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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Concert > Opera > Drama > Ballet > Comedy > Literature > Fantsasy > Anastasia/Macmillian (2016/Royal Opera House/Opus Arte Blu-ray)/Don Quixote (2016)/Faccio: Hamlet (2016/both C Major/Unitel Blu-rays)/Handel: Messiah/Dubrovsky (2016/Naxos Blu-ray)/Mozart: Lucio Silla

Anastasia/Macmillian (2016/Royal Opera House/Opus Arte Blu-ray)/Don Quixote (2016)/Faccio: Hamlet (2016/both C Major/Unitel Blu-rays)/Handel: Messiah/Dubrovsky (2016/Naxos Blu-ray)/Mozart: Lucio Silla (2015/Rai/C Major Blu-ray)/Shakespeare: Cymbeline (2016) + The Tempest (2017/both Royal Shakespeare Company/Opus Arte Blu-rays)/Tosca: Puccini/Pappano (2001/ArtHaus DVD)/Siegfried Wagner: Everything Is A Little-Hat's Fault/Munich (2015 aka An Allem Ist Hutchen Schuld!/Marco Polo/Naxos DVD)/William Tell/Rossini: Pappano (2016/Royal Opera House/Opus Arte Blu-ray/all Naxos distribution)

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

And now for another great group of Classical Music releases on home video...

One thing different in this Classical group from others is that we have a few we never covered before after all this time and many here have only been seen as dramatic feature films before, so expect links to that effect. Kenneth Macmillian has delivered a pretty good ballet version of the story of Anastasia (2016) via the Royal Opera House that asks the classic question, is she or isn't she... the daughter of overthrown royalty from pre-Soviet Russia or not.

To this day, no one ever seems 100% certain and the story keeps surfacing in new forms (like Fox's hit animated version a few years ago) so making this work as a viable ballet was not easy. Using music including that of Tchaikovsky under conductor Simon Hewett (very formidable) with Natalia Osipova in the title role, this version too proves the story (113 minutes here) continues to endure, intrigue and fascinate. The dancing and choreography always compelling and even if the mystery is ever solved, this will still be highly watchable. Definitely catch this one if you like ballet.

For more on the story, see our coverage of the limited edition Blu-ray of the hit 1956 film with Yul Brynner and Ingrid Bergman at this link...


Rudolf Nureyev's Don Quixote (2016) is another ballet of a classic tale that keeps getting told (Terry Gilliam's version seems to be finally finished) and this has music by Ludwig Minkus and is conducted by Kevin Rhodes, but the choreography here is by legendary Marius Petipa. Despite all this and a reasonable running time of 122 minutes, this just did not always work for me, seeming a bit off at times and sometimes trying to hard or not hard enough. The Wiener Stattsballet is a great organization, but this was just not convincing and for hardcore fans of the above only. For another take on the story, try this link...


Next we have Franco Faccio's take on Hamlet (2016) with the Wiener Symphoniker conducted by Paolo Carignani and is based on the Shakespeare version. With a libretto by Arrigo Boito (the other music contributor here, both connected to Verdi), this Opera is not a bad version at all with some good moments, but is a bit long at 145 minutes and the great singing helps, but when telling a classic tale like this, you have to keep things going. Not easy for anyone (we've seen versions that throw out parts of the book, like the Mel Gibson version that some have rightly dubbed 'Lethal Hamlet'; this version is better), but you are taking on a seriously classic text. It is worth a look for fans, but I would just advise that said viewers we well awake to take on this version.

For a look at the still-remarkable 1996 70mm feature film version by Kenneth Branagh, try this link...


The tough part of any version of Handel: Messiah is that you are dealing with the space of faith, which can get easily politicized and hijacked, but this 2016 version by Ruben Dubrovsky is richly religious, so anyone complaining on that level is a goof, though even an atheist would consider its 125 minutes running time a bit long in the tooth for this version. In my case, it is hard not go go on and on and on and on with this work, but no doubt it is a classic of its kind just the same and a key work of music with vocals. No version after all these years has ever stayed with me or had any particular impact, but it gets covered more than most.

You can read more here about the Spinozi version released by C-Major...


or even this 1999 feature film version if you are interested in further reading....


On the rarer side is Mozart: Lucio Silla (2015) which is our first time coming across this tale of the title character (Kresmir Spicer) dictator who must deal with the return of the repressed and challenges to his power, plus love and passion that dictators may find incompatible with cold rule. A solid opera, this is still very long at 186 minutes and will require more energy, time and attention than you might be used to. However, that is the investment it takes to take the work in, plain and simple. Marshall Pynkoski directed the stage version, Makhar Vaziev directs the Ballet Company of Teatro All Scalia, Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg is the onsite choreographer and the conductor is Marc Minkowski, so this is a big production all the way.

Now we have a thorough performance worthy of the original work.

