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Thread: Modern and Contemporary Opera on DVD, blu-ray, and CD

          
   
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  1. #76
    Schigolch
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    Philip Glass:

    In the Penal Colony
    One Act Opera
    Libretto by Rudolph Wurlitzer based on Franz Kafka

    Michael Bennett, the Visitor
    Omar Ebrahim, the Officer

    The Music Theatre Wales Ensemble
    Michael Rafferty, conductor


    Scored for string quintet and two singers, and based of the story by Kakfa, this is indeed a rather dull and boring piece. Yes, it's unmistakably Glass's, but even from a man that made repetition and recycle of the material the core of his musical style, I think this is a step too much.

    The musicians and the singers are fine.

    Overall: C-, for Glass's die-hard fans, only.


  2. #77
    Senior Member Top Contributor Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    Philip Glass, Kepler (2009, premiered 2010)



    Glass wrote three operas dedicated to historical scientific figures. Johannes Kepler was one of them, and the subject of this opera. Libretto was in German and some Latin. The music was very accessible, and Glass-sounding, with extensive use of the chorus as a force in itself to drive the drama, and the underlying moods of Kepler himself, which was more or less effective for a plot without much of intrigues, love, murder, forgiveness, etc. that you might be acustomed to with the majority of operas ever written. The staging was modern despite the depiction of a 16th to 17th century historical figure by a new contemporary opera (how's that for irony)! Well sung, well paced and played for its premiere performance and recording. My only reservation would be for the libretto and plot, for it was rather static, more like a semi-dramatic portrait of Kepler's thoughts and challenges concerning astrology and astronomy. But as my first experience of a Glass opera, I thought I enjoyed it.

  3. #78
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Unsuk Chin: Alice in the Wonderland on DVD



    I will be publishing a short review for this one, not my usually detailed one.

    This is a 2007 contemporary opera by acclaimed South Korean female composer Unsuk Chin. This production is from the Bayerische Staatsoper with a rather perfect cast of perfectly unknown singers, all very good (Sally Matthews as Alice is particularly good and so are many of her male counterparts), with the house orchestra playing well under the excellent conducting of Kent Nagano. Stage direction and set design are by Achim Freyer. Very imaginative and interesting costumes, masks, and puppets are by Nina Weitzner. Regrettably silly video direction (with the oh-so-outdated technique of shaky handheld camera and idiotic smart-aleck tricks like filming out of focus, and excessive use of close-ups making it hard to follow the imaginative staging) is by Ellen Fellmann, a name to be avoided in the future. My oh my, why can't video directors just show the staging with a panoramic image and the occasional close-up to highlight a detail? Why have they lately been trying to get smart, with usually disastrous results???

    The sets are sleek, interesting, using a tilted wall and good lighting. There is the inevitable Regie nod of placing on two of the masks depicting two old man, semi-erect penises in place of noses. OK, we all know that Alice in the Wonderland has psychoanalytical symbolism, but that was totally unnecessary. The obligatory grotesque image is also provided, when one of the puppets representing a cook has big shriveled droopy breasts. Fortunately that's about all in terms of the mandatory Regie touches out of Munich. Everything else is rather tasteful.

    The opera itself is rather excellent. Unsuk Chin's music fits *perfectly* the story and is wildly creative. The libretto follows rather closely Lewis Carroll's text, preserving the linguistic puns (sung in English, with English, German, French, and Spanish optional subtitles).

    Technically this Unitel Classica / Medici Arts product is rather impeccable, with such good quality of image (filmed in HD, 16:9, all regions, running time 123 minutes) and sound (DTS 5.1 is available, as well as DD 5.1 and LPCM stereo) that it isn't too far from a blu-ray. Chapter listing with characters and duration as well as a brief essay are provided in the insert. The essay is short - 3 pages - but rather focused and complete, since it does address Unsuk Chin's musical style, the staging concept, the libretto and the original source. No extras.

