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

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  1. #1

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

    The Passenger by Weinberg

    Michelle Breedt (Lisa)
    Roberto Sacca (Walter)
    Elena Kelessidi (Martha)
    Artur Rucinski (Tadeusz)
    Svetlana Doneva (Katja)
    Angelica Voje (Krzystina)
    Elzbieta Wroblewska (Vlasta)
    Talia Or (Ivette)
    Agnieska Rehlis (Hannah)
    Helen Field (Old Woman)
    Liuba Sokolova (Bronka)

    Vienna Symphony Orchestra & Prague Philharmonic Choir, Conductor: Teodor Currentzis
    Stage Director: David Pountney

    The Polish-Russian composer Mieczysław Weinberg wrote Pasażerka, (The Passenger), in 1968, but it was not premiered on stage until 2010, at the Bregenzer Festspiele, 14 years after Weinberg's death. The libretto was written by Alexander Medvedev, who was more fortunate, but died just five days after the premiere.

    Based on a tale by a Polish survivor from Auschwitz, Zofia Posmysz, it relates the encounter in the 1950s, aboard an ocean liner, of a married German couple, Lisa and Walter, with Martha, a former inmate of a concentration camp where Lisa, unbeknownst to her husband, was a guard. The story moves along in two planes: the present, where Lisa must confess her guilt to Walter, and find a way to live with the things she did to Marta, and the past, where we see the life in the concentration camp and the death of Martha's boyfriend on a whim of the commander.

    For Weinberg, this was extremely personal, as both his parents and a sister were killed in the Nazi death camps. The score is powerful, tense, bare of any ornament. But at the same time, with some beautiful and lyrical moments, like the encounter between Martha and her boyfriend, and her delicate aria, along with heavy dramatic parts, like the gloomy night in the third scene.

    The staging by David Pountney is fantastic, with the luminous deck of the liner, and the dark interior, where the Auschwitz's scenes are played. The orchestra and singers offer us a good team performance. The Opera is sung in German, English, French, Russian and Yiddish, each character in their own language.

    Overall: B+. Recommended for all Opera lovers.

    A few days ago, there was the first staging in the UK, at ENO. This is the trailer of the production:

    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); October 21st, 2014 at 04:42 PM.

  2. #2
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Very interesting, Schigolch, this sounds just like the opera that invites psychoanalytical interpretation, so when our new friends arrive, I'll point them to this post of yours, thanks.

  3. #3
    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    I'd really like to find Posmysz's original book and read it as background. Unfortunately, nothing turned up on Amazon. I will keep looking -- I think familiarity with the background would enhance my listening to this opera.

  4. #4
    In the DVD there is an interesting booklet, and also a documentary that can provide the background you claim.

  5. #5
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Azguime: Itinerário do Sal on DVD
    399 years of opera… I’ve just watched Itinerário do Sal (Salt Itinerary) by contemporary Portuguese composer Miguel Azguime, pushing my temporal operatic span to almost four centuries, given that the oldest opera that I’ve seen is Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, composed in 1607, and the newest one is this piece composed in 2006.

    Contemporary classical music has been a subject of debate in this forum. I find myself liking it more and more, without losing for not even a single moment my appreciation for the older forms – I still love baroque, classical, romantic, and modernist operas - basically I love opera in all forms, sub-genres, and eras – give-me opera buffa, seria, bel canto, verismo, operetta, opéra comique, Wagnerian musical drama, whatever, and I’ll gobble it up.

    But I digress. Back to this piece. It’s proposed, in terms of classification, as an “electroacoustic and multimedia opera.” It is available on DVD and can be ordered from for $30. It was released in 2007 by Miso Records, well packaged with a multilingual insert (English, Portuguese, French, German) containing two short essays about the piece, a synopsis, the full libretto in original Portuguese and translated into the other three languages above, the biographies of the artists, and an interesting interior cover art (by interior I mean under the exterior sleeve which looks more generic) containing a mosaic of the scenes (approximately 350 small thumbnail pictures of the staging, which is nice in terms of remembering and savoring what I’ve just seen on the TV screen). Justifying the somewhat stiff price for a DVD with a running time of 50 minutes is the fact that a CD with the full opera is also included, and there are two nice extras – a 35-minute fascinating interview with the composer, and a 10-minute documentary with the audience, with dozens of people who were walking out of the theater being stopped and asked the question: “Is this really an opera?” The answers are insightful and interesting – and I’d definitely agree with the predominant opinion that yes, this piece is definitely an opera.

    This is a live performance in Lisbon, filmed in 2006. Miso Records is a small company specializing in Portuguese contemporary classical music (founded by the composer himself), and even though like I said the packaging and insert are good, the technical side of the DVD is less good. The image is sharp enough but has some occasional flicking in the bottom part of the screen. The sound, if you crank it up too loud, runs into distortions. Anyway, if you bring the sound a little lower and you don’t mind the occasional flicking and a certain amateur feel, it is quite acceptable in spite of some blunders in terms of camera angles and close-ups (sometimes what is going on behind the performer on the video screens can’t be seen because of close-ups of his face). There are subtitles in all four languages mentioned above.

    OK, so, I started by doing my “homework,” that is, by reading the two short essays, the biographies, and the libretto. At one point I was thinking, “oh boy, I want my money back, can I just send this piece of crap back without even watching it?” This sort of prejudiced view was brought about by certain phrases from one of the essays: “It is as though the sound wrote the sound itself. The same might be said of the writing: the lines trace their own possibility as a written form.” [Whaaaat??? Says Almaviva]

    It continues: “Sound and line are notations in the second degree: the being that they designate is the being that they themselves are.” “The signs become the actual music and the body another disincarnate sign object.” “By means of the multiplying effect of mediations and sensorial saturation that they imply, the digital machine allows the textualization of sense in the sensors, the sonic effects and the projections. The digitalization that affects language itself is manifest in the combinatorial logic that regulates the phrasal structures and in the paronymy which determines variations in the words.”

    By now I’m thinking –“Holly crap! Where is the exit door??? What kind of pseudointellectual drivel is this?”

    Then I decide to calm down and read the libretto before I throw this thing in the garbage can. It doesn’t reassure me at all. Here are some parts of the libretto, for your delight:

    “Blable blebla blelebela
    Belelabas labalebe
    Lebalabele belebala
    Labalaba balalabe”

    And another part:

    “tataaca… taacata… tatacaa… cataata…”

    (No, it's not because you don't speak Portuguese... it makes no sense in Portuguese either).

    OK, I’m thinking, where is some_guy who recommended this crap to me? Is he going to refund me my $30? I’m feeling pretty angry, and thinking that this was not what I had planned for my Saturday of watching opera with my wife and doing other fun things instead of posting here non-stop.

    “Oh well,” I tell my wife, ”it’s not likely that some_guy will send us a check in the mail for our trouble and I doubt that we have a case for a legal suit for emotional damage, so we may as well pop this ** into the DVD player and have a laugh at the excesses of vanguard contemporary so-called composers.”

    That’s when this thing blew us away and left us speechless.

    Oh! My! God! This is a brilliant piece of work, wildly creative, utterly fascinating! We watched it with a smile on our faces from the first through the 50th minute, and regretted it when it ended! We wanted more!

    Mr. Azguime, while trained in flute and piano as well, is primarily a percussionist. Most of what we might call orchestration in this piece – I mean, metaphorically speaking since there is no orchestra – is percussion, augmented by electronic means. But wow, this is probably the most interesting percussion I’ve ever seen. He does his percussion with his *voice*, his fingers, and a sort of electronic table (I’ve seen one of those in a friend’s house) that makes reverberations out of a magnetic field, and you play it by waving a metallic object above it. What is most interesting about this, is the fact that he uses *words* as percussion elements.

    And here, a strong caveat: the libretto is for the most part in Portuguese, with a relatively long part in French, and the short epilogue is in German. I don’t speak German, but I do speak fluent Portuguese and French, and I believe that this work will suffer *extremely* in translation – as confirmed by the composer himself in his interview. Many of the most genial aspects of the work have to do with how he uses and twists the phonemes of the Portuguese and French languages (I can’t tell as well but he seems to do the same to German), and with his puns and word play. I must add, he is a poet as well, and a darn good one. He wrote the libretto himself, and it contains some exquisite contemporary poetry. What this guy is capable of doing to words is quite amazing. Like he said in the interview – “I have provided the translation of the libretto, but it won’t do much good because what I did can’t be translated.” So, if you guys take the $30 plunge and order this DVD, don’t blame me if you don’t enjoy it as much as I did, because if you don’t speak Portuguese you’ll miss much of the fun. But this is not meant to discourage the purchase, because there’s still fun to be had even without the linguistic aspects.

    It is a one-man show. It’s just Mr. Azguime on stage, with his weird percussion table, and two large video screens behind him. He “sings,” acts, and plays his percussion. I’d say, yes, it’s singing, since he uses his voice to produce a number of effects that do have a musical quality, in terms of using the timbre of his voice, having rhythmic intervals, etc. And besides, percussion is music too.

    As for the acting, it is simply phenomenal. Mr. Azguime does stuff with his facial expressions that you must see to believe in it, like for example in the “coughing” sequence. The video component is very interesting as well. We’re in the company of an accomplished and intelligent artist.

    While there is no plot so to speak, the three parts *are* coherent, make sense, and show a logical progression. They start with a good dose of metalanguage, playing with the concept of the presence versus the absence of the author, in a reflection that is a bit of opera-within-the-opera as it introduces scenes of the public entering the theater and supposedly asking themselves – has it started already? – while the author/performer/composer is sitting on the stage but visible just as a shadow. Multiple images of eyes stare at the public (there is a nice explanation for his idea of these eyes, in his interview).

    The second part brings us to the core of the message being conveyed here, one that Jacques Lacan and his disciples would love: essentially, the power of the signifier: the formal envelope of sound that constitutes words, the materiality of sound itself with its aspects of moving air, vibrations, waves – and how the combination of these elements can transmit meaning.

    Mr. Azguime knows sounds, and lavishly demonstrates his expertise. We can almost feel the oscillation of sound waves, and we can see them as well on the screen behind him. He plays with a pen as a writing instrument that can produce sounds on his percussion table. Letters are projected behind him and on top of him, they combine to form signifiers, and they begin to shape up a story that while subtle and abstract, does make sense: the story of creativity itself, the attempt to answer the question of what exactly is this thing that an artist can transmit to his audience.

    Finally the third part brings us to the meaning of his title, the Salt Itinerary. Salt is white. Mr. Azguime talks to us about a light that encompasses everything to the point that nothing can be seen any longer, just a white blindness. It reminds me of Mr. Azguime’s fellow Portuguese artist José Saramago, the Nobel Prize winning author of Blindness, a book in which the metaphorical epidemic of blindness that hits Portugal has all inhabitants but one seeing only white in front of them. When pushed to its limit, the creative/artistic process takes an itinerary that goes from the presence/absence of the artist, to an attempt to transmit, to an excess of transmitted meaning (the infinite combinations of signifiers) that ends up obliterating everything, first in an oppresive black confluence of letters and words, next into a vast whiteness akin to death.

    Salt is also life and spice, he tells us later in his interview, but I do see in the ending of his opera a notion of a complete arc that touches some kind of impossibility, of fading and disappearing into a sea of whiteness. The Epilogue opens with the words: “Out there / outside the itinerary / there’s no salt / there’s not enough salt for them / and not enough sun.” It sounds quite nihilistic to me.

    This work is profoundly expressive, and causes inside the very being of the spectator a deep emotional experience.

    Is it opera, after all? You bet. Mr. Azguime says in his interview that he thought that calling this piece “opera” would be provocative – as opposed to something like “multimedia one-man show with musical (i.e., the percussion kind) and theatrical aspects,” and he does realize that it doesn’t fit the frame of 19th century operas, for example. But then, he thought of Monteverdi, and decided that he is entitled to calling his work an opera. It is actually closer to Monteverdi than 19th century opera is. It puts on stage a relatively static singer/actor who throws at the audience a modulated sea of sounds that are used to convey a dramatic arc.

    399 years later if he could be here among us to witness this, I think that Monteverdi would have liked this piece. I did. Actually, I loved it!

    Highly, highly, highly recommended. Thanks, some_guy! You don’t need to mail me that refund after all!
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); May 16th, 2012 at 11:49 AM.

  6. #6
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Chaya Czernowin: Pnima... ins Innere on DVD

    This is said to be an opera in three acts, although it certainly stretches the concept of opera.

    Running time 65 minutes. Münchener Kammerorchester conducted by Johannes Kalitzke.

    There are two actors on stage who don't sing or speak. Vocalists on the sides of the stage do the vocalizations. These are: Richard Beek, Philip Larson and Tom Sol do voices for The Old Man, and Elias Maurides, Ute Wassermann and Silke Storz do voices for The Young Boy.

    There is no traditional libretto. The story is that of a boy who encounters his grandfather, a traumatized holocaust survivor (or so they say, we wouldn't know).

    This work was commissioned for the Munich Biennale 2000, was selected by Opernwelt as the best premiere of the year, and won the Bayerischer Theatre Prize in 2000. Apparently there were 70 rave reviews from all over Europe.

    Technically, the DVD has aspect ratio 4:3, subtitles in English, German, French, and Spanish, the sound is 24-bit PCM stereo. The insert has a brief essay in three languages (English, German, French) and the biography of the artists. There is a 27-minute interview with the composer.

    The chamber orchestra is made of clarinet, saxophone, trombone, singing saw, percussion, viola, violoncello. Electronic sounds are added.

    In big letters, there is this piece of advice on the back cover of the insert:

    "Play as loud as possible". Sure, I will.

    OK, so, it's starting.

    The overture (here called opening) is entitled Miniatures, lasts 10 long minutes, and is nothing more than a grainy movie of city traffic that goes on and on, with the orchestra reproducing various traffic noises, screeches, horns, sirens, etc. Kind of boring if you ask me. It would have been OK for 2 minutes, no need to stretch it to 10.

    The screen on which the movie was projected falls down, and behind it we see a naked room. The old man is seen passing by the only lighted point, a door giving to another room (that's what you see on the cover picture above). He goes back and forth. The orchestra is now doing carpentry kind of sounds - wood creaking and cracking, nails being hammered, other noises like pots and pans. Then we get something that is almost close to music - of the ominous kind... and the voices start to vocalize. Some moans and whistles. Lights come on, we see the full naked room and the orchestra engages in some sounds that can only be described as a bunch of chickens and parrots. Some more pots and pans. We hear laughing. Loud percussion like someone banging on a door. Some miawling and doggy barks. The old man moves around, looking positively demented and frail. Birdie sounds. He gets close to that window you see on the cover image, and looks frightened. The orchestra screeches lowdly. The old man throws some sort of seeds on the ground. Horns get loud. He is frightened again. Walks back and forth. The orchestra now does hyenas.

    Thank God, some 10 seconds of silence.

    The Young Boy enters. He plays with a stick. A film is projected again, of himself in some green woods. Lights out. The images get shaky and I feel dizzy.

    Bells come up, then the orchestra does cows. This orchestra seems to love animals.

    Stroboscopic lights (oh boy, my eyes are hurting by now). The old man is frightened (OK, I got the point already - he is frightened. Hum, hum).

    We are 24 minutes into this "masterpiece" and I'm tired already. But I'll soldier on, for the good of this review.

    Buzzing sounds, like the room is infested with flies and mosquitoes. the boy is gone while it was dark. Now under the stroboscopic lights the old man walks back and forth again. He seems to try to catch mosquitoes in the air. Oh well, fortunately the stroboscopic lights are gone, I was getting a headache.

    The old man looks, guess what? Frightened. The orchestra is mostly doing windy sounds. Lights off again. Boy comes back.

    Images of his eyes are projected. Bright lights - really bright - flood the stage and he runs away. Oh Jesus, the stroboscopic lights are back. The orchestra is thankfully silent, at least.

    We are treated to some more of the street traffic movie, this time projected on the walls of the naked room, accompanied by - surprise! - traffic noises.

    Old man faces the wall. Boy comes back. Orchestra comes to life again, doing crying sounds (or are the vocalists doing them? I'm getting confused and dizzy). Boy downs a Mickey Mouse mask (at least I think that's what it is, the lighting is terribly dark again).

    Boy walks slowly towards the old man. Almost touches him. Old man turns to face him. Boy walks slowly backward. Lights are off again. Loud percussion. Lights on again.

    Oh well, we have just reached the mid-mark, 32 minutes and 30 seconds. I have to endure this for just 32 minutes and 30 seconds more.

    Lights are off but the boy comes back with a flashlight and chases the frightened old man around, who moans lowdly, which the orchestra takes as a cue to engage in a lot of screeching and disjointed percussion.

    Old man hides behind a door. Covers his head with his jacket, tries to escape the boy.

    The singing saw does some saw singing.

    Oh no, I can't believe it, here are the stroboscopic lights again, and the huge image of an eye. Bluish this time. Old man is cornered on the left corner of the stage. Boy stands there, looking at him for a couple of long minutes. More than that. This goes on until at least 39 minutes (still going as I type this) but there is a change: rattling sounds. And silence. And some growling. Old man lefts the room from the left side. Boy yawns. (I do too). Grainy film shows old man's face. Vocalizations immitate goats. It's a full zoo, this "opera."

    The green woods again. Pots and pans, birdie sounds. For a long while, until 43:30. Bright lights flood the room again. Old man is back, facing the window. Boy walks slowwwly towards him.

    He throws some sort of small ball on the ground towards the old man who looks... yes, frightened. Boy downs mask again. Resumes walking towards old man. Vocalizers do baby sounds. Old man runs past the boy, then resumes his back and forth walking. Lights off. (what exactly is going on now?)

    Grainy movie. Woods. By night. Orchestra gets more like an owl. Very appropriate.

    Old man briefly hugs boy who then walks away, old man faces wall.

    Lights off, damn! Bright flood lights again. Damn again! 47 minutes. How much longer do I need to take this? OK, 18 more, I guess.

    Ghostly sounds. Bright flood lights. Old man is seriously frightened, tries to climb up the window. Can't. Walks back. Turns off the lights - hey, there is a light switch, yay! Turns on the lights.

    Boy walks towards old man. Slowwwwwly. Screechy sounds. Boy takes old man's hand and looks at it very interested. Drags old man to middle of room. Removes weird mask. Old man tries to touch his face, boy runs away. Lights off. Grainy movie of boy sleeping on a lawn. Windy sounds, really windy, trees are shaking, boy runs away.

    Now the orchestra does some raining. More wind. Neither boy nor old man are in the room, but we get more stroboscopic lights. Wind suddenly stops, 52 minutes. We get the city traffic movie again, with breathing sounds.

    Suddenly the orchestra seems to remember that they need to do street traffic sounds, then, they oblige.

    Lights off. Lights on. Lights off. Lights on. Lights off. Vocalizations.

    Lights on for good. 54 minutes.

    Boy comes back. Looks around. No old man to be seen. Gets a marker, draws on the wall. A human face. Or is it an alien? Might be an alien since now the orchestra does electronic space age sounds.

    The camera is too far, I can't see what he's drawing. Screechy sounds. He draws and draws. OK, the camera gets closer - not an alien. It's a human adult (the old man?). Lights off. Parrot sounds. Grainy movie of a long corridor. Breathing sounds of someone walking and panting. Everything is very dark. Like a dog panting. 58:30.

    Lights on again (the boy turns them on at the light switch).

    Looks at his drawing. Messes it up with his hands.

    Lights off. The orchestra does some locomotive sounds.

    Boy hides behind door. Grainy movie of the woods by night. Suspenseful, ominous sounds. Lights on. Boy comes out of his hiding place behind the door. Walks around. Sits down. Silence (I really treasure these little silences).

    62:30. Almost over, folks. Boy remains seated. Irregular loud percussion and some horns. Lights off (I knew it!)

    Lights on. Bright flooding light. Really bright. We can barely see the boy. The entire room disappears in the white light. Lights off.

    The end.

    I'm supposed to write a comment on this. I'll be very brief.

    From the back cover: "Pnima is a self-assured model for the future of new music theater."

    My comment:

    OK, guys, the above is the uninformed, lay review.
    Now what follows is Almaviva’s review.
    First of all, would I call this opera?
    I actually resent this denomination, and I wonder why the composer wanted to call this an opera. Is it to get some sort of endorsement, of validation?
    Is this really in the line of tradition of Monteverdi, of Lully, Rameau, and Handel, of Mozart and Weber, of Wagner and Verdi and Rossini, and Donizetti and Bellini and Puccini, and Richard Strauss and Stravinsky and Schoenberg and Berg, and Britten and Saariaho and Adès?
    No, Ms. Czernowin, I say no!!!
    Opera needs operatic singing. Opera needs a libretto. Please, don’t call this opera. Please don’t say this is the future of opera because you’d be killing it. There are plenty of good operatic contemporary composers who don’t want to kill the genre. Please don’t.
    This said, is your piece good, Ms. Czernowin? Absolutely! It is gorgeous! Formidable! Exquisite! But we need to know why, and we need to call it for what it is.
    Is it musical theater? Well, it depends on how far you want to go when you define music. And you know, I ‘m willing to go pretty far, and I did call Itinerário do Sal an opera, because percussion is music, and there is singing.
    Your piece, Ms. Czernowin, doesn’t have singing AT ALL, and barely has music. We can’t call it opera. We may not even be able to call it musical theater. I’d call it “theater with special sound and light effects.”
    Yep, I get contemporary music, and I actually like it. But you go a bit too far. Your music is a collection of nature sounds (lots of animals) and object sounds (pots and pans, wood, nails and hammers). All very interesting and appropriate, but hardly musical.
    This said, is this really relevant to your piece?
    Not really, and as long as we don’t call it music, we can enjoy it by approaching it for what it is.
    So what is it?
    It is extremely sensitive and insightful theater. It is of the highest possible quality.
    What do we have here?
    We have a generational problem.
    The old man is a holocaust victim. His existence is forever shattered from the sheer overwhelming dimension of his trauma. He wanders around, perplexed, mute, wide eyed, and he can’t communicate with not even his world, much less his grandson.
    So we get in the first act his tentative and frightful experience. He is the full expression of the consequence of senseless violence, he can’t really absorb into a symbolic/imaginary amalgam, what happened to him. He is condemned to walking back and forth, to navigating between light and shadow, to looking at the world outside the window without ever getting back to it.
    The first act carefully develops this extreme suffering and this curtailed human experience.
    Then in the second act the boy comes in. He is a member of the third generation. He hasn’t had that experience of the Holocaust. He’s had snippets here and there of some mysterious trauma that has forever fractured the connection between one generation and the next. So he approaches the situation with the infantile tools he’s got at his disposal. Sticks. Mickey Mouse masks. Marble balls. A marker.
    He senses the despair of his grandfather but can’t really grasp it. However, he tries. He approaches him. Slowly. Gives the old man some leeway, he understands that he is fragile. But he persists. He tries harder and harder, tries to touch him, withdraws, tries again, gets a light, flashes light into all this darkness, which only results in even more fear. He tries to incorporate into his infantile world, this tragedy that was just hinted at, just spoken about in half hushed whispers.
    He isn’t very successful. The old man is beyond help. The trauma has been too intense. The two characters are sort of incompatible. They both try to engage each other in some sense of proximity, but their worlds don’t overlap. They touch each other, and run away, scared, and scarred. There is no possible symbolization of the immense tragedy that has broken the link between one generation and the next.
    We get to the third act. The boy is now alone. He draws. He tries to find the image that he has made of the grandfather. He aims at introjecting that suffering, that fear, that hyper-arousal and dissociation that he can sense in his grandfather. He wants to understand, to make something out of it, so he draws. But this apprehension is necessarily insufficient since the boy is not of his grandpa’s generation and can only marginally grasp the horror that has preceded him. So, he messes up his drawing. It won’t do. There is no contact point. He has tried his best. In his own way, so did his grandfather. But the fracture is too deep. At the end, the boy sits down and is silent. He was unable to find the link, the bridge. He gives up. Curtain.
    This is extremely expressive, sensitive, insightful theater.
    The human dimension of this piece is overwhelmingly deep and disturbing.
    What about the music?
    Oh well, it does convey the entire atmosphere.
    It does bring up many raw emotions.
    The composer says, in her interview that is part of the DVD: “I didn’t want to make it accessible. I wanted to make it raw and difficult, because what it tries to convey is impossible to absorb.”
    Or something to this effect. I may be adding to it.
    So, did I like it? You bet! It is outstanding!
    Just, I wouldn’t call it opera. Call me old fashioned (I’m not), but please, don’t call it opera, Ms. Czernowin.
    One word about the meaning of an artistic piece.
    Does this piece show some internal coherence? Would we know that it depicts a situation of a family that is generationally fractured because the older side has been through the Holocaust, the younger side hasn’t?
    No, we wouldn’t, if we weren’t told about it by the composer herself, and the insert and cover materials.
    But does it matter? Can’t we appreciate abstract art and project on it whatever meaning we feel the need to project? Yes we can.
    But then, the Holocaust situation – while it explains a lot and gives sense and meaning to the piece – is not even necessary here.
    Just the demented, frightened, traumatized old man, and the young boy who tries his best to connect to him using the simple tools of his childhood – a marble, a stick, drawing… - provide enough human drama, enough of the universality of the human experience that characterizes great art.
    This piece *is* great art. It *does* touch us on a visceral level. And let's acknowledge it, the sounds *are* quite intesting. I may even be able to call them music after a second or third viewing. Just the sheer inventiveness of some of the sounds (there is a cardboard played like a cello, and a singing saw, for Pete's sake!) would keep my interest.
    This said, I’d rather that opera *didn’t * go in this direction. I’d rather see opera preserving words and singing. Or else, what is the point of calling it opera?
    Regardless, final verdict on this work: highly recommended.

    P.S. - I which I knew what the title means, though. I couldn't find the translation anywhere. Please let me know, if anybody here has a clue of what Pnima... ins Innere is supposed to mean.

  7. #7
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Schreker: Die Gezeichneten on DVD

    Schreker: Die Gezeichneten on DVD

    Franz Schreker premiered this opera in 1918. The production I'm watching is from the Salzburg Festival in 2005, conducted by Kent Nagano, with the Deutches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. The title means 'the stigmatized' or 'the branded ones.'

    Impecable technical quality of the DVD with 16:9 anamorphic widescreen, linear PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS 5.1 (I love it when there is DTS). Subtitles in German, English, French, and Spanish. Image and sound are simply gorgeous, almost blu-ray quality. The text in the liner insert is insightful but short and there is no synopsis. Camera direction by Andreas Morell is expertly done. One regrets that such a quality DVD doesn't have extras, interviews, documentaries. Oh well, we can't have it all. The running time is 135 minutes.

    Conducting and orchestra are phenomenal, making the best out of Schreker's outstanding overture which is said to, in itself, justify his claim to fame (I'd agree).

    It is profoundly regretful, however, that there are approximately 20 minutes of cuts in the orchestral parts. There is no third act pantomime, and second act vocal lines about the painting of Alviano's portrait have been eliminated.

    Sound balance between singers and orchestra is good, but sound engineering is one of the only faulty aspects of this EuroArts DVD with microphone placement in the huge stage not always capturing the singers' voices with the same relative volume when there are too many characters singing simultaneously. The problem doesn't happen when only one or two characters are singing.

    Stage design by Raimund Bauer is strikingly beautiful. Direction by Nikolaus Lehnhoff is impressive, in the matter of placement of singers on stage as well as the dynamics of the various spaces. Costumes are creative and interesting. But then, there are problems. The original opera does start with the main character engaging in cross-dressing, but the staging takes this too far by continuing it beyond the initial scene (not the case in the original opera) and makes the painting scene unrecognizable - instead of painting Alviano on a canvas, Carlotta instead removes his pieces of feminine clothing, leaving him wearing a body stocking. It is interesting in terms of conveying the baring of his soul (which *is* in the libretto) but for those who don't know the plot, it all becomes quite incomprehensible - the inevitable bit of Eurotrash staging.

    Acting is first rate. There is very good casting in the sense that the singers very much look their parts. Singing is mostly of high quality, with some exceptions.

    Robert Brubaker as Alviano is particularly good with a powerful sonority; his voice is very well projected above the very extensive orchestral forces, and also nuanced with good musicality, as well as excellent articulation. He does falter in a couple of moments but when you consider the fact that he's got a lot of stage time, he does extremely well. Michael Volle is Tamare and does his part very well too, with a sort of raw brutality, but he seems to be less musically savvy than Brubaker (or maybe his vocal writing is just less subtle, given the character's boorish persona).

    The numerous secondary male roles for the most part do a very good job - Robert Hale, Wolfgang Schöne, and various others.

    The leading soprano in the role of Carlotta is Anne Schwanewilms. She looks very classy and is fairly attractive (a bit too old for the role), although her singing is less pleasant to my ears than that of her male counterparts (she has her fans, but I'm not one of them and I don't find her voice to be particular beautiful, it is actually a bit unpleasant in parts, too steely). Upon warming up she does get better, but I'd still say that for me she is the weakest link (those who like her voice will disagree), which is a pity given how mostly everything else goes well for my tastes in this production (minus the incomprehensible Eurotrashy changes made to the second act painting scene, and the musical cuts).

    Musically speaking this opera is quite spectacular, with incredible tone-painting, and an ever-moving through-composed score with parlando vocal lines that sometimes soar up in beautiful effects. This opera seems to sit pretty in the middle of the modernist movement, and plays like a cross between Wagner, early R. Strauss, and Berg, being both melodious and fractured (the former especially in the first act, and the latter especially in the chaotic and maddening third act).

    Talking about the third act, yes, there are boobs, but Alma's Boob-O-Meter didn't show a high reading. The boobs are cute enough, but the way they are presented is not really erotic. It works, though, it's a Venice carnival kind of thing (but this is Genoa?!?!) and they add to the exoticism of the costumes. But unlike this writer's usual disposition, the boobs didn't really add a lot to his (my) enjoyment of this production. Oh well, it's always better to have boobs than not.

    Boobs or not, the third act *is* outstanding, delivering some of the best operatic moments of the 20th century. After seeing this, I won't say that it has dislodged Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District as my favorite 20th century opera, but it got close to doing it.

    The theatricality of the libretto is strong, with good character development and psychological depth. The plot is the story of an ugly man, Alviano (tenor), and his struggle to find his place in the world among those who are lucky to be beautiful. Carlotta is a consumptive painter who wants to draw his portrait, and in her artistic enthusiasm she seems to fall for him, which quite overwhelms him. However once she finishes the painting, the magic is broken, and she falls instead for the virile Tamare (baritone). Alviano goes mad, kills Tamare, and Carlotta dies calling for Tamare (hehehe, one of the rare cases in which the soprano falls for the baritone).

    The are some more plot elements (involving Alviano's island, the people of Genoa, dissolute friends, orgies - one of the reasons why the Nazis banned this opera as 'degenerate Jewish art') but the above is the lowdown.

    This is a fine example of modernist opera, packed into a high quality DVD product. It may function as a good transition for those who want to migrate from baroque, classical and romantic opera to modernist and contemporary opera.

    Highly recommended.

  8. #8
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Tan Dun: The First Emperor on DVD

    Again I'm watching this on MetPlayer but it is available on DVD.

    The visuals are stunning, given that the staging was directed by one of the most talented film authors alive, Mr. Zhang Yimou, who has directed some of my favorite Chinese movies, such as Raise the Red Lantern and The Road Home (he's better known for Hero, not my favorite of his).

    This is really spectacular staging and in itself makes of this DVD a recommended one.

    Unfortunately the operatic aspects are less successful. Basically, as commissioned by the Met, Mr. Tan Dun tried to fuse Chinese and Western opera traditions, in all regards: there are both Western and Chinese singers (including a bona fide Chinese Opera traditional singer in the role of the Yin-Yang Master); there are conventional Western instruments and traditional Chinese instruments (string and percussion); choreography and costumes are entirely Chinese; and a few parts are sung in Chinese, while most of the libretto is in English. Both librettists (the composer himself, and a fellow countryman whose name escapes me) are not native English speakers, and it painfully shows.

    Musically there is also a mix - some parts are typical Chinese music, other are under heavy Western influence.

    So here is the problem:

    Basically everything that is Chinese about this production works, and works really, really well. Everything that is Western, doesn't, and fails really, really badly.

    First of all, having the libretto in English was a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE mistake, one that practically dooms the whole enterprise. There is definitely NO WAY for these English words to mix efficiently with the Chinese music. It only makes it all sound ackward, bordering the ridiculous.

    This could have been a formidable opera, if entirely sung in Mandarin. In English, it just miserably fails.

    The orchestration is often very interesting, no doubt. If only we didn't have to listen to the most ackward phrase constructions and to impossible stretches of the phonemes...

    Some misguided critics have complained of the "silly and improbable plot" which is ridiculous criticism since the plot is entirely based on real life historical events. Yep, life can be silly and improbable events happen in life, especially if they have happened 2,000 years ago; they can indeed seem improbable to modern men as they belonged to a radically different culture with completely diverse values and priorities. And in Western opera, it's not like we don't see silly and improbable plots.

    Singing is very uneven. I don't think Plácido does particularly well here, but Plácido is Plácido so he manages to pull it off anyway. Paul Groves is much worse. Elizabeth Futral looks cute but her singing is so-so. This may have to do with how difficult it is for the Westerners to sing this ackward English and these weird phonetic stretches, because the singer who does best is the Chinese one, Mr. Hao Jiang Tian. Michelle DeYoung of the Westerners is the one who does less poorly, in my opinion.

    Tan Dun himself conducts and seems to do well as far as my untrained ears go, in terms of Chinese music. The best orchestral parts are those that include Chinese instruments, which deliver very exotic and interesting sounds.

    So next time, Mr. Tan Dun, no fusion, please. Just do it Chinese all the way, with subtitles in English. We'll like it a lot better.

    But such a gorgeous staging and lots of curious and beautiful parts (the first and last scenes are the best ones, and it's no coincidence that they are the two most Chinese-looking scenes) still earn from me a recommendation.

    There is a very interesting 'making of' documentary with Tan Dun, Plácido, and the other artists. What is interesting is that Futral's singing is better in the documentary, maybe she was having a bad night or a cold. But she adds the eye candy factor.

    Last but not least, the opera is introduced by lovely, extremely beautiful Chinese movie actress Zhang Ziyi (she is stunning), so, more eye candy like this actually helps.

  9. #9
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    André Previn: A Streetcar Named Desire on DVD

    André Previn himself conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra
    This is the World Première, filmed live in September of 1998

    Libretto - Phillip Littell, after Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

    Blanche DuBois – Renée Fleming - soprano
    Stanley Kowalski – Rodney Gilfry - baritone
    Stella Kowalski – Elizabeth Futral - soprano
    Harold "Mitch" Mitchell – Anthony Dean Griffey - tenor
    Eunice Hubbel – Judith Forst
    Steve Hubbel – Matthew Lord
    Newspaper Collector – Jeffrey Lentz
    The Mexican – Josepha Gayer
    Pablo Gonzales – Luis Oropeza
    The Doctor – Ray Reinhardt
    The Nurse – Lynne Soffer

    The DVD is of good quality with sharp 1.78:1 image, and uncompressed PCM stereo sound of excellent clarity and good balance. There are no extras, and no subtitles (which shouldn't bother native English speakers, not to forget that the play is too well known therefore knowledge of the libretto is already a given). The staging is very good and realistic-looking.

    Review to follow:

    OK, I'm watching it, and I'm a bit at a loss. I'm not sure what exactly the music is adding to this already excellent stage play. I don't think Previn's orchestration is especially successful here, and even less his vocal writing.

    And to my surprise, I'm not liking this younger version of Renée Fleming that much, I think she is too loud and shrieking at times, and she looks less good than her more mature self. Also, her acting seems to be less good than what I've grown used to, in her latest productions. Renée seems to improve with age.

    Elizabeth Futral is very pretty in this production (nice boobs, which like you all know is a big plus for me), and sings and acts well, actually better than Renée, I think. I mean, Renée's voice is more beautiful and powerful than Futral's smaller lyric soprano, but it's just that Futral seems to be much more natural and into her role than Fleming, in this production. So her singing matches her character, while Fleming's seems too forceful.

    Most likely Gaston will disagree, I know that he liked this a lot. I don't know, maybe it's too early to say, I'm still watching the first act.

    Stanley Kowalski is very impressive, and also looks the part.

    But I think what we need here to make of this a spectacular opera is a better composer. I don't know, something is missing. The orchestration seems too obvious, and seems to chase the drama around, and to follow behind it, instead of leading it as good operatic orchestration does. I can't shake off the impression that this is a movie score rather than an operatic one.

    Maybe I'll change my mind later with subsequent acts; we'll see; but for now, while I like the production and the cast (OK, I made some reservations regarding Renée's singing and acting, but only when compared to her own improved standards of late; she's still very good in this production), it's the opera itself that I don't like so much, in musical terms.

    Added later:

    I've seen a lot more now, and must say that Renée's singing and acting got better - being this the world première, maybe she just wasn't very into it at first, and warmed up to the role as the opera went by.

    Anthony Griffey as Mitch is very good too.

    This is a very talented cast, a good staging, and a product with good quality of image and sound.

    But I continue to dislike the music. While certain jazzistic elements are interesting (given the play's setting in New Orleans), overall this score doesn't seem very polished to me. It plays too much like a movie sound track.

    In terms of recommending this or not, I guess by now I know what to say: this is with no doubt a recommended DVD for those who want to own a copy of Previn's opera. The only problem is, I don't know if owning a copy of Previn's opera is that recommendable to start with.

  10. #10
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Vladimir Deshevov: Ice and Steel on DVD

    2007 (LI) - Will Humburg - Saarländisches Staatsorchester, in Saarbrücken
    Opera in four acts, sung in Russian
    Stage direction - Immo Karaman
    Singers - Yevgeny Taruntsov, Anna Toneeva, Hiroshi Matsui, Oxana Arkaeva

    ArtHaus Musik product, with 16:9 format, excellent definition and colors. Soundtracks include LPCM, DTS 5.1 and Dolby 5.1. Subtitles in 6 languages. Running time 96 minutes. The only extras are trailers for four other operas. Sound balance with the LPCM track is less than ideal - the singers are too loud and the orchestra too soft. I haven't tried the other tracks. This impacts significantly on the appreciation because it makes the opera sound like a stage play with some distant background music.

    Scenarios are practically nonexistent. The first act has just a platform and some construction tubes. Lighting makes everything look blue including the singers' faces. A few characters are dressed in red, all others in dark clothes that look bluish under the lighting.
    More people get dressed in red in the second act. Oh wait - the front of their garments is red, the back is black. They keep turning one way or the other.

    The atmosphere is nightmarish, post-apocalyptic, with grotesque characters, violent scenes, conflicts.

    The plot has to do with a popular revolt against the oppression of the newly started communist regime in the early 1920's.

    The music is all fragmented, disrupted, ominous, with a lot of percussion and machine-like sounds. There is robotic-looking choreography representing workers in a factory, sort of like in Modern Times. There's lot of running around, fights break right and left, it's all very chaotic.

    Vocal writing has basically recitatives that contain a lot of yelling.

    Attempts at shock value are numerous. But somehow it all falls flat.

    The global result is visually unpleasant and vocally tiresome. The libretto doesn't really take off. One thinks - OK, these people are being oppressed. OK, they are rather mad. The Party officials keep trying to thwart them. OK... So?

    Lines go like this: "While people are starving, the commissioners are living large." Oh well, too bad. Yep, it happens. So?

    "The working class of our Soviet Union won't let the Revolution down." Yeah, yeah, sure, but it's a bit dated. Next we have "better die for freedom than live in shame." Hm... OK... can we change the librettist, please?

    Staging contains the obligatory big time metaphor being pushed down our throats: a huge red hand with an index finger that comes down on the people. I did mention that they were being oppressed, didn't I? Right. We get it.

    3rd and 4th acts do get a little more interesting and more colorful, with some more defined plot. But it's a bit too late, by then we don't really care for these characters. The ending has in my opinion weak music and again excessively obvious metaphors. The white army (the goodies) get's defeated by the red army (the baddies) but then the last warrior - a woman in red - posing like a statue, gets brought down by another army that wasn't there before - this one dressed in business-like suits. Capitalism ends up prevailing. Curtain.

    I like the orchestration more than the rest - that is, when I can hear the orchestra. I could use less yelling.

    Verdict: not recommended. Stay clear.

  11. #11
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Kari Tikka: Luther on DVD

    This is contemporary opera by a live composer, who conducts the work himself. It premiered in 2000.

    The DVD was released in 2005 by Ondine and preserves the 2004 Finnish National Opera production, sung in Finnish. It was recorded live at the striking Rock Church in Helsinki (Temppeliaukion kirkko) with its natural stone walls (really inside the bedrock) combined with beautiful modern architecture. The DVD has an interesting 28-minute documentary about the opera, the historical context, and the setting, including a long interview with the composer and interviews with the artists. It also contains a 6-minute tour of the Rock Church, as well as biographies of the artists. LPCM and Dolby 5.1 sound tracks are available. Subtitles exist in four languages, English and original Finnish included. The image is not high def and is a bit blurry but at least it is 16:9 and good enough (the documentary actually has much better image definition). Running time for the opera itself is 1h 58'.

    The cast includes tenor Lassi Virtanen (Satan), baritone Esa Ruuttunen (Martin Luther, the singer is a pastor himself - the part was written for him - by the way, the demanding Satan part was also especially written for Lassi Virtanen), mezzo Eeva-Liisa Saarinen (Katharina von Bora), soprano Merja Wirkkala (Ave), and tenor Aki Alamikkotervo.

    Kari Tikka conducts the New Young Chamber Orchestra and the Viva Vox Chorus. Jussi Tapola directs, and is also the co-librettist, together with Kari Tikka. Anna Kontek is stage and costume designer.

    The libretto deals with the life and times of Martin Luther, of course. The best known aria is the Grace Song. Staging is period-appropriate (with costumes based on historical drawings of the clothing in Luther's time, around 1510 in Wittenberg as the opera starts).

    There is no overture. The opera opens with a chorus number, quite beautiful, with melodic vocal writing and strong, rhythmic percussion.

    This is followed by a frenetic quartet with Luther, Satan, and two priests.

    Dialogues in the form of recitative follow. The music appears to be minimalistic, with endless repetition of the percussion figures.

    The whole is very theatrical, with dramatic power, and a sort of hypnotic beauty. I very much like these first ten minutes. Everything works well in this production so far, with good stage direction (the actors/singers move around with fluidity in spite of the large number of people on the small stage). Singing is interesting, acting is good.

    My only concern at this point is whether the minimalistic music will keep my interest over almost two hours - but so far, so good, a very thrilling opening scene, and the rather varied vocal writing may keep the interest when it is threatened by the repetitive orchestration.

    The second scene starts with melodic, calm and soothing psalms - the public sings along.

    Luther prays in song - this is a very good performance from Ruuttunen, a gifted singer/actor, who interprets here a beautiful baritone aria. By now it's becoming clearer and clearer to me that I'm watching a high quality work. I'm definitely enjoying it.

    The scene has Luther confronting characters that represent Death, Sin, Hell, and Law. Again, it's an excellent scene.

    Scene 3 opens as well with psalms. Action moves to Leipzig in 1519. Satan announces a theological debate at a university, with various European thinkers, and the respondent is Luther - it's the historical debate between Luther and Johan Meier von Eck in which Luther affirmed that the Pope and church councils were not infallible. Luther is threatened with excommunication. Very dramatic scene with good pace.

    Scene 4 is about Luther having to appear before the Diet of Worms in 1521, when he is asked to recant his 95 Theses, refuses, and is banned and outlawed. The scene contains spoken dialogue and functions well as a stage play. Diatonic music is then heard from the orchestra. It all becomes very melodious.

    There is a growing problem for me. This is rather historically accurate, and I'm starting to feel bored. Religious history is not my forte or my cup of tea. This succession of real events in the life of Martin Luther may appeal better to those who are into this sort of thing, but like I had anticipated, now that the novelty is gone, these scenes with always the same structure - psalms, some event in which Luther sings beautifully and his opponents bash him, there is some rhythmic percussion, everything gets chaotic, then there is a melodious resolution. And so on and so forth. I'm at 52 minutes, not even half yet, and I'm wondering where this is going. My initial enthusiasm is dampening.

    The fifth scene introduces his future wife Katharina. Lighting on the minimalistic stage is very beautiful, taking advantage of the stone walls.

    He returns to Wittenberg for scene seven. Same pattern. By now I'm definitely bored.

    I'll stop reporting on these scenes one by one, will put down the computer, and see if I enjoy this more if I just let the flow of the opera pass by, without bothering myself with the historical events.


    I'm back for a few more comments. I'm getting the problem with this opera. Each individual scene is good in itself (even very good). The production is fine (staging, singing). But each scene is too much like the next. While during the first three times you see them the work seems to be of the highest quality, the endless repetition of the same pattern actually makes it quite boring.

    At 1'18" of more of the same, I'm about to quit.

    I guess I'll have to give a mixed verdict: recommended for those who love the history of religion. Not recommended for everybody else (not the fault of this fine production, but rather, that of the work itself).

    Oh well, when I was about to quit I got to the Nativity scene, and this one is indeed *very* beautiful... and quite different from the others. OK, there's still hope. I'm sticking around.

    Glad that I did. The Grace Song is certainly a fine one.

    The next scene, though, recovers the boring pattern.

    At the end, the staging turns modern, with modern clothing, and the libretto deals with the aftermath and Luther's legacy in modern times. Clever. It's by escaping the historical straitjacket that it gets to be more interesting. Good ending.

    All right, my conclusion is: this is a work that is both beautiful/interesting and boring. I guess overall the redeeming qualities predominate.

    OK, recommended.

  12. #12
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Rautavaara: Rasputin on DVD

    This 2005 Ondine release contains another excellent Finnish opera by composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, who also wrote the libretto. Mikko Franck conducts the Orchestra of the National Finnish Opera, in a live 2003 recording. Phenomenal bass Matti Salminen sings the title role. Other singers include baritone Jorma Hynninen as Tsar Nicolai III, mezzo-soprano Lili Paasikivi as the Tsarina, and tenor Jyrki Anttila and baritone Gabriel Suovanen as the conspirators Felix Yussupov and Dmitri Pavlovich.

    Technically speaking the 16:9 image (not 1.33:1 as would make you believe) is of low, grainy quality, and the sound track is not particularly clear (I only listened to the stereo track, but there's also Dolby 5.1). Optional subtitles are provided in several languages. There are no bonus features. Running time is 150 minutes.

    Matti Salminen is made for the role and does a spectacular job which in itself more than justifies the purchase (his long first area is goose-bumping). Lili Paasikivi's singing is great too. Acting is convincing across the board. One only needs to watch the superlative second scene with the impressive religious procession to realize that we are facing greatness. This is one of the most effective scenes in recent memory, both from the theatrical and musical aspects.

    The staging is very tasteful with beautiful, visually striking scenarios. Period costumes and props are very appropriate, but not without some anachronisms (such as modern hand guns - oh wait, maybe these gun models already existed at the time of his assassination). The final scene is particularly beautiful.

    The score is wonderful. Rautavaara's music very successfully comments upon the dramatic aspects of the story.

    This is a very good opera, well performed by a strong cast with good stage directing and set design. Highly recommended.

  13. #13
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    This is one of the best opera films ever produced.
    It is simply stunning. Not for the faint of heart, obviously. It is quite shocking, extremely crude and realistic (down to pieces of brain on the floor after Leon Klinghoffer is shot dead). But it is an extraordinary tour de force by an extremely talented group of singers and actors, with spectacular film direction, and the opera itself is incredibly beautiful - cuts or not, I think the opera still shines through.

    It couldn't be more highly recommended. This is one of the very best operatic DVDs one can have. On the other hand, it is very uncomfortable to watch and very depressing.

    Now I need a couple of Rossini comedies (I do have three that I haven't seen, and that's exactly what I'll be watching next, since after The Death of Klinghoffer, one does need something light as treatment for the depressive feelings it provokes).

  14. #14
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Rautavaara: The Gift of the Magi on DVD

    1997(FI) - Petri Sakari - Tapiola Sinfonietta / Vaerajapelto Choir

    Finnish contemporary composer Einojuhani Rautavvara set to music O. Henry's famous Christmas tale of two spouses who make sacrifices in order to buy each other a splendid gift.

    This is a filmed version of this chamber opera, with spoken dialogue and sung arias. It's made for TV (Finland's national broadcasting company YLE), and filmed on location in a present-time Finnish village, to good realistic effect, although there are some dreadful special effects when they frame the image into a picture frame.

    Jaako Kortekangas (tenor) sings Joel the husband; Pia Freund (soprano) sings Minna the wife, and secondary roles are sung by Anna-Lisa Jakobsson (mezzo, the easy neighborhood girl), Lassi Virtanen (tenor, the wigmaker), and Martii Wallen (bass, the cruel landlord). All of these artists sing and act very well.

    Running time is just 45 minutes. This Kultur release is bare-bones, with no extras (apparently the European release does contain a 45-minute documentary, but the American one doesn't), and with obligatory English subtitles. The 1.33:1 image is excellent in color and definition, and the stereo sound track is equally good with good balance and fullness.

    Rautavaara's vocal music is very melodious while his atonal orchestration is more fractured, which makes for a very interesting and pleasant contrast. I had already liked his music in his other opera that I know (Rasputin), and this one is even more melodious. Some criticize it for being empty, without substance or development. Still, purely as a fan (I'm no music scholar), it agrees with my ears and I find it beautiful enough.

    He is a Christian composer who often focuses on religious themes. This doesn't stop this TV production from showing a few very sensual shots of the beautiful Ms. Freund showering (although she is fully covered with a towel). Not that *I* would dislike such a scene, but it does seem a bit superfluous and divorced from the general tone of this opera. Anyway, it's just a brief moment, let's not nitpick.

    This is a pleasant little work, nothing extraordinary. You know, the kind of thing that can keep your attention if you watch it on TV for a few minutes (it helps that it is not long). I don't think it justifies the purchase, though.

  15. #15
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Peter Schickele (a.k.a. P.D.Q. Bach): The Abduction of Figaro on DVD

    OK, folks, how do we classify this one? I guess I'll have to say modern opera because it premiered in 1984, but it is a parody so its musical language is not really that of modern opera, but rather deliberately emulates earlier styles with lots of quotations.

    Anyway, this satire is "classified" by its composer as "A simply grand opera in three acts featuring stellar principals, chorus, corpse(sic) de ballet, the whole enchilada..."

    This April 1984 live recording is from the Minnesota Opera featuring its orchestra under the direction of the composer himself. It's been released by VAI in bare-bones packaging (region zero, stereo track - thin but fairly good, 4:3 image - grainy, no subtitles, 144 minutes running time, bonus material with 1972 TV interview with professor Schickele).

    Cast (as billed):

    LeRoy Lehr, bass - Al Donfonso, Pasha Shaboom, Papa Geno
    Dana Krueger, mezzo - Susana Susannadanna, Mama Geno
    Bruce Edwin Ford, tenor - Pecadillo
    Marilyn Brustadt, soprano - Donna Donna
    Lisbeth Lloyd, soprano - Blondie
    Michael Burt, bass-baritone - Donald Giovanni
    Jack Walsh, almost-a-baritone - Schlepporello
    Will Roy, basso - Captain Kadd
    John Ferrante, bargain countertenor - Opec
    Arthur Kaemmer - Figaro

    I was a bit skeptical but I must confess that this *is* wickedly funny.
    I've barely watched 20 minutes of it and I've laughed out loud several times already.
    The madcap plot combines Le Nozze di Figaro with Abduction from the Serail, Magic Flute and Don Giovanni, and the arias quote music from these and other operas, as well as pop songs and musicals. There is one surprise after the other and much fun is made of operatic devices such as the chorus, and of all sorts of stock characters. The actors/singers are quite funny and do well with both moments when they sing correctly (no fireworks, there's an amateurish feel), and when they sing in a satirical, purposely over-the-top way.

    I wonder if I'll remain interested for the whole of the long running time, though. But so far so good. I'll be back for more comments later.

    OK, one-hour mark. Like I feared, I'm laughing less and less, this thing is overstaying its welcome. Professor Schickele's other satirical works apparently are much shorter. I think he took a big risk when he decided to write a full-length satirical opera with 144-minute duration.

    OK, the ballet in Act II - "Dance of the Seven Pails" - is quite funny. Pasha Shaboom has delivered some really funny lines, and I'm laughing out loud again.

    At 1:44, the funniest moment so far: the soprano gets mad, yells "OK, now I won't even sing my aria!" and storms out. Donald Giovanni is puzzled, looks at the maestro who then says, "OK, let's skip ahead to..." and names the next aria which then The Donald sings. Pretty hilarious.

    This is followed by another funny ballet that mixes Swann Lake with a Carmen Miranda-style extravaganza. OK, folks, this *is* an enjoyable work. The ballerinas kiss-kiss and high-five each other, fall like dominoes when a dancer bumps on one of them, etc., you get the picture, it's slapstick classical ballet.

    Papa Geno and Mama Geno are pretty funny too, a mix of Mozart with red neck-style country music complete with lovely pigs.

    LOL, now there are breat-plated Valkyries, and the Finale gets pretty crazy (there is some temporal confusion, hinted at when the narrator had said that "we'll present Act III, immediately followed by Act II" and they mix up all the finales - fitting for a composer who according to Professor Schickele was born in 1807 and died in 1742 (yes, that's right).

    Well folks, the finale is pure genius, when the singers stop everything and start to argue with the opera manager due to a missing prop, the soprano is unhappy because the baritone got one more aria than she did, and the supposedly mute servant insists that he wants to sing an aria too (and does it with great comical effect).

    Then they end it all by the narrator mentioning the fate of all characters: for example, Donald Giovanni "dies of unnatural causes" and Figaro "ends up in Paris where he founds a newspaper."

    During the credits, we hear - "Professor Schickele appears as a courtesy of his mother, Mrs. Schickele."

    Verdict - pretty entertaining. I hesitate to say "recommended" because it depends a lot on people's sense of humor. Let's put it like this: I liked it, but won't be watching it again.

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