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Category:    Home > Reviews > Concert > Classical > Ballet > Opera > Alfano: Cyrano de Bergerac/Placido Domingo (Unitel Classica) + Wagner: Der fliegende Hollander (Opus Arte) + La Petite Danseuse de Degas (ArtHaus) + Verdi: La Traviata – Royal Opera House (Opus Arte)

Alfano: Cyrano de Bergerac/Placido Domingo (Unitel Classica) + Wagner: Der fliegende Hollander (Opus Arte) + La Petite Danseuse de Degas (ArtHaus) + Verdi: La Traviata – Royal Opera House (Opus Arte) + Szymanowski: Symp. 1 & 2 (Audio-Only Blu-ray) + Puccini: Tosca: Royal Opera House (ArtHaus/Unitel Classica) + Handel: Theodora (C Major/Unitel Classica) + Vladimir Jurowski: Orchestra In The Age Of Enlightenment (Ideale Audience/Naxos Blu-rays) + Joshua Bell: Nobel Prize Concert (Accentus DVD)


Picture: C+/B-/B-/B-/X/C+/B-/C+/C+     Sound: B     Extras: C/C+/B-/C+/C/C/C/C+/C+    Concerts: B (Degas: B+/Wagner, Theodora, Tosca, Verdi :B-)



Now for a look at the new batch of Classical, Ballet and Opera titles from the great distributor Naxos


Alfano: Cyrano de Bergerac is a nice change of pace from all the standard play and drama versions that have sometimes missed the nuances that makes the original story such a fun classic.  This joins Steve Martin’s Roxanne as the kind of alternate version we should be seeing more often and no less than Placido Domingo has the title role and Sondra Radvanovsky as Roxanne in this Opera by Henri Cain.  I was actually surprised this worked so well since too many recent versions have been tired and by the numbers, but this one with Patrick Fourniller conducting and Michal Znaniecki directing on stage is consistent all the way and fans of the story will be surprised and pleased.  A booklet and trailers for four other Blu-rays are the only extras.


The Nederlands Philharmonic Orchestra has taken Wagner: Der fliegende Hollander and turned it into a modern tale of shipwrecked survivors and though the results can be mixed, they are also interesting and a nice twist on the classic that retains the composer’s music in the purest sense (is that opening not from another Wagner work?), but the use of faux black and white in parts rings phony and this take just misses the mark overall.  Still, it is worth your time if you are a fan.  Extras include Cast Gallery and Insights & Interviews on the BD, plus the usual thick, informative booklet.


Easily the best work here and the biggest surprise, La Petite Danseuse de Degas is an exceptional and exceptionally powerful ballet that might now be my favorite ballet Blu-ray next to the Criterion Collection release of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and the best outright concert.  This stunningly powerful tale of the artist Degas (who you might know from his painting that inspired the Nicole Kidman hit feature film Moulin Rouge, which has nothing on this concert) conducted by Koen Kesseles with Patrice Bart’s amazing choreography and Denis Levaillant’s music live from the Opera Garnier with the Corps de Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris.


It is smart, powerful, cutting edge, stunning, non-stop and has some of the most complex ballet dancing we have seen to date.  If I were introducing the art form to someone, I would show them this disc.  Dancer/actors include Clairemarie Osta, Dorothée Gilbert, Mathieu Ganio, José Martinez, Benjamin Pech, Elizabeth Maurin, Stephanie Romberg and Emmanuel Thibault.