    Overall, B+, recommended (the imbecile video direction prevents it from reaching A territory, as well as the two silly Regie components).

    To the opera itself I'd give an A, highly recommended for lovers of contemporary music, but also quite accessible to the non-initiated.

    Here is the link to this product's sale point at Amazon.com, for $27:
    http://www.amazon.com/Unsuk-Chin-Won...chin+alice+dvd
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); December 23rd, 2017 at 05:57 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  4. #79
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    This is one occasion when the YouTube version discouraged me from buying the DVD. I had it in my Presto Classical basket, watched about 40 minutes on YouTube, got livid with the video director and had to switch it off, as the anger was overhwelming the pleasure from the music and production. If I were Chin or Freyer I'd sue.
    Natalie

  5. #80
    Senior Member Top Contributor Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    Interesting views about Chin's Alice in the Wonderland. It is one that I am thinking about buying at some stage. "The weird stuff", just wait for the sale that comes every now and then.

  6. #81
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Menotti - Help, Help, the Globolinks! on DVD



    This is another opera for children by Menotti, sometimes performed in double bill with his Amahl, since both are short - Help, Help is 70 minutes long while Amahl is under one hour.

    It premiered in Hamburg in December 1968, sung in German although it was written in English. Then seven months later it premiered in the United States at Santa Fe Opera in English version. The libretto is by the composer and is not based on any other source.

    This DVD is a studio film using the same cast and props of the Hamburg State Opera world premiere, also sung in German. It was done in 1969 for television, and now it's been released on DVD. Stage direction was by Menotti himself. The Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra was conducted by Matthias Kuntzsch.

    This ArtHaus Musik 2007 release has old-fashioned but very sharp color image in 4:3 format, region code zero (worldwide); the sound is PCM mono, and there are optional subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian. A very good insert with a long essay is provided, talking in great detail about the opera, the staging, and Menotti's music.

    The very excellent cast includes Edith Mathis as Emily, a great Arlene Saunders as the funny Mme. Euterpova, Raymond Wolansky as Dr. Stone, William Workman as Tony, Kurt Marschner as Timothy, Ursula Boese as Miss Penelope Newkirk, Franz Grundheber as Mr. Lavender-Gas, and Noël Mangin as Dr. Turtlespit.

    The Ballet of the Hamburg State Opera provides the Globolinks (silent roles).

    Well, this is a curious Sci-Fi opera, and the film of it is like one of those B movies. The plot is simple: extraterrestrials called Globolinks invade Earth and try to turn the population into Globolinks by touching them. At the touch of one of the creatures, the human loses the capacity to speak and sing, and becomes a Globolink in 24 hours. The only way to defeat them is that they hate music, and run scared when someone plays an instrument. They disable and attack a school activity bus that is bringing back to school a number of children who play various instruments in the band. However the children have left their instruments behind, except for Emily the violinist. So she leaves the bus behind and goes to school to fetch help, while playing her violin to keep the creatures at bay. The Globolinks manage to turn the principal into one of them. The Music Teacher fights back, etc. The creatures manage to steal and break Emily's violin, but the Music Teacher arrives with the Band and rescues her, to a happy ending.

    The Globolinks are underlined in the score by electronic atonal music. This opera was for Gian Carlo Menotti a way to express his preoccupation with the possibility that modern atonal and electronic music might kill off traditional diatonic music.

    As a children's opera, this work is less accomplished than Amahl and the Night Visitors, and much less impressive than Menotti's big hits The Consul and The Medium. Still, it's enjoyable.

    This vintage production is curious and interesting.

    B, recommended.

    Available from Amazon.com for $27, and from Amazon marketplace vendors for $14.

    http://www.amazon.com/Menotti-Help-T...the+globolinks
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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  8. #82
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    I've just realized through Nat's participation in another thread that Achim Freyer who directed the Alice in the Wonderland production reviewed above was also the stage director for the disastrous LA Ring.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  9. #83
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    Yes.

