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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Concert > Opera > Drama > Melodrama > Mythology > Fantasy > Legend > Documentary > Ballet > Rigoletto (2019/Verdi/Unitel/Stolzt*)/Romeo and Juliet (2019/Bel Air/Prokofiev/Ural Opera Ballet/Kunichev/*all Naxos Blu-rays)

Idomeneo (2019/Mozart/Opus Arte*)/King Arthur (2017/Purcell/Bel Air*)/La Morte D'Orfeo (2018/Landi/Audi/Rousset*)/Marius Petipa: The French Master of Russian Ballet (2019/Icarus DVD)/Rigoletto (2019/Verdi/Unitel/Stolzt*)/Romeo and Juliet (2019/Bel Air/Prokofiev/Ural Opera Ballet/Kunichev/*all Naxos Blu-rays)

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

Here's a new group of decent Classical Music releases to consider...

We'll start with one of Mozart's lesser-known works, Idomeneo (2019) involves the title character, a King of Crete from the Trojan War (played by Eric Cutler), but this is updated, which is interesting since the original work already was playing against early operas at the time and was innovative. Apparently so subversive that it is not staged as much as it ought to be, but director Robert Carson, conductor Ivan Bolton, choreographer Marco Berriel and the impressive supporting cast at the Teatro Real pull of the transition well enough.

I have to say that in more than a few cases over recent years, the attempts to update and make certain operas (and even ballets for that matter) contemporary and up to date have backfired too often, especially when trying to add video screens all over the place, but this one has only a little video (no post-modernism, thank you) and though this gets a little more visually dark than I thought worked, the final results survived and held together better than so many other attempts. I look forward to comparing to a non-contemporary version sometime down the line.

The Henry Purcell/John Dryden version of King Arthur (2017) starts as people are talking, then the talk about the legend fades and the fantasy story (with all the Opera actors immediately starting to deliver a fine show) then kicks in not unlike the great, recent version of The Magic Flute we reviewed with Klaus Maria Brandauer as the book reader. Almost as effective, the retelling of the story is not bad at all and bluntly, better than some of the horrid, big budget feature films we have recently had to suffer through in recent years. Some people just try too hard and should try something else.

Michael Rotschopf is good as the title character, Meike Droste has to direct both worlds on stage, Rene Jacobs conducts the music, Martin Wright handles the chorus and acted in German at the Staattsoper im Schiller Theater in Berlin, Germany is along 170 minutes, so it is not for everyone. However, it is one of the better entries in the legend and some of those feature films seemed much longer. I was glad to catch it.

Stefan Landi's La Morte D'Orfeo (2018) has Orpheus in his dying moments and that is just the start of what is considered an important early opera. From the Dutch National Opera, directed by Pierre Audi, conducted by Christopher Rousset and a tight 111 minutes, this was recorded in Amsterdam and has costumes that make sense in production design that can be minimalist, but works just well enough. Cheers to the makers for not overdoing the death angle that many today would have done.

This is a new work to us, as I do not remember us getting to cover this one in well over 15 years of Classical Music reviews, but it is one that should be a little more common and just by trying to stretch a mythical ending into its own story is still impressive by today's standards. Though some moments worked better than others, I was glad to finally catch this one and the makers take the material as seriously as they do their audience, which many such productions might trey to do, but this succeeds a little more than the usual. If you have not seen this work before, this performance is as good as any one to start with.

Next up is our only outright documentary, Denis Sneguirev's Marius Petipa: The French Master of Russian Ballet (2019) spends about an hour (52 minutes with credits) talking about how the choreographer delivered amazing work on classics like Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty that worked well, holds up, is explained by experts how effective is was and remains, adds political context (et al) and how people have loved his results for a decades and then some.

Other points are debated and some of the ideas, interpretations and even history might contradict and overlap, but it is a good start to understanding the man's work. With that said, I wish this were longer, especially since the makers visited several countries to create the final product here. Wonder if there is anything in the vault or on the cutting room floor that could be added to the body of the program or as extras? Still, it is worth seeing if you love ballet and the artists involved. Process is always interesting to hear about.

Whether this will ever get issued on Blu-ray, who knows, but we have covered two ballets with his choreography on Blu-ray that you can enjoy and read more about at these links:

La Bayadere + Cecelia & Bryn link


Le Corsaire


These last two entries are works we are revisiting again as we have over the years, sometimes with different authors.

We have had great luck with Verdi's Rigoletto as it has been treated with a rare respect you only see with so many famous operas. For instance, here are other versions of Rigoletto we liked:

Arthaus Blu-ray by Santi & Deflo


As part of the Belcanto D'Amore Unitel/CMajor Blu-ray box set


As part of the Andrea Andermann Blu-ray Box set


Needless to say the fact that two were in high profile box sets (one of which was a limited edition) shows you the love and high regard this one has. Not to be outdone, this new version was staged outdoors for the Bregenzer Fest Spiele with great set pieces and costumes, plus some god energy (a great audience did not hurt) and conducted by Enrique Mazzola with the Wiener Symphoniker, directed on the stage by Philipp Stolzl. This is the kind of top rate production that gets people interested in opera.

As good as the previous versions we reviewed, the Bregenz Festival Choir and Prague Philharmonic Choir combine to back the great cast that includes Vladimir Stoyanov in the title role, Stephen Costello as the Duke of Mantua, Melissa Petit as Gilda, Kostas Smoriginas as the Count of Monterone and Jorge Eleazar as the Count of Ceprano. At just over two hours, this is the kind of production that makes a great introduction for children to get them into the arts. The case also claims this taping originated in 4k Ultra High Definition video, so I will especially look forward to a 4K edition of this in the (near) future), I hope. In the meantime, this is my favorite entry of the six good ones here, so don't miss it.

Last but not least, a new version of the Prokofiev version of the Ural Opera Ballet's presentation of Romeo and Juliet (2019) that is more recent and runs about two hours, but the Vyachslav Samodurov-choreographed program is not bad and is visually elaborate enough without overdoing it, though some may see it as still a little deconstructionist. Alexandr Merkishev and Ektaerina Sapogova handle the title roles just fine and this is convincing enough, but it is hard to do this story fresh since it is being done all the time, not counting takeoffs, like West Side Story (a new feature film (from Steven Spielberg of all people) and dynamic new stage play version are making news as we post this) so cheers to this solid production.

I thought the pacing was fine, the costumes good and the Orchestra of the Ural Ballet (conducted by Pavel Klinichev) delivered the music very well, so this is not just very professional, it works pretty well, even if it will not stay with me as much as I would have liked. Fans of any of this should give it a good look.

Other versions we have liked include:

2008 5.1 Super Audio CD edition


Opus Arte Blu-ray performance at the original location of Shakespeare's Globe Theater


The MacMillian version on Blu-ray with the Royal Opera House


Now for playback performance. All five Blu-ray discs are here in 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image presentations, with Morte and Rigoletto looking the best with barely any motion blur. All the colors look decent on each disc, but Rigoletto has the most color and being outdoor in the light, looks the best of all. All five Blu-rays offer PCM 2.0 Stereo sound, but it is the only soundtrack on Romeo, which is good, but not great. The remaining four Blu-rays also offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes that play a little better than their PCM counterparts and are the preferred way to view their respective programs.

As for the Pepita DVD, the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image is a little soft and has some blur issues, including variances in the quality of some of the clips, but it is fine otherwise and too bad that it is not a Blu-ray. This could look a little better. The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is a little weaker than I would have liked, clear but on the low side, so be careful of volume switching and high playback.

Extras are only on the Blu-rays and all five include the usual multi-lingual booklets on the respective programs and are smart as usual, plus Rigoletto adds a 25-minutes-long Making Of interview piece and Idomeneo adds a Cast Gallery.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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