Extras include a great booklet in the BD case and interview with Bart, Levaillant and the originators of the concept of this show: Patrice Bart and Martine Kahane.  For more on Degas, you might want to try this link:





The third Blu-ray of Verdi: La Traviata comes from The Royal Opera House and Opus Arte label is good, but not as strong as the following two previous versions we have covered in the past.  They include this popular Italian ArtHaus edition:




…and this great version by Lorin Maazel from Opus Arte and Art Haus:





Though still nicely done, the previous Blus deliver surprisingly exceptional interpretations of one of the most well-known Operas of all time.  Still, fans will want to see all three and judge for themselves.  This one is by the Royal Opera House with the great Renée Fleming, Joseph Calleja and Thomas Hampson, conducted by Antonio Pappano and directed by Richard Eyre.  It is still top rate, but doing this well is a major task and maybe seeing it done so well spoiled this for me a bit, but it still has some solid moments just the same.  Extras include a Cast Gallery and Pappano interviewing Fleming on the BD and the usual thick, informative booklet.


The latest of the Audio-Only is if a composer we have actually never really covered before.  Antoni Wit is back with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra performing Karol Szymanowski: Symponies 1 & 2. in an impressive 53+ minutes program of a work the composer disowned for whatever reasons.  It is my opinion all such composers should have several of their works in print in recoded form all the time, so this is as welcome a volume of this series as any to date and sounds as good as any of them, but more on that below.  Though offering small print, a paper booklet with a few pages is the only extra.


Our second Blu-ray of Puccini: Tosca comes from ArtHaus/United Classica is simply a reissue of the same title Naxos and TDK issued a few years ago.  Here is the review:




I think this is very good, but I was not as big a fan as my fellow writer was of it, but we both agree it is a solid work, though I still felt it too had some missteps.  Still, the fact that is has been reissued shows how popular it remains to Blu-ray and Opera fans.


Handel: Theodora (C Major/Unitel Classica) is another lesser known or exposed work by the composer that deserves more like Orlando does (you can read about it at the link to the first Verdi Blu-ray review link above) and is staged by Christof Loy form the 2009 Salzburg Festival.  Remarkably, the case claims this is the first-ever staged version and though I did not always like the approach, anyone interested should see it just for being such a special commemorative performance as the title character (Christine Schafer) would rather die than not live with being able to practice her faith.  That is what makes these Blu-ray releases so special; you never know what ambitious projects will be issued.  An informative booklet is included as the only extra.


Vladimir Jurowski: Orchestra In The Age Of Enlightenment (Idéale Audience/Naxos) follows a terrific Richard Strauss/Maurice Ravel Blu-ray that Jurowski and pianist Helene Grimaud did for the same company recently that I still really enjoyed, as this link will confirm:




Now Conductor Jurowski is back with a terrific performance of three Beethoven works: Coriolan Overture Op. 62 along with Symponies Nos. 4 & 7 that are among the best versions I have ever heard.  Note how consistent and smart “II. Allegretto” is from Symp. 7.  This only confirms my Jurowski is one of the best conductors in the business and I will look forward to his next works with even higher expectations.  This is definitely some of the best Beethoven on the market and that is not easy, making this my second favorite release on this list.  Extras include trailers and a good booklet on the work.


Finally we have our sole DVD this time around, Joshua Bell: Nobel Prize Concert which features Violinist Bell joining The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Sakari Oramo performing Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Jean Sibelius.  It is one of the best concerts here, is well recorded and delivers nicely.



The 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on the seven Blu-rays with picture to offer have good color, but the definition and motion blur between them varies.  Cyrano and Tosca just have too much motion blur or detail issues and the result is that they are on the weak side, but are still pricey-looking productions.  The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Nobel is also soft, but that is to me more expected from the older format, but we expect a Blu-ray would look better.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless on all eight Blu-rays is actually great with fine soundfields in all cases and oddly, the standard DTS on Bell is also exceptionally rich and nearly the equal of the other Blu-rays.  PCM 2.0 Stereo is also included on all Blu-rays save Theodora, but cannot compete with the DTS-MA in any case.  Szymanowski is recorded at and presented at 24 bits but the recording is 88.2 kHz while the playback presentation is 96 kHz, but this is one of the few such discs in this series that sounds this smooth.  Bell has a third soundtrack option in Dolby Digital 5.1 lossy playback, but it is not as good as the DTS.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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