    He's VERY keen on bobbleheads.
    Natalie

  10. #84
    Senior Member Involved Member Herkku's Avatar
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    Dialogues des Carmélites (Poulenc)



    Before watching this DVD I had only a vague conception of what Dialogues des Carmélites was about. I had heard the EMI recording with Denise Duval, Regine Crespin and Rita Gorr once, but I only knew that it was something about nuns that get executed in the end. So, I felt kind of a virgin when I began to watch this performance. And I'm afraid my whole credibility as someone capable of making relevant comments about opera may be at stake here.

    Firstly, I'm going to describe my very own feelings about the opera and the performance at hand.

    1. This must be the only opera where they sing about a flatiron.

    2. It contains the most gripping death scene I have seen in an opera, not meaning the ending where all the remaining nuns are guillotined, but the death of the old prioress of the convent. Here we are very far from Mimì and Violetta, really watching someone in her death throes, even doubting her own faith and predicting the fate of the convent. As if she was not suffering enough, we have a stupid doctor who refuses more medication with the excuse that the patient's body couldn't tolerate it! Well, as if he would have been sued for malpractise overdosing a nun during the French revolution...

    3. The music. It's kind of endless and constantly changing melody, always at the service of the words. So, there are no arias to speak of until the end, where the new prioress' "Mes filles, j'ai désiré de tout mon cœur" at least begins like one, but even it just ends in midair. That said, the music is quite easy on the ear, very Poulenc-like, and it must have sounded already rather oldfashioned in the fifties, when it was composed. All the better for us, I think.

    4. The performance is from the Staatsoper Hamburg, 2008. I don't think you could wish for a better one, or expect another one on DVD any time soon. The conductor is Simone Young, the stage director Nikolaus Lehnhoff, both good. Blanche, the principal role, is sung by Alexia Voulgaridou - very good. But Kathryn Harries as the dying prioress really took my breath away. I have now watched her death scene four times and the magic hasn't diminished at all. Sister Constance, Jana Büchner, with her clear soprano, is just as joyful vocally as her role demands. The rest of the cast doesn't let us down either. The sets are modern and simple and I think that this is a better solution than any attempt to try something gothic, e.g. The nuns' habits and headware are traditional, but go well with the graphic surroundings.

    ---This is the end of my personal impressions ---

    Since this does not belong to your run-of-the-mill repertoire, a synopsis would be in order. In spite of the fact that Wikipedia describes the opera having two acts (when Kobbé and Viking and the leaflet accompanying the DVD tell that it has three!) I copy the plot from there.

    The pathologically timid Blanche de la Force decides to retreat from the world and enter a Carmelite convent. The Mother Superior informs her that the Carmelite order is not a refuge: it is the duty of the nuns to guard the Order, not the other way around. In the convent, the jolly Sister Constance tells Blanche (to her consternation) that she has had a dream that the two of them will die young together. The Mother Superior, who is dying, commits Blanche to the care of Mother Marie. The Mother Superior passes away in great agony, shouting in her delirium that despite her long years of service to God, He has abandoned her. Blanche and Mother Marie, who witness her death, are shaken.

    Sister Constance remarks to Blanche that the Mother Superior's death seemed unworthy of her, and speculates that she had been given the wrong death, as one might be given the wrong coat in a cloakroom. Perhaps someone else will find death surprisingly easy. Perhaps we die not for ourselves alone, but for each other. Blanche's brother, the Chevalier de la Force, arrives to announce that their father thinks Blanche should withdraw from the convent, since she is not safe there (being a member of both the nobility and a religious congregation). Blanche refuses, saying that she has found happiness in the Carmelite order, but later admits to Mother Marie that it is fear (or the fear of fear itself, as the Chevalier expresses it) that keeps her from leaving.

