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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Opera > Ballet > Concert > Cosi Fan Tutte/Opernhaus Zurich + Donizetti/Don Pasquale/Muti (ArtHaus) + L’Elisir D’Amore/Benini + Ondine/Royal Ballet + Romeo & Juliet/Globe + Wagner/Parsifal/Festspielhaus (Opus Arte/Naxos Blus)

Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte/Opernhaus Zurich + Donizetti/Don Pasquale/Muti (both ArtHaus) + Donizetti/L’Elisir D’Amore/Benini + Ondine/Royal Ballet + Romeo & Juliet/Globe + Wagner/Parsifal/Festspielhaus (Opus Arte/Naxos Blu-rays)


Picture: B- (Cosi: B)     Sound: B- (Cosi & Ondine: B)     Extras: C+ (Cosi: C)     Concerts: B (Ondine: B+)



Our latest round of Classical/Opera/Ballet Blu-rays from the Naxos-distributed labels Art Haus and Opus Arte mostly comprise of works we are looking at performed for the first time.  The exception is Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, which we covered as a Blu-ray from Opus Arte of at this link:





This ArtHaus version has better picture (the best of the six titles reviewed here too), sound and even a better performance from conductor Franz Welser-Most and stage directed by Sven-Eric Bechtolf with Opernhaus Zurich.  It may not be my favorite work, but this version is livelier and the comedy works better here.  I would like to see a third version to think on this one further.


Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale is conducted by the Riccardo Muti, one of the best in the business, in this tale of the older title character in Donizetti’s last comic work that is not totally a comedy, but one that has variation, drama and nuance that wants to be something different and more complex.  This production directed by Andrea De Rosa is impressive and pulls off the tale with the right amount of energy, intelligence, fullness and comic timing.  I am glad to have been introduced to the work with this version.


Donizetti’s earlier L’Elisir D’Amore is here with the solid Glyndebourne group as conducted by Maurizio Benini and stage directed by Annabel Arden.  This is an outright comedy and yes, it can be very funny, proving Donizetti could have outright fun and does with this farmer vs. soldier romantic comedy farce.  Throw in a supposed Elixir of Love and you know things can only get wackier.


Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet is directed by Dominic Dromgoole is at the London location of The Bard’s famous Globe theater and there is something to be said about seeing it performed in its original venue, especially where character is concerned.  Suddenly, the form of auteur Shakespeare was and is makes even more sense when seen in the venue it was designed for.  A new energy and added levels of richness enhance the work and performances in a way that is practically subversive versus the many prestige versions done over the last four centuries and counting.  This was the second best release here and a must-see for anyone serious about his work.


Wagner’s Parsifal is one of his few works we had not dealt with in any form yet, but it turns out to be his last opera and its complexities still have people debating its intent nearly 130 years later.  Existential in nature, it also deals with religion, but does it deconstruct it, denounce it or despise it?  Kent Nagano conducts, Nikolaus Lehnhoff stage directs and this tale of the Knights of the Holy Grail could not stop reminding me of Eisenstein’s Ivan The Terrible films in their need to speak something dark and personal, in some ways before tie was too late.  That both became the darlings of 20th Century totalitarian movements (Nazism, Stalinism) may be coincidence, but some of the same dark notes are hit.


That brings us to our final work, Hans Werner Henze’s Ondine, an amazing ballet (maybe one of the best ever in the genre) as performed here by the Royal Ballet from The Royal Opera House.  As conducted by Barry Wordsworth and stage-directed by Christopher Carr and Grant Coyle, with choreography by Frederick Ashton, the tale of a man (Edward Watson as Palemon) who fall for a beautiful, female water-nymph (Miyako Yoshida as the title character) starts out as very interesting, then just gets better and better and better and better.  This was written in 1958 and is based on some earlier sources, but you would never guess either way and this top notch production is just stunning and I can add that this is one of the best ballet Blu-rays on the market!



The 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on all the productions can be colorful and the money is in all the productions, but just about all of them are sadly plagued with more motion blur than I would have liked, though some fine shots and color offset the problem in all those cases.  Ondine has more fine shots than usual, while many have dark spots that can be noisy and ill-defined (the orchestra pit when the conductor shows up has this tendency in most cases, for instance), but Cosi (with very minimal blur) has a nice combination of color, stable images and camera work that plays in its favor.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless mixes on all the titles are good, but most of them stretch out the sound a little more than they ought to.  The ArtHaus releases have 7.1 mixes, while the Opus Artes have 5.1.  Ondine (5.1) and Cosi (7.1) really have the kind of soundfields I want to hear from works in this genre, though Ondine is a ballet and does not have to worry about recording singing or dialogue, but that does not stop it from sounding as great as it looks and plays.  Romeo has some more distant-sounding voices, but the design of the Globe is open, so that is normal.  PCM 2.0 Stereo tracks are also included in all six cases, but cannot match the multi-channel versions offered.


Extras on all include thick, essay and illustration-loaded booklets inside the Blu-ray cases.  All four Opus releases have Cast Galleries, Ondine adds a Making Of piece including an interview with the author, Romeo adds a set of famous speeches, Parsifal & L’Elisir add Illustrated Synopsis sections and Pasquale offers its own insight into the work.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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