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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical > Opera > Concert > Ballet > Handelís Tamerlano DVD + Blu-ray, Giselle Blu-ray, Wagnerís Lohengrin Blu-ray + Profil SACD Set, Mozartís Don Giovanni Blu-ray, and Messiaenís Saint Francois dí Assise Blu-ray Set (Opus Arte)

Handelís Tamerlano DVD + Blu-ray, Giselle Blu-ray, Wagnerís Lohengrin Blu-ray + Profil SACD Set, Mozartís Don Giovanni Blu-ray, and Messiaenís Saint Francois dí Assise Blu-ray Set (Opus Arte)


Picture: B+ ††††Sound: B+ ††††Extras: B †††Main Programs:


Handel - Tamerlano B

Giselle B

Wagner - Lohengrin Blu-ray A-

Wagner - Lohengrin SACD Set A-

Mozart - Don Giovanni A+

Messiaen - Saint Francois dí Assisi B




We have been thoroughly pleased with the high quality marks that Naxos continues to hit with their Blu-ray releases, as well as the DVD and SACD titles that come out through their various labels.We have certainly seen our fair share of solid product on their Opus Arte label, but nothing has compared to the titles in this particular review, which are the best of the bunch thus far.


Naturally it helps when the productions are none other than the works of Richard Wagner, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, G.F. Handel, and even Olivier Messiaen.For this review we will cover the Blu-ray releases of Handelís Tamerlano, which was also issued in a 3-disc DVD set, Wagnerís Lohengrin Blu-ray and also a SACD release in a 3 disc set, plus Mozartís Don Giovanni Blu-ray and the 3-disc DVD set of Messiaenís Saint Francois dí Assisi.


I am going to start with my favorite out of the entire batch, that being Mozartís Don Giovanni, which is not only one of the most incredible pieces of music ever recorded, but certainly one of the most familiar in all of classical music and the production here from the very beginning quickly tells us that we are in for a treat.Not just a treat, but a memorable experience that transports us back into time, back into the head of Mozart as he composes the life of Don Giovanni through each and every note played, every note heard, every emotion felt.


This particular performance is an engrossing performance from start to finish from the Royal Opera House and featuring an incredible performance by Simon Keenlyside as the title character, along with some other fine performances and featuring the chorus and orchestra of the Royal Opera House under Charles Mackerras conducting.


The Opera is set in two acts and was first premiered in 1787, it has since remained one of the most popular operas of itís kind telling the story of the aged Don Giovanni and his defeat in three separate encounters with different women that bring him to his ultimate doom, it is through Mozartís ability to be melodramatic and yet lighthearted despite the magnitude of the material that makes the piece memorable and recognizable even centuries later.The themes are explored in great fashion as Mozart composes a piece that re-engages itís audience with music cues that quickly let us know that we are about to head into a different direction.


The production here is stellar as it is shot in High Definition and presented in a 1080i live transfer framed at 1.78 X 1.We have seen various productions through Opus Arte that look good, this is perhaps the best with vibrant colors that are super-saturated and look magnificent in both close up and wide shots.Refinement in the smallest detail can be seen and this generates and experience of Don Giovanni unlike anything ever experience at home to this point.


Likewise the sound design is presented in wonderful fashion as well with two audio options: PCM 5.1 and PCM 2.0.While there are clear differences in the two tracks, the core of each is particularly strong with superb fidelity throughout and the vocal chops are refined and clearly heard, although the ambience that the PCM 5.1 mix offers gives a more live-like experience as we can detect more surround activity in certain passages that gives the listener the illusion of being in a concert hall.


Extras on this 2-disc 50GB Blu-ray set include the illustrated synopsis, cast gallery, a featurette on the Royal Opera House, plus an interview with Charles Mackerras and a few other little snippets to help give more insight to the overall production, there is also a detailed booklet as well, plus the material is spread over two discs.††


Next we have Handelís Tamerlano, which is a far more demanding piece that runs 241-minutes in total.This particular production is from the Teatro Real in Madrid featuring the always-inspiring Placido Domingo in the lead role.Opus Arte has issued this release in a 3-disc DVD set as well as a 2-disc Blu-ray set.


Like much of Handelís work, we have a three-act opera with Italian text and the tragedy was first performed in 1724.The pace of this opera is at times redundant and feels over-stated, regardless of how fine the acting, singing, or the musical production is in general, which in this case is fantastic, but running 4-hours in length begins to wear a bit thin, even for the most enthusiastic fans.Don Giovanni by comparison is not nearly as long, but moves along at an incredible rate with itís scene changes and musical cues that help bring the audience back into it from time to time. Tamerlano by comparison does no such favor for itís audience, in fact it feels much like the second or third act of Handelís Messiah, which can also drone on and on.


Tamerlano is the emperor of the Tartars and the year is 1402, the story involves the capture of Bajazet who becomes Tamerlanoís prisoner, although the issue at hand is that Tamerlano, despite having a fiancťe, is in love with Bajazetís daughter Asteria, he attempts to marry off his fiancťe, this sets up the trials that soon follow a convoluted love story, which involves poison, betrayal, deceit, and many of the other elements that make any tragedy work.


This particular production is simplistic in itís set design with very little color, itís almost a monochromatic interpretation, which allows us to be transformed more by the performances than it does with fancy lighting and other gimmicky devices to enhance our mood.Instead, we get a rather bare looking set with little to alter our feelings, we become immersed in the acting and the music sweeps under us and puts us into a trance.


