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P. Markham "PM" (UK)

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Elgar: Cello Concerto In E Minor / Serenade For Strings [DVD] [2002] [NTSC]
Elgar: Cello Concerto In E Minor / Serenade For Strings [DVD] [2002] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Moscow Symphony Orchestra
Offered by wantitcheaper
Price: £7.40

3.0 out of 5 stars Nice programme of Elgar's quintessentially English string music but completely mismatched with a visual programme of Scotland., 9 Mar. 2016
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The soundtrack of this DVD consists of a good performance of Elgar's great Cello Concerto played by Karina Georgian and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Constantine Krimetz and very nice performances of Elgar's Elegy Op 58, Introduction and Allegro Op. 47, and Serenade for Strings Op. 20, played by Capella Istropolitana conducted by the very experienced and idiomatic Adrian Leaper, making a very coherent musical programme.

The visual content, however, is a pleasant if uninpired travelogue of various parts of Scotland, nice enough to look at but nothing special.

The main problem with this DVD is that for a programme of music by Edward Elgar, the most quintessentially ENGLISH of composers, there is absolutely no link at all with the scenes of SCOTLAND. It is a real shame that no appropriate thought has gone into matching the visual images to the music. It is true that there is some evidence that a degree of purpose has gone into choosing the moods of the various visuals to match the moods of the music, especially during the Cello concerto, but there is no real link between the visuals and the music beyond this. Surely a selction of scenes from England, particularly from the Malverns would have been a much better option for what is mainly a collection of Elgar's contemplative and pastoral music. One other minor complaint is that the pauses between the separate pieces of music are too brief, so the transition from one to the next is too abrupt.

Overall this DVD represents a missed opportunity to appropriately present music on DVD from a composer who is currently seriously under represented on this medium. It is pleasant enough but doesn't really justify having this musical programme on a DVD at something like twice the price of a similar programme on CD.

Korngold: Die Tote Stadt [DVD] [2000] [NTSC]
Korngold: Die Tote Stadt [DVD] [2000] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Stefan Vinke
Price: £19.35

3.0 out of 5 stars Dreadful vocal quality of the two principals ruins what is otherwise quite a good production, 9 Mar. 2016
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Do not be fooled by the inexplicable number of five star reviews given to this recording on Amazon UK. Look at the American reviews on (below) to get a more balanced view. This is quite a good production visually and orchestrally, though not as good as the one from Opera National du Rhin with Torsten Kerl outstanding in the role of Paul.

The major problem with the present performance is the dreadful vocal quality of Stefan Vinke as Paul and to a lesser extent but still a serious problem with the vocal quality of Solveig Kringelborn as Marietta/Marie. She is acceptable but nowhere near as good as Angela Denoke on the Opera du Rhin performance with Torsten Kerl.

It is hard to describe Stefan Vinke's voice, I have never heard anything quite like it before on the operatic stage. It is a mystery to me how he ever managed to make it this far. I admit that vocal quality is to some extent a matter of personal taste and I prefer a purer, controlled more nuanced voice. If you like a harsh, unsubtle, constricted singer then this is the man for you, but personally I can't stand to listen to him and he ruins the performance in my view. Kringelborg is better but doesn't help a lot as she is very wayward, squally and variable. Mercifully they do at least both manage to tone things down and control their voices well enough to avoid ruining the beautiful Act 1 duet but their performance is only acceptable and there are so many better performances available on both DVD and CD.

Visually the production is simple but quite effective and the orchestra plays well under Eliahu Inbal, but the contribution of the two main principals mean that this is a performance to be avoided, especially because it is largely a dialogue between the two of them.

