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Category:    Home > Reviews > Concerts > Opera > Classical Music > Ballet > Jewels: Joyaux Ė George Balanchine, Rameau: Zoroastre, Bach: Brandenburg Concertos 1-6 (Opus Arte Blu-ray), Strauss: Salome (Opus Arte DVD) & Bringing Balanchine Back (City Lights DVD)

Jewels: Joyaux Ė George Balanchine (Opus Arte Blu-ray), Rameau: Zoroastre (Opus Arte Blu-ray), Bach: Brandenburg Concertos 1-6 (Opus Arte Blu-ray), Strauss: Salome (Royal Opera House/Opus Arte DVD) & Bringing Balanchine Back (City Lights Home Entertainment DVD)




Jewels: Joyaux Ė George Balanchine B+/B+/B/B

Rameau: Zoroastre B+/B+/B/B

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos 1-6 B+/B+/B/A-

Strauss: Salome B/B/B/B+

Bringing Balanchine Back B-/B-/B-/B-



In continuation on our coverage of Naxos titles, we are thrilled with the recent releases of several Blu-ray discs as well as the Strauss: Salome DVD.These are exactly the types of titles that get a format like Blu-ray truly rolling as they are more Ďhigh artí and that only helps indicate that the format is thriving and consumers (especially classical fans) will want to be on board with Blu-ray as soon as possible if they havenít made the jump already.This particular batch gives us a great sampling of the variety that is coming out to the format and fans will want to get their hands on these discs as soon as possible.


Having already covered quite a few operas from Opus Arte, it was a particularly great change of pace to cover a ballet in Jewels: Joyaux, which has an interesting history for sure (you can read all about it inside the booklet).This particular event took place in 2000, which was 17 years after George Balanchineís death (1904-1983), but his choreography lives on in this rare event, which is captured here, and now for Blu-ray in high definition glory.The ballet is dedicated to women and the capital cities of the great dance schools, in many respects itís a ballet dedicated to ballet and it pulls out all of the stops.


The ballet features some terrific musical scores by Igor Stravinsky and Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky, which is performed here by the Orchestra of the Opera national de Paris under musical direction from Paul Connelly.This is also the Ballet of the Opera national de Paris with Aurelie Dupont, Marie-Agnes Gillot, Agnes Letestu, Clairemarie Osta, Laetitia Pujol, Jean-Guillaume Bart, Kader Belarbi, and Mathieu Ganio featured and Christian Lacroixís set and costume design and Jennifer Tiptonís lighting design.


This is a 50GB Blu-ray disc that features a 1080i High Definition transfer that feels like a Ďliveí production in your home.It should be noted that since this production is a bit older in terms of where technology was back in 2000 that it only suffers marginally from that fact.Itís hard to believe how far High Definition has come just in the past few years, but nonetheless the presentation here looks finely detailed with stunning color and depth, with only some moments of softness and perhaps a little less resolution than might be expected, but nothing too problematic.The audio is offered in two forms: PCM 2.0 and PCM 5.0, while both are quite good, I tend to lean a bit more towards the 2.0 mix in this case as it feels more natural to me.The 5.0 mix works well, but is a bit too thin at times and the 2.0 mix pushes the sound through in a more realistic and life-like way.Some may prefer the ambiance that is offered with the 5.0 mix, but itís really all a matter of preference.


Working as a great companion piece from City Lights Home Entertainment is the Bringing Balanchine Back disc, which is narrated by Kevin Kline and runs 80-minutes in length.This biography deals with the influence of Balanchine, his life, and the modern usage of his choreography, which is making a huge return and after seeing this particular documentary itís understandable why that is the case.The film is directed by Richard Blanchard and features a 5.1 mix along with interviews and makes for a great follow up to the Jewels disc.


Jean Philippe Rameauís Zoroastre is a piece that I was previously unfamiliar with, but am certainly glad to have seen it on Blu-ray!This is perhaps a gem that hopefully gets some serious attention as itís a wonderful production that will surprise most, especially the usage here of the 18th Century Drottningholm Theater and itís mechanics for this production, which certainly adds to the rawness and beauty of this performance.Zoroastre was first performed in the mid-1700ís in Paris with libretto by Louis de Cahusac and is the 4th and final of Rameauís tragedies.This particular cast includes Anders J. Dahlin, Evgueniy Alexiev, Sine Bundgaard, Anna Maria Panzarella, Lars Arvidson, Markus Schwartz, Gerard Theruel, and Ditte Andersen, with stage directing by Pierre Audi, set and costume by Patrick Kinmonth, choreography by Amir Hosseinpour, and lighting designer Peter Van Praet.The Drottningholm dancers and chorus are featured with musical director Christophe Rousset.The opera is presented in French, but includes English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian subtitles, which is beneficial since this is an all-region Blu-ray disc.


Like most of the Opus Arte titles, this one gets premium treatment as well with a 1080i High Definition transfer that delivers a very Ďliveí appearance and runs nearly 4 hours in total, which is why a 50GB disc is offered here.The colors and contrast on this disc are first-rate with natural expression and beautiful detail that really shines through on the Blu-ray disc.This particular production benefits greatly from Blu-rays ability and resolution to fully capture the complete gamut of colors and grayscale to offer a fine presentation.One thing that does standout from this particular release is the usage of Dolby TrueHD rather than PCM like we have seen on other Opus Arte titles.Here we get a Dolby TrueHD 2.0 mix and Dolby TrueHD 5.1.Both are quite good, although I personally am a bigger fan when it comes to musical reproduction with the PCM mixes.The Dolby TrueHD mixes work well here and are far from poor in any respect, but I have discovered that the PCM audio options seem to have more resolution and bring a more balanced audio presentation forward.However, there does seem to be more low-end presence in the Dolby TrueHD mixes that PCM is not nearly as proficient with, so itís a matter of tradeoff in any case.


