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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Biography > Art > Artist > Music > Politics > Broadway > Standards > Classical > Concert > Opera > Leonard Bernstein: Larger Than Life (2015/C Major/Unitel Classica)/Herbert von Karajan: Maestro For The Screen (2008/C Major/Unitel Classica)/Rossini's La Gazzetta (2014/Dynamic)/Handel: Saul/Glyndebo

Leonard Bernstein: Larger Than Life (2015/C Major/Unitel Classica)/Herbert von Karajan: Maestro For The Screen (2008/C Major/Unitel Classica)/Rossini's La Gazzetta (2014/Dynamic)/Handel: Saul/Glyndebourne (2015/Opus Arte/all Blu-rays)/Pas de Dieux: Gene Kelly/Soir de Fete: Leo Staats (2014/Bel Air Classique DVD)/Tatiana: Neumeier (2013/C Major)/Puccini: Turandot/Kaige/Mehta (2008/C Major/Unitel Classica)/Verdi: I Due Foscari/Domingo/Royal Opera House (2014/Opus Arte/all Blu-rays/all Naxos)

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

Our line-ups of Naxos releases are always loaded with some of the most amazing talent in the world, but the big works and big names in this group are even more legendary than usual....

Georg Wubbolt's Leonard Bernstein: Larger Than Life (2015) is a terrific new documentary look at one of the greatest composers, conductors and all around artist/musicians ever, generous, way ahead of his time in understanding the priceless importance of the arts and one who did something about it. Using priceless, great, fun archival footage (more than a bit of which I have been lucky to see before, such as interviews and his remarkable personal recording of West Side Story which was a big Classical event release in its time) re-reminds us of his spirit, energy, huge talent and just how much we lost when he left us.

That his energy, enthusiasm and not even a split-second of entertaining a world without the arts, where are the artists doing what he did then, outside of his groundbreaking work? Have the 1980s compromised the arts that badly? Have we allowed way too much compromise at a huge price too few are ignoring? People like Bernstein built the arts worldwide and showed how they bring the world together, something we need to do a MUCH better job of maintaining. Needless to say the title of this release is actually understatement and its only problem is it could have gone on much longer or been a multi-episode mini-series. For what we have here, it is a strong, must-see portrait of an American Original. See it!

Herbert von Karajan: Maestro For The Screen (2008) is a solid new documentary release that is also a fine companion to the conductor's release of one of his concert films directed by no less than Henri-Georges Clouzot we reviewed here...


and here...


The connection to the big screen and the emerging television screen had the legendary conductor going out of his way to film many of his performances of the classics, ahead of his time in seeing the value of such visual records. It also shows a love of an exciting new medium with a love of filmmaking, so we get a special behind the scenes look at priceless early visual work from a period we do not or cannot ever see or hear enough about. The attention to detail here is as good as the story itself, so here's one to go out of your way for.

Rossini's La Gazzetta (2014) is an opera comedy set at a hotel that deals with class division, those few lucky enough to become more financially successful (even if they are seen as new vs. old money) and the humorous, ironic, amusing clashes that result. I loved the hotel stage that was built for this one, very effective, practical and make the already well-written piece all the more involving. The cast, so good here, capitalizes on the action in one of the best performance entries on this list. Thus it manages to be involving for its 145 minutes more than most such productions we've seen of late.

Well directed on stage by Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera (Frederic Caillierez directed the video recording), conducted by Jan Schultsz and produced with the Orchestra and Chorus of the Opera Royal de Wallonia, this is the kind of opera I would show to introduce the art form to a larger audience. I look forward to more work from all the participants and highly recommend this one.

For all the Handel we've covered, this is the first time we've looked at Saul. This 2015 Glyndebourne performance directed by Barrie Kosky, is a tale of the Old Testament, its title character and done with the twist of using circus, clown and like-expressionistic (read make-up) motifs to bring out nuance in a tale that is literally as old as the ages. The cast, lead by Christopher Purves in the title role, can get dark and even gruesome, so be prepared. Fortunately, it never wallows in any of this, making its points while maintaining the density of the past world portrayed.

Ivor Bolton conducts, Katrin Lea Tag pulls off the look & feel intended and Otto Pichler's choreography brings it all together. See it if you can handle the ideas of death and carnage.