Discovering Delius [DVD] [1993]
Discovering Delius [DVD] [1993]

3.0 out of 5 stars Great documentary but get it for free when you buy the excellent DVD of Petr Weigl's film 'A Village Romeo and Juliet' by Delius, 2 Mar. 2016
This is a fascinating documentary about Delius, but at this price on DVD it is very short measure at just 60 minutes long and you can get it for free as an extra if you buy the excellent DVD of 'A Village Romeo and Juliet'. That DVD is the Petr Weigl film of the complete opera which is both beautiful and musically excellent because its soundtrack is the Sir Charles Mackerras recording with Thomas Hampson singing the role of the Dark Fiddler (he also plays the role in the film) and Helen Field singing Vreli, Arthur Davies singing Sali, the two lovers, who are played by excellent young actors in the film. Its just a no-brainer because that DVD which has the documentary complete as an additional bonus is also always half the price of this DVD with only the documentary on it, and often it is available cheaper than that.

Jules Massenet - Werther - Roberto Alagna - Tenor [DVD] [2014]
Jules Massenet - Werther - Roberto Alagna - Tenor [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Roberto Alagna
Price: £16.05

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As near perfect a performance of Werther as it is possible to imagine., 31 Dec. 2015
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Roberto Alagna is currently unrivalled in the French operatic tenor repertoire and he here gives a masterclass in how the role of Werther should be performed both vocally and dramatically. Alagna is rightly the central pillar of this production but the real delight is that all the other components are virtually perfect too. Kate Aldrich as Charlotte is almost Alagna's equal both vocally and certainly dramatically and the sheer magnetic chemistry of the two together is almost overwhelming. All the other characters are also vocally and dramatically excellent and the production as a whole is as near to a perfect performance as it is possible to imagine. It is the production of my dreams and finally realises what I had always hoped for in this opera. It is an order of magnitude better than the latest production with Kaufmann in the title role, largely because that performance has such minimalist scenery, but also because Alagna is head and shoulders above Kaufmann in this repertoire, just as Kaufmann is supreme in the German repertoire.

The scenery in this production from Turin is superb as befits one of the greatest of the late romantic operas. It is opulent and detailed. This is matched by similarly rich and detailed costuming. The whole is caught brilliantly by the filming in 16:9 format. A model of modern staged opera recording.

The Orchestre du Teatro Regio di Torino play wonderfully well under the baton of Alain Guingnal and all the sheer richness, beauty and dramatic detail of Massenet's great score come across clearly and the orchestra and vocalists are extremely well recorded on a fine soundtrack in both PCM and DTS options.

The Essential Pavarotti [DVD] [2014]
The Essential Pavarotti [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Luciano Pavarotti
Price: £2.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A nice record of a gala concert but not vintage Pavarotti singing and short measure, 28 Oct. 2015
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This is a 1982 recording of a live gala concert from the Royal Albert Hall in the presence of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. It is a nice record of the event, the sound quality is very good and is in Dolby digital stereo. The picture is rather fuzzy but the close-ups are fine. This is presumably just a direct transfer from video without digital enhancement.

The concert is rather short measure lasting only about 57 minutes and by the time the titles and overture played by the orchestra are deducted there is only about 40 minutes of performance by Pavarotti himself. He sings nine operatic items and the popular song 'Torna a Surriento' as an encore. There are a mixture of popular items, mostly Puccini, including 'Recondita armonia' and 'E lucevan le stelle' from Tosca and of course 'Nessun dorma' from Turandot. Other popular items include 'Una furtiva lagrima' from L'Elisir d'Amore by Donizetti. The central section of the programme consists of five substantial arias, mostly by Verdi but also 'Fra poco e me ricovero' from Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti and 'Lamento di Federico' from L'Arlesiana by Cilea.

It is good to have a recording of Pavarotti performing a selection of arias with full orchestra and he is here accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who play the opening overture from La Forza del Destino by Verdi. They play very well both in the overture and throughout the programme. Pavarotti himself, however, is not on his finest vocal form, which is surprising for a 1982 performance when he was still at the peak of his vocal capabilities. I can only presume that he had a cold or was suffering from some slight illness or vocal strain because there is an edge and a degree of insecurity in his singing which one very rarely hears in his concerts. This is most apparent in the opening item 'Recondita armonia' which is poor by his usual exalted standards. He seems to settle and is much better in the bulk of the programme and produces some fine focussed singing but the edge and slight insecurity resurfaces again towards the end of the evening and is clearly apparent again in 'Nessun dorma'.

