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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Opera > Walter Felsenstein Edition (7 Opera Box Set) + Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde 2-Disc Set + Weber’s Der Freischütz + Massenet’s Manon + Handel’s Admeto Blu-ray (Naxos/Arthaus Musik)

Walter Felsenstein Edition (7 Opera Box Set) + Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde 2-Disc Set + Weber’s Der Freischütz + Massenet’s Manon + Handel’s Admeto Blu-ray (Naxos/Arthaus Musik)

 

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

 

(DVD Box Set)

Beethoven’s Fidelio B+

Mozart’s Don Giovanni A

Janacek’s Das Schlaue Fuchslein B+

Mozart’s Die Hochzeit des Figaro A

Offenbach’s Ritter Blaubart B+

Verdi’s Othello A

Offenbach’s Hoffmanns Erzahlungen A-

 

(DVDs)

Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde B+

Weber’s Der Freischütz B+

Massenet’s Manon B+

 

(Blu-ray)

Handel’s Admeto A

 

 

Naxos continues to release some truly terrific opera sets on it’s Arthaus Musik label, this time going back to through the archives and releasing a set of seven operas under the direction of maestro Walter Felsenstein from 1956-1976. Also included in this review though is Tristan and Isolde from 2007, which was under the stage direction of Johannes Felsenstein.  It only seemed natural to group these two releases together in one review.  We will also cover the DVD editions of Massenet’s Manon as well as Weber’s Der Freischütz and the Blu-ray version of G.F. Handel’s amazing Admeto. 

 

The Walter Felsenstein Edition has released a larger set of his material, but here we get a 7-opera set, which has been approved by the Walter Felsenstein Estate and has been carefully restored and processed to deliver the best to DVD with the surviving elements.  Felsenstein was the founder and general director of the Komische Oper in Berlin and has been regarded as one of the most important theater directors of the 20th Century.  Over the course of his career he compiled over 190 productions and most importantly this is the first time that these operatic films can be experienced in the comfort your home. 

 

The set features the following titles: Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio, which is an opera in two acts from 1956 and is shot in black and white, Leos Janacek’s Das Schlaue Fuchslein an opera in three acts also shot in black and white from 1965, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni a drama giocoso in two acts shot in black and white from 1966, Giuseppe Verdi’s Othello an opera in four acts and shot in color from 1969, Jacques Offenbach’s incredible Hoffmanns Erzahlungen a five act opera shot in color from 1970, also Offenbach’s Ritter Blaubart a three act Opera bouffe shot in color in 1973, and finally Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, which is an Opera buffa in 4 acts shot in color from 1976.  Felsenstein would die in 1975 at the age of 74. 

 

This set exemplifies why Felsenstein was such a prolific figure and master of the craft and despite some of the dated-ness of the recordings and with newer technologies allowing Opera to translate in fresh new ways, these productions showcase some of the best music reproduced under a genius at hand.  His ability to understand the language of music and drama and see the art form emerge is unparalleled. 

 

Quality ranges from the recordings as these are quite old, but get better with the more recent work.  The black and white production are perhaps the ones that suffer the most, but due to the source nature we are glad to just have these phenomenal works to begin with.  The presentations are all full-frame with monophonic recording being translated to DVD in adequate fashion. 

 

The entire set is rather incredible and assembles some of the finest operas ever written and while they are certainly dated and using some more primitive recording devices this does not affect the end result.  What will certainly delight fans though is the extensive coverage in this set on each piece as there is a booklet that accompanies each disc that gives an incredible breakdown on each of the pieces and adds tremendous insight into the recording as well. 

 

In addition to the insightful booklets (which are in English and German and about 30-pages) there are supplements as well for each title.  The extras range, but for the most part include some interviews with Walter Felsenstein on a variety of topics, or other nuances about the production in general.  It is obvious that the Walter Felsenstein Estate is dedicated to the memory of him in some incredible ways by releasing this set along with such wealth of information.  This could quite possibly be one of the most important sets of its type!  There is an editorial also included that after reading should convince just about anyone of this. 

 

 

 

In addition to the Felsenstein Edition released from Arthaus Musik we also get the fantastic productions of three other operas released in 2-disc sets: Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde (from 2007), Weber’s Der Freischütz  (from 1999), and Massenet’s Manon (from 2001).  These three productions benefit from newer technology of course, although they are not as amazing as some of the releases that we have seen on Blu-ray from Arthaus Musik. 

 

Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz is from the Zurich Opera House and is a romantic opera in three acts with Libretto by Johann Friedrich Kind and is often cited as the most important German Romantic opera and first premiered in 1821 and is a highly influential work, especially towards that of Richard Wagner. 

 

Massenet’s Manon was filmed in the Opera national de Paris and is a comic opera in 5 acts with libretto by Henri Meilhac and Phillippe Gille.  It premiered in Paris in 1884 and has remained as popular and endearing as when it first arrived. 

 

Tristan and Isolde has become a more popular work since there have been film adaptations and such in recent years, this particular opera was shot in the Anhaltisches Theater in Dessau and is a music drama in three acts with libretto by Richard Wagner, this production features Richard Decker as Tristan and Iordanka Derilova as Isolde. 

 

All three of these operas are presented in a 16 X 9 anamorphic widescreen presentation and show the limitations of DVD when compared to the resolution of the Blu-ray offerings that we have covered from Arthaus Musik.  The biggest difference is the overall softness and the lack of resolution that makes these operas feel more dated than they should.  Interestingly enough all three are available in PCM 2.0 and Dolby Digital, while the oldest production (Der Freischütz from 1999) also includes a much-improved DTS 5.1 option that the other two titles sorely miss out on.  The DTS 5.1 mix is richer, fuller, and gives a dynamic expression that we really wish the other two works had.  The PCM option is perhaps the best way to go, but for multichannel the compression of the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix just doesn’t quite cut it. 

 

 

The real highlight though is the incredible Admeto, which is directed here by Axel Kohler and featuring the Handel Festival Orchestra Halle on historical instruments to really enrich the entire experience.  It was recorded from the Opernhaus Halle in 2006 and is an opera in three acts with libretto by Aurelio Aureli and Ortensio Mauro.  Being a fan of Handel’s work, especially of this nature my expectations were high, but were completely obliterated by just how fantastic this interpretation is and more importantly the technical achievements of the Blu-ray were simply astounding.

 

The Blu-ray offers a synopsis at the very beginning, which is helpful in outlining the performance first and familiarizing people right off the bat.  Once the opening music begins, it is evident very early on that viewers/listeners are in for a real treat.  Much like most of Handel’s work the instrumentation and orchestral expression is very fluid with a daring and bold statement that is memorable and expressive to the fullest level. 

 

The Blu-ray of this release is simply fantastic as it showcases the high definition world presented in a 1080i High Definition transfer framed at 1.78 X 1 and a lifelike picture to accompany such a strong production.  The image is consistently strong with wide and tight shots and detail is never an issue.  Colors are vibrant and detailed with deep blacks and firm whites.  The image never seems compromised even during lower light levels.  Equally strong is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that packs and incredible punch, while still highlighting the softer tones and the balance of instruments along with the vocal parts is smooth and finesse.  We have yet to be disappointed with any of the Naxos-released Blu-rays and are continually amazed at the high quality marks that are reached with each new title.

 

 

-   Nate Goss


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