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Category:    Home > Reviews > Opera > Drama > Classical Music > Literature > Documentary > Rock > New Wave > Punk > British > Concert > Avan > Gotterdammerung (2013/Wagner/Barenboim/Art Haus Blu-ray)/Paths Through The Labyrinth: The Composer Krzysztof Penderecki (2013/C Major Blu-ray)/Performance (1970/Warner Archive Blu-ray)/The Gershwins'

Death In Venice (2013/Britten/Eno/Opus Arts Blu-ray)/Don't Ask Me Questions: The Unsung Life Of Graham Parker & The Rumour (2014/Virgil DVD)/Boris Godunov (2013/Mussorgsky/Nagano/Bel Air Blu-ray)/Gotterdammerung (2013/Wagner/Barenboim/Art Haus Blu-ray)/Paths Through The Labyrinth: The Composer Krzysztof Penderecki (2013/C Major Blu-ray)/Performance (1970/Warner Archive Blu-ray)/The Gershwins' Porgy & Bess (2013/DeMain/San Francisco Opera/EuroArts DVD Set/Naxos)

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PLEASE NOTE: The Performance Blu-ray is now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

This is a really interesting new set of music releases that connect more than expected...

Death In Venice (2013) is Benjamin Britten's operatic adaptation of Thomas Mann's novel about a Gustav Mahler-like composer in his old age sailing to the title locale for a project and landing up facing his mortality and other problems with his personal life more than he expected in what was Britten's last operatic work. Many also know Luchino Visconti made the book into an amazing film in 1971 and this version of the opera is a decent adaptation well directed and performed.

John Graham-Hall is the composer Gustav von Aschenbach and like the non-musical/non opera film, this version has a long running time (153 minutes), but it is a pretty thorough version and one worth seeing and experiencing with the ENO orchestra from conductor Edward Gardner and stage director Deborah Warner.

Michael Gramaglia's Don't Ask Me Questions: The Unsung Life Of Graham Parker & The Rumour (2014) is not only a look at the reunion of legendary singer/songwriter Graham with his most famous group, but a look at their history in this biographical documentary that tells a great story form recent music history that is no discussed enough. In recent years, Parker has been performing with a band called The Figgs and you can read more about his work in action with them at this link:


Parker is candid about his life, why he broke from The Rumour so early, they perform a few times here and there, but we also get a huge amount of classic footage showing their rise and quick fall as Parker does not become the big star (with them or solo) he should have as New Wave brought us successes like Elvis Costello. Needless to say the man is highly overlooked, as is the band he left behind and the reunion, like this overview of their music, is long overdue.

A new version of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov (2013) by the Bayerisches Staatsoper and conductor Kent Nagano has arrived that is higher quality in layback if not always performance versus this earlier Blu-ray version from conducted by Gianandrea Moseda and directed by Andrei Konchaklovsky we reviewed here:


That makes it a tough choice between the two as I liked the earlier version a little more, but found it hard to sit through image-wise and feel both are quality performances, yet I guess neither are definitive, so it is a toss-up for me. Alexander Tstmbalyuk is the title character backed by a fine supporting cast.

We also have a new version of Wagner's Gotterdammerung (2013) with no less than composer Daniel Barenboim at the Teatro alla Scala that runs 292 minutes (!) and is as impressive as our previous coverage of the operatic classic that includes this older Blu-ray edition that I felt had mixed playback quality:


And a section from the full 14+ hours Ring Cycle DVD box we covered here:


The new Barenboim version is as good as any version we have seen to date, though I don't know if I could watch this one over and over again either, it is a strong, effective presentation of the classic and one I would start with as much as any I have seen to date. Lance Ryan, Gerd Grochowski and Johannes Martin Kranzle head the cast.

Anna Schmidt's Paths Through The Labyrinth: The Composer Krzysztof Penderecki (2013) is a new documentary about the avant-garde composer still making music in his 80s and still ahead of his time working with filmmakers like Andrzej Wajda and Stanley Kubrick, plus staying a star in his own right for those in the know as we see in interviews with the likes of Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead and in some great interviews throughout.

