latin subtitles, which sometimes one can find in DVDs of oratorios or other vocal works in Latin (e.g., Verdi's Requiem) and I always enjoy it a lot when I can follow the Latin words. I'm not fluent in Latin but I do recognize most of the words, given my knowledge of some Romance languages.

The other one is pretty major, and actually a very annoying shortcoming of this DVD: sound balance. I think I've never seen a DVD with such terrible sound balance.
You need to be increasing and decreasing the volume all the time, because either you can't hear the orchestration, or the voices are so loud that they hurt your ears. The narration is also several notches above the sound volume of the singing voices so again any time the Japanese lady comes up to narrate, you have to decrease the volume or the other people in your house will complain. I feel tempted to tell her, would you stop yelling please???" I'm following the uncompressed PCM track; maybe the Dolby 5.1 track has better sound balance. But the PCM one is rather terrible.

Still, I highly recommend this DVD, because of the sheer beauty of Stravinsky's opera-oratorio itself, and also for the impressive visuals. The bonus features have a very interesting interview with the director. I like her concepts, she is really creative (and a good looking lady).

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:16 AM
Glinka: Ruslan and Lyudmila on DVD
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1995(LI) - Valery Gergiev - Kirov Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet - St. Petersburg (the Mariinsky), in association with San Francisco Opera

This is a Philips Classics release, with excellent technical quality:
Video aspect 16:9 Anamorphic
Sound tracks Linear PCM stereo, DTS 5.1
Optional subtitles in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Chinese
Region Free
2 DVDs, the first one with acts 1, 2, and 3, and the second one with acts 4 and 5, and two documentaries: a 18' interview with maestro Gergiev about the opera, and a 59' documentary on Gergiev's life and career (very good, I had seen it on TV already).

The insert has a detailed synopsis track by track, and very good essays about Glinka and the opera, a different one for each of three languages: English, French, and German. I don't speak German, but the English and the French one were both very interesting and provided a wealth of information on the composer, the source material, the making of the opera (including the unusual fact that the music was composed before the libretto was written), the première, including detailed musical analysis of the various numbers down to their styles, influences, rhythm, structure, tonal characteristics, etc., with references to the DVD chapters that contain the numbers they are talking about.

An excellent job from Philips Classics, and an example to be followed by other recording companies. This is a flawless product, with everything that needs to be included in a proper opera DVD.

Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857)
Ruslan and Lyudmila - Magic opera in five acts
Libretto by Valerian Shirkov after Alexander Pushkin

The all-Russian cast includes:

Svetosar: Mikhail Kit
Lyudmila: Anna Netrebko La Bellisma, at age 23!!! http://operalively.com/forums/images/smilies/eek.gif
Ruslan: Vladimir Ognovenko
Ratmir: Larissa Diadkova
Farlaf: Gennady Bezzubenkov
Gorislava: Galina Gorchakova
Finn: Konstantin Pluzhnikov
Naina: Irina Bogachova
Bayan: Yuri Marusin

Video direction is by Hans Hulcher.

The staging directed by Lofti Mansouri is lavish, luxurious, and very traditional - actually, they made an attempt to reproduce as closely as possible the way the opera was staged in its premiere on 11-27-1842, which also explains the park-and-bark, stock acting. Since the original scenarios were lost, they used sketches and paintings they had from a 1910 production, with a few additional sketches from the 1860's that also survived.

Maestro Gergiev in his interview had lots of good things to say about Anna, which made my day already!http://operalively.com/forums/images/smilies/smile.gif Galina Gorchakova is quite good-looking too.

OK, so, now, the production.

I haven't watched it yet, folks... I'll continue this review later, by editing this post. In spite of some negative earlier reviews (especially the one by Dark Angel) I'm quite excited. See you soon.

Edit 1

First impressions: Spectacular overture (it is quite famous as an isolated concert piece). Beautiful costumes. Anna looks stunning... but doesn't sing as well as our current Anna - it seems like she learned a lot over the years. I better enjoy Anna while she's on stage because she spends most of the opera kidnapped and in a coma. But we do get an eyeful of young Anna with her beautiful face (under tones of clothes and a wig).

In terms of pace and musicality, one can tell that this thing with a running time of 210 minutes will be more boring than I had anticipated (maybe Dark Angel is right after all).

I'm less enthusiastic about the technical quality. Sound balance is a problem. The chorus and the orchestra are too loud, and the singers not loud enough. Oh well. Nothing is perfect.

Edit 2

Middle of third act. I like it. No Anna to be seen, of course, since the first act when she got kidnapped and was put in a coma under a magic spell. She will only wake up in the final scene of the fifth act, darn!

The production remains very beautiful, great costumes, lighting, scenarios, everything looks gorgeous. There is some occasional eye candy besides Anna - the ballerinas from the Kirov Ballet are cute, and so is Galina Gorchakova in the small role of Gorislava.

A word about the singing: the bard Bayan has a weird high pitch in his tenor, quite unpleasant. The trouser role of Ratmir is well sung by Larissa Diadkova. Finn the sorcerer gets the best singer - bass Konstantin Pluzhnikov, who gets some beautiful arias. Vladimir Ognovenko as Ruslan is good but not great. Anna like I said sings rather poorly at the start of her career.

This opera is actually musically interesting and I'm not finding it as boring as many say, more thanks to the music than to the plot. Yes, the pace is slow. Yes, there isn't much happening dramatically speaking. But the enormous variety of genres and styles that Glinka crammed together makes it appealing.

I'm currently watching the third act ballet, quite conventional (both musically and in terms of choreography) but it is made more interesting by all these great looking Russian young womenhttp://operalively.com/forums/images/smilies/wink.gif in beautiful (although not revealing) costumes.

Edit 3

Watching 4th act. Oh boy, 3rd act was loooong (thanks in part to the endless ballet). But unlike I had thought, act IV opens with Anna awake and singing (still not very well, and still looking great).

She gets a long and beautiful aria, Vdali ot milogo. This is the best part of the DVD so far. Very difficult to sing, and she does better than before.

By the way, the sound balance problem is probably due to microphone placement. Sometimes we can hear the singers very well (like now), some others they get drowned by the orchestra and especially the loud chorus.

About acting - Anna is actually, at this young age, already the best actress in this production. She is natural and cute in her acting, and moves more on stage than anybody else, while others are quite stiff.

We get to the visually stunning scene of Chernomor's March. The Oriental Dances (Turkish, and Arabian) are next. Gee, how did they get to have so many beautiful costumes, props, and scenarios? Poor Anna is in coma again.http://operalively.com/forums/images/smilies/sad.gif Oh good, the sorcerer woke her up. The Turkish dance has started and the music is very beautiful. Nice dances. Oh well, Anna is in coma again. Beautiful mourning aria from Ruslan. He takes her and heads off to Kiev. Nest, the 5th and last act.

Edit 4

Act 5 is under way, it opens with a fabulous romanza called Ona mne zizn', ona mne radost! - one of the best numbers of the opera, sung by Ratmir. Poor Lyudmila gets kinapped again! Wéll, I don't blame them, I'd like to kidnap Anna Netrebko as well... somehow I remember Almodóvar's movie Atame!http://operalively.com/forums/images/smilies/biggrin.gif

OK, I got to the last scene, the long (19') finale. It's about time, it's 1 AM and I'm sleepy.
All right, La Belissima is awake again, and all rejoyce. Curtain.

Verdict - mixed. Dramatically weak, overlong, would need some cuts, very long ballet. On the other hand, there are many beautiful moments, the music is varied, the orchestration is sublime (overture, intermezzi, choral music...). The production is very visually striking. The documentaries are good. And then, there is young Anna. I'll say recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:18 AM
I've seen this one (I don't own it, I only saw it online) and liked it. It's old fashioned, and the orchestration is Rimsky-Korsakov's.

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Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:19 AM
Shostakovich: The Nose on DVD
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OK, so here goes the third review of this opera from members here.

I just got my copy and since the current 101-200 round includes it, I decided to watch it right away to form an opinion.

rgz's copy seemed to be mono and with no subtitles. This one is stereo, with subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Italian, and Russian.

About the controversy above raised by HC on whether this is a 1974 or 1979 performance, my copy states clearly that it was filmed in 1979, therefore it is a revival of the 1974 production of which Shostakovich himself participated. We get in the bonus feature a 2:21-minute film of him during rehearsals. But since he died in 1975, when the present film was made it wasn't the same performance but merely a revival of the same production. There is also as bonus another short of 4:36 duration in which Boris Pokrovsky (the stage director) talks about the production.