Pas de Dieux: Gene Kelly/Soir de Fete: Leo Staats (2014) is a ballet double feature that shares conductor David Garforth at the Opera Nice Cote d'Azur with the Ballet Nice Mediterranee directed by Eric Yu-an, one by dancing, acting, singing, directing legend Kelly choreographed by Claude Bessy, the other all choreographer/writer Staats' show set to music by Leo Delibes. Kelly chose George Gershwin, both in modernist 20th Century America mode, a tale of Zeus, Eros and Aphrodite. It works well (why was this not some kind of feature film?) and is a pleasant, if not totally unexpected surprise from Kelly, whose escapist/fantasy sense in his big screen musicals become underrated as they are so seamless. Soir is also modernist, more abstract (i.e., less of an actual narrative) and yet also has visual designs and wardrobe that has a sense of throwback in all of it. Both have amazing dancing, belong together and are the best such double feature we have seen musically in a while. If you like ballet, it is worth going out of your way for.

As for Kelly, most of his films are in print, et al, but we'll recommend this 1958 documentary look at his work you may have more likely missed that we reviewed here...


Tatiana (2013) is John Neumeyer's clever, fine balletic adaptation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (which Ralph Fiennes' underrated 1999 Onegin feature film also inspired) has Helene Bouchet as the title character here and Edvin Revazov as Onegin delivering a really nice interpretation of the great romance story that nearly justifies its 135 minutes length. A true labor of love that is pretty consistent, it is another pleasant surprise and was well worth the time creating it, adding another layer and angel to this legendary tale. The rest of the cast is more than up to this and especially if you know and love the story, you need to see this one at least once. Lera Auerbach composed the music, this is a presentation of the Hamburg Ballet and Simon Hewitt is the conductor.

This is the first of two versions of Puccini's Turandot (2008) we've covered, but this version with the conductor Zubin Mehta and feature film director Chen Kaige is a reissue of a Blu-ray we first covered a few years ago.

Why this ever went out of print is odd, but rights and printings go in and out often. As I said at the time...

''[We have] Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) pulling off one of the richer and more effective performances of the classic we have seen on home video to date. The cast is top rate and the addition of a Making Of featurette makes this one of the best titles here for extras. The lossless DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mix is also nicely recorded and offers a decent soundstage.'' It was a 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition recording with some motion blur and decent color, but that's the only thing that could date it, though not too bad.

We later reviewed another excellent version of the classic in a Blu-ray box set here...


This version has a slight edge and I'm surprised more have not seen it or are talking about it, but it remains highly recommended.

Verdi: I Due Foscari (2014) is a recent production of the classic tragedy in Venice of the title character, played by the international opera singling legend Placido Domingo, here from the Royal Opera House. Domingo is as great as ever, as this recent Cyrano de Bergerac release proved once again...


Much more melodrama and intrigue than any kind of soap opera, it becomes a court case, a look at the secrets and corruption of a given society that thinks it is advanced (what was true then remains too true now) and conductor Antonio Pappano keeps things moving along briskly with just the right energy and pacing. This runs a decent 122 minutes, the supporting cast melds well, the stage production looks good and Renato Balsadonna directs the chorus most effectively. If I had to show someone the value of this classic work, save a few down moments, I would recommend this performance immediately. Cheers!

The Foscari and Saul Blu-rays are shot in 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition, while Bernstein is has a 1080i 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image in a 1.78 X 1 frame, the rest of the Blu-rays are 1080i 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image and the Kelly DVD is anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1. All have their motion blur and image limits, with the Bernstein Blu-ray (so much older stock footage of varying quality) and Kelly DVD (the only standard definition release of the bunch) the poorest performers but still watchable enough. Turadot just ekes out being a bit better than the rest saved by its advanced use and presentation of color. Imagine if the picture was more stable.

In the sound department, every single release has PCM 2.0 sound, all Stereo save Mono on Karajan, all the Blu-rays except for Bernstein and Karajan as older and/or more basic productions, offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes that except for Foscari (the soundfield is a bit off) tie for first place as the best sonic presentations here. That is odd, but that's the way it worked out in this case. The Kelly DVD also adds a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is not bad, but it is able to only tie Karajan for last place sonically here. Otherwise, that is pretty good and that Bernstein sounds as good as it does is a nice surprise.

Extras in all releases include multi-lingual booklets on their respective releases that are always welcome, Bernstein adds 24 minutes of interviews, Karajan adds a 32 minutes-long concert, Saul adds a Cast Gallery and two featurettes: A Descent Into Madness + Colour & Texture - A Musical Insight, Kelly adds a Claude Bessy interview, Tatiana adds the featurette Tatiana - Back To Pushkin, Turandot (as noted above) repeats its Making Of featurette and Foscari has a Cast Gallery, Intro and featurette Antonio Pappano on the Music of I Due Foscari.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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