This is, therefore, a useful and interesting record of this particular gala performance but is far from being one of Pavarotti's greatest recordings, indeeed it is by his usual standards relatively disappointing.

Puccini - Madama Butterfly (Domingo, Citta Lirica) [DVD] [2004] [2000]
Puccini - Madama Butterfly (Domingo, Citta Lirica) [DVD] [2004] [2000]
Dvd ~ Dessi
Price: £16.37

3.0 out of 5 stars Seriously flawed production which is musically excellent but suffers from inconsistency in its different visual design concept, 23 Oct. 2015
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This 2004 production of Madama Butterfly from the Puccini Festival, staged at the lakeside theatre at Torre del Lago, is interesting but ultimately unsatisfactory. It uses the obvious idea of dressing all the characters as insects following the lead of having Cio Cio San herself dressed as a Butterfly in the first Act, though looking rather more like a sheep in later Acts. This is the root of the problem with this production, the insect costuming is a good (if obvious) idea if it were done well but here it is not. There are some costumes that are good. I especially like the caterpillar costume worn by all the relatives at the wedding, and Madama Butterfly's own costume is good in Act 1, but most of the rest of the costumes do not really create a believable insect look for the performers. The other major problem is that this approach to the opera is not used in any meaningful way in the action or for the overall look of the production. The stage scenery ressembles a collapsed building or perhaps a building site. There is no carry through of the insect theme into the setting or the activity on stage. This being the case, the design actually detracts from the opera as a whole rather than bringing any new ideas or insights. There are one or two interesting visual moments and costume touches but nothing more.

Another more minor problem is that with the exception of a couple of fans for Butterfly and a couple of chairs, no props are used and so a lot of the activity becomes mime and looks rather silly, again detracting from the believability of the whole production

The reason that I have give this performance three stars is because it has a major positive element and that is the music and the singing. Placido Domingo is the conductor of Orchestra CittaLirica and under his baton all the lush beauty of one of Puccini's greatest scores comes out from an orchestra which plays extremely well and a sound recording that captures all the detail exceptionally well for a live outdoor performance. Added to this the four main soloists are excellent. Daniela Dessi is vocally superb as Butterfly, she looks too old of course, but that is true of virtually all sopranos capable of singing this role. With this costuming and makeup, however, it really doesn't matter and she acts the part very well within the limitations of the production silliness. The veteran Juan Pons is vocally and dramatically excellent as the American consul Sharpless and gives a very persuasive and convincing portrayal of the role even though he appears to be dressed as a cricket (allusions to Jiminy Cricket perhaps ?). Fabio Armiliato whilst dressed as some kind of biker storm-trooper still manages to produce powerful, controlled vocals of real quality. The great love duet is very well done even though the usual atmosphere is completely lost in this setting and costume regime. Rossana Rinaldi is an excellent actress with a firm beautiful mezzo voice and seems to be able to portray her own role as Suzuki very effectively in a costume that somehow does suggest the character she is playing.

Overall then this is a musically excellent performance which has potentially interesting costuming but which is let down by the fact that the concept is not consistently carried through in all aspects of the production and therefore fails to give a new insight into the drama and ultimately detracts from the sheer beauty and atmosphere of one of Puccini's most beguiling and romantic tragedies.

Dvorak: Rusalka [DVD] [2015]
Dvorak: Rusalka [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Otto Schenk
Price: £14.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally a visually as well as vocally excellent production of Dvorak's great opera masterpiece 'Rusalka', 21 Oct. 2015
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This review is from: Dvorak: Rusalka [DVD] [2015] (DVD)
I have waited all my life to see a performance of this great opera in the setting in which it is meant to take place and finally here it is. Better still it is a truly great performance, not just visually but also vocally and orchestrally brilliant. I first saw this opera at the Coliseum in London in the visual horror of a production perpetrated by the English National Opera in the 1980s. I have subsequently seen other 'modernistic' productions, some better than others and some redeemed by at least having the great advantage of Renee Fleming playing the title role. But none of these productions comes anywhere near portraying the true spirit of this fairytale opera. At last in the present performance from the Metropolitan opera we have all the elements to make a production as near to perfect as it is possible to imagine. There are slight quibbles such as the sets being a bit too dark and Dolora Zajick not being quite frightening enough in the role of Jezibaba the sorceress, but these are truly tiny faults in a magnificent performance. Indeed with Dolora Zajick we get the great advantage of her fabulous voice which is so well suited to this role and I do also quite like here more humorous and approachable portrayal of this character.