However from other sources I get that the *sound* for this DVD was recorded in studio in 1974. They attached that sound (with the same artists) to the 1979 film since the 1974 production was not filmed. This explains the enormous lip-synch problems of this DVD. On the other hand, I imagine that the sound recording in this very primitive cramped theater with the public almost on top of the singers must have been terrible, thus prompting VAI to substitute the studio track for the live track. It doesn't bother me (because the result is that the sound is pretty good, I won't mind some lip-synch problems since it all looks so amateurish anyway).

I found the short film with Shostakovich very touching. We can see him sitting there watching the rehearsals, then he gives advice on a couple of passages from the score that he doesn't think are correct, then he seems anxious and apprehensive, asking whether the singers will do it right. Someone reassures him. He makes another suggestion about a gesture that one of the performers is supposed to make at the end.

About the stage director's short speech, he speaks a lot but says little. The bottom line of what he says is: they had a young company (founded in 1972) and thought that by doing what he considers to be the most difficult score of them all - The Nose - they'd be able to do anything later, and would get a good understanding of contemporary opera and what it takes to stage it. He also said that Shostakovich attended several rehearsals, and his apprehension (that I had noticed before) was not for his opera which he knew admirably well even though it had been written so many years before (when he was 21!), but for the artists. He wanted *them* to do well and he loved them like one loves a child that shows promise. Cute. An added advantage is that I heard for the first time a native speaker of Russian pronouncing the names of Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, which both sounded slightly different from the way I had always assumed they should be pronounced. Nice.

So, let's get to the review. First, the technical aspects and credits. It's a VAI release of 2010, of a 1979 film containing a performance from the Moscow Chamber Opera Theater, whose orchestra is conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky. The DVD is region zero (all), 4:3 outdated-looking image, and a simple stereo sound track of decent quality and good balance between the voices and the orchestra - thankfully, because the voices employ extreme acrobatics and the orchestra has all sorts of unusual noises (including snores and other bodily noises and weird percussion) - but one doesn't smother the other. Subtitles and bonus features have been listed above. Cast:

Eduard Akimov is Platon Kusmich Kovalyov
Alexander Lomonosov is The Nose
Valery Belykh is Ivan Yakovlevich
Nina Sasulova is Praskovia Osipovna
Boris Druxhinin is Ivan
Ashot Sarkisov is the doctor

This opera premiered in 1930 in Leningrad. The libretto is by the composer together with Georgy Ionin, Alexander Preis, and Yevgeny Zamyatin, after the story of the same title by Nikolai Gogol. The surrealist plot regards an officer whose nose leaves his face and gets a life of its own. It's a satirical opera, and quite wild, with rather chaotic music combining atonal elements with folkloric material and popular song. Some of its music is inspired by Berg's Wozzeck, especially the use of canons and quartets.

Well folks, it starts very well. This is a curious and entertaining work. It's done in a very small and primitive-looking chamber theater; one can see the oldish cameras and all. The image is grainy but it is kind of exciting to be watching this 32-years-old film from the Soviet era. Regardless of the amateurish feel of the theater, the scenarios, and the costumes, these artists are good! They are excellent actors, they sing well, and the small chamber orchestra attacks the score with unsurpassed vigor and panache. So far I love the music, which does sound like a wild ride, but a very intriguing and satisfying one. Let me go back there, and I'll continue posting during some breaks.

One hour of running time, second scene of the second act. I'm loving it. This is a masterpiece. I've rarely seen something this interesting. I don't know if I should watch it with a constant smile or if I should let my jaw drop in astonishment. The score is so inventive, and the situations are so outrageous (in the good sense)! This is one hell of a good ride! I'm at the beginning of the third act, the scene with the police officers singing a chorus, and it is bizarre and hypnotic. By the way, musically speaking this performance (or rather, its previous recording in studio) is simply spectacular. Everybody does an excellent job with the rather demanding vocal writing, and they are excellent actors/actresses as well with lots of comic flair. First rate! And the conditions in the theater are so primitive and cramped, one can't help but conclude that talent doesn't depend on the settings. This is great fun, folks!

I'm approaching the end. There is the fabled simultaneous scene when Kovalyov is writing his accusatory letter and the recipients (Madame Podtochina and her daughter) are getting it at the same time, while the reply reaches Kovalyov back even before it was written by the two women. Cool. This scene, its vocal lines, and the orchestration are pure genius!!! This is said to have inspired Zimmermann's technique of use of time, when he made Die Soldaten with 12 simultaneous scenes. This is rendered on the DVD with a split screen. Hey, they had split screens at the time! Neat!

The ending is a bit of an anticlimax. I think Shostakovich should have ended his opera five minutes earlier, when the nose is back on Kovalyov's face and we realize it was all a dream (the title in Russian - Nos - is the reverse of the Russian word for dream - Son).

Anyway, excellent! Highly recommended!

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:20 AM
Glinka: A Life for the Tsar on DVD
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Music by Mikhail Glinka

Evgeny Nesterenko, bass - Ivan Susanin
Marina Mescheriakova, soprano - Antonida
Alexander Lomonosov, tenor - Sobinin
Elena Zaremba, contralto - Vanja

Bolshoi Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

Alexander Lazarev, conductor; 1992, live but without the public

Running time 2 hours 55 minutes (four acts and epilogue)

The opera is set in 1613. Ivan Susanin is the hero who helps the Russian Tzar Mikhail (the first of the Romanov dynasty) escape the invading Polish army by leading the enemy on a false path in their search for the royal's hiding place, and thus giving his own life.

This is the first of Glinka's two operas, and premiered in 1836. It was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas I, and banned during the Russian revolution for being "pro-Tsar." Later it was reworked under Stalin's orders and given a new title of Ivan Susanin. This version is the original one, which the Bolshoi restored one year after the fall of the Soviet empire.

Traditional staging with period costumes, and simple painted scenarios for the Russian countryside, more elaborate for the Polish scenes. Costumes are beautiful and detailed, in the grand style of the Bolshoi theater.

Technically speaking the oldish-looking 1.33:1 image is nevertheless sharp and colorful, and the stereo sound is appropriate and well-balanced. Optional subtitles exist in six languages. No extras.

The all-Russian cast, conductor, orchestra, and chorus almost all (see exception below) do a very good job with this very Russian material (although also heavily influenced by the Italianate style given Glinka's training, but incorporating several folk elements). The music is beautiful and is impressively sung by these very good singers. Acting on the other hand is static, of the park-and-bark kind, but with rather good facial expressions. The soprano is cute but is the weakest link, although she does improve a bit after she warms up, but she definitely doesn't have a beautiful timbre of voice, and is too thin and shrill. The gentlemen have very powerful voices, especially the veteran of this kind of opera, Nesterenko. Both his role and Lomonosov's role are very demanding, and they go through them for three hours with aplomb. Zaremba in a trouser role is very good, and looks good too, with a charming smile. She was a revelation for me, in her younger and better-looking self as compared to her recent role as Olga in the Met/Gergiev/Fleming/Hvorostovsky Eugene Onegin.

As expected, there is a ballet/ball scene which is overlong, but you know, this comes with the territory for this kind of work. We get a Polonaise, a Krakowiak, a waltz, and a mazurka. Anyway, long ballet or not, and thanks to its Italianate influence, this is one of the most melodious of the major Russian operas. I like it very much.

This is certainly a very well done traditional production of this important opera - the first one to adopt Russian nationalistic topics. This opera thus starts the tradition that would be continued by the likes of Serov, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Borodin. One wonders, though, how this might look in a more modern production, with some cuts done to the overlong ballet scenes.

Recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:20 AM
Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress on DVD
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The Rake's Progress, opera in 3 acts and an epilogue, music by Igor Stravinsky, libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, sung in English, premiered on 9/11/1951 at La Fenice

1975(LI) - Bernard Haitink - London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Glyndebourne Chorus
Stage director John Cox
Set designs by painter David Hockney, inspired by the Hogarth engravings
Leo Goeke as Tom Rakewell
Felicity Lott (very young) as Anne Trulove
Samuel Ramey as Nick Shadow (the Devil)
Richard van Alley as Father Trulove
Rosalind Elias as Baba the Turk

2005 Kultur release
1.33:1 picture format, fair definition (not great), fair colors
PCM stereo sound track, decent (not great)
Running time 146 minutes
Optional subtitles in English, German, French, and Spanish
Only extras are trailers

Technically this DVD is relatively weak and shows its age - it's a production from 36 years ago. The image flickers a little and is blurry at times. The sound is well balanced regarding singers vs. orchestra but lacks in bass, is a bit thin.

