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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Long Form Music Video > Opera > Ballet > Comedy > Drama > Melodrama > Royalty > War > Fant > Ken Russell's View Of The Planets (1983/Holst/ArtHaus)/La Damnation De Faust (1989/Berlioz/Solti/ArtHaus)/La Reine Morte (1983 aka The Dead Queen/Tchaikovsky/Kessels/Opus Arte)/Le Nozze Di Figaro (199

Ken Russell's View Of The Planets (1983/Holst/ArtHaus)/La Damnation De Faust (1989/Berlioz/Solti/ArtHaus)/La Reine Morte (1983 aka The Dead Queen/Tchaikovsky/Kessels/Opus Arte)/Le Nozze Di Figaro (1999/Mozart/Barenboim/ArtHaus)/The Merchant Of Venice (2015/Royal Shakespeare Company/Opus Arte)/Orlando Furioso (1989/Vivaldi/Behr/Marilyn Horne/ArtHaus)/Still Life At The Penguin Cafe (1987/Jeffs/Jeremy Irons/ArtHaus/all Naxos Blu-rays)/Song Of Lahore (2014/Broadgreen DVD)

Picture: C+/C/B-/C+/B/C+/C/C+ Sound: B-/B-/B/B-/B-/C+/B-/C Extras: C/C-/C/C-/B/C-/C+/D Main Programs: B-/B-/B-/B-/B/B-/C+/C+

Here's a new group of music releases for you to consider and know about....

Ken Russell's View Of The Planets (1983) has the late, great, legendary filmmaker returning to his TV roots, as he did plenty of work in TV before becoming a serious feature film director with films like The Boy Friend, Tommy, The Devils, Altered States, Lisztomania, Mahler and The Music Lovers more than qualifies him to take on Classical Music like no one except maybe Kubrick or Nicolas Roeg (who used the piece very effectively in his David Bowie film The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976). A year after MTV's arrival, the bold filmmaker decided to take on Gustav Holst's classic in a too-brief 50-minutes program where he comes up with some very compelling, effective visuals for all segments of the complete work that has aged well and does not look like a phony MTV-wanna be work (like so many of the time) that makes for an underrated long-form music video work entirely deserving of rediscovery.

Eugene Ormandy conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra in a strong renditioning of the classic, so no lite music coverage here whatsoever. My second-favorite entry on this list, I highly recommend it.

La Damnation De Faust (1989) is Hector Berlioz's tale of soul-selling that we have not ever covered, but this version with Conductor Sir Georg Solti may be based in London at the Royal Albert Hall, but the Chorus of the Westminster Cathedral and Chicago Symphony Chorus & Orchestra make this a bit more experimental and adventurous than your usual opera with orchestral accompaniment. They succeed more than not, though at 134 minutes, maybe it cold have been a bit longer. Not bad.

La Reine Morte (1983 aka The Dead Queen) is a ballet set to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's music and based on the true story of Prince of Portugal Don Pedro, who falls for a woman he secretly marries, only to have it quickly come back to haunt all involved. We've seen this kind of tale before, but it works well enough here with choreography by Kader Belarbi and conducted by Koen Kessels. Add a great cast and the Theatre du Capitole and this delivers well in 110 minutes. Costumes and sets are a bit different, but that's not a bad thing.

Le Nozze Di Figaro (1999) is only our second time covering any version of The Marriage (or Nozze aka Wedding) of Figaro after 14 years (!) with the first part of this excellent Mozart set...


Almost as good, this version has Daniel Barenboim conducting and runs a whopping 191 minutes. I liked some of this, but did not always think it justified its length despite the amazing talent involved (performed in Berlin with the Staatskapelle Berlin. It makes for some interesting comparisons to the other version, so its still solid for the most part. I just thought the other Papanno version worked just that much better.

The Merchant Of Venice (2015) also is another all-time legendary opera we have only covered once before...


Erik Nielsen's version was not bad, but this new Royal Shakespeare Company release is petty much its equal, some flaws, but well made and consistent enough. Yes, I still think a better version is possible, but this is pretty authentic throughout and runs 132 minutes. Even non-Shakespeare fans will not be disappointed.

Orlando Furioso (1989) is Antonio Vivaldi's great opera about the title character, a woman ahead of her time going to war, and who better to play her than the legendary Marilyn Horne? At 147 minutes, it is never boring and this release re-reminds us why Horne is one of the giants in this artform, a insanely powerful vocal bringing this to life as few vocalists could do. Made with the San Francisco Opera, it is one of the strongest entries on the list. I only had minor issues with this one in pacing.

Still Life At The Penguin Cafe (1987) is a ballet that has the benefit of narration from no less that Jeremy Irons offers a series of not necessarily related dance segments that go for different kinds of music and only runs 39 minutes. However, it is some very compelling work and worth a good look for those who would be interested. The bonus documentary actually runs longer, so this is not that basic a disc and it deserves to be reissued like this.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy & Andy Schocken's Song Of Lahore (2014) is the latest documentary true story of an all-too-familiar story of the serious lack of respect and even hatred of the arts in The Middle East, this time telling us how Pakistan had a thriving music scene until the late 1970s when Islamic extremism forced the artists to hide, abandon and bring their great work to an abrupt end. Any resurgences since have been snuffed out again by the likes of the Taliban and similar world terror organizations. The musicians here land up in the U.S. to record with no less than Wynton Marsalis. This runs 82 minutes and my inly complaint is that it does not run long enough and go far enough.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Venice is the image playback winner here, followed closely by the 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Morte, the only two such never releases this time out. You might get some minor detail issues and even motion blur here and there, but they play as well as expected. The remaining Blu-ray's offer 1.33 X 1 images upscaled to 1080i in a 1.78 X 1 frame (save Figaro upscaling older 1.78 X 1 video), but calling them totally digital High Definition image transfers is pushing it, especially when you get analog video that shows the age of the materials used. Faust and Penguin look particularly poor, though maybe some work would have helped. Thus, the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the Lahore DVD actually looks better despite some issues with how it was digitally recorded.

In the sound department, Morte with its DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix has a great soundfield, is recorded really well and has terrific sonic range. Figaro and Venice sound almost as good with the same type mix, but Furioso is not as well mixed and presented, also offering a PCM 2.0 Stereo mix that is a bit lesser. Guess the original soundmaster was not great. Planets offers a better PCM 2.0 Stereo mix and to make up for their image limits, Faust and Penguin have PCM 2.0 Stereo mixes at 192 kHz they are dubbing 'Hi-Res Audio' despite their age and limits. The big disappointment is Lahore with its lackluster lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that has location audio issues, lacks fidelity and sadly undercuts the music. It also has no extras.

Extras include booklets on (and sometimes built into) all the Blu-ray releases here, while Planets adds a Melvyn Bragg introduction, Morte and Venice add a Cast Gallery, Venice also adds a feature length audio commentary track from the director and featurettes Setting The Stage & Telling The Story and Penguin adds the documentary The Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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