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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Concert > Opera > Drama > Politics > Genocide > Homosexuality > Concert > Instrumental > B > From The House Of The Dead/Janacek/Young (2018/BelAir)/Galerie Dorre (2019/BelAir)/La Bayadere/Minkus/Royal Ballet (2019/Opus Arte)/Swan Lake/Tchaikovsky/National Opera Of Ukraine (2019/BelAir)/Travia

From The House Of The Dead/Janacek/Young (2018/BelAir)/Galerie Dorre (2019/BelAir)/La Bayadere/Minkus/Royal Ballet (2019/Opus Arte)/Swan Lake/Tchaikovsky/National Opera Of Ukraine (2019/BelAir)/Traviata/Verdi/LeConte (2018/BelAir)/Well-Tempered Clavier Book II/Bach/Schiff (2018/BBC/Unitel/all Naxos Blu-rays)

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

Here are our first classical music releases for 2020, six interesting entries, including the latest versions of some popular and oft performed classics...

Though it might look more like an annual Day Of The Dead event, but this version of Leos Janacek's From The House Of The Dead (2018) takes place in a Siberian 'penal camp' where sadistic guards run things and the prisoners are in all states of sadness and trouble. An opera in three parts, many characters still turn up in skeleton make-up, then we get S&M and male homosexuality rounding out the telling of this long story. The mixing of older, analog-like block-style video with the new HD shoot back and fourth and back and fourth is a bit overdone.

Though it runs 97 minutes, it feels longer and when it was over, I honestly did not totally get the point, unless it was just to portray the situation as is and leave things without making a big statement or point. Conducted by Simon Young and stage-directed by Frank Castorf, it is consistent and dense, moody and consistently dark, not necessarily wallowing in its events, but I had to take the horror-genre costuming as a contemporary move (sexualities notwithstanding) and just does not gel. The cast can sing, of course, as the sets work well enough, but it did not work for me as much. Produced by the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, we've seen their great work before, so this is at least distinctive, but just not for everyone and probably not for young audiences.

Galerie Dorre (2019) is a concert simply taped live, but instead of the usual orchestra doing classical music, this is a smaller, more intimate setting where the smaller group of musicians (with variation) play 20 classics by various composers, usually legends like Haydn, Handel, Mozart and Vivaldi, as well as some lesser-known and heard composers. The title locale is remarkably part of the Hotel de Toulouse in Paris, but it is incredible on its own and a great place to do such a taping.

Julien Chauvin conducts with soprano Jodie Davis, luteist Thomas Dunford, harpsichordist Justin Taylor, traversoist Tami Krausz and cellist Atsushi Sakai on hand. Save some motion blur issues, this is a solid 77 minutes that could have gone on longer, but is solidly good for what it is and recommended if you are interested.

In only our second-ever time to cover a work by Ludwig Minkus, it is the first time we have encountered La Bayadere and it is the Royal Ballet delivering this 2019 performance that is pretty good, though I had never seen the work in its entirety until this release. A consistent 129 minutes, that may be long for some and this is not a bare-boned production, but a rather rich one as a woman challenges a man's love for the title character, a temple dancer named Nikiya (Marianela Nunez).

Natalia Makarova created the choreography after that of Marius Petipa, with Boris Gruzin conducting, it impresses and has its moments, but sometimes there were moments that were off or ways this did not cohere as a whole versus some of the best ballets we've seen on Blu-ray to date. Still, it is ambitious, well done enough and worth a good look.

We have covered Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake so many times, it is easy to loose track, but this new version by The National Opera Of Ukraine (2019) joins our long list that includes this early release with Cecelia & Bryn that was one of our first, earliest classical Blu-ray releases and one we liked...


This Royal Opera House version (among many good ones in this review) was as impressive and still holds up very well..


Then we have this Bolshoi version that also impresses and was issued more recently with two other classics...


And there's this Zurich Ballet version that is not bad, if not as great as the others...


Plus this Dutch National Ballet version that was a little disappointing...


Our new version here, choreographed by Valery Kovtun (based on the work of Marius Petipa like Bayadere above) with Natalia and Denys Nedak leading the cast is somewhere in between those above, ranking probably fourth place, so it is not bad. On its own, it is nice, but up against three stronger presentations, you can see where it succeeds and where it does not. Mykola Dyadura does as good a job conducting the music as the dancers deliver their moves, but it is hard to do this classic and give it the immense amount of energy it needs throughout. Still, this one is good and big fans will want to check it out.

Verdi's La Traviata is the other classic work we have covered several times over the years, so now comes this 2018 version that is a post-modern take mixing talking and singing, characters and tries to say new things about Violetta Valery (Judith Chemla) that tries to offer an alternate and semi-feminist take on her life. Though not perfect, it is not bad, so how does it compare to previously covered versions? There is this early version by the great Lorin Maazel we enjoyed years ago here...


This Andrea Andermann version from a box set we covered here that was impressive...


A Royal Opera House version that was not bad...


And this Belcanto D'Amore version rom a Blu-ray box set that was not bad...


This new version ties with the latter two, good, but not the best and it will stand out as unique for simply trying to do something different. Fans will want to try it out, but most people should know it is not the usual approach and they might not be as happy with it. You'll have to see it for yourself if you really want to know.

We conclude with Sir Andras Schiff delivering another solid concert of Bach classics, one of his specialties, in The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II (2018), but we should say we somehow missed the first installment, but not what is likely his first such release from a few years ago that I covered at this link...


I was impressed then and still now as I guess he'll perform every Bach composition to the best of his ability until he finishes them all. Produced with the BBC, this one runs 142 minutes and is almost as impressive as the first, but I think the earlier one had a little bit more of an edge, but the differences are narrow just the same. Hope we see more of his work soon.

All six Blu-rays are credited roughly as 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition, but Bayadere, the best performer here, is actually listed specifically as having a 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image presentation. All have good color, but all have motion blur, a little more than usual for the most part. Otherwise, they are fine. As for sound, all six releases offer both DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes and PCM 2.0 Stereo lossless mixes. The stereo is fine in all cases, but I liked the DTS a little better in each, though I though the differences were a little narrower than usual here.

Extras include multi-lingual booklets for all six releases, but Bayadere adds a Cast Gallery, intro piece and featurette: Kingdom Of Shades.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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