The traditional staging is very good as far as sets and costumes go, reproducing very well the atmosphere of the 18th century engravings (which are shown in between scenes). It is colorful and inventive, and the sets are artworks in themselves, having been done by a British painter. As far as actor direction and use of space go, it is a bit deficient. It's filmed in 'studio' - meaning, the closed doors theater, without the public, and the actors are frequently staring at the camera, which impacts on the authenticity. Acting 36 years ago is less than ideal - at the time, people didn't used to expect a lot of acting from operatic singers. Samuel Ramey is the most talented actor of the three principals.

I can't say that I like Leo Goeke very much. He is vocally the weaker of the three principals and his acting is the most sub-par (although it is touching at the end). Ramey's singing is as superior to his peers' as his acting is. Felicity Lott also delivers excellent singing. The supporting cast does very well, with Rosalind Elias being particularly successful as Baba the Turk.

The LPO under Haitink plays very well but is not helped by the technologically weak sound engineering of this DVD.

The opera itself is of course superb and one of my favorites. The highly poetic and literary libretto receives from Stravinsky powerful and expressive orchestration.

In spite of some deficiencies, this is a very good DVD. We get a combination of talents - Stravinsky and his gifted librettists, a painter doing the sets, Haitink and the LPO musicians, spectacular Ramey and Lott, good supporting characters, a less than ideal but not terrible Goeke - and the sum does compensate for the dated DVD technology.

Therefore, my verdict is "recommended," but I still prefer the 2008 Opus Arte release on blu-ray and DVD (with contemporary technology, 16:9, DTS surround sound) of the Robert Lepage production in Brussels, with the Orchestra of the La Monnaie conducted by Kazushi Ono, with surprisingly good Andrew Kennedy, spectacular Laura Claycomb, and excellent William Shimmel.

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Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:23 AM
Shostakovich: Katerina Izmailova on DVD
This opera is a revision of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District with a few differences from the original - for all purposes it can be said to be the same opera.

This is a filmed, abridged (by a little more than half an hour) version of the Katerina Izmailova revision of the opera.

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1966(FI) - Konstantin Simeonov - Chorus and Orchestra of the Shevchenko Opera and Ballet Theater, Kiev

Film director, Mikhail Shapiro, under Shostakovich's own guidance

Katerina Izmailova - acted and sung by Galina Vishnevskaya
Sergei - acted by Artem Inotemstev, sung by V. Tretyak
Zinovy Izmailov - acted by Nikolai Boyarsky, sung by V. Radziyevsky
Boris Izmailov - acted by Roman Tkachuk, sung by S. Strezhnev
Sonetka - acted by Tatyana Gavrilova, sung by V. Reka

Katerina Izmailova, opera in four acts
Music by Dmitri Shostakovich
Libretto by Alexander Preis and Dmitri Shostakovich, based on a novel by Nikolai Leskov
Premiered on January 24, 1934 in Leningrad under the title Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District (the novel's title)
Banned in the Soviet Union for almost 30 years; the composer revised it under the title Katerina Izmailova, which was only first performed on December 26, 1962, in Moscow (another source gives the premiere date as January 8, 1963).

Decca release, format 2.35:1 anamorphic, excellent image for an old movie; LPCM enhanced mono sound with poor balance, optional subtitles in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Chinese. Running time 112 minutes. Region-free. Extras include a Shostakovich chronology, and excerpts from Cheryomushki (Cherry Town, a Shostakovich musical that was filmed in 1963), and the a short documentary (7 minutes, excerpts from a longer one) entitled Shostakovich against Stalin - The War Symphonies (it is very interesting - features Gergiev - one would love to see the complete thing - it's available on a separate DVD). Liner notes include a good essay in three languages (English, French, German), synopsis by chapter, and a chapter list with duration, with names of the chapters in English and no mention of the names of arias in original language.

The première was given to great public acclaim in 1934, but two years later it fell in disgrace, when Stalin walked out of a performance, shocked by its raw sexuality and soft treatment of a murderess (yeah, right, he was in a good position to say it, pot-kettle-black, hehe). The Pravda published an article bashing it (under Stalin's inspiration), the opera got banned, and Shostakovich feared for his freedom and even life. He tried to appease the authorities by slightly toning it down and renaming it, some 20 years later, but even the new version took almost another decade to see the light of day in Russia. It is now given more commonly in the original form, and has recovered its astounding success and wide-spread praise.

Here what we get is the filmed version that Shostakovich closely supervised, with the spectacular Galina Vishnevskaya - a very talented woman with a strong personality, great looks, excellent acting ability, and a powerful voice (although a bit strident at times). Other actors in the movie are not singers, and lip-sync (very well done, no lagging) to the Kiev recording. They are very talented actors, though, and the singing is good too.

The movie is excellent. It uses to great effect some split screen takes, it looks and feels very authentic, very Russian, and conveys perfectly the atmosphere of the story, with shots on location that show all the bleakness of this pre-revolutionary life in the Russian countryside. Galina is quite impressive. It is an important document, given the stature of the soprano, and the fact that the composer helped out with suggestions, supervisions, and appropriate cuts.

It is competent film-making with great cinematography, excellent scene direction. Maestro von Karajan at the time praised the film as the best filmed opera he had ever seen.

The one major complaint is the sound balance of the oldish mono soundtrack. It is often hard to hear the orchestra, given that the voices are a lot more prominent. But some other advantages of the medium compensate for it, such as the possibility of showing the march to Siberia in all its despair and desolate landscapes. One also regrets the absence of Russian subtitles for those like me who don't speak any Russian but like in a second viewing to read subtitles in original language to better perceive the nuances of the words.

Galina Vishnevskaya's performance is bone-chilling and in itself warrants the purchase of this movie.

Strictly from the operatic standpoint, I prefer the first version and its phenomenal staging directed by Martin Kusej, with Mariss Jansons conducting the spectacular Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (arguably the best orchestral forces in the world, currently) and a devastating Eva Maria Westbroek in the title role.

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Apparently the other modern version on DVD with Nadine Secunde in the title role is good too. I haven't seen it (mamascarlatti likes it a lot). There are other versions, including a Russian version in PAL, and an older abridged version (100 minutes).

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But from the cinematic standpoint, this Soviet movie is indeed one of the finest filmed operas I've ever seen. The Siberia journey scenes are haunting and deeply moving. The final scene is incredibly powerful. I think that this is essential to the Russian opera lover (or any opera lover for that matter), and gets my 'highly recommended' seal (just as much as the above staged version).

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:24 AM
Rimsky-Korsakoff: Mlada on DVD
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Mlada, opera-ballet in four acts (finished in 1890, premiered in 1892 in St. Petersburg), sung in Russian
Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
Libretto by Viktor Krylov

Conductor Alexander Lazarev - 1992(LI)
Orchestra - Bolshoi Theatre
Chorus - Bolshoi Theatre
Ballet - Bolshoi Ballet

Cast:
Mlada (Dancer, silent role) - Nina Ananiashvili
Yaromir - Oleg Kulko
Voislava - Maria Gavrilova
Mstivoy - Gleb Nikolsky
Morena - Galina Borisova
Priest - Mikhail Maslov
Lumir - Lyudmila Nam
Lada - Olga Velichko
Novogrodian - Vladimir Kudriashov
His wife - Tatiana Pechuria
Mayor - Yuri Statnik
Soul of Yaromir - Kirill Nikitin
Witch - Julia Malkhassiants

This piece has an interesting history. It was first planned and commissioned by Gedeonov, the director of the Imperial Theaters at the time, to be a pure ballet, with music by Alexander Serov, who however died right at the beginning of the project without ever starting the composition work. Then Gedeonov changed his idea to a 4-act opera-ballet that he intended to be a 4-composer project, with Act I by Cui, Acts II and III by Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, and act IV by Borodin. The work was essentially completed in 1872 (both the music by the four composers and the libretto by Krylov). However they never managed to publish, much less stage the work, and it was forgotten. Each composer recycled the music into different works, except for Cui who only recycled a small part of Act I, and ended up publishing Act I later in life.

