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Wagner: Parsifal (Gatti) [DVD] [2014]
Wagner: Parsifal (Gatti) [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ François Girard
Price: £12.99

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the best., 26 April 2014
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I have two other versions of Parsifal on DVD. The one from Zurich I find unacceptable in its staging, the other, from Baden-Baden is on another plane. It recreates the ENO production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff, enigmatic but gripping, and very well performed. But this new DVD, from the Metropolitan Opera of New York, is so good that even the Lehnhoff must bow to it.

The producer is the Canadian Francois Girard, and this production started life in Lyon. Here, the dream cast has been assembled, the decor has been expanded to fit the stage, and the result is both spectacular and reverent. By that I don't mean that the action is treated as a religious rite, but that the dramatic action inspires feeling of reverence for the music, the drama and the text. I don't count German among my languages, but the subtitles seem apt and helpful.

This is no literal staging of Wagner's scenario. The decor is almost abstract, using cloudscape projection and, in Act 3, an enormous moon, to hold the gaze. Nor is there any attempt at medievalism in the costumes. All except Kundry and the Flower-maidens wear modern clothes -suits for the knights, something a little less formal for Parsifal, long black dresses for female chorus. Even Klingsor wears a suit. One has got so used to, even tired of, this solution, but here it quickly became acceptable to me. Much is made of chorus grouping to suggest emotions, which may explain the presence of women among the Knights. The chorus members acquit themselves with honour from their various visual and vocal tasks.

Has there ever been a more convincingly youthful Parsifal than Jonas Kaufmann? On DVD, his facial expressions are so nuanced and moving that he could have created the role without actually singing! But he does sing, and with such beauty and variety of tone that I for one felt totally engaged with the character's evolution. Alongside him are three notable interpreters. Katerina Dalayman's Kundry is one of the best I've seen, and Rene Pape is outstanding as Gurnemanz. His voice sounds so fresh and his enunciation so keen that all danger of prosiness is avoided. The Amfortas is Peter Mattei. I had not heard this artist before, but now understand and agree with the high opinions many opera-lovers hold of his talents, dramatic as well as vocal. The suffering of Amfortas has never been so sharply conveyed, in my experience. Only the Klingsor seems a little conventional, both in his singing and his interpretation, but perhaps the producer didn't quite avoid the 'Dracula' stereotype.

So much of the triumph of the performance must be credited to Girard, but Daniele Gatti's reading of the score also deserves high praise. The music unfolds in a seamless sequence, without dragging or over-emphasis. A triumph for all concerned.

Castor Et Pollux [DVD] [2009] [US Import]
Castor Et Pollux [DVD] [2009] [US Import]
Offered by supermart_usa
Price: £11.91

4.0 out of 5 stars Vocal delights, visual let-downs, 26 April 2014
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I've seen this opera twice in the theatre, most recently in Barrie Kosky's exciting staging at the English National Opera. This version, from Amsterdam, is altogether more restrained, more classical, perhaps more in the spirit of Rameau. One element missing is the extended dance sequences that characterise so much of Rameau's dramatic work. Instead we get some odd writhing ans arm-waving from the chorus, which for me was an irritant.

The decor is geometric, cold and functional. The costumes are fairly dull - everyone, men included, wears long skirts or skirt-like trousers, and the long hair sported by all makes it difficult to distinguish male from female chorus members, and, occasionally, soloists.Overall, the effect is coherent, if rather unexciting.

The soloists are another matter. I greatly admired the level of French enunciation from the non-francophone singers, a pretty rare event these days. The titular brothers are extremely well sung by Henk Neven and Finnur Bjarnason, both of whom also act convincingly. The two ladies are outstanding. Veronique Gens brings the French Classical style to her interpretation of Phebe, singing with great beauty of tone. Her opposite, Telaire, is sung by the Swiss soprano Anna Maria Panzarella, again with a sense of style, and perhaps some edginess in the upper register, but a real feeling for Rameau. Others in the cast perform well, especially the tenor Anders J. Dahlin.

To sum up, this DVD is visually sometimes disappointing, but aurally, under the direction of Christophe Rousset, a thrilling experience.