The Blu-ray is featured in a 1080i High Definition transfer that has been framed at 1.78 X 1, the DVD is softer in nature and does not show near the level of detail that the Blu-ray immediately captures.The white levels (and there are many moments of this) look true on the Blu-ray with a glow-like quality that makes the image appear liquid-like in nature, the DVD is more flat by comparison and does not absorb us nearly as well.††


Likewise the audio experience is also quite different as the PCM 5.0 and PCM 2.0 lossless mixes outshine even the solid DTS 5.1 that is featured on the DVD.One should note that the DTS mix on the DVD is very good and accurately thick in nature, the refined PCM mixes on the Blu-ray though quickly show the amount of resolution that is lost on the DVD, the higher frequencies are compressed and the low-end presence is not nearly as engaging.Between the PCM tracks it really comes down to preference, at the core both are very strong, the surround activity is more minimal in this production, so it only enhances in certain ways from time to time, but is still noticeable.


If the minimalist nature of Tamerlano was not compelling enough, the following production will clearly blow you away, Wagnerís Lohengrin performed at the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden is a stunning performance of the three part opera, which runs a lengthy 279-minutes.The cast is lead by the title role Klaus Florian Vogt and Nikolaus Lehnhoffís interpretation of Wagnerís powerful piece is engaging from open to close with a production that engrossing the viewer and stuns the listener from the beginning.We immediately know that we are experiencing something profound, something passionately performed in such a way that we cannot even turn away from it.Wagnerís score comes sweeping in and we are transcended into a new world altogether.The production here also serves as a great companion piece to the 3-disc SACD release under Semyon Bychkov and the Cologne Broadcasts, which are featured on the Profil label here.


The 3-disc SACD set showcases the talents of Kwangchul Youn (bass) as King Henry, Johan Botha (tenor) as Lohengrin, and Adrianne Pieczonka (soprano) as Elsa von Brabant, among a fine ensemble and the Prague Chamber Choir, the NDR Chorus, WDR Radio Choir Cologne, and the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne. It is evident that this special event was designed to be captured with the highest integrity of Wagnerís vision, which shines through on the SACD format with the Hybrid discs capable of playing a CD-layer, a DSD 2.0 layer, and a DSD 5.1 multi-channel layer.


Starting with the CD layer, itís certainly a fine enough recording that the CD demonstrates this with fine levels of detail and scope, however, after doing an A/B comparison with the DSD 2.0 option, we see an extension of that scope to a new level in terms of realism in the instrumentation and the overall width of the soundstage feels far more open, transparent, and all the more engaging.As if this wasnít enough to open the masterpiece to a new level in sonic cohesion, the DSD 5.1 mix takes that to another dimension as the soundstage now becomes more 3-D with a wider presence overall and the ambiance is now protruding into the room in such a way that the voices and instruments feel like they are spaced more like a live production.


For a change of pace, we also have the ballet Giselle on Blu-ray featured in this review, which is another fine production through the BBC taken from the Royal Opera House and featuring the music of Adolphe Adam, choreography by Marius Petipa, and the production of Peter Wright, under the conduction of Boris Gruzin and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.The production was recorded in 2006, runs nearly 2-hours in length and is the atypical Romantic ballet the involves some technically challenging moments that are then graced by Alina Cojocaru in the title role, along with her partner Johan Kobborg as Count Albrecht.Here we have a love story that unfolds between two worlds and the power that love can have even over death and any obstacle, the production design and stirring transitions help captivate the audience even on this Blu-ray experience the staging becomes so captivating that you almost forget that you are watching a ballet and are locked into the storyline just as if the dance expressions were filled with words.


Here we have another fine transfer presented in 1080i, and framed at 1.78 X 1 for this High Definition release, which looks sharp and refined, but not quite as much as the other Blu-ray titles in this review.We can only assume that some of this deals with slightly older HD equipment and perhaps a less involved production budget in general, but even despite that the image does boast some great detail and certainly a more life-like image than standard definition DVD could ever offer.Likewise the audio options are delivered here in two formats: PCM 2.0 and PCM 5.0, there werenít drastic differences when comparing either mix, certainly the spatial-ness of the 5.0 mix is a bit more obvious with more speakers involved, the 2.0 is strong enough that it warrants a listen, fans of surround sound will enjoy having the 5.0 mix just the same.


Last but not least in this review we have Messiaenís Saint Francois díAssisi, which is available to us much like the 3-disc DVD edition of Tamerlano and features The Hague Philharmonic and the Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera under musical director Ingo Metzmacher and stage director Pierre Audi.This is a fantastic production that showcases the revolutionary life of St. Francis of Assisi and stars Rod Gilfrey in the lead role of the man who gave up the lavish lifestyle that he could have been offered through his father as a wealthy clothmaker and sold his life out to follow God.Messiaenís work is on full display here with a powerful production including a strong cast and fine instrumentation to bring the not only of Messiaen, but of St. Francis.


The total runtime is 275-minutes and chronicles in great detail the life of St. Francis, the opera is broken into 3-acts, which are featured on each of the 3-discs in this set, the program is shot in 1.78 X 1 anamorphic widescreen and demonstrates some of the better moments we have seen for Operas on DVD, we would certainly love to get our hands on this release on Blu-ray eventually as well.In the meantime, we can see the limitations that the DVD offers, especially in the areas of overall resolution and this is mainly seen in the close-up shots.Colors are warm and vibrant, but the liquid-like image that HD can offer would make the production pop even more.


The audio presentation is featured with a LPCM 2.0 stereo mix and a more impressive DTS 5.1 mix, which are lossy, but still give a significant amount of resolution and detail considering the source.The voices and instruments are a bit more buried than we have come accustomed to with Blu-ray, we know that the lossless mixes on Blu-ray will clear this up and had a new level of sonic detail, a production this great really deserves such treatment.



-†† Nate Goss


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