Almost two decades later Rimsky-Korsakov decided to resuscitate the old libretto (maybe he was an ancestor of our Martin here, hehehe) and set it to entirely new music, and completed the whole thing into the work that survived to this date.

Synopsis (recovered from the Wikipedia article):

Time: The ninth or tenth century
Place: The Slavic lands of the Baltic sea-coast, in the city of Retra, near the Laba (Elbe) River.

Act 1 Voyslava has killed Mlada, Yaromir's bride, to have him for herself. With the help of Morena, the goddess of the underworld, she has captivated Yaromir. But he sees the murder in his dreams.

Act 2 At the midsummer festival the people dance, while the spirit of Mlada interves between Yaromir and Voyslava.

Act 3 By night Mlada leads Yaromir up Mount Triglay, where the dead gather, before the Witche's Sabbath in which Yaromir is shown a vision of Cleopatra.

Act 4 Yaromir, at the Temple of Radegast, is shown by the spirits that Voyslava is guilty. She confesses her sin and he kills her. Morena, with whom Voyslava had made a compact, destroys the temple and the city of Retra, but Yaromir is united with Mlada in heaven.

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This is a Kultur DVD release (2005) with its usual embarrassingly sparse production values - 1.33:1 picture format, only one sound track (Dolby 2.0), no liner notes.

The sound however is unusually clear, well balanced, and full - for a Kultur DVD; and the image is also of excellent definition and color. Running time 2 hours and 15 minutes. There are optional subtitles in no less than 7 languages, including the usual suspects, plus Portuguese and Japanese.

The video direction is not good. This is an opera ballet, and it features one of the best ballerinas of the Bolshoi, as well as a quality choreographer (Andrei Petrov), however the camera more often than not gets such close-ups of the dancers that we completely miss the choreography. One sees dancers' faces and trunks. It gets to be very frustrating; first because the 1.33:1 image is insufficient to give a good scenic sense of the huge Bolshoi Theater stage especially in this very busy piece with several characters and dancers interacting on stage at the same time; second because this is made *a lot* worse by the weak video direction.

It's like one is watching this from those dreadful partial view seats, and through binoculars that are too potent.

And this is really a pity because this production has beautiful scenarios and costumes. This was probably *very* enjoyable for the live audience, but all these goodies are rendered almost useless on small screen format.

This is pretty much where the bad news end though, because orchestral playing/conducting, singing, and dancing, are all of high quality, and Rimsky-Korsakov's vocal and instrumental score is one of his best. This opera-ballet is very beautiful and a pleasure to the ears. The music is magical, involving, voluptuous, full, varied, entirely satisfactory.

It is impressive how practically all these singers (unknown to me, almost all-Russian cast, and I really don't know anything about local Russian singers - well, of course, except for a certain Russian girl but she is not local any longerhttp://operalively.com/forums/images/smilies/wink.gif) are homogeneously good. They sing with gusto and verve, they interpret very well this very Russian material, and there are really no weak links (including some nice boy sopranos). They also seem to enjoy themselves and relate to the material. Acting of course is less good like we often see in Russian productions of the 80's and early 90's.

The scenic resources needed to stage this piece are very demanding, with lots of characters, large chorus, several different folkloric dances and classical ballet. There is use of complex props, puppets, statues, and masks, and they all look very tasteful. The orchestra sounds pretty much perfect to me. The Bolshoi crowd is competent, no doubt about it.

Nina Ananiashvili is very light and delicate and dances beautifully although she isn't very facially attractive (other dancers are - as a matter of fact, some are stunning) or at least she's not my type (I can see that others may find her pretty). She does manage to be sexy during the Cleopatra dance, by the sheer force of her gracious movements and slender body. By the way, this scene is very successful in terms of staging and scenarios.

Overall this is a DVD that holds its own in terms of the music itself (this same sound track would have made a very good CD), and it is a beautiful production, regretfully poorly filmed by an incompetent video director.

Still, I'd say it's recommended, given the beauty of the opera-ballet itself, several good parts and redeeming qualities, and excellent singing and orchestra.

Soave_Fanciulla
January 3rd, 2012, 04:35 AM
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I enjoyed the singing, the truly opulent production, the music and the whole experience immensely, but I have two caveats:

1. The sound balance was very variable. When the singers were at the back they were very quiet, and the orchestra was too loud. I had to keep fiddling with the volume control on my headphones.

2. The acting was fairly minimal and predictable, no character exploration or development, and what you could call stock expression of the various emotions. I guess it's partly because it's older and maybe the culture of the theatre, I don't know.

But it's still a truly beautiful and faithful depiction of the opera: Gergiev in his interview said the production was based on the original sets and costumes.

Vesteralen
August 23rd, 2012, 01:36 PM
Stravinsky: Le Rossignol
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I'm stunned!
What a beautiful, poetic, delicate, sublime piece!

Well, the videoclip nature of this film (it is filmed opera, full of special effects, not always tasteful) is distracting but the music is still sublime, and actually in a book that I have that lists opera recordings this production with Natalie Dessay as the nightindale, Vsevolod Grivnov as the fisherman, Albert Schagidullin as the emperor, and Marie McLaughlin as the cook, is considered to be the best available recording of Le Rossignol, and Natalie's performance is lavishly praised.

Yes, Natalie is quite funny when she gives interviews. This DVD has plenty of these in the bonus part (being the opera so short they put lots of fillers). Also, they have the recording sessions, and she always moves her arms like if she were conducting. Weird woman... LOL. But I like her voice. And like I said she is an impressive actress.

Fortunately, the sound track has an option to turn off the special sound effects and only listen to the original sound.

My recent back-and-forth with Almaviva reminded me that I always meant to purchase a copy of this DVD (I watched one either from my library or from Netflix) to keep on hand for that random time when I have a guest who has resisted opera (or even classical music in general) in the past. :)

tyroneslothrop
April 6th, 2013, 09:50 PM
Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress on DVD

Weird, strange beauty.
Dissonant, halting...
...and yet, strikingly beautiful, especially the somber third act. I give it an A+, and remember here the extraordinary, poignant libretto, in Anne's farewell to Tom:

"Every wearied body must
Late or soon return to dust,
Set the frantic spirit free.
In this earthly city we
Shall not meet again, love, yet
Never think that I forget."

Indeed, this one is unforgetable.

Here is the cover:

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Great performance, excellent acting, singing, staging, everything works.
I'd buy this one. It's not traditional like the Glyndebourne, but it is fabulous.
Andrew Kennedy and Laura Claycom are perfect as Tom Rakewell and Anne Trulove, and William Shimmel's Shadow is bone-chilling.



One of my favorite of Stravinsky from his neoclassical period (not to quibble, but his Russian period actually ended years and years earlier). As you said, impressive and unforgettable.

(Why am I bringing these dead threads back to life you ask? It's because I adore Russian opera. ;))

Yashin
April 6th, 2013, 10:08 PM
One of my favorite of Stravinsky from his neoclassical period (not to quibble, but his Russian period actually ended years and years earlier). As you said, impressive and unforgettable.

(Why am I bringing these dead threads back to life you ask? It's because I adore Russian opera. ;))

A nice DVD but I think the newer Glyndebourne one is even better. Highly recommended

Soave_Fanciulla
April 10th, 2013, 07:31 PM
A nice DVD but I think the newer Glyndebourne one is even better. Highly recommended

I like both of them - the Glyndebourne one is of course the perfect Hogarthian accompaniment but I think the "Texas" one throws an interesting light on the story.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
July 5th, 2013, 11:48 PM
The Miserly Knight, opera in three scenes (one act), composed in 1903-5, on DVD
Music by Sergei Rachmaninov
The opera sets to music the text as written, in the drama by the same name, by Alexander Pushkin

Score:
2 Tenors, 2 Baritones, 1 Bass (no female voices)
Piccolo, English Horn, Bass Clarinet, Timpani, Cymbals, Bass Drum, Triangle, Tam-tam, Harp, Strings.