Weber: Hunter's Bride [Franz Grundheber, Juliane Banse, Michael Volle] [Arthaus: 101692] [DVD] [2013]
Weber: Hunter's Bride [Franz Grundheber, Juliane Banse, Michael Volle] [Arthaus: 101692] [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Jens Neubert
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £16.56

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Opera as film, 17 Dec. 2013
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Why not just call it 'Der Freischutz'? Does this English title help sales in Europe? The only other version on video/DVD is a pretty outrageous-at-the-time one by Freyer, which I hated when it was televised. This version goes to the other extreme, filmed in natural surroundings, and thus extremely relevant to the 'Nature' sound of much of Weber's score. Moved forward from the Seven Years' War to Napoleonic times, the period fits the musical idiom well, the costumes are becoming on the whole, and for me the look of the production was very acceptable.

Musically, things go pretty well. Of the singers, I was most impressed by Juliane Banse as Agathe. She sang with great purity but also with spirit, thus avoiding the trap of making the heroine too pallid. Rene Pape and Olaf Bar are luxury casting in quite minor roles. My main reservation springs from the presentation of the hero Max. Michael Konig sings quite well, but doesn't make his big aria 'Durch die Walder' sound anything special, and the look of him is quite disturbing. He could easily be seen as a madman, with his dishevelled hair, straggly beard and untidy clothes. Surely a man in his position would be expected to be presentable, and Agathe must have had a wild side to her character to love him!

The Travelling Players (1975) Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Compatible DVD. Starring Eva Kotamanidou, Aliki Georgouli... Written and Directed by Theodoros Angelopoulos.
The Travelling Players (1975) Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Compatible DVD. Starring Eva Kotamanidou, Aliki Georgouli... Written and Directed by Theodoros Angelopoulos.
Offered by Seedhouse-Rare-Movies
Price: £9.99

3.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinaryfilm, 31 Mar. 2013
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I first saw this film on its cinema release, decades ago, and had often longed to see it again. With a running time of nearly 4 hours, it's unlikely to be seen on any TV channel, so I was delighted when it emerged on DVD, but apparently only as part of a box of films by Angelopoulos, which I was reluctant to invest in. Finding a separate DVD of the film on Amazon, I jumped at it. But the results were mixed.

The film itself I still find powerful, demanding,and rewarding. OK, it's slow, non-linear in its narrative, demands a close attention to details revealing which section of the 1939 to 1952 scene in Greece is being evoked, but I find it worth persevering - I have to say that my wife gave up on it, and I myself couldn't find 4 consecutive hours in which to watch it.

But - and it's a big 'but'- the copy I bought turned out to have subtitles in English and Korean, and the box contained a text in Korean. Not a great problem, though Korean characters popped up whenever the English subtitles required an apostrophe. The real problem is that the subtitles are poor. Sometimes a sentence is repeated, even though it's clear that different words have been spoken, sometimes a sentence is omitted, so that the sense is lost. The worst instance it that the subtitles disappear completely for about 5 minutes, just at a crucial point, when a character is describing his experience of torture and is clearly about to say something important. So that is lost unless you understand Greek. All in all, a pretty shoddy job. I wonder whether the box set copy is any better subtitled.

I may add that the box had a sticker on it saying that the purchaser had been made aware of the Korean origin of this transfer before buying. I certainly wasn't aware.

Rameau: Platee [DVD] [2011] [NTSC]
Rameau: Platee [DVD] [2011] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Paul Agnew
Offered by langton_info_england
Price: £35.59

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A really 'green' opera, 17 Mar. 2012
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'Platee' is a green opera, in that it's set in a marsh, where the nymph Platea (Platee) in French) is looking for love. She thinks she's found it when Jupiter comes a-wooing, but alas, he's using her as a diversion to trick his wife Juno, leaving him free to pursue other amours. So, it's a comedy, with pathos included, and some people find the mocking of an ugly, elderly female distasteful - memories of G&S contraltos, I suppose. But the role is for a man, that peculiarly French voice, the 'haute-contre', a very high tenor. The Rameau specialist Paul Agnew is Platee, and his French is perfect, set against such formidable native singers as Mireille Delunsch (La Folie), Laurent Naouri and Yann Beuron, all of whom are excellent actors as well. The orchestra is on top form, under Marc Minkowski.

But the real glory of this set is the choreography. Rameau's operas are late examples of the 'opera-ballets' in vogue in the 17th Century, and the composer exhibits the most dazzling variety of tuneful, incisive dance rhythms, all of which are amazingly well choreographed and performed. If you've never tried Rameau before, make this set your first choice, then go on to such more serious works as 'Les Boreades' and 'Castor et Pollux'.