The cast is virtually perfect, both in appearance and vocal quality. Leading the cast is the great Renee Fleming who has justifiably made the role of Rusalka her own. Her beautiful pure rich voice is perfect for the character but she also looks exactly right and is an excellent actress which is especially important in the second act when she has to remain mute for so long. Piotr Beczala looks exactly right in the role of the prince and has an excellent strong and controlled tenor voice with a genuine slavic timbre, perhaps not consistently pure at the very top of his range but the slight edge that sometimes develops under pressure is minor and adds to the authenticity. Dolora Zajick is excellent in every respect as Jezibaba as discussed above. As the water gnome John Relyea is extremely impressive both vocally and in terms of stage presence, he really dominates his scenes. This is a really great part for him. I have long admired Emily Magee since I saw here as Desdemona in Otello and here as the Foreign Princess she is excellent again, truly haughty and manipulative with that powerful and controlled soprano voice as commanding as ever - I would love to hear her in Wagner - as Brunnhilde ideally. The three wood sprites are excellent dramatically and vocally too and interact very well. This really is a great cast and a great performance. I loved it.

Rigoletto: Metropolitan Opera (Levine) [DVD] [2014]
Rigoletto: Metropolitan Opera (Levine) [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Louis Quilico
Price: £6.15

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic recording of one of the finest ever performances of Rigoletto, 20 Oct. 2015
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This 1981 production of Rigoletto from the Metropolitan Opera is one of the two finest performances by Luciano Pavarotti in a video recording of a fully staged opera. The other is the 1988 recording of La Boheme from the San Francisco Opera with Mirella Freni. Both productions feature Pavarotti in the finest vocal form of his stage performances and in roles with which he was fully comfortable and therefore able to produce believable characterisation.

This production of Rigoletto also has the immense advantage of an outstanding performance from Louis Quilico in the title role (just a Mirella Freni hugely strengthens La Boheme as that title character). Indeed the entire cast is very strong and the whole production is extremely satisfying, on balance the best performance I have ever seen. Christiane Eda-Pierre who plays Gilda is a soprano that I had never previously encountered and she has a fuller, heavier voice than we are currently used to in this role but she is vocally excellent and after the initial surprise one rapidly becomes accustomed to her voice. All of the great arias, duets and the famous quartet are extremely well performed.They are as fine as any performances to be encountered in live productions, but what is great here is that they are all of the same high standard, which is very rare.

The sound quality of the recording is excellent, especially in view of the age of the performance, and the picture quality is very good. Distance shots are a bit grainy and soft focus, but the close up picture quality is very clear.

This is by any measure a great performance of Rigoletto and and can stand comparison with any recent production. For Pavarotti enthusiasts or admirers of Louis Quilico this is a recording to be cherished. A very welcome new release of a classic production.

Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci [Blu-ray]
Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Mascagni
Price: £8.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really enjoyable performance of this classic double bill, in which the whole is better than the sum of its parts., 12 Oct. 2015
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Unusually for a modern production from the Zurich Opera House the sets and costumes in this classic double bill are both believable and effective. The skeleton of the set is the same in both operas and provides a very convincing village setting for Cavalleria Rusticana and is then transformed very effectively into an attractively colourful backdrop for the circus setting of Pagliacci. The openess of the set is a real bonus in both operas, especially for Cavalleria Rusticana because light, sky and cloud projections give a great feeling of space, countryside and the changing times of day. An upper level walkway is also extremely effectively used in both operas. The costumes are updated but are still consistent and give a truly authentic feel to the settings.