World Premiere 1/11/1906, Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow. Conductor: Sergei Rachmaninov

Most recommended recording:
Anatoly Kocherga/Sergei Aleksashkin/Sergei Larin/Gothenburg Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Neeme Järvi - Deutsche Grammophon DG 453 454-2GH

Synopsis:

The opera is set in England, in Medieval times

A young knight Albert lives a life of jousting and courtly pleasure, which his father, an extremely rich but miserly baron, refuses to support. As a result Albert is now deeply in debt and unable to appear in high society, so he tries to borrow money once again. The money-lender refuses to provide a loan, but offers poison by means of which Albert can kill his father. Sending the money-lender away in horror at the idea, he decides to appeal to the duke who rules them all. Meanwhile the baron visits his cellars alone to celebrate the fact that he has now amassed enough gold to fill his sixth and last chest. Filled with greedy delight and terror, he lights candles before the chests and opens them to gloat on what they hold. In a powerful monologue, he fluctuates between ecstasy at the sight of all this twinkling gold and despair that he might soon die and then his son would be able to claim it all and spend it. In despair, Albert asks the duke to help. The duke conceals Albert in a nearby room and summons the baron to persuade him to support his son. Cross-questioned by the duke, the baron tries to protect his fortune and accuses his own son of wanting to steal from him. Outraged, Albert leaps from his hiding-place and accuses his own father of lying. The baron challenges his son to a duel, which Albert accepts, provoking the duke to expel him from his court. The strain is too much for the baron’s heart. He dies, calling not for his son, but for the keys to his beloved chests of gold.

This DVD:
BBC/Opus Arte 0919D
Recorded Live at Glyndebourne in July of 2004
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski, conductor
Annabel Arden, director

NTSC widescreen, LPCM Steero, DTS 5.1, Aspect Ratio 1.78:1, Region 1 (US and Canada only) ASIN B0009K7J5K

Sung in Russian with English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian subtitles

Run time 95 minutes (with the extras; the opera itself lasts for 60 minutes). Release date July 19, 2005 (attention, there is another release in 2008 by Kultur with 1.33:1 aspect ratio).

It must be said that the same production is available as part of a Glyndebourne double bill on blu-ray disc, with Puccini's Gianni Schicchi - which is actually how this short piece was presented, that night, coupled with Puccini's comedy, as strange as it may sound, to pair together such deep drama with such light comedy, although both focus on the topic of greed and avarice, and they are both early 20th century pieces, so, an interesting pairing, after all.

Extras include a spoken synopsis, illustrated with production pictures, and interviews with Arden, Jurowski, and Leiferkus. There is also a trailer for the above-mentioned Gianni Schicchi.

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Cast

Sergei Leiferkus is The Baron - baritone
Richard Berkeley-Steele is Albert - tenor
Maxim Mikhailov is The Servant - bass
Vyacheslav Voynarovsky is The Moneylender - tenor
Albert Schagidullin is The Duke - baritone
Matilda Leyser is The Aerialist (this silent character/dancer is not in the libretto and was added by the stage director to personify Greed)

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This is one of the three Rachmaninov operas (the other two are Aleko, and Francesca da Rimini), a dark, psychological work that intentionally avoids lyricism in the music in favor of the horrifying debased human nature that is depicted. The score is therefore appropriately haunting and brooding, and relies extensively on recitatives. The opera has received criticism for possible anti-Semitic content in the figure of the Moneylender. The stage director has successfully tried to convey the work with equally dark and claustrophobic sets.

This particular product is excellent to display the outstanding Russian baritone Sergei Leiferkus, in this role initially composed with the great Feodor Chaliapin in mind, although he withdrew from the production, so that the role was, instead, created by Georges Baklanoff.

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The overture is simply outstanding and deserves to be heard on its own. Here the LPO does a great job, resonant, full, deep, with perfect transitions. The dancer Matilda Leyser makes of her added character a creepy and interesting presence - usually I'm against these additions but here it seems to work well, given the dark traits of this piece. Sets are bleak. Image definition is not the best, given the dark lighting (most likely the blu-ray product is better at this). Sound balance is very good; we can hear both the singers and the orchestra very clearly.

Richard Berkeley-Steele sounds wobbly and with articulation problems in Russian (in this, he'll be of course at a disadvantage, when compared to his fellow cast members who are native speakers). His acting is intense enough. The comprimario role of the Servant is well done by Maxim Mikhailov. Vyacheslav Voynarovsky as The Moneylender is vocally excellent although prone to stock acting (not with his face but with his hands). The music is very Russian in character.

Sergei Leiferkus is very impressive both vocally, with a beautiful timbre and powerful, crystalline projection (or at least, that's how it's been captured by the sound track - hard to judge without being there in person, but he does sound strong), and acting-wise. The second scene, a long monologue by The Baron, with the dancer adding an even more phantasmagorical feel, is very well done by this phenomenal opera company, Glyndebourne. This scene is of Iago proportions in terms of depiction of evil. The score matches its intensity in a crescendo of sounds. Masterful! A very satisfying scene, sealing my perception of this piece as a high-quality opera. Bravo, composer; bravi orchestra and conductor, and bravo, Mr. Leiferkus! Not to forget sets, lighting, and stage direction, very effective here, with, as the scene progresses, little doors opening everywhere to reveal the various deposits of gold, while the dancer looks horrified at what she sees.

It is certainly not easy to keep this scene going during his monologue of almost half an hour, and Sergei Leiferkus does it effortlessly, keeping the colors in his voice interesting and expressive. This is the kind of opera that can fall flat with a less talented group, not the case here.

The third and last scene brings up the last singing character, Albert Schagidullin's Duke. The singer here, being unlike his first name would lead one to believe, also Russian, continues to show clear articulation like his fellow countrymen in this production, and I very much like his voice. Actually I believe that he does as well as Mr. Leiferkus, and their dialogue that opens scene 3 is another high point of this production.

They are joined by Mr. Berkeley-Steele, and one again laments that in this almost all-Russian, very well done production, Glyndebourne did not go out to hire a proper Russian tenor, because the bit of uneven quality with this singer being the weaker link, is in full display in this scene. The end, curtain calls, with the public going berserk for Mr. Leiferkus bow.

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The extras are also good. The interview with Maestro Jurowski is informative in terms of situating the piece in its musical context in Russia and in the larger European musical movement. He also appropriately underlines how different this score is from other Rachmaninov pieces, which tend to be more melodic and more centered in a core of three or four notes, while this piece moves away from the Westernized romantic style of Tchaikovsky, approaching more the Wagnerian influence, with more variation in keys and leitmotifs. The Maestro also talks about why Chaliapin refused to sing this, using the excuse that he didn't like the composer's treatment of Pushkin's text, while probably it was because he thought he couldn't sing it, given that its tessitura is too low for a baritone and too high for a bass like Mr. Chaliapin, in spite of the fact that the composer wanted to write the piece for the famous Russian bass. Jurowski proposes that Mr. Leiferkus infused new light into the vocal score. The very elegant singer on a tux and bowtie also gives an interview, saying that he indeed thought he would be able to do it, and do it well. The wild-haired stage director is also interviewed, and underlines how sexual is the relationship between The Baron and his gold - which is very well rendered by the singer/actor and the dancer.

The conductor next discourses about the literary aspects in Pushkin's works, and does it very well. Maestro Jurowski, so young, is indeed clear-thinking, articulate, and a good teacher. One would want to see him talk about his scores more often. He could be a good competitor to Maestro Pappano in educating the public about opera.

The Gianni Schicchi trailer contains almost the entire O Mio Babbino Caro, except for the very end. Jurowski and Arden justify why they paired these two in the double bill, and it makes sense.

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In summary, given all of the above (good staging, good sound balance and clarity, the orchestra and the conductors take on the music beautifully, four out of five interpreters are outstanding, the opera itself is good - short, but very interesting, and it is all topped with informative, educational extras), this is a highly recommended product to which I'll give an overall score of A+ (could be A++ with a better tenor), although most likely in terms of purchasing this product, it is probably a better value if one gets the blu-ray with the Gianni Schicchi as a bonus (it is also a very good production which I've seen as well and liked very much).

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 7th, 2015, 04:05 AM
Prince Igor on DVD

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Prince Igor, opera in four acts (here presented in three acts) with a prologue, sung in Russian (premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia, 1820)
Music by Alexander Borodin, finished by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov, with additional orchestration by Pavel Smelkov
Libretto by Alexander Borodin, after a scenario by Vladimir Stasov, based on the ancient Russian epic The Lay of Igor's Host or The Tale of Igor's Campaign, from circa 1185, also with material from two medieval Kievan chronicles.