One technical point: I had to return my copy because of a fault in disc 2 - the image froze. Amazon obligingly relapced it, and when that point came on the replacement disc, there was a momentary hesitation, but nothing more

Bizet: Carmen (Anna Caterina Antonacci/The Monteverdi Choir/John Eliot Gardiner) [DVD] [2010]
Bizet: Carmen (Anna Caterina Antonacci/The Monteverdi Choir/John Eliot Gardiner) [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Bizet
Price: £27.99

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars lyricomane, 14 Aug. 2011
This production at the Opera Comique in Paris got a rave review from Hugh Canning in Opera Magazine, and the reviewer of the DVD concurred. Both thought it made this very familiar opera come up fresh and exciting. So I had great hopes, ultimately dashed. The most positive things about it, for me, are the performances of Anna Caterina Antonacci and Andrew Richards in the principal roles. Both sing extremely well,and act most convincingly, though she is in fresher voice on the Covent Garden DVD, and her partner there is Jonas Kaufmann, perhaps even more convincing than Richards. I found Anne-Catherine Gillet too strained to convince me as Micaela, even if her Act 3 aria speaks of fear and foreboding; surely is should sound more lyrical than this? Nicolas Cavallier, as Escamillo, looks good but finds the 'Toreador's Song' taxing, as do most baritones. But dramatically he's a cipher, no swagger or charisma. The smaller parts are competently filled, but surely the two gypsy girls could make more impact than they do here?

The production set my teeth on edge. There's a unit set which includes a curved walkway above the stage leading to a very narrow entrance, which means that characters can be seen entering or leaving, and everyone comes in from the same point on stage. One soon tires of this. The mountain pass in Act 3 is the usual failure, and the procession of bullfighters in Act 4 just doesn't exist, you have to imagine them. Economical, but dull. The setting seems to be more or less updated, and at first I thought we'd been transported to North Africa, there are so many supers in Algerian garb. Why, I wonder.

Musically, things go with a swing, under the baton of Sir John Eliot Gardiner, and the chorus perform very convincingly. Some music is unfamiliar, notably the 'couplets' for Morales in Act 1. One sees why they are not normally performed.

So for me this was a patchy performance, worth seeing for the principals, worth hearing for them, the chorus and orchestra, but not the fresh and exciting Carmen some critics found it to be.

Massenet's Werther (Jonas Kaufmann, Sophie Koch) [DVD] [2010] [NTSC]
Massenet's Werther (Jonas Kaufmann, Sophie Koch) [DVD] [2010] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Massenet
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £15.85

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Werther of my dreams, 17 Dec. 2010
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I love all (well, most) operas, French operas in particular, and Massenet is one of my favourite composers. I have lots of CDs, and several DVDs of his operas. Among the latter, two give me particular pleasure. There's 'Manon' from Barcelona, with Dessay and Villazon, lovely production which I remember from ENO years ago. Now there's this 'Werther' from Paris. The title role has to be performed by a tenor with almost Wagnerian resources, and really should convince us in his appearance and acting that he IS the passionate, almost neurotic young dreamer of the libretto. On CD this latter requirement can be forgotten, but on stage, no. Here Jonas Kaufmann really scores, being young-looking (he's 40),utterly Romantic, in the literary sense, and with a voice capable of fully realising Massenet's intentions for the role. In addition, his French is pretty good, and he acts the part without recourse to sobs, undue gesture or vocal distortion. Truly the werther of one's dreams.

Sophie Koch also convinces as Charlotte, though in close-up her grimaces are sometimes off-putting. Being French,despite her Germanic surname,she articulates the text meaningfully, and always sings with accuracy and feeling for the music; this is a distinguishes performance. I was happy to find Ludovic Tezier as Albert, he's one of the best French singers today. The others are fine, though in close-up, Sophie looks older than Charlotte.

Any grumbles? Only minor ones. All the men except Werther wear knee-breeches, but Werther has anticipated the 1798 Revolution's influence and sports trousers - more Byronic, I suppose. The big annoyance is the producer's habit of showing the singers in the wings as they prepare to enter, or after their exit. Not only does this spoil some of the theatrical surprises, but there are jarring moments such as Kaufmann's grin and 'thumbs-up' just before his first, melancholy entrance. But just grit your teeth through these clever-dick moments, and enjoy this lovely performance in a conventional, i.e. sensible production.
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