Musically the strengths of both performances lie with the orchestra and the chorus, both of which are extremely good. The chorus is also excellent dramatically with lots of individual actions making up very convincing crowd scenes. The principal singers are all good rather than outstanding with the exception of Carlo Guelfi, who is both dramatically and vocally excellent as Tonio in Pagliacci. None of the female principals are particularly striking and there are far better performances of all the female roles in other productions, but those here are all perfectly decent performers and none of them let the productions down. The star name here is the tenor Jose Cura who appears in both of the operas. Dramatically he is excellent if rather more substantial in physical presence than he used to be. His singing is perfectly good if not outstanding, some people appear to hate his voice and have said so in other reviews but to me it still seems to have reasonably good quality if perhaps not the power he used to possess. This is genuine verismo singing, with the occasional rough edges that are inherent in that type of performance and verismo is Cura's great love.

As a whole I found these performances to be extremely enjoyable, a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Visually they are excellent, musically they are very good and there is a real life and enthusiasm here that gives the operas a genuinely fresh and modern aspect which is refreshing in what can often be a very hackneyed pair of opera favourites.

Just to clarify one important point. The review which gives only one star for this Blu-ray is entirely wrong. There ARE subtitles in several languages which are English, Italian, French, German, Spanish, Korean and Japanese. These subtitles need to be selected as usual and can be turned off.

Wagner - Der Fliegender Hollander [Blu-ray] [2011] [2010] [Region Free]
Wagner - Der Fliegender Hollander [Blu-ray] [2011] [2010] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Martin Kusej
Price: £25.68

4.0 out of 5 stars Unusually a good contemporary production of Wagner that actually works., 4 Aug. 2015
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This recent production by Netherlands Opera is so much better than its direct rival on Blu-ray, the modernistic production from Zurich with Bryn Terfel as the Dutchman. The first point is that this Netherlands performance, though very contemporary, actually makes sense. There is a clear relationship to the original setting and storyline and there is still the vital link to the maritime environment that is so seriously missing in the Zurich production. One of the biggest flaws in the Zurich production is the silly, trite and predictable way that Senta dies. Here in the Netherlands performance she dies by the same means but it is done in a way which makes both logical and dramatic sense and makes the Dutchman's final release clear as a result of her sacrifice.

Both productions are musically excellent but this Netherlands Opera performance is the clear winner in that respect too. The orchestral playing is bright, incisive and vibrant and the singing is marvellous. Pre-eminent amongst the performers is Juha Uusitalo in the role of the Dutchman. His singing is absolutely first rate, dramatic, tortured and compelling but also with genuinely tender and lyrical moments. He is physically and visually just right and presents a truly menacing figure on his first appearance. His acting is superb and he truly inhabits the role. Compare this to Bryn Terfel's portrayal in the Zurich production where in the context of such a travesty of a setting Terfel just looks uncomfortable and never clearly personifies the Dutchman.

The other singers in this Netherlands production are also excellent. There is no weak link. Catherine Naglestad is a strong, almost steely Senta. Robert Lloyd is very welcome in the role of Daland bringing what is still a very impressive vocal quality and all of his immense acting experience to the part. Amongst the smaller roles Oliver Ringelhahn has a beautiful rich and impressive tenor voice and gives a great performance as the Steersman, truly lyrical but still fully Wagnerian. It is also nice to have a young sexy Mary in this version as played by Marina Prudenskaja who looks great and has a wonderfully firm and rich vocal quality. My least favourite singer amongst the main roles was Marco Jentzsch as Erik. I found him a little harsh vocally, but he looks good and acts well and his singing is perfectly fine, I just prefer a richer purer vocal quality in this part.

I don't often like modern productions of Wagner, but this one works well, especially if you watch the bonus interviews with the cast and director, where some things that seem silly, such as the somewhat distracting shooting of 'asylum seekers' during Senta's ballad are at least explained coherently even though I still think that it is too distracting at that point in the opera. This is why I have given this 4 stars overall rather than the 5 stars that the musical performance deserves.

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