Metropolitan Opera new production (2014) by Dmitri Tcherniakov
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Noseda
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus, chorus master Donald Palumbo
The Metropolitan Opera Ballet, choreographer Itzik Galili

The performance on this DVD was recorded and broadcast live in HD on March 1, 2014; video direction Gary Halvorson

Production and Set Design by Dmitri Tcherniakov
Costumes Design by Elena Zaitseva
Lighting Design by Gleb Filshtinsky
Projections by S. Katy Tucker

Cast

Prince Igor - Opera Lively interviewee Ildar Abdrazakov
Yaroslavna - Oksana Dyka
Vladimir Igorevich - Sergey Semishkur
Prince Galitsky - Mikhail Petrenko
Khan Konchak - Stefan Kocan
Konchakovna - Anita Rachvelishvili
Ovlur - Mikhail Vekua
Skula - Vladimir Ognovenko
Yeroshka - Andrey Popov
Yarolswvana's nurse - Barbara Dever
Polovtsian Maiden - Kiri Deonarine

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A Deutsche Grammophon / Met Opera release on September 16, 2014
2 DVDs NTSC 16:9 HD, region code zero (worldwide), sound LPCM stereo and DTS 5.1, subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean, running time 192 minutes (opera) + 10 minutes of backstage interviews with host Eric Owens:

Introductions to Act 1, 2 and 3
Interview: Ildar Abdrazakov 2:27
Panel: Gelb, Tcherniakov; Noseda (+Lidiya) 2:26
Interview: Dyka; Petrenko (+Lidiya) 1:38
Interview: Rachvelishvili 1:25
Interview: Donald Palumbo 1:00

The insert contains three color and five black-and-white production pictures, credits, track numbers with titles, characters, and durations; a two-page essay by David Shengold, a two-page synopsis, and the essay and synopsis are repeated in German and French.

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The prologue opens in stark sets, looking rather like a Chernobyl pavillion; costumes are evocative of the Red Army of the Soviet Union, presumably at some point between the two World Wars. Immediately we are treated to extremely excellent singing by both Ildar and Oksana. We're used to the powerful Russian bass' voice - he is consistently outstanding in all productions I've seen with him - and the nice surprise comes with the big booming voice Oksana is able to produce. The Met Chorus is simply thrilling in the prologue, and the orchestra is throbbing and resonant in this "macho" score. Rarely we seen in an opening scene such spectacular musical values. It's rather perfect. In search of this musical excellent, the rather tacky overture composed by Glazunov is thankfully not presented. This new edition of the score actually expunges the opera from almost all add-ons by the other composers (Prince Igor was left unfinished at Borodin's death, but subsequently more music for it was discovered so some of the newly found music replaces Rimsky-Korsakov's and Glazunov's music; this is how Act III and the overture disappeared from this show).

Visually striking, impressive black and white projections of gruesome war scenes and explosions are shown over the melodic opening Act 1 chorus, and we are given the first view of the vast red poppies field, infamous in its exorbitant cost ($100,000) that was the object of criticism around season opening, due to the Met's budget troubles.

It must be said that from the spectators' end, expensive or not, the field is gorgeous and rather a strike of genius in terms of set design. Anita makes her entrance, and she also adds impressively to the musical assets of the evening. The Polovtsian Dances scene is given right after the prologue, unlike in more traditional Prince Igor productions.

The next singer to make a smashing entrance is Sergey Semirshku, and oh wow, he delivers big! This almost all-Russian cast is very, very good. Stefan Kocan is just as good.

It is hard to understand the criticism that this production has generated, because so far it is musically and visually exquisite. It's too early to judge, though; we'll see.

The contemporary choreography by Israeli artist Itziki Gallili in my opinion is rather successful in the Polovtsian Dances, unlike what many critics said - oh, well, there are always those traditionalists who expect classical ballet, but for me, it was rather well dones and consistent with the concept of this production which focuses on Igor's psychology and inner thoughts. The whole poppies field actually looks like a huge brain. Video direction could have used less close-ups, though, for us to see the dances a bit better.

Acts II and III will follow, next post.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 26th, 2015, 01:18 AM
Nineteen days later, I'm finally having a moment to treat myself to acts II and III of this beautiful opera, in order to complete my review.

Act II opens with a 9-minute arioso by Yaroslavna, and our singer in this role, Oksana Dyka, sings it touchingly and with great colors in her voice - she looks good, too. Her perfect diction and clear enunciation add to the quality of this number.

Rousing chorus numbers follow, with the lecherous Galitsky. Singing is again, great. Surprisingly, the Met's sound engineering does capture his voice in uneven manner. Sometimes when he turns, the sound gets muffled and the stereo effect gets weird (I'm currently using the LPCM 2.0 track, with earphones).

This scene with the boisterous men who support Galitsky (Skula, Yeroshka, and their crowd) goes on and on and becomes boring. It's all very Russian, with a lot of fanfare, but could have used some cuts.

We move to the scene with Yaroslavna and the Boyars. Things get better immediately. The act ends with impressive effects: the city is bombed and the roof of the set collapses.

Act III is sad and pungent, with the sets being trashy and the characters dressed in rags. Singing remains good.

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The extras contain the Met Live in HD backstage interviews, and also a discussion between Peter Gelb, the stage director, and the conductor. The director explains his take of staging the opera as if it happened inside the psychological space of the title character's brain.

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Verdict: I liked this DVD. Singing is top-notch. The staging has some interesting elements. I liked the poppy field that looks like red brain lobes, the lead female role is played by a rather charming lady, and Ildar was spectacular. While some criticize this production in musical terms for stripping the opera of the non-Borodin music (claimed that beautiful music got cut), what is left does make a coherent whole. Acts I and III are more successful than Act II.

I won't go into rating details (tired, now), but will just give my overall score: A+

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
April 12th, 2015, 09:55 PM
The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya, on blu-ray disc, also available on DVD

Opera in four acts, sung in Russian
Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Libretto by Vladimir Belsky, based on the merger of two Russian legends: St. Fevronya of Murom, and the city of Kitezh that became invisible when attacked by the Tatars
Premiered at the Mariinsky in St. Peterburg, on February 7, 1907, two years after composition was completed

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Production by DNO (De Nederlandse Opera)

Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Marc Albrecht
Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera, chorus master Martin Wright

Filmed at the Amsterdam Music Theater, in February 2012

Production crew:

Stage director, set designer, costume designer - Dmitri Tcherniakov
Additional costume designer - Elena Zaytseva
Lighting designer - Gleb Flishtinsky
Directed for video by Misjel Vermeiren

Cast:

Svetlana Ignatovich (Fevroniya), John Daszak (Grishka Kuterma), Vladimir Vaneev (Prince Yuriy Vsevolodovich), Maxim Aksenov (Prince Vsevolod Yuryevich), Ante Jerkunica (Bedyay), Vladimir Ognovenko (Burunday), Alexey Markov (Fyodor Poyarok), Mayram Sokolova (Page), and various other minor roles.

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OpusArte and NTR release on DVD and blu-ray disc
All regions, LPCM 24-bit 2.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio sound tracks
16:9 Anamorphic image, 1080i HD
Subtitles in English, French, German, Dutch, Japanese, and Korean

Bonus: cast and crew interviews, cast gallery - It's very informative and well done.

Running time 187 minutes (opera) and 20 minutes (bonus)

Insert - poorly done as it lacks track lists with durations and characters, which is a major impediment to figuring out who is who and reviewing voices, in this opera with multiple characters. This is uncharacteristic of OpusArte, and a shame. Four color production pictures. Credits. A 4-page essay and a 3-page synopsis, in English, repeated in French and German.

Technical aspects - image and sound engineering are close to perfect. Video direction is exquisite. There is nothing to be better desired, technically speaking.

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This is an extraordinary production of a stunningly beautiful opera. Rimsky-Korsakov's lush orchestration is Wagnerian in quality, and this is arguably his most successful opera in terms of sheer beauty. It's not for nothing that it is known as the Russian Parsifal. The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra under Marc Albrecht did a simply sublime job playing this magnificent score. Helped by the outstanding sound engineering, opera lovers will get from this product waves and waves of aural pleasure.

