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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Opera > Drama > Comedy > Literature > Romance > Ballet > Fantasy > Relationships > Placido Domingo At The Arena Di Verona (both 2020/C Major)/Rosas/The Six Brandenburg Concertos (2019/Bach/BelAir)/Snow Maiden (2017/Tatarnikov/BelAir)/Sommernauchts Traum (2021/Neumeier/**Shakespeare

Barbe-Bleue (2019/aka Bluebeard/Opus Arte)/Elektra (2020/Welser-Most/Unitel)/King John (2019/Rhode*/Opus Arte DVD**)/La Finta Giardiniera (2014/Mozart/Fasolis)/Love Duets + Placido Domingo At The Arena Di Verona (both 2020/C Major)/Rosas/The Six Brandenburg Concertos (2019/Bach/BelAir)/Snow Maiden (2017/Tatarnikov/BelAir)/Sommernauchts Traum (2021/Neumeier/**Shakespeare aka Midsummer Night's Dream)/Written On Water (2020/Lidberg/all Naxos Blu-rays save**)

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Our latest batch of classical releases includes a new drama and some elaborate productions...

We start with Jacques Offenbach's Barbe-Bleue (2019) darkly comic take on the Bluebeard murders and not to be confused with the also interesting Paul Dukas Ariane and Barbe-Bleue that covers the same material as we reviewed it at this link:


I liked that one for the most part, but thought the supernatural angle rang false a little and threw it a bit off, so I liked this take better and turned out to be my favorite of this new batch of releases. Conductor Michele Spotti and directing meld very well together, the material is smart and thoughtful, as well as a bit sly and it wastes little of its 123 minutes of length. The singer/actors are fine here too, including Yann Beuron as the famous killer, Heloise Mas, Christophe Gay, Christophe Mortange, Jennifer Courcier, Thibalt De Damas, Carl Ghazarossian and Aline Martin. No Ariane shows up, though. Definitely catch it if it sounds like your kind of show.

Now for no less than the sixth version of Richard Strauss' Elektra (2020) that we have covered. Here is the previous one, with link to the other four:


This one is conducted by Franz Welser-Most, staged decently by Krzysztof Warlikowski with the Weiner Philharmoniker and has decent sets. However, watching it was not as engrossing as the Mucher Philharmoniker or Zurich Opera House versions we covered before, but it is such a popular and well known work, I wonder if a certain kind of fatigue sets in when it gets produced these days since it is one of the most produced works of its kind in the world. You can judge for yourself, but it just misses the mark in too many small places.

Shakespeare's King John (2019) is one of his less-performed works and this recent one Live From Stratford-Upon-Avon from director Eleanor Rhode allow women to play some of the biggest parts, but still as men (the title character, whose brother (also here) is Richard The Lionheart (soon to be dead) and we have seen this kind of thing before. Running a very long 153 minutes, it is not bad, but that is a very long sit.

Still, the actors are good, sets and costumes not bad and if you are not annoyed by the genre switch, you might like it. However, despite the energy it has, it is not enough that I could ever sit through this one again. Still, the curious might want to try it out.

Mozart's La Finta Giardiniera (2014) stage directed by Frederic Wake-Walter, conducted by Diego Fasolis, and camera directed by Daniela Vismara with the Teatro alla Scala is a love story opera with the gal (Julie Martin Du Theil) pretending to be someone else (the title of the work) to get the interest of a man (Kresimir Spicer as Don Anchise) in a familiar concept. Made in association with Italy's huge RAI TV network, this runs a very, very, very long 179 minutes, the second longest of the discs here.

This is necessary to cover the whole work and the makers all do it well, but that is as long as anything we are reviewing here today and you'd better sit down and get ready if you take on this one. Add the fine costumes and sets and the sit will likely be worth it, but I can see why it is the first time we've seen this one.

C Major has issued Love Duets and Placido Domingo At The Arena Di Verona (both 2020) as separate discs, running 101 and 84 minutes respectively, it is odd that they were not all on one Blu-ray disc as they could easily fit together with no loss in quality. Sonta Yoncheva appears with Domingo on both and both have the same video director. Domingo even conducts both with the Orchestra of the Arena di Verona, so even if they happened on different nights, a single disc would have been better. I could see this being separate if they were both 4K releases, maybe, but here we are.

