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Category:    Home > Reviews > Concert > Clasical > Opera > Ballet > Blu-ray > Humperdinck’s Hansel & Gretel/Barenboim – Beeth Pian Conc. 1 – 5/Abbado – Mahler Sym. No. 5/Janacek: Cunning Lil' Vixens – Davies/Nutcracker/Verdi: Otello – Cura/Dido & Aeneas/Adam: Giselle/Turandot

Englebert Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel with Humperdinck (Art Haus)/Barenboim – Beethoven Piano Concerts 1 – 5/Abbado – Mahler Symph. No. 5/Janacek: Cunning Little Vixens – Davies (Medici Arts)/Tchaikovsky – Nutcracker: San Francisco Ballet/Verdi: Otello – Cura/Purcell: Dido & Aeneas – McGregor (Opus Arte)/Adam: Giselle – Connelly (TDK)/Puccini: Turandot – Mehta (Unitel Classica)/(Naxos Blu-rays)


Picture: B (B- Hansel & Nutcracker)     Sound: B*     Extras: C (C+ Turandot, Dido & Nutcracker)     Concerts: B



*Note: On the three Medici Arts titles included here, you have to start the program, then go to the menu to choose between the two audio options.



As 2009 comes to an end, Classical Music leader Naxos and the family of labels it distributes has issued another wave of Blu-rays that are all pretty good and offer a few surprises.  This time, none of them disappointed and I really enjoyed how well this group played back.


The most interesting piece here is Englebert Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel with Humperdinck (Art Haus) where the one time romantic singer has pulled off making the classic tale into an opera that has its moments.  In this second Blu-ray of the work, he appears performing in it and it will come as a shock to those used to seeing him as a romance singer/icon that sure, he became older.  However, with classic this like Release Me and After The Lovin’, it turns out he can pull off more than just a few hits.  You have to see it to believe it.  The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image is darker more than usual and the HD just cannot resolve the darkness as well as one would like, but the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 7.1 mix is not bad, if limited.  A nice making of piece is one of the extras.


Barenboim – Beethoven Piano Concerts 1 – 5 Has the same tech aspects, but its DTS-MA is 5.1; see note above about this Medici Arts release.  Still, this is a solid performance of the classic works and though we don’t see much more than Daniel Barenboim and company playing them, the fine sound more than makes up for that.


Abbado – Mahler Symph. No. 5 is pretty much produced the same way as the Daniel Barenboim title, but the sound is PCM 5.1; see note above about this Medici Arts release.  However, I liked the sound and performance, so this is also a winner.


Janacek: Cunning Little Vixens is a lesser known or discussed work in these genre circles, but very interesting and easily the most visually rich of the three Medici Arts titles we received this time around; see note above about this Medici Arts release.  Dennis Russell Davies pulls off an energetic version of the tale and the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mix is pretty good throughout.


Tchaikovsky – Nutcracker: San Francisco Ballet manages to be a fine performance of the very popular stage classic with more energy and less stuffiness than we are used to seeing with the same material, thanks to a top rate production.  One of the few works in this review with ballet, this is as good a version as you are likely to see in any video format.  Even its PCM 5.0 mix tends to be more dynamic than expected.  Cast gallery, illustrated synopsis, nice interviews piece and a featurette on The 1905 World’s Fair that could never be long enough are included, making this my favorite set of extras on all nine Blu-rays.


Verdi: Otello – Cura is another fine version of Otello, but with so many out there, it is hard to make one that stands out, but José Cura makes the difference and out of Barcelona makes this a sometimes definitive production of the work; not an easy thing to do.  Cast gallery, illustrated synopsis and introduction are also included.  The PCM 5.0 sound mix is pretty good too.


Purcell: Dido & Aeneas is directed by Wayne McGregor from Henry Purcell’s tale of love versus the powers of evil.  A British production in Milan, this is one of the more interesting ballets of modern times I have seen.  With its supernatural bent, I am surprised we have not seen someone (hope I am not suggesting a bad idea here) license this and gut it out into a bad horror film, though the romance angle might stop that.  Maybe fans of Twilight and New Moon should see this one, especially as it is sung in English as written.  The PCM 5.1 mix is really good and extras include a cast gallery, illustrated synopsis and McGregor interview.


Adam: Giselle – Connelly (TDK) is Adolph Adam’s ballet presented by Paul Connelly in Paris is inspired by a medieval legend from the Rhine valley, turned into a more complex work and though well-known in its genre circle, is under-seen and less known than what we might consider more popular and somewhat less complex ballet works, which is why it is so good a solid key version is now available on Blu-ray, controversial music and all.  The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 7.1 mix is quieter than you might expect at times, but has its moments.  A pleasant surprise all around.


Puccini: Turandot – Mehta has the fine conductor Zubin Mehta teaming up with film director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) pulling off one of the richer and more effective performances of the classic we have seen on home video to date.  The cast is top rate and the addition of a Making Of featurette makes this one of the best titles here for extras.  The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mix is also nicely recorded and offers a decent soundstage.


All have 1080i HD shoots and they can look fine, but like their Rock counterparts, 1080i only goes so far and usually comes with limits that film and higher HD formats (2K - 4K, not used for any concerts yet) would be less likely to have, like slight noise, slight limits in black, white & red or even slight staircasing, digital noise and slight issues with the interlacing working.  All offer 2.0 Stereo versions of their audio that is not as effective in the same format the multi-channel is offered.  I should add that while the audio is better than what you would find on a DVD, factors like slight compression, soundstage limits or just a lack of total envelopment held the multi-channel versions back a bit.  They are all still fine recordings, though, so don’t let that stop you from enjoying them for as well as they work.  As for extras, all have thick booklets inside the Blu-ray case and some have trailers for other Blu-ray releases.



For more related Blu-rays, try these links:


Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi



Puccini’s Il Trittico/Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake



Puccini’s La Boheme



Puccini’s Tosca



Verdi’s Il Trovatore



Verdi’s La forza del destino



Verdi’s La Traviata



Verdi’s Rigoletto




-   Nicholas Sheffo


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