Fans will greatly appreciate the illustrated synopsis that is included, a wonderful booklet, plus a terrific documentary called Zoroastre: Discovering an opera, which is directed by Olivier Simonnet and is great for people like myself who have never seen this particular opera until now.Factual, yet informative and engaging itís a terrific addition that will help newbies out!


Bach: Brandenburg Concertos 1-6 is yet another dynamite Blu-ray release that any moderate classical fan will want to have and any Bach fan should desperately track down for their collection.When DVD first arrived over 10 years ago I sought after several classical productions, most of them were live orchestral pieces a few operas, but none of them really seemed to work.Often times the production was poor, they were filmed with decent cameras, but often times received poor transfers to DVD and had horrific sound mixes that often times were in either mono, stereo, or really distracting 5.1 mixes.Letís just say that at any rate these early titles didnít really convert many people over to the music or the format, but I can understand why some people might find it difficult to watch a symphony from the comfort of their chairÖitís just not the same as being in the concert hall and hearing it live.I agree.However, Blu-ray is really starting to convince me that concerts can be enjoyed within the confines of the home, while this might not be my first option, itís certainly a viable one and also one that enables me to enjoy the music as my own leisure and as many times as I want.One Blu-ray that will certainly be getting repeat performance of is this Bach disc.


There are several reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest one is that this particular disc shines on all levels.First and foremost I am particular fond of Bachís concertos already, but here they are tackled by some of the finest musicians around, which formed in 2004 and titled themselves Orchestra Mozart, which features several prolific players in the world including: Alois Posch, Danusha Waskiewicz, Mario Brunello, Reinhold Friedrich, Alessio Allegrini, Jonathan Williams, Jacques Zoon, and Michala Petri under the creative force of Claudio Abbado and the results are phenomenal.This particular recording took place at the exquisite Teatro Municipale Romolo Valli in April 2007 and directed by Andreas Morell and produced by Paul Smaczny.There is a terrifically detailed booklet included that goes into more depth with the musicians, the production, and features a few photos as well.Giuliano Carmignola is the featured violinist here and the 100-minute concert is perhaps one of the most engaging, absorbing, and engulfing experienced Iíve had of late.


Offered with a PCM 5.0 and 2.0 sound option, the mix is nothing short of amazing, in fact itís mesmerizing and natural as it allows for the acoustical instruments (non-amplified instruments are always great!) to just do their work!Rather than trying to be playful with the mix, itís a more balanced, accurate, and detailed mix that brings forth the richness and neutral nature of these incredible instruments. Fans should rejoice!Also pleasing is the 1080i High Definition transfer presented in 1.78 X 1 and also natural delivering the warmth and beauty of the state, theater, and instruments.


After experiencing some incredible titles on Blu-ray itís hard to imagine going backwards to DVD technology, but Richard Straussí Salome from the Royal Opera House has not yet received the treatment, until then we will enjoy this particular 2-disc DVD set that features one of the most unique interpretations.For those less familiar with the work, itís a conglomeration of several things; the first is Oscar Wildeís bible-based drama, which then takes its visual imagery from Pier Paolo Pasoliniís highly controversial film Salo: or the 120 Days of Sodom as the opera takes place in Nazi occupied Germany.From there we have Straussí prolific score setting the undertone for the production as this provocative opera is raw, unsettling, and powerful.The cast includes Nadja Michael as Salome, plus Michaela Schuster, Thomas Moser, Joseph Kaiser, Michael Volle, with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under the direction of Philippe Jordan, stage director David McVicar.The film director is Jonathan Haswell and was filmed for the big screen using high definition cameras and recorded for surround sound.This production is, despite its provocative and sometimes horrifying content, well done and deserves serious accolades for its production!


The 1.78 X 1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks good, but itís obvious where the DVD falls short compared to the Blu-ray titles that we have covered, but since this was filmed in HD, it should only be a matter of time before it arrives on Blu too!We canít wait for that!Colors are solid, blacks are deep, but there is just a softness and lack of resolution that takes us a step back from the real life-like quality that HD on an HD format can deliver.


This opera is sung in German with English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian subtitles, the audio track is done right with a DTS 5.1 and linear PCM 2.0 stereo mix, which is exactly how I prefer DVD to be done if possible.Dolby has too many limitations with the amount of compression, here the DTS mix is full, engaging, powerful, and ultimately delivers the goods, the PCM mix is solid too, a little weaker in the fullness, but slightly more coherent in resolution, so itís perhaps a tradeoff that the listener will have to assess and determine their preference.


Also included is a terrific and full-booklet that details the production and is fantastic, plus we get a documentary on McVicarís work, this production in particular, interviews, and extensive backstage footage that is all interesting and engaging, so fans again will be impressed with the amount of work that has gone into making this a reality, in any format that is!



-†† Nate Goss


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