The shows are fine despite being so relatively short and the singing is solid as expected (nice audience too) with Vitorrio Grigold adding to the Duets program and we are treated to works by Puccini, Bizet, Verdi ands more, while the second disc offers Giordano, Verdi and more. They are not bad apart, but work better together. You can either get them now or wait to see what they do with potential 4K release versions.

Though I usually think of Bach's The Six Brandenburg Concertos (2019) as an instrumental work, which we have rarely covered oddly, this Rosas dance troop release is a ballet and dance version of the classic choreographed interestingly by Anne Theresa De Keersmaeker, conducted by Amandine Beyer at the Opera National De Paris runs a mere 109 minutes, but is a solid, creative alternative way to take in the classic.

The dancing is decent, consistent and has a style that works well enough, though some might find the barebones set a little too deconstructive for their tastes. However, I like the idea of the makers attempting something different and additional, then actually succeeding more than you might think. Its not stunning, but it is accomplished and you might like it.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden (2017) is conducted here by Mikhail Tatarnikov, directed by Dimitri Tcherniakov with the Choeurs De L'Opera National De Paris and Orchestre De L'Opera National De Paris. This opera is 194 minutes!

The characters are named after parts of nature, so they are the elements on some level and the work is almost surreal in how the interactions go on in a total of four acts. Though it can be visually dark, it is trying to be beautiful and can be, it qualifies for the fantasy genre. However, most young children might find this a very trying work. It is the first time I have seen it and we've covered it, so it is worth a look for those interested. The actors have the energy to bring it to life, the costumes and good and designs consistent enough that they do keep the atmosphere going throughout. That's impressive unto itself.

Shakespeare's Ein Sommernauchts Traum (2021/aka A Midsummer Night's Dream) is a work I am still surprised we did not cover in various versions more often over the years, despite its huge popularity as a work. You can read more about the few we did see, starting with this Chailly version we liked at this link:


This Jon Neumeier ballet version wants to go the more erotic route and has some success doing this, not sexually graphic in a stupid, tired, obvious way, yet dealing honestly with the material. It is a welcome alternate take on the classic and the Hamburg Ballet really delivers some impressive dance work here.

This runs about two hours and covers the material as thoughtfully as possible and especially since so much Shakespeare is always being made all the time, is definitely worth a look. Cheers to the cast too!

Finally, Pontus Lidberg's Written On Water (2020) wants to delve into the world of dance and depths of creativity, but the film only lasts 78 minutes (!?!) with mixed acting and often bad, tired, predictable dialogue. Aurelie DuPont, Alexander Jones, Stina Ekblad and (yes) Leslie Caron are joined by the director as the acting cast and we get some good dancing, but the film does not succeed anywhere close to what it sets out to do. Too ambitious for its own good? More like not focused and saying things only it understands.

The look of this is a little more pale than I would have liked and it just drones on. Yes, there is talent here, but it does not add up to what it could have.

Now for playback performance. Save Water, all the Blu-rays are presented here in 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image, with Elektra, Traum and the two Domingo titles originating as 4K productions, though they are not available in that format just yet. We get motion blur where we did not expect, but it is usually not an issue. Still, the best-looking titles are Finta, Love Duets, Rosas and Snow Maiden. As we've experienced and learned before in these situations, the reduction from 4K to 1080i (versus relatively clearer 1080p) causes more issues than expected or desired, though we are happy to report that 4K versions of titles released both ways have more than proven to be some of the best classical titles ever issued on the market. Color is fine in all eight cases.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Water is (we won't say watery) a little weak with a little more blur than we would like, stylizing not included. Color is a little weak at times too, undermining a film that already has issues.

All nine Blu-ray releases offer both DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 and PCM 2.0 Stereo lossless mixes, with the DTS the best in all cases, save Barbe-Bleue and Elektra, whose mixes are not as consistent as they ought to be.

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image and lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo mixes on King John are as good as they can get for the older format. I preferred the 5.1 mix, but wished this was lossless.

Extras in every release here include multi-lingual booklets on each release, a few add trailers for other releases, Barbe-Bleue adding a Cast Gallery and Tales of Offenbach featurette, King John adds its own Cast Gallery, two interviews with Director Rhode and the cast respectively and Dance and Motion featurette, and Traum adds the featurette The Artist's Privilege interviewing Neumeier about the show.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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