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Category:    Home > Reviews > Music > Orchestra > Movie Soundtrack > Classical > Opera > Marionettes > Ballet > A John Williams Celebration/Dudamel (2015/C Major)/Handel: Rinaldo/Katschner (2014, 2015 w/marionettes/ArtHaus w/CD set)/An Evening With Jiri Kylian & Nederlands Dans Theater (1980 - 1984/ArtHaus)/Gus

A John Williams Celebration/Dudamel (2015/C Major)/Handel: Rinaldo/Katschner (2014, 2015 w/marionettes/ArtHaus w/CD set)/An Evening With Jiri Kylian & Nederlands Dans Theater (1980 - 1984/ArtHaus)/Gustav Mahler's Symp. Nos. 9 & 10/Jarvi (2008 - 2015/Unitel Classica/C Major)/Ennio Porrino: I Shardana/Bramall (2015 aka The Sheridan/Dynamic)/Franz Schubert: Fierrabras/Stein (2014, 2015/Unitel Classica/C Major)/Show Boat/San Francisco Opera (2013 - 2015/EuroArts)/Richard Strauss: Feuersnot/Ferro (2014, 2015/ArtHaus/Unitel Classica)/Vivaldi: Il Farnace (2015/Dynamic/all Naxos Blu-rays)

Picture: B- (Jiri: C+) Sound: B (Jiri: B-) Extras: C+/B/C+/C+/C/C+/B-/C+/C Main Programs: B-/B-/C+/B-/B-/B-/B-/B-/B-

Here's a new set of good, solid releases by the Naxos company that fans of classical music and the arts should be aware of...

We start with the most mainstream of the releases, A John Williams Celebration (2015) is a salute the the composer/conductor now know for his Lucas/Spielberg movie music from the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Gustavo Dudamel conducts with Williams in attendance in a program (a short 90 minutes here, though I wondered if this was longer for those in the audience and we are not getting some of the music) including Itzhak Perlman on selections from Schindler's List, a non-film piece called Soundings, his Olympic Fanfare & Theme and music from Fiddler On The Roof, Catch Me If You Can, Amistad, Star Wars, Jaws and The Empire Strikes Back.

This means rare or more challenging works (like his music for De Palma's The Fury, for example) are once again ignored. People rave about Williams and he is good, but his talents did not just start in 1977 and several of these programs of not do his legacy justice, just his more commercial period, save a few films. This was also a mixed show, too short for its own good and worth a look, yet I expected more. Now, see for yourself.

Handel's Rinaldo is a unique entry in any of the operas we have covered because this tale of love and war during the crusades is done with marionettes and could be shot three ways: show the opera singers all the time with hardly or no marionettes, show only the marionettes or the option here: show the marionettes while you keep showing the singers. The singers are seen too often, killing the whole purpose of doing this that ay to begin with. That's a shame because this is a good opera.

Especially in the interactive age and with Blu-ray's capacities, this is a time where they should have employed the multi-angle feature, showed the marionettes at all times, then relegate what we get here and any other alternate views (including maybe one only showing the puppeteers) to alternate angles. No one was thinking that ahead and that makes viewing what we get choppy.

Oh well.

An Evening With Jiri Kylian & Nederlands Dans Theater offers three programs we already covered as part of a big Kylian Blu-ray box we reviewed at this link:


The three ballet works here are Sinfonietta, Symphony In D and Stamping Ground, all part of his answer to modern dance and if you do not want to take on the entire box set, this too is a good single to start with to see what you think of his work.

Gustav Mahler's Symp. Nos. 9 & 10 are presented in separate tapings here by Conductor Paavo Jarvi that run about two hours total and are a pretty good representations of the works. Shot with the usual back and fourth between conductor orchestra with that sometimes focus on certain musicians plays key parts at key moments, this is just fine and worth getting if you like Mahler.

Ennio Porrino: I Shardana aka The Sheridan takes place in a more likely version of prehistoric times in Sardinia imagining how that place and part of the world was dramatically formed. It is very imaginative and that something different that makes opera more exciting than the stereotype of people singing in loud, long parts, but will well-developed characters saying and doing something. Anthony Bramall conducts and this one runs 114 minutes.

Franz Schubert's Fierrabras is a long, epic opera about Christians battling Moors during the time of Charlemagne that is rich, nuanced and the most challenging work on the list running 164 minutes. Peter Stein directs it on stage and manages to keep it going smoothly and effectively throughout, but it can be a trying work at times and if you are not interested in the subject matter, you will not make it. The staging, set design and performances are also top rate and I can see why it is rarely performed. Most people could not pull it off!

Next we have the classic, yet ever controversial musical Show Boat from Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, performer by The San Francisco Opera a few years ago in a well-staged production with a cast that can definitely sing. Of course, there are some classic songs here like ''Can't Help Lovin' That Man'' and ''Old Man River'', but the surprise here was the liberal use of the N-word so casually that it made it hard to watch this one. MGM made several movies out of this and I don't remember that in any of the films.

At least they can claim they were faithful to the original material, but the results are once again mixed and problematic for me as they have been in all versions. Can anyone do this one with ironic distance and something new to say?

Richard Strauss: Feuersnot may have an odd name, but this visit to a Bavaria of the past, especially at night, has its moments and is a complex work that he created as a response to his first opera not succeeding. Gabriele Ferro conducts this well made, well thought out production that runs about two hours and is not bad, though it can be uneven and hard for some to get into. However, it is surprising it is not more well known or performed due to the author's reputation and is worth a serious look for all interested.

And finally we have Vivaldi's Il Farnace in a gender-twisting variant of this tale of three royal figures, including the title character and the gender morphing was in some of the several rewrites as we are told this is the most rewritten opera of all time. Running 151 minutes, it is a 'real trip' that more hardcore opera fans might be able to handle than novices. The cast is strong and Conductor Federico Maria Sardelli is able to pull it off, but it is not an easy sit. Still, recommended for those with the commitment to it.

All these releases offer 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers from their HD shoots, all have good color, but also some motion blur and minor flaws typical of the format save Jiri in upscaled 1.33 X 1 analog/standard definition shooting not completely explaining itself on the back of the package. It is the poorest performer here easily.

All nine releases have PCM 2.0 Stereo, the only track on Jiri and in 16/44.1 form, the sound on the Rinaldo CDs, all pretty much on an even, equal basis with each other. The rest of the Blu-rays also offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless mixes, but the bog surprise is not just how some of the menus do not offer a switching option (you have to find it with your remote only!), but that not all are 5.1 mixes. Instead, more than a few are 5.0 only! Thus, the 5.1 mixes are on Williams, Mahler, Feuersnot and Show Boat, while the 5.0 mixes are on Rinaldo, Shardana, Fierrabras and Farnace. Though you'd think the 5.1s would have the edge, they do not and the 5.0s sound just as good, so no standouts this time and the Williams was a little more metallic and tin-sounding than I would have liked.

Extras in all nine releases includes a multilingual, illustrated booklet on their respective programs as expected, several of the outright classical releases offer previews for similar releases, Williams adds interviews with the composer, Dudamel & Perlman at 11 minutes, Rinaldo adds a 2 CD set of the show & Making Of featurette, Jiri and Mahler add an Introduction and Behind The Scenes featurette, Fierrabras adds a Behind The Scenes featurette, Feuersnot adds a Making Of featurette and Show Boat adds a 33-minutes long interviews featurette.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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