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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Opera > Ballet > Multi-Chanel Music > Naxos/ArtHaus/2L/Opus Arte Blu-ray/SA-CD/DVDs: Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana/Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci/Tales Of Beatrix Potter/Berlioz’s Les Troyens/Ole Bull Violin Concertos /Handel’s Acis & Galatea/

Naxos Blu-ray/SA-CD/DVD Wave: Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana & Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci**/ Ashton & Lanchbery’s Tales of Beatrix Potter*/Berlioz’s Les Troyens (ArtHaus)/Ole Bull Violin Concertos (2L Blu-ray w/SA-CD)/Handel’s Acis & Galatea (* & Royal Opera)/Beethoven’s Fidelio/Liszt’s Mayerling** (Opus Arte [*Royal Ballet/**Opernhaus Zurich] Blu-rays + DVDs)


Picture/Sound     Extras: C+     Main Programs: B


Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana & Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci  B- & B/B & B+


Ashton & Lanchbery’s Tales of Beatrix Potter  B-/B


Berlioz’s Les Troyens  B-/B


Ole Bull Violin Concertos  B


Handel’s Acis & Galatea  B & C+/B


Beethoven’s Fidelio  B & C+/B


Mayerling  B-/B+ & B



A uniquely impressive set of Blu-rays and accompanying formats has been issued for the month of April 2010 by Naxos with the terrific ArtHaus, 2L and Opus Arte labels, including a sound-only multi-channel music release and more major stage productions captured with a live audience.


Ole Bull Violin Concertos offers multi-channel music from the Norwegian Radio Orchestra conducted by Ole Kristian Ruud performing six major works by the late composer and it is easily the best of the audio-only 2L productions in sound quality and content, doing a beautiful job of bringing these works to life.  The Blu-ray and Super Audio CD are equal, but only because this is not a DSD recording, but more on that below.


Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana & Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci is the first double feature we have ever covered in Opera on Blu-ray and it is a solid combination, including finally getting to see a great performance of Pagliacci that is the best, liveliest and most colorful Blu-ray here and among the best of any HD shoot in any category of genre we have seen to date.  Not to sell Cavalleria Rusticana short as it is also very good, but Pagliacci has a slight edge between the two.  Stefano Ranzani conducts the Grischa Asagaroff-directed productions with José Cura, Paoletta Marrocu, Fiorenza Cedolins and Carlo Guelfi staring and delivering some great vocals.


Ashton & Lanchbery’s Tales of Beatrix Potter is another big surprise and a very charming, fun, terrific production with the BBC and Conductor Paul Murphy.  The ballet dancers wear and perform in excellent costumes bringing the character to life and it is shocking this has never been done as a feature film of some sort.  Sets are made to be oversized so the actors look like the animals in scale and the audience is one of the bets for any of the ballet releases we have seen to date.


Berlioz’s Les Troyens is a double Blu-ray set with Susan Graham, Anna Caterina Antonacci and Gregory Kunde bringing to life this epic Opera to life based on Virgil’s classic poem The Aeneid.  Sir John Eliot Gardiner is the conductor along with the Choeur du Theatre du Chatelet and it is an almost madly ambitious production ABOUT Greek Mythology, The Trojans and Troy, but it all pays off in a real heartfelt result and is never boring once you get into it.


Handel’s Acis & Galatea is directed by its choreographer Wayne McGregor, which is why is works so well, with the actors often in unique beige body suits that might take some aback.  Danielle de Niese and Charles Workman head the cast of very talented dancers backed by Conductor Christopher Hogwood’s fine interpretation of Handel’s music in this work about a poetic, almost otherworldly realm of romance and possible tragedy.


Beethoven’s Fidelio is a classic of love, gender, identity and secrets that take place in a prison and is the master composer’s only Opera.  Conductor Bernard Haitink, Director Felix Breisach and a fine cast (including Alfred Muff, Roberto Sacca, Sandra Trattnigg and Christoph Strehl) deliver a version of the classic that manages to balance the dark edge with the great music throughout and that is not easy.  Those who have seen Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut (1999) will note the sly reference to this Opera in a key point of his film.  Seeing it makes that film’s mysteries make more sense.


Liszt’s Mayerling is about the final years in the life of Crown Prince Rudolf (played here by Edward Watson) in this bold, ahead-of-its-time work by the great composer who has always been one of the edgiest of all Classical/Opera composers in content and form.  Instead of a formula biopic like we would get today, Liszt makes a grand statement about a privileged life and the man behind it.  John Lanchberry did the arrangement, Barry Wordsworth conducts and the cast also includes Mara Galeazzi, Iohna Loots, William Tucket and Cindy Jourdain.  This is one of the best of the releases here.



The 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on all but the Bull Blu-ray varies a bit throughout, but are as good as any of them will look as they were shot in High Definition similar to this format.  As noted above, we also compared the DVD versions of Acis, Fidelio and Mayerling to their Blu-ray counterparts and got surprising results in all cases.  Mayerling was barely better on Blu-ray versus the DVD, but Fidelio and Acis were revelations delivering better image quality than you could ever imagine from seeing the DVDs and were two of the three best performers in this batch, equaled only by Pagliacci, the clear winner of the set.  That leaves the other tapings held back at times by motion blur or softness, though they also have their moments and some may not be as picky.  Still, they all play as first-rate productions and look it despite flaws and minor complaints.


All the Blu-rays are listed as having DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mixes (though Fidelio (in both formats), Acis (in both formats) and Troyens are not registering LFE channels at all, making them really 5.0 mixes) save Pagliacci with DTS-MA 7.1 instead, but Bull has both.  Its DTS-MA 5.1 is at 192/24 and 7.1 is at 96/24, then it also offers PCM 2.0 192/24 Stereo.  All the Blu-rays and DVDs have PCM 2.0 Stereo as well.  Bull was recorded in DXD 24/352.8 kHz and also has the DSD hybrid SA-CD with all three possible layers (DSD 5.1, DSD 2.0/PCM 2.0) and this may be the smoothest DXD recording I have heard to date, but it is still harsh in the highs and disappoints as it pushes its PCM-based technology over the edge and not for the better.


The sonic winners here are Mayerling with an exemplary 5.1 mix and Pagliacci with one of the best 7.1 mixes in any format I have heard to date.  So many just stretch out the sound or encode it in odd ways, but this has a very natural soundfield whose music and singing is very musical and nuanced.


As for extras, all 10 releases have informative booklets with tech information, illustrations and essays on the performers.  All the Opus Arte releases have Illustrated Synopsis, all save Potter (since everyone is in a costume we surmise) have Cast Galleries, Acis adds a short Staging featurette, Troyens adds The Trojans – A Masterpiece Revived documentary & cast/crew interviews and Mayerling adds Principals In Rehearsal – a featurette by Ballet Boyz Productions.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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