To add to the great orchestral and conducting quality, DNO gathered a phenomenally gifted cast of singers. It is hard to comment on the individual artists given that it is a bit difficult to know who is who with the numerous singing roles and OpusArte's epic failure of not providing track and character lists (the cast gallery in the bonus feature doe come to the rescue), but it hardly matters because I can't think of a single weak link in this extraordinary ensemble of spectacular singers. Not only there almost isn't anyone who sings any worse than at an A++ level (well, Maxim Aksenov is a bit below the others), the chorus is also among the best I've ever heard.

Of course we *can* identify Ms. Svetlana Ignatovich, and oh wow, I'm an instant fan. She is gorgeous, in singing, looks, and acting. She couldn't be any better. I look forward to seeing her live at some point! She is a star of first magnitude, putting together here a luminous performance for the ages! What a tour de force! In-cre-di-ble! This is Anna Caterina Antonacci's level, and a mix of Natalie Dessay's acting with Anna Netreko's singing!

http://zemskygreenartists.com/wp-content/uploads/IGNATOVICH-Svetlana.jpg

Looking at her schedule, she is currently doing Otello in Basel (Desdemona), and she will be back to Amsterdam in June for Pique Dame (Lisa). Oh... if I could afford a trip to Europe right now... Apparently she has never been to this side of the pond. Met, wake up!

John Daszak as Grishka was just as excellent in singing and acting as Svetlana. Mayram Sokolova as Page is another impressive artist, and so is Vladimir Vaneev. Mayram is also a pretty lady:

http://www.mariinsky.ru/images/cms/data/opera_biography/mayram.jpg

Now, as far as the staging goes, buyer beware. Be warned that this is one of the most extreme Regie productions to ever make a DVD/blu-ray release, complete with full frontal male nudity (although briefly, and on the side - one might miss it), realistically depicted rape (with a Tatar brutally forcing the maiden Fevroniya to perform oral sex on him), point-blank executions, beatings (including a woman being savagely kicked and punched) and a lot of blood.

Still, it all works. After all, this opera *is* about a brutal Tatar invasion, and the rawness of the staging does match the dramatic lines in the libretto, which do talk about despicable acts of torture and mass killings. Acting is *incredibly* good. There isn't a single instance of overacting; everything is done well and for a reason. The impression we have is that we're witnessing the real thing, and the events on stage as shocking as they are, do highlight the music.

The stage concept depicts very well what happens to a society that is about to be killed - people turn to debauchery, to despair, to religion, to fighting/denial...

Sets, blocking, make-up, lighting, etc., it's all rather perfect. This staging combines intense and ravishing visual beauty in some scenes, with disturbing ugliness in some others, and it is powerful all along. The wildly imaginative and expressive finale is stunning. This is how it's done, directors! The reality/dream dichotomy was perfectly rendered!

One gets the somewhat uncomfortable feeling of being privy to two facets of mankind - the one that can compose such divine music as Rimsky-Korsakov's, and the one that gets involved in wars and torture, complete with pillaging and raping.

I've spoken against what I call "extreme Regie" - but I must say, when it works, it works. This one does. This production is actually a striking example of the power of opera - to put on stage the most despicable aspects of human nature, simultaneously with the most wondrous musical beauty.

I'd call this staging nothing short of brilliant. It is of uncanny theatricality. Add to it a brilliant cast of actors/singers, a brilliant orchestra, and a brilliant chorus, and you have an A++, highly recommended product that is a mandatory buy for all opera lovers who can stomach the shocking elements of Mr. Tcherniakov's concept. Oh boy, this is a wild ride, but one that is *entirely* satisfactory from beginning to end. I'd rank this blu-ray among the best ever released; it's the desert island kind.

It is hard to think of a single downside to this superlative production by the DNO. I'd call it perfect. It reaches a score of 100 out of 100. All elements of it click as a Swiss clock. I've rarely seen anything of this level of quality. It has me in tears, at the end. Bravissimo! My impulse is to go hug Mr. Tcherniakov - and I'd love to kiss Ms. Ignatovich too! :adoration:

Clayton
April 13th, 2015, 03:33 PM
I am a big fan of this opera and I did think Svetlana Ignatovich's Fevroniya was perfect. It was absolutely as good as every performance of TLOTICOKATMF I have ever attended in the magical theatre of Clayton's mind.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
April 8th, 2016, 10:47 PM
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The Tsar's Bride, opera in four acts, sung in Russian
Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
Libretto by the composer and Ilya Tyumenev, after the drama of the same name by Lev Mey
Premiered at the Private Opera of S.I. Mamontov, a theater in Moscow, in 1899

A BelAir Classiques 2015 release on blu-ray disc, recorded live at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater, Berlin, Germany, in October 2013

A co-production of Staatsoper unter den Linden and Teatro alla Scala di Milano

Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Daniel Barenboim
Staatsopernchor, chorus master Rustam Samedov
Stage Direction Dmitri Tcherniakov

Set Design Dmitri Tcherniakov
Costume Design Elena Zaytseva
Lighting Desing Gleb Filshtinsky
Dramaturgy Detlef Giese
Video Desing and Production Raketa Media
HD recording produced by François Duplat
Directed for TV and video by Andy Sommer

Cast

Vasily Sobakin - Anatoli Kotscherga
Marfa - Opera Lively interviewee Olga Peretyatko
Grigory Gryaznoy - Johannes Martin Kränzle
Grigory Malyuta-Skuratov - Tobias Schabel
Ivan Lykov - Pavel Cernoch
Lyubasha - Anita Rachvelishvili
Bomelius - Stephan Rügamer
Domna Saburova - Anna Tomowa-Sintow
Dunyasha - Anna Lapkovskaya
Petrovna - Carola Höhn

Runtime 152 minutes
Audio PCM 2.0 and DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio
Video 1080i full HD, 16:9
Region code A, B, C
Subtitles in English, French, and German
No extras - 1 blu-ray disc

The booklet is not very informative. We get credits, tracks with musical numbers, characters, and duration; synopsis in English, French, and German. Nothing else. Not a single essay.

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When I interviewed Olga Peretyatko in May of 2014 (by the way, in person she is one of the most attractive and most beautiful women I've ever met in my entire life) she mentioned this production of The Tsar's Bride that was given first in Berlin in 2013, then in Milan. I'm glad that it has been released on blu-ray disc, so that I got the opportunity to witness what Olga was talking about. Here is what she said to me about this show:


OL - Your The Tsar’s Bride at La Scala was in a very modern production, rendered as a TV studio. What did you think of the update?

OP – Oh, that production I liked very much! Tcherniakov is a very intelligent stage director. He convinces you, really. First I did it in Berlin, and then at La Scala, almost with the same cast. In Germany, you know, Regietheater, they are all used to seeing this stuff, and that was very interesting. The idea was that everything was happening right now. He made it very contemporary. I liked it very much.

OL – But the public at La Scala is very traditional, so how was it received there? When they don’t like it, they boo it.

OP – Oh yes! Oh, yes! The singers, they received us well, but the stage director was booed so much, you can’t believe it! Tcherniakov’s Traviata was booed too, to open the La Scala season. Actually it is suicide to take such a production of Traviata to open the season at La Scala! From the beginning, it was clear that he would be booed! [laughs] So it happened again with The Tzar’s Bride, but in Berlin six months earlier it was a great success for him. You know, it’s a different public.

Sure, the La Scala public is tough, but after watching this, I can't imagine why on Earth someone - even the most traditionalist person - would boo such an outstanding production. There is the utmost respect for the music and nothing is tasteless or excessive.

This is pure genius, and belongs in the rarefied Pantheon of the best opera stagings of all time. It's simply brilliant!

We've extensively discussed Regieoper on Opera Lively, and I like to say that there is what I call good Regie, and extreme Regie. This is definitely the former. Like Olga said, this staging is utterly convincing. It is able to perfectly render the ancient Russian story in a modern setting, with stunning, inventive visuals, interesting solutions, surprising and creative touches, resulting in a feast for the senses with not a single scene or image out of place.

The conclusion one gets from this production has to do with how perennial our beloved art form gets to be: this piece is able to cross the centuries to remain as consequential and as relevant today as it was 118 years ago.

The extremely competent stage director Dmitri Tcherniakov makes of this utterly Russian tale something universal and contemporary, without losing any bit of its Russian-ness.