    The chaplain announces that he has been forbidden to preach (presumably for being a non-juror under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy). The nuns remark on how fear now governs the country, and no one has the courage to stand up for the priests. Sister Constance asks, "Are there no men left to come to the aid of the country?" "When priests are lacking, martyrs are superabundant," replies the new Mother Superior. Mother Marie says that the Carmelites can save France by giving their lives, but the Mother Superior corrects her: it is not permitted to become a martyr voluntarily; martyrdom is a gift from God. A police officer announces that the Legislative Assembly has nationalized the convent and its property, and the nuns must give up their habits. When Mother Marie acquiesces, the officer taunts her for being eager to dress like everyone else. She replies that the nuns will continue to serve, no matter how they are dressed. "The people has no need of servants," proclaims the officer haughtily. "No, but it has a great need for martyrs," responds Mother Marie. "In times like these, death is nothing," he says. "Life is nothing," she answers, "when it is so debased." In the absence of the new Mother Superior, Mother Marie proposes that the nuns take a vow of martyrdom. However, all must agree, or Mother Marie will not insist. A secret vote is held; there is one dissenting voice. Sister Constance declares that she was the dissenter, and that she has changed her mind, so the vow can proceed. Blanche runs away from the convent, and Mother Marie finds her in her father's library. Her father has been guillotined, and Blanche has been forced to serve her former servants. The nuns are all arrested and condemned to death, but Mother Marie is away (with Blanche, presumably) at the time. The chaplain tells Mother Marie that since God has chosen to spare her, she cannot now voluntarily become a martyr by joining the others in prison. The nuns (one by one) slowly march to the scaffold, singing Salve Regina. At the last minute, Blanche appears, to Constance's joy; but as she mounts the scaffold, Blanche changes the hymn to Deo patri sit gloria (All praise be thine, O risen Lord).

    --- And where did I get it all wrong? ---

    I thought that everything was about faith. According to The Viking Opera Guide it's about fear. Well, I can understand that both the aristocracy and the church had reason enough to be afraid during the revolution, but in my humble opinion the faith transcends the fear here. What I also failed to notice is that Poulenc had a vocal counterpart in his mind for the principal characters, namely Amneris (Mother Marie), Desdemona (the new Prioress), Kundry (the old Prioress), Thaïs (Blanche) and Zerlina (Constance). I'm not aware of where this information is based on, just read the book. Furthermore, all have leitmotifs of their own - and me not noticing anything! There is more: the fear is typified by a rising minor third, which we allegedly hear throughout the work, culminating in the final scene, where the nuns are singing Salve Regina over repeated minor thirds, conquering their fear when facing their death. I mean that I know what intervals are, but I don't recognize them while I'm listening to the music.

    This leaves me very humble, but I think it's only fair that you know, that I am not able to analyze music in any great depths. I can tell what I see and hear and whether I like it or not, but it's not necessarily the whole story.

  11. #85
    Schigolch
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    Dialogues is one of my favorite operas.

    I do think there are two better versions, in terms of staging, on the market, namely:

    Robert Carsen's:



    Marthe Keller's:



    Lehnhoff's staging is quite good, anyway.


    The opera, with a libretto by Poulenc himself, it's based on a great play by Georges Bernanos (funningly based itself on a rather weak novella, on the real subject of the murder of several nuns from a convent at Compiègne, during the Terror), and the subject both Bernanos and Poulenc had foremost in mind was the mistery of Grace. It relates the internal fight of Blanche, torn between her fears and her duty, and her final victory over herself. A matter of faith, as you were pointing out. The vocal counterparts are true, this information comes from Poulenc himself, in his correspondance.

    There are indeed motifs, many of them very subtle. Perhaps my favorite is the motif usually named as "Serenity" that sounds at the end of the first scene, when Blanche finish her plea to her father, and then again at the very end of the opera.

