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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Concert > Instrumental > Opera > Drama > Fantasy > Fairy Tale > Comedy > Marriage > Ballet > Placido Domingo Opera Gala: 50 Years At The Arena di Verona (2019/C Major/Unitel)/Royal Ballet/Sorokin: Concerto Enigma Variations Raymonda Act III (2019/*all Opus Arte/all Naxos Blu-rays)

Ax/Haitink: Beethoven/Bruckner (2019/Unitel)/Cendrillon/Massenet: Wilson (2019*)/Dvorak: Rusalka/Ticcati (2020)/Le Postillon De Lonjumeau/Rouland (2019)/Placido Domingo Opera Gala: 50 Years At The Arena di Verona (2019/C Major/Unitel)/Royal Ballet/Sorokin: Concerto Enigma Variations Raymonda Act III (2019/*all Opus Arte/all Naxos Blu-rays)

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

Our latest classical releases include a legend and works we may not have seen enough over the years....

We start with a solid concert from pianist Emanuel Ax and the farewell concert from conductor Bernard Haitink. Running a smooth 116 minutes, it is a remarkable show featuring the works of Beethoven and Bruckner. From 2019, the Beethoven work is Piano Concerto No. 4 and the Bruckner work is Symphony No. 7. I've heard them before and fans have certainly heard them over the years and the thing that struck me here is how simply definitive they were, by masters of music who understand the works of giants and have been playing them and loving them all their lives. The orchestra is great and though there were a few points that did not work, I liked this one for the most part and recommend this.

Massenet's Cendrillon (2019) is the first of two Glyndebourne releases in a row here, a 148-minutes-long operatic version of Cinderella that is more about the nuances and basics of the book, but that does not mean it is not for children or too dark (it is no darker than the recent Disney live-action version), so it is nice to see it for the first time with Conductor John Wilson on board, a great cast (Danielle de Niese in the title role) and fine chorus that makes for a very consistent show. It may be a bit long for some, including this writer, but it is beautiful in its own form and worth a good look. Especially if you like the classic tale.

Next up is what is only our second-ever version of Dvorak's Rusalka (2020) to review and this time, (as noted) it is Glyndebourne with Conductor Robin Ticciati and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, telling another classic fairy tale. You can read more about that in our first review of the English National Opera with Conductor David Pountnoy:


This one did not play so much like a Horror genre entry as just straight-out fantasy with a cast that includes Sally Matthews, Evan Leroy Johnson, Alexander Roslavets and Patricia Bardon,m but that does not take away from the earlier version. If anything, it makes for some very interesting comparisons, more than usual when we have covered more than one stage show of the same work. It can still be odd, but that is a good thing here.

The most colorful release on our list is Adolphe Adam's opera Le Postillon De Lonjumeau (2019) conducted by Sebastien Rouland, stage directed by Michael Fau and featuring extraordinary costumes by French fashion designer Christian Lacroix. A real event, you cannot stop watching the tale of a marriage not necessarily made in heaven, though the glamour here would suggest they might have half a chance.

The singing is great, directing energetic and three of the actors play dual roles well. They include Michael Spyres, Florie Valiquette and Laurent Kubla, plus Franck Leguerinel, Yannis Ezziadi, Julien Clement and Fau himself. The case does not say if this was hot in regular HD or Ultra HD, but it sure would look good in 4K. Recommended.

Next up is Placido Domingo Opera Gala: 50 Years At The Arena di Verona (2019) celebrates the talent of one of the greatest, most important opera vocalists of the last two centuries, if not all time. The fine outdoor venue has the icon performing in segments of three classic operas: Nabucco, MacBeth and Simon Boccanegra, all of which we have covered in other versions elsewhere on this site. Running 154 minutes, it is nearly a half-hour before Domingo shows up for the first program, but he is in fine form and only gets better as the evening progresses.

A survivor of the industry as well, you can tell the audience is increasingly impressed and the energy just keeps slowly growing for this true event. I thought this would be good, but it was even better than expected and as good as any of the top rate releases here.

For more Domingo, try our coverage of Cyrano de Bergerac at this link:


Finally we have another great Royal Ballet release, this time featuring three full, separate programs with Conductor Pavel Sorokin: Shostakovich's Concerto, Elgar's Enigma Variations and Glazunov's Raymonda Act III (2019). Running about 100 minutes each, Concerto (choreographed by Kenneth MacMillian) is basic-but effective, Enigma Variations (choreographed by Frederick Ashton) is more elaborate and Raymonda Act III (choreographed by Rudolph Nureyev after Marius Pepita) strategically placed to be the topper in this great set. Glad these fit so nicely onto one Blu-ray disc.

Thus, this is not some sampler, but three full programs and really good ones at that. A very pleasant surprise, especially for ballet fans.

For more on all involved, you can also read about Elgar in this underrated drama with James Fox:


More about Ashton's work here:


This great version of Raymonda in its entirety from the Teatro Alla Scala:


and more about Pepita in this documentary:


Now for playback performance. Though Ax and Domingo were shot in 2160p Ultra HD (no 4K discs on either as we posted), they and the other four releases here are in 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition and that is because they are all European productions. Rusalka and Royal Ballet have more motion blur than the rest (unavoidable when you go from progressive scan interlaced), but color is pretty good to very impressive in all cases and were fine to watch.

The sound is excellent on all six release featuring DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes (save Ax with a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.0 lossless mix) that deliver fine soundfields with few if any flaws and good depth and detail. Each disc also comes with PCM 2.0 Stereo on for older systems or those who do not like surround sound for some reason, but the DTS sounds better in each case to me.

Extras include multi-lingual booklets on each respective release, while Cendrillon, Rusalka and Royal Ballet add Cast Galleries, Rusulka also adds a Making Of featurette Rusulka - Flying Through Water and Royal Ballet adds three brief Behind The Scenes pieces why the makers and performers love doing the shows presented there.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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