There are so many good things I could say about details of this staging... Listing them all would actually become tedious, so numerous they are. I'd rather leave to the viewer the ability to be surprised, because this is a nice ride. There is always something unexpected and stimulating to see and hear.

Now, how can we make the most interesting staging I've seen in a long, long time into an end-product for the consumer that is close to perfection? By adding phenomenal singers, accomplished actors, and tremendous orchestral playing. Now, get these incredibly talented people to perform a truly beautiful and lush score by Rimsky-Korsakov that is intense and melodious in its soaring vocal phrases... and you have operatic bliss. What a pleasure! This is paradise!

By the way, the technical aspects couldn't be any better. The 1080i image is sharp and colorful, and the DTS sound has exquisite balance and clarity. The one minor glitch in such an extraordinary blu-ray disc release is the less-than-informative booklet.

Now, if you guys haven't realized yet that I, well, LOVED it (I can imagine Amfortas saying "I wonder if Alma liked this thing," LOL, let's break it down into our customary rating system to make it all crystal-clear. It's a no-brainer:

Physical Production:

Stage direction: A++ (sublime, brilliant!)
Acting: A++ across the board
Blocking: A++
Lighting: A++
Costumes: A++ (the mix of contemporary and lush period Russian costumes highlights the enduring beauty of this piece)
Set Design: A++ (very, very interesting)
Video Direction: A++ (very skillful capture)
Sound Engineering: A++ (perfect sound track with competent orchestra/singers balance and surround effects)

Erm... it sounds like the average is... A++, go figure!

Musical Production:

Orchestra: A++
Conducting: A++
Chorus: A++
Singing: A++ across the board - simply spectacular by our beloved Olga Peretyatko, and Johannes Martin Kränzle as well as Anita Rachvelishvili were great too!

Hm... looks like the average is... A++ again!

And the opera itself is really, really beautiful.

So, should you guys buy this? Yes! Yes! Yes! This is top 10 material, folks, in terms of opera videos. You know that Giulio Cesare and that Così fan Tutte from Glyndebourne that we like to say should be in the library of places like Julliard, to teach students how to stage, conduct, play, sing, act, and film/record opera? Yep, this one is one of those.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
April 9th, 2016, 12:29 PM
Re-reading my review right above the last one, I realize that both these PERFECT stagings are by the talented Mr. Dmitri Tcherniakov. Question: is he the very best Regieoper stage director in activity these days? The answer might very well be an enthusiastic yes!

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
February 3rd, 2019, 07:10 PM
The Tale of Tsar Saltan on blu-ray disc and DVD (the package includes both)
Opera in four acts with a prologue (7 scenes)
Full title, The Tale of the Tsar Saltan, of his Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatyr Prince Gvidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Princess-Swan

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Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
Libretto by Vladimir Belsky, based on the poem of the same name by Aleksandr Pushkin
Premiered in Moscow, in November 1900

Filmed at the Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg, in July 2015, a production by the State Academic Mariinsky Theater

Mariinsky Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev
Mariinsky Chorus, Ballet, and extras

Stage Director Alexander Petrov
Set Designer Vladimir Firer after sketches by Ivan Bilibin
Costume Designer Vladimir Firer
Lighting Designer Vladimir Lukasevich
Video Director Anna Matison (she needs to be fired)

Cast

Tsar Saltan - Edward Tsanga
Tsaritsa Militrisa - Irina Churilova
Tkachikha - Varvara Solovyova
Povarikha - Tatiana Kravtsova
Barbarikha - Elena Vitman
Swan-Princess - Albina Shagimuratova
Old Man - Vasily Gorshkov
Messenger - Andrei Spekhov
Jester - Denis Begansky
First Shipman - Vitaly Dudkin
Second Shipman - Alexander Gerasimov
Third Shipman - Timur Abdikeyev

Simultaneous blu-ray disc and DVD package released by the Mariinsky Label in 2017. Video formats (all regions) BD50 16:9 HD 1081i, and DVD9 16:9 NTSC. Audio formats 16bit 48hz 2.0 PCM Stereo (no other options). Menus in English, subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese. The back cover contains three thumbnails, and the insert contains three color production pictures, credits, and the synopsis in Russian, English, French, and German. Maestro Gergiev's artistic biography is given in the same languages. There is no other documentation, or bonus. Running time 150 minutes. The subtitles are good (very visible white letters that are not too big).

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I have a few complaints about this product, upfront: the blu-ray disc image, although sharp as usual, suffers from annoying movement lag. The audio is good and has appropriate balance between the stage and the pit, but it does not include surround options, which is almost unheard of, these days, for blu-ray. The documentation is quite limited, with no track list with the name of the musical numbers, and no essays, just the synopsis. This is weird, since they went to the trouble of providing a double DVD-Blu Ray Disc package but failed to get the technological and academic aspects quite right. The Mariinsky certainly does have the expertise to provide better documentation with essays about the composer, the piece and its music, and the stage direction. It is also interesting that only the conductor's artistic biography is listed, while nothing is said about any of the other artists. Video direction is very annoying too, changing from close-ups to panoramic views too often - fortunately more stable at times, but at other times reaching the absurd extreme of one take change every second!!! What was she thinking???

The sets are very handsome and the costumes are of the period traditional Russian kind (these costumes are some of the most beautiful I've ever seen). The sets, like the French do to their Baroque operas, reproduce the theatrical arts from the time the opera premiered, with the sort of cardboard backdrops and props that look particularly good here. They were done based on the original drawings by Bilibin for one of the book editions of Pushkin's poem, published in 1905. This Russian illustrator and set designer also did the drawings for the sets of the premieres of Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestration version of Boris Godunov (1908), and The Golden Cockerel (1909). There are projections in the back, but they reproduce the same stile. Great colors, both for the sets and the very interesting costumes. This is a very nice physical production, and the fact that it recovered the old drawings is quite a gem!

This is one of the Bilibin drawings:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3c/Ivanbilibin.jpg/800px-Ivanbilibin.jpg

During the prologue, it is easy to quickly realize that this ensemble of native-speaking singers does a very good and homogeneous job with one of their national operas, as expected. Certainly we shouldn't be fostering the emphasis on looks which is wide-spread enough (often unfairly) in the world of opera, but we've been so spoiled with gorgeous-looking Russian opera singers, that it is a bit surprising that the cast for this production is not made of particularly good-looking people. They do sing well, which is what is most important, of course, including the older singers who are still in good voice. Maybe the only exception is the singer manning the role of Guidon, whose pitch control can be faulty at times (at other times, he is fine).

Regarding the piece itself, it is quite pleasant, with the composer treating us to very energetic and lively music, and his customary great orchestration that is extremely well-rendered by the excellent Mariinsky Orchestra and its star conductor. This opera is well-known for the Act III "Flight of the Bumblebee." The introduction to Scene 2 of Act IV, "The Three Wonders," is also very famous as a concert piece. Surprisingly, the "Flight of the Bumblebee" is rendered discreetly. I was expecting the orchestra to go for it at full force, but Gergiev used soft dynamics allowing the focus to be on the stage rather than on the pit. Maybe that's what NR-K's dynamic marks say in the score which I've never seen, but in concert, orchestras won't have the same constraints, so we're more used to hear the piece played more loudly. Gergiev did conduct "The Three Wonders" with high dynamics; very satisfactory!

The scene changes and musical introductions count on very interesting cartoon-like animation (recovered from a traditional Russian animated film from 1984 that tells the fairy tale of the Tsar Saltan - although it doesn't entirely overlap with the libretto, but who cares?) and shots of the musicians. Oh, the eye-candy factor missing from the cast can be found in some very attractive instrumentalists, hehe; and oh again, some of the dancers are stunning, like one expects from these privileged genes the Russians have - they seem to churn out beautiful people very easily, over there...

This opera might qualify for the longest title ever... 22 words! Quite funny!

Despite the deficient technical aspects (oh God, that movement lag drove me crazy, and what a bad video director! - I don't know if the DVD also has this blurry lag, since I only watched the blu-ray disc, one of the blurriest ever!), this is a very recommended purchase. The opera itself is sublime and highly entertaining; the musical aspects are formidable (orchestra, conductor, chorus, singers); and the physical production is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. A better insert with some essays, surround sound, and the elimination of the technical defects would have made of this product a rather perfect one. And let's fire the video director, please! Apparently she has ruined the Mariinsky's The Golden Cockerel, too.