    When the opera was premiered (in Italian) in 1957 at La Scala, it received a good response from the audience, but not so good from some critics, that were expecting something more 'experimental'. However, Poulenc was convinced that 'my poor nuns can only sing within tonality'. Today, the Dialogues are fully part of the repertory.

    What a great opera!.

  12. #86
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    I think it's the Robert Carsen version with the most brilliantly staged final scene - the nuns are arranged in a grid on the stage; and they collapse one at a time with each stroke of the guillotine (which of course you can hear clearly in the music). Absolutely chilling.
    Natalie

  13. #87
    Schigolch
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    Carsen's staging is great. I've watched live on theater and it's really a very, very moving experience.



    On the other hand, the other two mentioned in the posts above, are also quite good. I can't condone, however, Mr. Tcherniakov's approach.


  14. #88
    Senior Member Involved Member Herkku's Avatar
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    Aulis Sallinen: The Red Line (Punainen viiva)

    Another old review.



    For my first review of this new year I have chosen a Finnish opera, sung in Finnish: Punainen viiva or The Red Line by Aulis Sallinen. L'Amour de Loin by Saariaho made it to our 100 list, but it was in French from the start. The Red Line was premiered in 1978 and I saw it a little later with Jorma Hynninen singing the role of Topi, as he does here in amazingly good voice - after 30 years!

    The composer adapted Ilmari Kianto's novel of the same name for the libretto. The opera tells about the personal tragedy of the poor family of Topi and Riika, but also about the year 1907, when the first parliamentary elections were held in Finland, where it was possible for women both to vote and seek candidacy (19 female members were elected), socialism was beginning to spread, but Finland was still part of the Imperial Russia. The name of the opera refers to the practice then used of drawing a red line on the list of candidates you wished to support, although you could also order the list by numbering the names according your preferences.

    In the beginning Topi and Riika deplore their poverty and reminisce the happier days of their youth, Riika having served as a maid in a great manor, Topi as a logger, when he got at least proper bread to eat, not the kind made mixing tree-bark with the grains. Now they have three children, but not shoes for them for the winter, and the grain bins are empty. Topi leaves to the nearest village to sell some game he has hunted and buy flour. There he goes to a meeting, where he hears of the coming elections. Meanwhile, a wandering peddler visits Riika and tells of unrest in Russia. A further meeting is arranged, where a socialist agitator tells of a possible change of the world order and urges people to use their right to vote. The elections come and go, but Topi's and Riika's children get sick and die. Ultimately even Topi dies struggling with a bear that has attacked their only cow.

    The composer himself, interviewed in the extras, tells that The Red Line is close to music theatre, and there are pure speaking parts. In this new production, a dance group is also added to the performance. Topi's and Riika's soliloquies may have some resemblance to arias, but otherwise the singing is very much extended speaking. Listening and watching this after so many years, I find that it was much easier for me to listen contemporary music as a young man. The most beautiful music here is the orchestral epilogue after the death of the children in the end.

    As I already mentioned, Jorma Hynninen is still impressive. I wish I could say the same of the Riika of Päivi Nisula, but I can't. She is not easy listening. Aki Alamikkotervo as the agitator, Puntarpää, is good. So is Hannu Forsberg's Simana Arhippaini, the peddler. The orchestra and chorus of the Finnish National Opera, conducted by Mikko Franck, are as good as could be wished for. The production is much more modern than that I saw 30 years ago, directed by Pekka Milonoff - mainly known here from the spoken theatre.

    I can't imagine what kind of impression this work would make among foreign friends of opera, although it has been performed even at the Met. The soprano here doesn't make it any easier.

  15. #89
    Senior Member Top Contributor Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    To buy or not to buy? Has anyone view/listened to these two?

    Walter Braunfels (1882-1954), Die Vögel (1920)



    John Adams (born 1947), El Niño (opera-oratorio, 2000)


  16. #90
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Dialogues is a very, very beautiful opera. This is a very good CD of it:

    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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