Back to the bard for the next two releases, we have Shakespeare: Cymbeline (2016) and The Tempest (2017), both from that Royal Shakespeare Company that no doubt grasp the works well. Cymbeline is the rarer of the two of course and deserves more exposure as the title Queen (Gillian Bevan) must do what she can to save and hold together a Britain in danger. However, this runs 188 minutes, so you'll have to get in gear to take it on.

You can watch it cold or try out this 2014 feature film version of Cymbeline with Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris and Milla Jovovich we reviewed at this link...


The Tempest is a more well known, obvious classic about as legendary and successful as Hamlet, here in one of the best releases on the list, hitting the nail on the head and delivering the story with energy, honesty and without compromise. Can a man alone get revenge and make a personal return to the world? Can he find happiness or any life worth living? Add the twists and turns and you get some great drama. This one may run 145 minutes-long, but it more than justifies it and is a reference performance.

We would (before or after seeing this release) recommend Paul Mazursky's 1982 feature film version of The Tempest that was highly underseen and has a great cast here...


Puccini's Tosca is back in this 2001 version by Conductor Antonio Pappano that has a decent 125 minutes-long running time, but falls short of its intents by being very uneven despite the singing talent and taking place at no less than the Royal Opera House (again!), though huge fans of the work will forgive its shortcomings, I feel we've seen better versions. You can see for yourself by checking out either this Blu-ray version we gave a rave years ago...


or this more recent version from a Blu-ray box set...


Siegfried Wagner: Everything Is A Little-Hat's Fault (2015 aka An Allem Ist Hutchen Schuld!) is new to us despite the deluge of Wagner we've covered over the years and the comedy runs nearly three hours!!! However, you never see it and despite my many issues with it not staying consistent, it is the first version we've seen of this tale of fantasy in the fairy tale mode. Despite Wagner's later association with fascism, this is not a stretch from his other works and and was first seen in 1915!

The cast is no doubt giving it their all and Lionel Friend of the Bochum Symphony Orchestra in Munich grasps the material, but it is just not the easiest work to deal with and I'd like to see another version in the future to compare. For those interested, it is still worth a look, but be awake to deal with it.

Finally, as hard as it is to believe, we have never covered Rossini's William Tell in the over 15 years we have been live with the site, but now, we have the 2016 Royal Opera House version (they're on a roll!!!) conducted by Antonio Pappano and though you can now put the all-time classic Overture in context, I was more disappointed with this version than expected. At a whopping 201 minutes-long (over 3 hours!!!!) it is a long haul despite being one of the only 1080p modern productions here.

The production has fine singing and music, but may be too deconstructionist, modernized and minimalist for its own good, but it is likely a long work outside of this program and I again would have to see another for context. Thus, it is worth seeing if you REALLY are interested, but I though it just went on way too long and is the worst offender in that sense on the whole list.

Now for playback technical performance. Most of the Blu-rays are here in 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image presentations that have their share of motion blur (even at times) and even slight picture breakup or detail issues. Cymbeline, Tempest and William Tell have the best playback image at 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers that show more stability, detail, depth, natural movement and better color range. As we head into the 4K 2160p Ultra HD Blu-ray era, et al, I realize so many of these Blu-ray releases will not hold up as well just as the classic DVDs now mook much older.

So, the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the Tosca and Wagner DVDs were expected to be soft, especially as compared to all these Blu-ray releases, but they are even more so than usual with motion blur and other flaws that can make them sometimes difficult to watch. If you have a larger screen, be warned, playback will look worse.

As for sound, all the Blu-rays have DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes, save 5.0 on Quixote and Hamlet (with lesser PCM 2.0 Stereo backup tracks for older systems) and they all sound just fine with solid surround performance and fine recordings, even if none of them stun sonically, except William Tell is a bit off, but its 5.1 is still better than its 2.0 Stereo mix.

The Tosca DVD has PCM 2.0 Stereo, lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and its best tracks, lossy DTS 5.1 surround in its older form, but that is more impressive than expected. Wagner only has PCM 2.0 Stereo and is the other release that is a bit underwhelming. Otherwise, this is really not a bad group of releases sonically.

Extras include illustrated booklets including informative text (often multi-lingual) in the case of all ten releases as expected, while on the actual discs, some slip in previews for other releases, Anastasia adds an Introduction, clip on the Sets and interview, Cymbeline adds a Director's Audio Commentary Track, Cast Gallery, Interview with Director Kelly Still and featurette Shakespeare's Ancient Britain, Tempest also adds a Director's Audio Commentary Track, Cast Gallery, Interview with Actor Simon Russell Beale and two Making Of featurettes, Wagner adds a Photo Gallery & Behind The Scenes featurette and finally, William Tell adds and Introduction, Cast Gallery and two featurettes about the singing.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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