Running 88 minutes, my only complaint is that this was not long enough and does a great job giving us a look at an underrated music genius who deserves much more recognition than he has received. I hope this becomes unexpectedly popular because this is very well done and states its case about the genius of its subject very well.

A still often discussed film, Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg co-directed Performance, a 1970 British cult film about a gangster (James Fox) whose trip on the run away from some higher-ups who find him too much to handle leads him to meeting his counterculture doppelganger (Mick Jagger) in a strange old house that has been repurposed for his art and own music projects. For nudity and themes, this was considered racy in its time, but is now a time capsule of the era that launched the directing careers of both Cammell (Demon Seed, White Of The Eye) and already legendary cameraman Roeg (Walkabout, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Don't Look Now).

However, it is the acting debut of Jagger in the midst of one of the Rolling Stones more controversial periods that kept this interesting to some and his continued success on and off stage and the music charts that helps make this a recurring curio. Some people love this film, some are not as big on it (especially those going after Jagger) and too many who have not seen it. This new Blu-ray edition delivers a great edition of the film that looks and sounds as good as it has in a long time.

Despite two directors, the film tends to be as coherent as one as challenging as this one with its new wave narrative can be, creating its own dense world that makes the film a true experience even if it has its misses. After all these years, the film has aged well enough and maybe appreciated at that. If you have never seen it or not seen it in a long time, it is more than worth your time.

Finally we have The Gershwins' Porgy & Bess (2013) with Eric Owens and Laquita Mitchell in the title roles as The San Francisco Opera delivers this ambitious, 158 minutes-long version on a 2-DVD set (also issued on Blu-ray) that is in keeping with the work, but can seem a little long despite the efforts of all to infuse it with some serious energy and life in a sometime-controversial work. John DeMain conducts the romanic opera in what is actually the first time we have covered any version of it.

Political correctness has been at odds with certain works of art and this is one of them, but the PC crowd should be totally ignored when trying to get the the heart of a work like this one and that I why it can be appreciated on its own merits without the boring, predictable, even formulaic put-downs of people who don't even like the arts to begin with. Overall, this version is not bad at all and achieves a certain classic grandness the original work deserves.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Performance can show the age of the materials used in some spots, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film and comes very close to what one would see as a strong representation of a dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor version of the film as originally issued that way in 35mm prints. Roeg was his own cameraman here, called in by Cammell to pull off the many visuals that were complex before any editing was applied. You can really appreciate what they accomplished in such a seamless copy that holds up very well.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Venice does have less motion blur and other small issues than the 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on the rest of the opera Blu-rays, but not enough to really stand that much ahead of them. The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Porgy is a disappointment being too soft and limited in detail and definition for such a long work. Even being split on two DVDs did not help, so go for the Blu-ray if you need to see this one. The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Parker is also too soft for my tastes and has some motion blur, but it has the excuse of offering more than its share of older analog video footage.

Sound is usually more consistent on these releases including the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.0 lossless mix on Venice and DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes on the remaining two operas being very well recorded, presented and all having very consistent soundfields. Tying for second place are the PCM 2.0 Stereo on Paths, DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono on Performance (sounding really good for its age) and basic DTS 5.1 mix on Porgy, delivering fine sound throughout even with some sonic limits due to the age of material or the format That leaves the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on Parker fine for a documentary of its kind, but far from having the sonic punch of its companions here.

Extras in all the Naxos-released classical titles include booklets on their respective releases in several languages, while Parker only has a sheet of paper plus a featurette on the actual disc and Performance only has its Original Theatrical Trailer, vintage Memo From Turner featurette and the 2007 Influence & Controversy featurette with nothing inside the actual case. Venice adds a Cast Gallery, Paths adds a 16 minutes long featurette of its own and Porgy adds various interview and Behind The Scenes clips adding up to 29 minutes.

You can order the Performance Blu-ray from Warner Archive by going to this link for it and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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