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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Opera > Drama > Comedy > Romance > Ballet > Fantasy > Relationships > Tragedy > Documentar > Atys (2011/Lully/Christie)/Conventions and Inconveniences of The Stage (2017/Viotti/Donizetti/Opus Arte)/Die Schopfung (2020/aka The Creator/Mehta/Haydn/Dynamic)/100 Jahre Salzburger Festspiele (2020/

Atys (2011/Lully/Christie)/Conventions and Inconveniences of The Stage (2017/Viotti/Donizetti/Opus Arte)/Die Schopfung (2020/aka The Creator/Mehta/Haydn/Dynamic)/100 Jahre Salzburger Festspiele (2020/Thielemann/Wagner/Buchner/Unitel)/Platee (2020/Christie/Rameau/Unitel)/Thais (2021/Massenet/Hussain/Unitel/All Naxos Blu-rays)/Women Composers (2021/Film Movement DVD)

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

Here is a new group of classical releases, including a key documentary and two older productions getting upgraded and many works we somehow never had the chance to cover before...

We start with an older performance of Jean Baptiste Lully's Atys (2011) that I liked just because it did not try to either offer a revised, updated or deconstructed version of the classic opera, but goes all out with the sets and elaborate costumes. I don't mind people taking risks and trying to alter or shake-up things, but there is a satisfaction with a purists approach to the classics so they do not get 'chopped up' as they sometimes do.

Conductor William Christie (who also helms the music for Platee below) is someone we have not seen or heard from enough and he definitely understands the classics as classics and is, for lack of a better work, a traditionalist. That does not make his works stuff or dated, but brings it all to life very nicely and King Louis XIV (explicitly celebrated from the first scene within the narrative) is reported to really love this romantic tragedy.

Tenor Bernard Richter is the title character, involved in some of the romance and courting of actual elements (gods of nature are portrayed by actors here) and a war rages in the background as winter (the season) approaches. The tale continues in that vein for a very long, but consistent 196 minutes!

It may not be for everybody, but Atys is well done and this performance holds up very well over a decade later.

Donizetti's Conventions and Inconveniences of The Stage (2017) is a opera sending up actors whose egos stop an actual show from going on, mocking pretension and making it almost a precursor to a Backstage Musical. Still, it shares humor with such stage and film tales, even if 'the show must go on' was not as well known as common in 1827 when it was first performed, yet some things never change when the temptation of being on the stage exists.

I thought the cast was dead on in playing the characters and conflict to the point that they have good chemistry and include: Laurent Naouri, Patrizia Ciofi, Charles Rice, Clara Meloni, Enea Scala Pietro Di Bianco. At 111 minutes, it is one fo the better and more interesting entries here, so catch if it sounds like your kind of opera. This one deserves to be better-known.

Zubin Mehta's recent performance of Joseph Haydn's Die Schopfung (2020/aka The Creator) marks 50 years since he first performed at The Maggio Festival, so the show (running 113 minutes) is a solid one and has vocals by Hanna-Elsabeth Muller, Maximillian Schmitt, Michael Volle and Veta Pilipenko. A well known and respected work, I am not a big fan of it, but the question is how well is it pulled off here?

Though I have heard it over the years and know its importance and relevance, this is well done, though not as memorable as expected. It is accurate enough, meaning you would recognize it if you knew it and there is no fancy deviation from the original, but Mehta is one of the best conductors around, so that is no surprise. Fans will especially want to take note.

The 100 Jahre Salzburger Festspiele (2020) show here has Conductor Christian Thielemann perform a show (about 105 minutes) of Wagner and Buchner, joined by singer Elina Garanca (mezzo-soprano) for another solid, live show, well-recorded and with an enthusiastic audience. This is yet another fine Thielemann release on Blu-ray where he always seems to deliver a top rate show that never bores and unfolds smoothy, musicality guaranteed.

Cheers to to the Vienna Philharmonic, who we have also had the pleasure of reviewing over the years, consistently one of the best orchestras around. Good classical music is second-hand to all involved and that makes this release one of the best on this list. Nice!

Jean-Philippe Rameau's Platee (2020) is the second show in this group of releases offering Composer William Christie, but more recent. Recorded at the Theater an der Wien with Les Arts Florissants and Arnold Schoenberg Chor, the opera is again elaborate and though some of the visuals are relatively more contemporary, it does not sacrifice the richness one might prefer over a paired-down approach that we have seen more often in recent years than I might have liked.

An opera with ballet, stage director Robert Carsen and company have transported the tale of tricking people into false intimate situations into the world of fashion not long ago, so Karl Lagerfeld and Coco Chanel appear along with iconic Disco-era clothes and sets. What could have backfired and has fallen short in dozens of 'updated' shows we have seen over the years actually works more often than expected, making this more interesting than expected and a pleasant surprise things gel as well as they do.

Because the production is richer, this approach was a bigger risk, but it pays off for the most part and viewers and fans will be very surprised by the results. Hope we see more like this.

It has been a long time since we last looked at a performance of Jules Massenet's Thais, but this new 2021 show conducted by Leo Hussain is it and it compares evenly with the earlier version reviewed at this link:


The Theater of the Wien is where this one takes place and the cast (including Nicole Chevalier and Josef Wagner) is not bad, but the work is a mixed bag for me again, as is this presentation, no leap over the older one that was not memorable. Maybe the look here is a bit more distinct, but that's it. Again, the energy and ambition is here (this runs 111 minutes) with a pace that does not necessarily drag, but this version just does not totally come together either. Serious fans might want to grab both and compare.

Last but not least, Women Composers (2021) is a short-but-rich and vital answer to why we do not have enough classical music by female composers. Musician and pianist Kyra Steckeweh co-directs this remarkable program where she finds three women and their stories and their music: Mel Bonis, Lili Boulanger and Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel. She travels to their home cities, discovers everything she can including some music and stories that could have been lost forever, reminding us of hundreds of women composers whose stories are gone forever.

Fortunately in these cases, some archives still exist and the music turns out to be very impressive and so good, Steckeweh has added them to her concerts since. That this has not been done sooner shows how much of a boys-club Classical Music in particular is and always was, but it would be a huge help if that changed. A huge catalog of great music awaits, which the documentary is easily able to imply, especially when she plays the music and that comes with a sadness that it has been suppressed so long.

Someone ought to make this some kind of mini-series, but for now, Women Composers is highly recommended.

The 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on all Blu-rays have some motion blur, but color looks good in all cases. Platee is the only 4K-shot production here and has a slight edge in color, but deserves a full 4K disc release. All have PCM 2.0 Stereo and better to much better DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes (save 5.0 on Thais, which is a slight weaker when comparing the two audio options) and play well enough throughout. None are sonic standouts, but as professionally recorded and mixed as they needed to be at a minimum.

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the Women Composers looks fine for the older DVD format, but a Blu-ray would be nicer. Unfortunately, the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound is a little on the weak side, so be careful of high volume playback and volume switching.

Extras include multi-lingual booklets in all the Blu-rays with informative text and some illustrations, Platee adds an interview featurette with the conductor, choreographer and key cast members, Thais joins it in offers previews of five other Unitel releases and Women Composers adds Kyra Steckeweh performing ''Ophelle'' by a Q&A with directors Steckeweh and Tim van Beveren.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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