20 Apr 2010
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk on Blu-Ray
Previously released on DVD, the Netherlands Opera recording of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
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Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments: “I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
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A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
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To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Previously released on DVD, the Netherlands Opera recording of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
(and reviewed at Opera Today) has also been issued in Blu-ray, and this technology enhances further the production values of this particular recording. Visually the Blu-ray video is superior to the DVD release with regard to the refinement of the images and the clarity of presentation. The sharp definition allows the performers to appear immediate and accessible. Without exaggerating any details, the realistic images also reinforce the sense of immediacy, which is already present in the DVD version of this production.
At times, however, the blue-cast of the sets in the first act seems more pronounced in this medium, and this seems to color the resulting images in an unintended manner. At the same time, that blue-cast makes the flesh tones of the actors more prominent, an element which is essential to the gritty, realistic production that has some provocative displays of various sexual interaction. As a filmed opera, some aspects of the staging appear also seem more pronounced in the Blu-ray disc, as with the use of the flashlight later in the act. This detail may not emerge as clearly in the theater, where this effect depends on the distance and elevation from the stage. Here the blurring light of the flashlight has a welcome prominence in drawing the viewer’s attention to the scene. Overall the already fine visual presentation that is available on the DVD is heightened in Blu-ray, as is the sound, which is qualitatively clearer. The fine performance is transmitted with a sense of immediacy that is not always possible with opera videos.
More importantly the sound on the Blu-ray version is more details and clearer than on DVD. Granted, the sound levels on the DVD are excellent, some aspects of the performance emerge with greater clarity on the Blu-ray version of this video. The orchestra has a fine presence, with the dynamic levels nicely distinguished in this recording. At times the sound conveys the sense of a studio recording, an aspect of the release which also commends itself to those interested in an effective recording. Yet this sense of clarity also allows the voices to be heard more precisely, thus reinforcing the sense of immediacy that is part of the visual presentation in this medium. The sound quality is fine throughout the Blu-ray recording, but particularly effective in the final scene in the fourth act (disc 2, tracks 8-17), as the score buildings to its powerful conclusion. This is a part of the opera in which the visual and sonic details are only enhanced through this level of refinement.
The Blu-ray release contains the same supporting materials as the DVD version of this opera. The documentary by Reiner E. Moritz “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk: The Tragedy of Katerina Ismailova”, was already part of the DVD version, and it is included on the Blu-ray release. In fact, all the features of the original recording are found here, and given the qualitative differences in the sonic and visual levels, this version of the video is preferable for those who want to experience the opera almost as if they were in the audience for the production itself.
James L. Zychowicz
For this recording on standard DVD: