music DVDs

BARTOK - BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE     WARNER / NVC ARTS 51865-7108-2

Bluebeard's CastleBéla Bartók composed his first masterpiece, Bluebeard’s Castle (A Kékszakállú Herceg Vára), in 1911. First performed at the Budapest Opera in 1918, this fantasy opera with a pointed libretto by Béla Balázs from the fairy tale by Charles Perrault is Bartok’s only opera, lasting almost exactly one hour. The sumptousness of Bartok’s music for this grim, gothic tale reveals the influences of composers such as Wagner, Richard Strauss, Liszt and Debussy, and the powerful score also features the rhythms of Hungarian folk music. The opera has only two characters, Duke Bluebeard and his last wife, Judith. The intense, psychologically profound one act opera is set in a castle with seven locked doors but no windows and inhabits a rarefied world characterised by dark, brooding passions. The somber and agonised duke escorts his new bride into his dark, remote castle and she demands to know what lies behind its gloomy, locked doors. One by one his dark secrets are revealed, until finally, behind the last door, Judith finds his previous wives, frozen in moonlit half-life. She accepts her fate and joins them, leaving Bluebeard entirely alone. This lavish 1988 film version of Bartók’s dramatic, superbly scored opera was originally shown on BBC television and this release is the first time Bluebeard’s Castle has been available on DVD. Directed by Leslie Megahey, the production won 1989’s Prix Italia Music Prize as well as a Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Television. The leading roles are sung in the original Hungarian by Robert Lloyd and Elizabeth Laurence, with a spoken prologue by John Woodvine. Adam Fischer conducts The London Philharmonic Orchestra and the beautiful, atmospheric design is by Bruce Macadie. Warner has also released two other DVDs in conjunction with NVC Arts. GISELLE (NVC ARTS 51865-7108-2) with choreography by Marius Petipa is the most celebrated ballet of the romantic era and a perennial favourite that continues to move audiences around the world. This delightful new production for Dutch National Ballet’s is by former ballerina Rachel Beaujean and RIcardo Bustamante of San Francisco Ballet. Both have danced principal roles in Giselle and they have brought their passion for this ballet to the new production. They have based their Giselle on the original version by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, but have added new choreography and a fresh view of the story. The atmospheric sets and costumes for this new production are by Toer van Schayk, who sets the ballet at the end of the eighteenth century, predating the time of the original premiere. Van Schayk has designed many of the Dutch National Ballet’s most successful productions including Nutcracker & Mouse King and Romeo and Juliet. The cast includes Russian ballerina Anna Tsygankova as Giselle (formerly a rising star of the Bolshoi Ballet) and Jozef Varga as Albrecht. Adolphe Adam’s score is performed live by Holland Symfonia conducted by Boris Gruzfn. Dutch National Ballet’s new production of 6/se//ewas recorded in February 2009 at Het MuzJektheater, Amsterdam in High Definition and Surround Sound. Bonus material includes interviews with the dancers as well as additional choreography. CHOPIN CELEBRATION (NVC ARTS 51865-7106-2) was filmed on location in 1993 at the magnificent Palace of Łańcut in Poland, one of the country’s most sumptuous residences. In this elegant setting, soloist Marek Drewnowski gives impassioned performances of twelve of early Romantic composer Frederic Chopin’s most lyrical waltzes and his two beautiful piano concertos. Both were written before he was twenty, by which time he was already recognised as one of Poland’s great national composers. In a remarkable career spanning many decades, Marek Drewnowski has performed at concerts worldwide and made many recordings, particularly of works by Chopin, and has also found success as an actor, film producer, music festival founder, music professor and conductor. His performance is intercut with scenes of the Palace of Łańcut - its Rococo Salon, Ballroom, Turkish Suite, Chinese Suite and Great Dining Room, with many splendid paintings, antiques and furniture.

VERDI - FALSTAFF      OPUS ARTE OA1021D

Giuseppe Verdi's operatic commedia lirica in three acts Falstaff, was adapted by Arrigo Boito from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from Henry IV. It was the third of Verdi's operas to be based on a Shakespearean play, following Macbeth and Otello, and the composer had also considered basing works on King Lear and Anthony and Cleopatra. Falstaff was Verdi's last opera, written when he was almost 80 years old, and is only the second of his 26 operas to be a comedy. The first performance took place in 1893 at La Scala, Milan and was a great success, though the opera has not proved to be as lastingly popular some other Verdi works, such as Aida and Otello. Nevertheless, Falstaff has long been admired for its brilliant orchestration, scintillating libretto and refined melodic invention, and remains part of the standard repertoire for many opera companies. This DVD features a live recording of director Richard Jones's exciting production at Glyndebourne Opera House in 2009, filmed in High Definition and recorded in true surround sound. The inspirational Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra and an international cast led by the marvelous Christopher Purves in the larger-than-life role of the corpulent Sir John Falstaff, whose profligacy both outrages and inspires the citizens of Windsor. Other members of the cast include Peter Hall (as Dr Caius), Alasdair Elliott (Bardolph), Paolo Battaglia (Pistol), Bulent Bezduz (Fenton) and Marie-Nicolre Lemieux (Mistress Quickly). This witty production brings out the humour, bitterness and anger - mixed with tenderness and wisdom - embodied in the Shakespeare plays on which the libretto is based. DVD extras include an illustrated synopsis cast gallery.

BBC SACRED MUSIC SERIES - HARRY CHRISTOPHER AND THE SIXTEEN   CORO CORDVD2

Acclaimed actor and former chorister Simon Russell Beale explores the flowering of Western sacred music in this groundbreaking four-part documentary series made for BBC Classical Music Television. Spanning six centuries, the series contains a rich mix of personal, political and musical stories and features some of the greatest music ever written, all immaculately performed by award-winning choir The Sixteen with its director Harry Christophers. There is also an accompanying concert, a 90-minute celebratory event with music from the series for Easter Sunday performed by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen, recorded at LSO St Luke’s in London. In the opening programme, Simon Russell Beale begins his musical pilgrimage at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, where he was a chorister. He then journeys to Paris to look at how, in the 12th and 13th centuries, plainsong (chant) became polyphony (music of ‘many voices’). The next stop in the series is Italy, where we find the links between the papal intrigues of Renaissance Rome and the music of the enigmatic Palestrina, ‘The Prince of Music’. Palestrina’s work is unsurpassed in its spiritual perfection, but running underneath it is the turbulent story of the counter-reformation, which would have a dramatic impact on the composer’s life and music. The glorious architecture and art of the High Renaissance complete a compelling picture of this golden age of sacred music. The penultimate episode, back in England, tells the story of Tallis and Byrd, the composers at the centre of England’s own musical Renaissance in the Tudor Age. The relative stability of the reign of Elizabeth I, an accomplished musician herself, brought its own problems as the two Catholic composers struggled to write for a Protestant queen. Beale’s travels end in Germany where Luther’s Protestant Reformation led to a musical revolution and ultimately to the glorious works of JS Bach. Martin Luther, himself a composer, had a profound effect on the development of sacred music, redefining the role of congregational singing and the use of the organ in services as well as developing the hugely important tradition of singing in the vernacular. Released on The Sixteen’s own recording label, this double DVD includes bonus features such as bonus tracks from the Easter concert, additional audio tracks, artist biographies and images. To celebrate the DVD’s release The Sixteen have programmed a series of concerts at Southbank Centre over the Easter weekend on 3, 4 & 5 April 2010 that mirror the BBC Series programmes. There is also a website supporting the series with background information, programme summaries and a selection of music here The Sixteen have also released a CD, Ceremony and Devotion, to coincide with the concerts.

TCHAIKOVSKY - TWO FILMS: TCHAIKOVSKY’S WOMEN & FATE    ARGOS A 10CN D

Christopher Nupen’s new DVD features two impeccably crafted films about the emotionally fragile Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and his lifelong preoccupation with fate: first that of his vulnerable young heroines and then his own fate as reflected in the later symphonies, a preoccupation that ended, at the age of 53, more fatefully than even Tchaikovsky could have predicted. These moving films are unusual in that they do not use actors to represent the composer but are made entirely of Tchaikovsky’s own words and music plus the words of a few of his closest companions. The result gives an exceptionally intimate picture of the inner landscape of the tortured composer’s work and artistic preoccupations. Tchaikovsky’s Women looks at the women both in his private life and in his early music up to the composition of Eugene Onegin and the failure of his marriage to Antonina Milyukova. Almost all of his best early work was inspired by deep identification with the plight of his suffering young heroines, an identification so complete that it spilled over repeatedly into his personal life with dramatic consequences: on one occasion leading to attempted suicide. The second film, Fate, traces the second half of Tchaikovsky’s life, exploring his later powerful compositions and the extraordinary story of his death. It looks at his strange relationship with the imperious Nadezhda von Meck, which was to become the most important attachment of his life, after his mother. He and Madame von Meck exchanged over 1,200 letters, sharing details that were extraordinary for two people who never met, and she supported him morally as well as financially. The film examines Tchaikovsky’s increasing concern with the idea of fate as a controlling influence in his own life and as a motivating force in his later symphonies. Just as the fate of his vulnerable young heroines had been the key element in his early work, so his obsession with the idea of fate become central to what he had to say in Manfred and the last three Symphonies. Featured performers include Vladimir Ashkenazy, Cynthia Harvey, Mark Silver, Helen Field, Clarry Bartha and The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Meticulously researched and directed, these films are another triumph for Christopher Nupen, who has shown himself the music documentary master with his outstanding films about Nathan Millstein, Sibelius, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Itzhak Perlman, Andrés Segovia and Jacqueline du Pré. A celebratory eight week series of Christopher Nupen’s composer films will be shown on BBC4 on Friday evenings, starting on 15 January 2010 with Bizet’s Carmen: The Dream And The Destiny.

CYRANO DE BERGERAC - ALFANO       NAXOS 2.110270

Franco Alfano’s four-act opera Cyrano de Bergerac, with a libretto by Henri Caïn faithfully based on Edmond Rostand’s popular classic drama, received its first performance in Rome in 1936. Alfano is best-known for his completion of Turandot which was left finished at Puccini’s death but he also wrote a dozen operas of his own, including this moving tale of romantic misunderstanding, swashbuckling bravado and heartbreaking loyalty, in which the eloquent Cyrano feels unable to express his love for Roxane because of his famously protuberant nose - except on behalf of his handsome but inarticulate friend, Christian. The US premiere of the opera was in 2005 when the opera was presented at the Metropolitan Opera with Plácido Domingo in the title role. This production, directed by Michal Znaniecki and filmed at the Palau de les Arts ‘Reina Sofía’ in Valencia, stars Domingo as the impassioned Cyrano, Sondra Radvanovsky as an intense Roxane and Arturo Chacón Cruz as Christian. The Valencia Regional Government Choir (Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana) and Valencian Community Orchestra (Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana) are conducted by Patrick Fournillier. When Domingo and Radvanovsky sang Cyrano and Roxane at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Andante magazine wrote: ‘Incredibly, Cyrano is his 121st role. And it suits him splendidly…Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky was luminous as Roxane, her passionate outbursts showing off her powerful upper register to good effect’.

BENVENUTO CELLINI - BERLIOZ      NAXOS  110271

Benvenuto Cellini was the first of Hector Berlioz’s three operas. With a libretto by Léon de Wailly and Auguste Barbier, its story is loosely based on the memoirs of the great Florentine Renaissance sculptor. Technically challenging and rarely performed, the opera is not part of the standard operatic repertoire, though the overture often features in symphony orchestra concerts and Berlioz’s concert overture Le carnaval romain was composed from material in the opera. The opera was first performed in Paris at the Paris Opéra in 1838, where it caused a riot as the audience was disturbed by the opera’s radicalism. Musicians branded the work as impossible to play, though in 1851 Franz Liszt offered to revive the opera in a new production in Weimar, suggesting changes to the score to Berlioz. In contemporary times, the work has been revived at Royal Opera House in London and Metropolitan Opera in New York, as well as at the Salzburg Festival in 2007, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Vienna State Opera Chorus and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. This DVD features that Saltzburg production, directed by Philipp Stölzl, with an outstanding cast that includes Burkhard Fritz as the temperamental Cellini, 26-year-old Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska as Teresa, the woman with whom he tries to elope, Laurent Naouri as Fieramosca and Brindley Sherratt as Giacomo Balducci. ‘A mix of futurism à la Metropolis, fantasy à la Batman and quotes from Piranesi’s Carceri, juxtaposed in the form of photo montages, enhanced with…robots, a helicopter, a shark and the winged vehicle of a pop star Pope’, was how the Neue Zürcher Zeitung described this astonishing production. Valery Gergiev ‘pulled out all the stops. He whips the Vienna Philharmonic into a delirium similar to that which possibly took hold of the composer’ - Der Standard. This is French grand opera at its fast-paced and spectacular best.

ROMEO & JULIET – PROKOFIEV     DECCA 0743337

Romeo and JulietSergei Prokofiev was born in the Ukraine in 1891, and soon became an accomplished pianist as well as something of an enfant terrible, mocking authority figures and anyone else who held traditionalist views. He was a traditional composer at heart though and his wide-ranging output included operas, symphonies, concertos, string quartets, film scores (most notably for Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible) and superb ballet music. The best-known of his ballets is Romeo and Juliet, with its high drama and tenderness revealing Prokofiev’s complete mastery of the orchestra. Choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan and directed for television by Ross MacGibbon, this DVD features a spectacular large-scale production of Prokofiev’s classic for The Royal Ballet company. Cuban superstar Carlos Acosta dances Romeo in wonderfully athletic and passionate style alongside his regular partner, the beautiful Spanish ballerina, Tamara Rojo, as Juliet. Acosta was born in Havana as one of 11 children of a truck-driver and grew up in a cramped apartment. At his father’s insistence, he studied ballet at the Cuban National Ballet School with many influential teachers including Ramona de Sáa, receiving his diploma with maximum qualifications and a gold medal. Tamara Rojo has been a Principal Ballerina with the Royal Ballet since 2000 and is widely acclaimed for her outstanding technique and fine acting skills. This drama of two doomed lovers is set against ravishing sets and costumes designed by Nicholas Georgiadis, and Royal Ballet Sinfonia is conducted by Boris Gruzin. Highly recommended.

TCHAIKOVSKY - SWAN LAKE     OPUS ARTE OA1015D

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky is perhaps the greatest Russian composer, writing music in the European tradition but with a distinctly Russian flavour. His marvelous melodies are set against Russian rhythms in masterful orchestrations that have made him one of the most popular and accessible composers in the world. The enchanting ballet Swan Lake was initially a failure but is now a particular favourite. It tells the story of Princess Odette, who has been turned into a swan by an evil magician but returns to human form for a few hours at midnight each night. Prince Siegfried sees her and falls in love, vowing to free her. But by the machinations of Odile, daughter of the evil magician, he ends up engaged to the wrong woman. Realising everything has gone terribly wrong, the two lovers mourn by a lake. They are drowned when, with an enormous wave, the lake takes them into itself. Yolanda Sonnabend’s Faberge-inspired designs evoke a world of Imperial Russia in Anthony Dowell’s acclaimed production for The Royal Ballet of one of the world’s best-loved ballets. Marianela Nuñez as Odette/Odile and Thiago Soares as Prince Siegfried bring new vitality to a compelling story of tragic romance. The Russian conductor Valeriy Ovsyanikov directs the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in Tchaikovsky’s lush romantic score. Filmed in High Definition and recorded at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in true surround sound. Extras include an illustrated synopsis, cast gallery, an interview with Anthony Dowell, and Four Swan Queens - a conversation on the demands of dancing the role of the Swan Queen with former Prima Ballerinas Dame Beryl Grey, Dame Monica Mason, Lesley Collier and current principal Marianela Nuñez.

BIZET - CARMEN      DECCA 074 3313 (BLU-RAY)

Georges Bizet’s opera, with a libretto written by Meilhac and Halévy, is based on a story with the same title by Prosper Mérimée. The opera premiered at the Opéra Comique of Paris in 1875 and was initially considered a failure, denounced by critics as immoral and superficial. Today, it is a staple of the standard repertoire. The story is set in Seville, Spain, circa 1830, and concerns the eponymous Carmen, a beautiful gypsy with a fiery temper. Free with her love, she woos the corporal Don José, an inexperienced soldier. Their relationship leads to his rejection of his former love and mutiny against his superior as he turns to a criminal life for the sake of Carmen. Although he is briefly happy with the fickle Carmen, he falls into madness when she rejects him for the bullfighter Escamillo. This splendid Blu-ray release brilliantly captures a colourful 2007 Royal Opera production, complete with acrobats, bands of street urchins and assorted livestock. Carmen is stylishly directed by Francesco Zambello and the cast includes acclaimed Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci as the seductive Carmen, Norah Amsellem as Micaela and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Escamillo. German tenor Jonas Kaufmann brings a smouldering erotic intensity to the smitten Don Jose. Antonio Pappano conducts the Royal Opera Orchestra and Chorus with the requisite fire in this darkly passionate reading of one of the world’s most popular operas. ‘Kaufmann and Antonacci are that rare breed: superb singers who can also act with subtlety and passion’ - The Guardian.

VLADIMIR ASHKENAZY: MASTER MUSICIAN   ALLEGRO A 09CN D

The gifted pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy was born in 1937 in Gorky, USSR (now Nizhny Novgorod, Russia). His parents were both professional pianists and taught him to play at an early age. He was accepted at the age of eight into the Central Music School in Moscow, and later studied at the Moscow Conservatory. As a piano virtuoso, Ashkenazy has gained an international reputation for his penetrating musical insight and superb technique, acclaimed especially for his performances of Romantic and Russian composers. Possibly the most frequently recorded pianist in history, his discography runs to 56 pages. In 1981 Vladimir Ashkenazy was appointed principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra of London and from 1987 to 1994 he was music director of the London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He has since worked with other major orchestras such as the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, the Czech Philharmonic and the European Union Youth Orchestra, with whom he performs regularly. As a conductor, he has been praised particularly for his recordings of works by Sibelius, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Scriabin. He has also somehow found time to appear in 26 Christopher Nupen music films, several of which have won prizes. This new DVD from Christopher Nupen features Ashkenazy as pianist, conductor and master musician, providing an intimate and engaging view of one of the world’s most quietly successful musicians. It contains the portrait film, The Vital Juices Are Russian, shot in 1968, together with a montage of sequences from Nupen’s composer films with Ashkenazy as conductor and a performance film based on Rachmaninov’s Corelli Variations, in which Ashkenazy discusses the piece at length and with telling musical insights. The film ends with a complete performance of the piece which was shot, live, at a public concert in Lugano. This DVD is a fine tribute to one of the most remarkable of modern musicians.

ITZHAK PERLMAN – VIRTUOSO VIOLINIST   ALLEGRO FILMS A 08CN D

The distinguished Israeli-American violinist, teacher and conductor Itzhak Perlman was born in 1945 in Tel Aviv, Palestine (now Israel) and became interested in the violin after hearing classical music on the radio. He studied at the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv before moving to the USA to study at the Juilliard School, making his debut at Carnegie Hall and winning the prestigious Leventritt Competition in 1964. He began to record and tour extensively and became known to a wider public with guest appearances on American television shows such as The Tonight Show and Sesame Street. Perlman contracted polio at the age of four but made a good recovery, learning to walk with the use of crutches. Today, he generally uses crutches for mobility and plays the violin while seated. While primarily a solo artist, he has performed with many notable musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman and his friend and fellow Israeli violinist Pinchas Zukerman. He has also played jazz, including an album made with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, and has been a soloist on several scores, such as Schindler’s List and Memoirs of a Geisha. Perlman has also found time to conduct (he was recently appointed as artistic director and principal conductor of the Westchester Philharmonic Orchestra), teach continue to be an effective spokesman for the disabled. This new DVD features Christopher Nupen’s acclaimed portrait film, Itzhak Perlman: Virtuoso Violinist (I know I played every note), as well as memorable performances by Perlman of two Partitas by JS Bach – the Partita in E major, BWV 1006 and in D minor, BWV 1004 which ends with the great Chaconne, shot live at a BBC concert in St John’s Smith Square, London in 1977. The DVD also contains a montage of sequences from past Allegro films and a sequence in which Perlman talks about The Trout film with particular reference to the contribution of Jacqueline du Pré. It also includes ‘Jacqueline du Pré Remembered’, an affectionate tribute made specially for this DVD using a recently recorded interview with Perlman. Other artists appearing include Vladimir Ashkenazy, Pinchas Zukerman, Lynn Harrell, Toby Perlman, Bruno Canino, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Chou Liang Lin and Lawrence Foster. This essential DVD takes a fascinating look at the formative years of one of the most extraordinary musical careers of our time, revealing the triumph of character, talent and tenacity over seemingly insurmountable odds.

MONTEVERDI - L’ORFEO       DYNAMIC 33598

The Baroque era produced some of the most vocal ever written by far the most important vocal music and the first operas were composed in early seventeenth century Italy by Cavalieri and Monteverdi. Most operas from this period were based on stories and plays from Greek and Roman mythology, one of the most famous of these being Monteverdi’s Orfeo, first produced for the carnival at Mantua in 1607. The opera is based on the Greek myth of Orpheus. From an idyllic opening on his wedding day, tragedy quickly strikes and his beloved Eurydice is dead. Orpheus’ love travels into the underworld to bring back his love but can only do so if he promises not to look at her before they have left the abyss. If he does, he will lose her for ever. Born in Cremona, Monteverdi was in the service of the Duke of Mantua about 1591–1612 and became director of music at St Mark’s Cathedral, Venice, from 1613. He was the first composer to use an orchestra and to show the dramatic possibilities of the operatic form to affect the listener’s emotions. This splendid DVD is the first recording in a complete Monteverdi cycle with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, made possible by a three-year collaboration between Dynamic and Teatro Real. The production is enhanced by the rich colour of 17th century costumes, with Christie himself clad in a flowing red cloak and white ruffed collar. Soloists include Dietrich Henschel, Maria Grazia Schiavo, Sonia Prina, Luigi De Donato and Antonio Abete. The DVD also features interviews with Christie as well as the director and costume designer Pier Luigi Pizzi and the opera’s two main protagonists.

JOHN LENNON - LIVE IN TORONTO ’69    WIENERWORLD WNRD2464

John Lennon – Live in TorontoJohn Winston Ono Lennon gained worldwide fame as one of the founding members of The Beatles. Famous also for his rebellious nature and biting wit, he became a controversial peace activist and enjoyed a successful solo career. His first ‘solo’ album was Live Peace in Toronto, recorded live at a Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival Festival in Toronto with The Plastic Ono Band in 1969, prior to the breakup of The Beatles. The album is technically a soundtrack recording, being part of the audio portion of D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary film Sweet Toronto, and this historic performance now features here on this new DVD. As well as John Lennon on on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, The Plastic Ono Band at the time included Eric Clapton on guitar (soon after the breakup of Blind Faith), bassist Klaus Voormann, drummer Alan White and Yoko Ono’s memorable vocals. Songs include Give Peace A Chance (with Lennon improvising the words), a great performance of Yer Blues from the Beatles’ White Album, and covers of favourite 1950s rock and roll songs such as Blue Suede Shoes and You Make Me Dizzy Miss Lizzy. Yoko contributes to Cold Turkey and Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow) and a feedback driven John, John (Let’s Hope For Peace). There are also glimpses of great performances by Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. Captured brilliantly by Academy Award-nominated director D.A. Pennebaker, this is Lennon’s only filmed performance with the Plastic Ono Band.

STRAUSS - SALOME    OPUS ARTE OA R3108 D

According to the New Testament, Salome was femme fatale whose seductive dance (later transformed into ‘the dance of the seven veils’) led to the death of John the Baptist. In Oscar Wilde’s poem she becomes a 16-year-old necrophiliac, killed the same day as the man whose death she had requested. Richard Strauss based his one act opera on Wilde’s interpretation, although the Jewish historian Josephus wrote that Salome lived long enough to marry twice and raise several children. Wilde’s words were translated into German by Hedwig Lachmann and Salome was first produced at the Court Opera, Dresden, in 1905. This new DVD features Peter Hall’s riveting 1992 production of Strauss’s opera, with sensational acting from his then-wife Maria Ewing as the sinister, monstrous temptress, ultimately leaving nothing to the imagination in her sensual Dance of the Seven Veils. The fine cast also includes Kenneth Riegel as a devilish Herod, Michael Devlin as Jokanaan, Gillian Knight as Herodias and Robin Leggate as the infatuated Narraboth. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House is conducted by Edward Downes in this thrilling performance.

RAVEL - L’ENFANT ET LES SORTILEGES, L’HEURE ESPAGNOLE   WARNER

Maurice Ravel’s one-act operas L’Enfant et les Sortilèges and L’heure espagnole are often performed as a double bill. These two productions for Glyndebourne Festival Opera were first recorded and seen on BBC TV in 1987, and are both designed by the great American children’s book writer and illustrator, Maurice Sendak, and directed by Frank Corsaro. L’Enfant et les Sortilèges (‘The bewitched child’) is an enchanting, occasionally scary fantasy which tells the tale of a boy who is angry because he does not want to learn his lessons. He destroys his books and vandalises the room he is in. But the room comes to life - chairs, grandfather clock, teapot and teacup - and seeks revenge. The staging of this magical production featured film projection, and this has been brilliantly reflected in the electronically-edited television recording. Cynthia Buchan sings the role of the boy and the cast also includes Fiona Kimm, Malcolm Walker, François Loup, Hyacinth Nicholls, Thierry Dran, Louise Winter, Nan Christie and Carol Smith. Simon Rattle conducts the London Philharmonic in Ravel’s ravishing score. L’heure espagnole means not only ‘the Spanish clock’ but also ‘the Spanish hour’; every Thursday at the same time, the clockmaker Torquemada has an appointment to wind and regulate the town clocks, thus leaving his wife alone in the house for an hour. Maurice Sendak’s brilliantly animated set comprises a huge baroque façade complete with working clocks and carved emblems. The cast for this joyful frolic includes Anna Steiger, François Le Roux, Rémy Corazza, Thierry Dran and François Loup. Sian Edwards conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Warner has also released three more captivating Glyndebourne productions designed by Maurice Sendak and directed by Frank Corsaro. PROKOFIEV - THE LOVE OF THREE ORANGES, recorded in 1982, is a sizzling visual extravaganza mixing fantasy, nightmare, romance and satire. The production is alive with acrobats, jugglers, body-builders, monsters, outrageous inflatable figures, colossal puppets and special animated sequences - creating a farcical, carnival atmosphere. The outstanding cast includes Willard White as the King whose son, a doleful hypochondriac, can only be cured through laughter. The antics of the court jester, Truffaldino, fail to raise even a giggle, and it is only when the wicked witch Fata Morgana (Nelly Morpurgo) accidently loses her skirt that the Prince (Ryland Davies) breaks into hysterics. In revenge Morgana condemns the Prince to fall in love with three oranges which he pursues for three thousand miles. The exciting rhythms and brilliant orchestration of Prokofiev’s score are conducted by Bernard Haitink. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE & HIGGLETY PIGGLETY POP! are two fantasy operas based on books by Sendak, with skilfully orchestrated music composed and conducted by leading British composer Oliver Knussen. The antics of young Max and his journey to the Land of the Wild Things, and Jennie, the Sealyham terrier’s search for something more than everything, are set against intricate designs in a rare fusion of wit and lyricism. Karen Beardsley sings the role of Max, and Cynthia Buchan takes the role of Jennie in Higglety Pigglety Pop! Oliver Knussen conducts the London Sinfonietta in these performances, first shown on BBC TV in 1985. ‘Aural and visual enchantment…enthralling make-believe and irresistibly potent entertainment.’ - Daily Telegraph.

CHOPIN - LA DAME AUX CAMELIAS     OPUS ARTE OA1008D

American choreographer John Neumeier’s three-act ballet, La Dame aux Camélias, was originally created for the Stuttgarter Ballett in 1978. Based on the Alexandre Dumas novel that also inspired Verdi’s La Traviata and Hollywood’s Moulin Rouge, Neumeier’s riveting dance drama recounts the passionate tale of Marguerite Gautier and Armand Duval. The story unfolds ingeniously through a drama-within-a-drama as they meet at the theatre during a performance of Manon Lescaut. The characters Manon Lescaut (Delphine Moussin) and Des Grieux (José Martinez) from Abbé Prévost’s Manon Lescaut mirror the relationship between Marguerite and Armand - an idea Neumeier took from the original Dumas fils novel where Marguerite receives a copy of Manon Lescaut as a present from Armand. So begins their romantic adventures in Paris, brought to life by Neumeier’s intense and refined choreographic language. Chopin’s ravishing music highlights this exceptional neo-classical ballet, featuring the star dancers of the Paris Opéra Ballet. The beautiful Paris-born ballerina Agnès Letestu is a wonderfully graceful Marguerite and Stéphane Bullion is a worthy Armand in this lavish Paris Opera Ballet production, conducted by Michael Schmidtsdorff and recorded live at the Palais Garnier in High Definition and full surround sound. All about love, passion, danger and glorious dancing, this is a splendid performance from one of the best ballet companies in the world. DVD extras include an illustrated synopsis, cast gallery and a documentary - ‘Flashback to the Lady of camellias’.

HANDEL - TAMERLANO   OPUS ARTE OA1006D

George Frideric Handel’s tragedy Tamerlano (Tamerlane) was first performed at the King’s Theatre, London in 1724. The opera is in three acts, with music set to an Italian text by Nicola Francesco Haym, adapted from Agostin Piovene’s Tamerlano, Tragedia per musica, which had been set to music by Francesco Gasparini, and performed in Venice in 1711. Handel composed Tamerlano, one of the supreme masterpieces of Baroque opera seria, in the space of 20 days in July 1724 - a year in which he wrote two more great operas: Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda. The story concerns Tamerlano, who has conquered and taken the Turkish Sultan Bajazet captive. Despite his engagement to Irene, Tamerlano loves Bajazet’s daughter Asteria; Greek prince Andronico, his ally, loves her too and Asteria returns Andronico’s love. Although it seems that Asteria also has accepted Tamerlano she in fact plans to kill him. This live recording of Teatro Real’s spectacular 2008 production of Handel’s vivid tragedy stars a Lear-like Plácido Domingo as Bajazet, caught between pride, love and loyalty. Displaying the uniquely heroic quality of his voice, Domingo heads a superb cast, including Sara Mingardo (Andrónico), Monica Bacelli (Tamerlano) and the Swedish soprano Ingela Bohlin (Asteria). Conductor Paul McCreesh and the Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Real provide an authentic and luminous interpretation of the score and the stunning theatrical staging by Graham Vick provides a beautiful setting. Designer Richard Hudson’s extravagant Baroque-Islamic costumes emphasise the brilliance of one of Handel’s finest dramatic achievements. Extras include an illustrated synopsis & cast gallery and an interview with Paul McCreesh. ‘This is surely one of Vick’s finest achievements in the opera house.’ - The Sunday Times.

WINTER DREAMS - KENNETH MACMILLAN    WARNER 51865-2683-2

Inspired by Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, British choreographer Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet Winter Dreams reveals the intricate relationship of genteel characters trapped in the stultifying atmosphere of a Russian provincial town at the turn of the 20th century. The piece began as the ‘Farewell’ pas de deux, danced by Darcey Bussell and Irek Mukhamedov, specially commissioned to celebrate Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s 90th Birthday at the London Palladium. MacMillan later extended this to a one-act ballet, which premiered in February 1991. Featuring the same characters who appear in Chekhov’s poetic play, the ballet is a study of the melancholy danced to selected works from Tchaikovsky arranged and performed by Philip Gammon, interspersed with traditional Russian music selected and arranged for guitar ensemble by Thomas Hartman. In this 1992 studio recording, Darcey Bussell dances the role of the head-strong Masha, the sister married to the boring, worthy school teacher Kulygin, danced by Anthony Dowell, and drawn into an adulterous affair with Colonel Vershinin, danced with passionate intensity and thrilling virtuosity by former Bolshoi star Irek Mukhamedov. This star-studded Royal Ballet cast also includes Viviana Durante and the wonderfully expressive Nicola Tranah as Masha’s sisters Irina and Olga, and Stephen Wicks and Adam Cooper as Baron Tusenbach and Solyony, rivals for Irina’s hand. The subtle period designs are by Peter Farmer, and this studio production was directed as well as choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan. The programme is introduced by Lynn Redgrave. The DVD also contains Out of Line, a revealing documentary portrait of Kenneth MacMillan.

FRANCESCA DA RIMINI - ZANDONAI       ARTHAUS MUSIK

Riccardo Zandonai was an Italian composer and patriot born in 1883 in Sacco di Rovereto, then still in Austro-Hungarian hands. He was a composer with a gift for melody and was favoured by Puccini to complete the music for his final opera, Turandot, though eventually Franco Alfano was chosen by Puccini’s son. Zandonai’s fame today rests largely on his opera Francesca da Rimini, inspired by a tragedy written by Gabriele D’Annunzio based on part of Dante’s Inferno. The opera is in four acts, with a libretto by Tito Ricordi, and was premiered at the Teatro Regio in Turin on February 19, 1914. The story takes place in Ravenna and Rimini, where Francesca, daughter of Guido da Polenta, is to be married to Giovanni, the son of Malatesta de Verrucchio. As she would most likely refuse to marry the malmed Gianciotto, she is introduced instead to his handsome younger brother, Paolo, and falls in love with him at first sight. He also falls deeply in love with her, although they exchange not a word. Francesca nevertheless is then married to Gianciotto and Paolo departs for Florence. Further complications ensue before the opera reaches its tragic conclusion. Zandonai’s most popular creation was commemorated in Macerata, the provincial capital of the northern Italian region of Marche, in 2004. Massimo Gasparon was responsible for the direction, set and costumes of this production for the Sferisterio Opera Festival. With an all-star cast including Daniela Dessì and Fabio Armiliato as the passionate lovers (both hail from Genoa and are also real-life partners) and the baritone Alberto Mastromarino as the villain, Giovanni. The production follows in a long line of significant post-war performances of Francesca da Rimini. The Sferisterio – a 4,500-seat arena originally used as a venue for the traditional ballgame gioco del bracciale (a game played with spiked arm protectors and a heavy wooden ball) – was built between 1819 and 1829, and since 1921 it has been home to the annual opera festival held in late July/early August. As has come to be associated with staged events in Verona, the representative open-air nature of the performance turns this lavishly costumed production in a historic setting into something out of the ordinary. This is a rare chance to see one of the most original and polished Italian melodramas of the 20th century in a spectacular production.

STRAUSS - INTERMEZZO     WARNER 51442-8857-2

Richard Strauss’s two-act opera Intermezzo - a ‘bourgeois comedy with symphonic interludes’ - was first performed at the Dresden Semperoper in 1924. The libretto, written in prose, was also by Strauss and the unflattering story is based on real incidents in the life of the composer (as ‘Robert Storch’) and his wife Pauline (as ‘Christine Storch’). Put-upon conductor Robert Storch’s wife, Christine, feels neglected and goes away to a winter resort where she flirts with a destitute young nobleman, Baron Lummer. She becomes is furious when she receives what appears to be a love letter to her husband from a young lady. Further amusing complications ensue but eventually the conductor and his wife are reconciled. Pauline Strauss was unaware of the opera’s subject before its first performance and after Lotte Lehmann congratulated her on the ‘marvelous present from your husband’ she replied ‘I don’t give a damn’. Set in the 1920s, John Cox’s stylish production stars Felicity Lott as the volatile Christine, with John Pringle as Robert and Ian Caley as the Baron. Andrew Porter’s brilliant English translation for Glyndebourne is sharply witty and gives Felicity Lott’s talent full rein both musically and theatrically. Martin Battersby’s beautiful art nouveau settings evoke perfectly the luxurious lifestyle of Strauss’s Vienna, and The London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Gustav Kuhn, is in sparkling form. Felicity Lott gives a magical performance in this a rare chance to see one of Richard Strauss’s most subtle and personal works.

MOZART – DIE ENTFUHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL   OPUS ARTE OA1003D

Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio, also known as Il Seraglio) was composed in 1782 as an opera Singspiel, where the action is mostly confined to spoken dialogue and the music limited to reflective arias and duets with occasional chorus. The three-act opera has a German libretto by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner and Gottlieb Stephanie and an exotic plot that concerns the attempt by hero Belmonte, assisted by his servant Pedrillo, to rescue his beloved Konstanze from the seraglio of the Pasha Selim. This double DVD set features a live recording of Amsterdam’s De Nederlandse Opera in an imaginative production directed by Johan Simons, with musical directtion by Constantinos Carydis. The excellent cast includes American soprano Laura Aikin (Konstanze), the charismatic Edgaras Montvidas (Belmonte), Kurt Rydl (hilarious as Osmin, the Pasha’s servant), Mojca Erdmann as the cheeky Blonde, Michael Smallwood (Pedrillo) and Steven Van Watermeulen in the non-singing role of Pasha Selim. This is a thrilling and intelligently innovative account of Mozart’s comic tale of abduction, love, loyalty and forgiveness. DVD extras include an illustrated synopsis and a behind the scenes documentary featuring interviews with members of the cast. ‘Constantinos Carydis has everything you could want from a Mozart conductor, combining manic energy with perfectionism and a profound sense of lyrical beauty’ - Bloomberg News.

CHUCK BERRY & BO DIDDLEY: ‘ROCK & ROLL ALL-STAR JAM’  VOICEPRINT

Bo Diddley (born Ellas Otha Bates in McComb, Mississippi) was one of the most innovative and influential of all American rock & roll musicians. As singer, guitarist and songwriter he played a key role in the transition from blues music to rock and roll and influenced countless other artists, including Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. His insistent, driving rhythms and a hard-edged guitar sound became instantly recognisable, though perhaps he was never given the credit he deserved. Known as ‘The Originator’, he died aged 80 on June 2008 at his home in Archer, Florida. In 1985, he put together a band that included Ron Wood, John Mayall, Mick Fleetwood, Kenny Jones, Carmine Appice, John Lodge, Ronnie Lane, Carl Wilson, and members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Chicago, Quiet Riot, and Three Dog Night. Together they run through some of the great rock and roll classics, including I’m A Man, Who Do You Love and Hey Bo Diddley. Another rock music veteran, Chuck Berry, also puts in an appearance in one of the all time unrepeatable gigs. The DVD was overseen by Bo Diddley himself and behind the scenes we see him instructing Kenny Jones how to play along to one of the most famous riffs in rock and roll history.

EDITH PIAF: THE PERFECT CONCERT & DOCUMENTARY   ACORN AV9697

Edith PiafFrance’s greatest popular singer, Edith Piaf, is still revered as an icon decades after her death. Her voice had a distinctive vibrato filled with raw passion and emotional power so that her singing, even when verging on the melodramatic, wrung every drop of sentiment from a lyric. Her songs were mostly melancholy, dealing with heartache, tragedy and poverty, reflecting her own experiences amid the harsh reality of life on the streets and the dramatic twists and turns of her turbulent life. From humble beginnings in Paris, living with her grandmother in a brothel, singing on the street to avoid prostitution; Piaf’s life, loves and losses only served to make her rise to fame and glory even more triumphant. This double DVD celebrates the life and work of the wonderful ‘Little Sparrow’ with a unique collection of filmed and recorded performances as well as a revealing documentary featuring rare and extraordinary interviews. Piaf performs seventeen classic songs including La Vie En Rose, Non je ne regrette rien, Milord and L’Hymne a l’amour. The Documentary charts her life story with interviews, footage of Piaf herself (including charming home movies) and an excerpt from Jean Cocteau’s Le Bel Indifferent in 1940, as well as an extraordinary interview from the time of her manager’s tragic murder in 1936. These marvelous performances by the legendary Piaf are timeless. Her voice and stage presence still mesmerise, and the tough yet vulnerable woman portrayed in the documentary is equally fascinating. Formidable!

SUFI SOUL      RIVERBOAT RECORDS TUGDVD001

As Muslim extremists dominate the headlines, writer and historian, William Dalrymple, explores an altogether different side of Islam in this timely DVD documentary - Sufi Soul: The Mystic Music of Islam. Sufism, or Tasawwuf as it’s called in the Muslim world, is Islamic mysticism, and Sufi orders can be found in Sunni, Shia and other Islamic groups. Non-Muslims often mistake Sufism as a sect of Islam but it is really an aspect or dimension of of the religion. The word ‘Sufi’ has been ascribed various origins, including words meaning ‘purity’ and ‘wisdom’. Ibn Khaldun, the 14th century Arab historian, described Sufism as ‘dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone’. For hundreds of millions of Sufi followers worldwide, music is at the heart of their tradition and a way of getting closer to God. From the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey to the qawwali music of Pakistan, Sufism has produced spectacular music celebrated by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. William Dalrymple takes us into both the mystical and musical side of Islam as he charts the traditions of Sufi music in Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, India and Morocco, tracing the shared roots of Christianity and Islam in the Middle East. Sufism is seen here to be a peaceful, tolerant and pluralistic bastion against fundamentalism. DVD extras include extended performances by Kudsi Erguner, Sain Zahoor, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Bhitshah Fakirs and Rokia Riman Jilala Band. This is an exhilarating and revealing journey into the mysterious, transcendental world of the Sufi.

PURCELL - DIDO & AENEAS         WARNER 514428822-2

The English Baroque composer Henry Purcell’s exhilarating Dido & Aeneas is based on a part of the fourth book of Virgil’s Aeneid. With a libretto by Nahum Tate (England’s poet laureate at the time), the hour-long opera tells the story of a Queen thwarted in love by Fate. Aeneas and his crew are shipwrecked in Carthage and he and Dido, the legendary Queen of that city, fall in love. When she finds that Aeneas must soon leave to found Rome, Dido cannot live without him and awaits death. This intense tale of heroism, passion, betrayal and ultimate tragedy is played out against a backdrop of fiery rituals, evil spells and pageantry. Dido and Aeneas is England’s oldest opera and was first performed in 1689 at a girls’ school in Chelsea, London, but unfortunately neither the original nor any 17th Century copy survives. This glossy film was first shown first on television in 1995 to celebrate the tercentenary of Purcell’s death. The American soprano Maria Ewing is very moving as Dido and the handsome Karl Daymond is Aeneas. There is a fine performance by Rebecca Evans as Belinda (Dido’s lady-in-waiting) and the excellent cast also includes Sally Burgess as the Sorceress, Patricia Rozario as the First Enchantress and James Bowman as the Voice of Mercury. The Collegium Musicum 90 is conducted by Richard Hickox and the film was directed by Peter Maniura. The production was filmed on location at Hampton Court House, where spectacular settings were created in the house and grounds by Dutch designer Niek Kortekaas.

BRITTEN'S WAR REQUIEM - JARMAN     SECOND SIGHT

The film director, stage designer, artist and writer Derek Jarman was born in Middlesex in 1942. After sudying at the Slade School of Art in London, he worked as a set designer at the Royal Ballet and first worked in film as the production designer on Ken Russell’s The Devils in 1970. He went on to make short films, including his first pop promo with Marianne Faithful, and in 1986 made his first full-length feature, Caravaggio, which took him seven years to create and premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. Two years later, he directed War Requiem, based on Benjamin Britten’s choral masterpiece and featuring the final screen appearance of Laurence Olivier (who had announced his retirement in 1987) as the Old Soldier. Produced by Don Boyd and financed by the BBC, the adaptation featured a legendary 1963 Decca recording of the Requiem as the soundtrack. Over this Jarman creates a visual evocation of the work, which blends the Latin Mass of the Dead with the poignant poetry of Wilfred Owen (spoken by Nathaniel Parker). Dramatised scenes are interwoven with cinematic, poetic images and harrowing archive footage which serve to recreate the horrors and futility of war. To coincide with its 20th Anniversary, Derek Jarman’s powerful and moving film is released on DVD for the first time, digitally remastered from a stunning high definition transfer. Special Features include a commmentary with Don Boyd and a documentary featuring interviews with Tilda Swinton and other cast members. ‘Jarman’s finest achievement’ - The Observer.

RAMEAU - CASTOR ET POLLUX       OPUS ARTE OA0999D

Jean-Philippe Rameau replaced Jean-Baptiste Lully as the dominant composer of French opera. He was aged fifty when his first opera, Hippolyte et Aricie, premiered in 1733, and for the next twenty years he wrote twenty more operas. Rameau’s music was daring and unorthodox, especially when compared to that of Lully, and his choice of subject matter more adventurous. His third opera (second if the lost Samson is discounted) was Castor et Pollux, which was first performed in 1737 and had a successful run of 21 performances. It was revived in 1754 in a modified form in which the composer and his librettist (Pierre-Joseph Bernard) replaced the mythological prologue with a new Act I. In the 1737 version, the brothers Castor and Pollux are both in love with the same woman, Télaïre. In the new version, as performed here. Castor and Télaïre are in love, but she is betrothed to Pollux. Pollux gives her up to his brother, but Castor is killed in battle. Pollux ultimately appeals to their father Jupiter, to restore Castor. Jupiter does so, on condition that Pollux replaces him in Hades. Castor agrees to return to land of the living for just one day, to tell Télaïre that he cannot take up Pollux’s offer. Finally the Fates and Jupiter relent and the brothers are granted immortality. Recorded live at Her Musiktheater, Amsterdam, this two-DVD set features Christophe Rousset with the Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera and Les Talens Lyriques in fabulous production directed by Pierre Audi. The fine cast of soloists includes Anna Maria Panzarella (Télaïre), the wonderful Véronique Gens (Phébé), Finnur Bjarnason (Castor) and Henk Neven (Pollux). Arguably Rameau’s finest creation, Castor et Pollux has rarely been staged so this is a welcome opportunity to see this opera by one of the most important Baroque composers.

EARTHA KITT AT THE CHELTENHAM JAZZ FESTIVAL     NETWORK

On 27th October, Network is releasing recordings on DVD and CD of Eartha Kitt’s sell-out opening concert at the prestigious Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Amazingly, this will be her first ever live concert DVD. With a career that started in the late forties and is still going strong 65 years later, it’s no exaggeration to call Eartha Kitt a living legend. She got her start as a featured dancer and vocalist with the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe and made her film debut in Casbah (1948). Her work since has ranged from playing Catwoman in the 1960s Batman television series, doing the voice for YZMA, the villain in Disney’s animated feature The Emperor’s New Groove, to Orson Welles’s production of Dr. Faust. Her beauty, unforgettable voice and electrifying presence quickly attracted the attention of Broadway, where she firmly asserted herself as a star. These releases feature her performance earlier this year when she headlined at Cheltenham and can be enjoyed by Eartha Kitt fans as well as anyone with a passion for jazz. Accompanied by an excellent group of musicians, her singing is extraordinary and at an ageless 81 she remains one of the world’s sexiest and most compelling performers - truly a legend in her own lifetime. DVD extras include Alone (an autobiographical reflection in song written by Kitt and her musical director Daryl Waters) and Eartha Kitt in Conversation. ‘The most exciting woman in the world’ - Orson Welles.

THE MATTHEW BOURNE COLLECTION    WARNER 514429775-2

Matthew Bourne’s controversial version of Swan Lake was first staged at London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre in 1995 and went on to tour the world and become the longest running ballet both in the West End and on Broadway. Loosely based on the Russian romantic ballet Swan Lake, from which it takes Tchaikovsky’s music and the broad outline of the plot, Matthew Bourne’s interpretation takes its stylistic inspiration from the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds and is famous for having the parts of the swans danced by men rather than women. In the original ballet, the heroine, the swan princess Odette, is portrayed as powerless but lovely in accordance with conventional gender roles, and her hero is portrayed as a hunter who alone has the power to save her. Having a man in the role of lead Swan puts love between men at centre stage, and the naturalistic choreography given to the swan corps discredits the archetype of the swan as a pretty, feminine bird of gentle grace. According to Bourne, ‘The idea of a male swan makes complete sense to me. The strength, the beauty, the enormous wingspan of these creatures suggests to the musculature of a male dancer more readily than a ballerina in her white tutu.’ This three DVD set includes this witty and superbly crafted interpretation of a timeless classic (with Adam Cooper as the Swan and ravishing Fiona Chadwick as The Queen) as well as two more Matthew Bourne ballets: a stunning version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and The Car Man (a brilliant reinterpretation of Bizet’s Carmen). Extras include an interview with Matthew Bourne. Warner has also just released ROMANTIC BALLET (WARNER 514429776-2), another three DVD box set featuring three of the most romantic works in the ballet repertoire: Swan Lake (Royal Ballet), Giselle (Kirov) and La Sylphide (Royal Danish Ballet).

STRAUSS - SALOME     OPUS ARTE OA0996D

Scottish director David McVicar’s stunning 2008 production of Richard Strauss’s opera takes Pasolini’s controversially disturbing film 120 Days of Sodom as its visual reference, setting the opera’s action in a debauched palace in Nazi Germany. Strauss’s ravishing and voluptuous score adds to the sexual alchemy conjured by an international cast led by Leipzig-born soprano Nadja Michael in the title role, Michaela Schuster as Herodias, Thomas Moser as Herod, Joseph Kaiser as Narraboth and Michael Volle as Jokanaan. Filmed for the big screen with high definition cameras and recorded in true surround sound, this is a memorable production in which nudity and scenes of violence retain their power to shock. The art-deco-inspired designs are by Es Devlin and the excellent Orchestra of the Royal Opera House is conducted by Philippe Jordan. DVD extras include a revealing documentary, ‘David McVicar: A Work in process’, made for the Southbank Show by Melvyn Bragg and featuring interviews with the director as well as members of the cast and crew.

KNOWLEDGE IS THE BEGINNING WARNER/RAMALLAH CONCERT  WARNER

Daniel Barenboim is a conductor, pianist and chamber musician, born in Buenos Aires in 1942 to parents of Jewish-Russian descent. He started playing piano at the age of five and went on to become an outstanding concert performer as well as a distinguished conductor. In the early 1990s, a chance meeting with the late Palestinian-born writer Edward Said led to a friendship that had both political and musical repercussions. The two men realised that they had similar visions of possible Israeli/Palestinian cooperation and decided to collaborate on musical events to further their shared vision of peaceful co-existence in the Middle East. The West-Eastern Divan Workshop took two years to organise and involved talented young musicians between the ages of 14 and 25 from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia and Israel. The idea was that they would come together to make music on neutral ground with the guidance of some of the world’s best musicians. Weimar was chosen as the site for the workshop because of its rich cultural tradition of writers, poets, musicians and creative artists and because it was the 1999 European cultural capital. The workshop was held again in Weimar in 2000 and in Chicago in 2001, before finding a permanent home in Seville, Spain. This DVD features a remarkable concert given in the Palestinian Territory in the city of Ramallah in 2005. The DVD also includes a revised and updated documentary charting the life and development of the orchestra from its conception to the present day through interviews, rehearsal and concert excerpts. The music chosen is by Beethoven (a rousing performance of his Symphony No. 5) and Mozart (Sinfonia Concertante), with an encore of Elgar’s Nimrod from the Enigma Variations. ‘An orchestra on fire with passion and purpose’ - The Times.

DOCTOR ATOMIC - ADAMS    OPUS ARTE OA 0998 D

American composer John Adams is best known for his acclaimed opera Nixon in China, which was inspired by Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to that country. Adams was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1947, and began composing at the age of ten. After graduating from Harvard University, where he earned two degrees, he studied composition with Leon Kirchner, Roger Sessions, Earl Kim, and David Del Tredici. His two act opera Doctor Atomic was written in 2005, when it premiered at the San Francisco Opera. It has a libretto by the American Erasmus Prize-winner Peter Sellars based on original source material such as memoirs, interviews, technical manuals of nuclear physics and declassified U.S. government documents, as well as poetry by Baudelaire, John Donne and Muriel Rukeyser, the Bhagavad Gita and a traditional Tewa Indian song. The action takes place in the summer of 1945, mainly during the final hours before the first atomic bomb was exploded at Alamogordo in New Mexico. We see the stress and anxiety experienced by scientists, government officials and military personnel involved, including Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and his wife, Edward Teller, General Leslie Groves and Robert Wilson, and explore the ethical and moral implications of the atomic bomb. This double DVD presents a live recording of Doctor Atomic directed by Peter Sellars at the Het Musiektheater, Amsterdam, in 2007, with the Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera and Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lawrence Renes. The superb cast includes Gerald Finley as Oppenheimer, Jessica Rivera as his wife Kitty, Eric Owens, Richard Paul Fink, James Maddalena, Thomas Glenn, Jay Hunter Morris and Ellen Rabiner. This is a brilliant, powerful drama that uses the full range of musical and dramatic arts to create an operatic masterpiece.

HANK WILLIAMS: THE SHOW HE NEVER GAVE   NETWORK

Hank Williams (1923-1953) wrote over 700 songs that are still performed today more often than those of any other country musician. His unforced stage persona and heartfelt delivery formed a blueprint for country and western artists worldwide. Although he achieved near-legendary status and recognition in his own time as a pioneer of the honky-tonk style, Hank Williams’ personal life was marked by adversity and upheaval. Domestic instability and lifelong, severe back pain increasingly led him to self medicate with alcohol and painkilling drugs such as morphine. On January 1st, 1953, hours before a scheduled performance in Ohio, he was found dead in the back seat of his brand new Cadillac outside Oak Hill, West Virginia. He was just 29 years old. In Hank Williams: The Show He Never Gave, Canadian country music veteran Sneezy Waters (real name Peter Hodgeson) portrays as Williams in those final hours of his life on New Year's Eve, 1952, as he imagines himself performing his best-loved songs before a captivated live audience in ‘the show he never gave.’ In 1982, award-winning director David Acomba made a first-rate job of adapting Maynard Collins’ hugely successful stage production, making this unique film version in only six days. Sneezy Waters gives an amazing performance, totally convincing both as the popular singer and as his much darker Luke The Drifter persona - lost, lonely and wracked by religious doubts. The film tells the story of Hank Williams’ life through the yarns he tells and the 23 classic songs he sings with an excellent band, including Lovesick Blues, Hey Good Lookin’, Your Cheatin’ Heart, Jambalaya, and Cold Cold Heart. This reflective and ultimately heart-breaking film is a moving tribute to one of the gods of country music. Highly recommended.

WOLF-FERRARI - LA VEDOVA SCALTRA      NAXOS 2.110234-35

The Italian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, best known for comic operas such as I quattro rusteghi and Il segreto di Susanna, was born in Venice in 1876, the son of an Italian mother and a German father. He studied piano as a boy but initially wanted to be a painter like his father. After studying music in Venice and Munich, he began adapting the riotous farces of Renaissance playwright Carlo Goldoni as comic operas. These were extremely successful during the early part of the twentieth century but are no longer widely performed. The comic opera La Vedova Scaltra (‘The Cunning Widow’, or ‘The Widow’s Stratagem’), with a libretto by Mario Ghisalberti, is one of those that Wolf-Ferrari based on plays by Goldoni. Four hopeful suitors vie for the hand of Rosaura, the cunning widow of the title, who disguises herself to meet each wooer, eventually choosing the only one who can demonstrate his sincerity. This production, filmed live at the Teatro La Fenice in February 2007 in celebration of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Goldoni in Venice in 1707, is the first to appear on DVD. Director Massimo Gasparon’s strikingly colourful sets and costumes capture the Venetian flavour of this spirited work and the talented cast includes Anne-Lise Sollied as Rosaura, Maurizio Muraro (Milord Runebif), Emanuele D’Aguanno (Monsieur Le Bleau), Mark Milhofer (Il Conte di Bosco Nero), Riccardo Zanellato (Don Alvaro di Castiglia) and Elena Rossi as the widow’s knowing maid, Marionette. This is a welcome chance to enjoy a musically eclectic and witty work by the finest writer of Italian comic opera of his day.

THE GROUNDHOGS - 60/40 SPLIT    ENTSDVD005

GroundhogsThe Groundhogs were one of the the lesser known yet critically regarded bands British blues bands of the 1960s, backing such luminaries as John Lee Hooker (the band was named after one of his songs) and Champion Jack Dupree. They then consisted of founder Tony McPhee as singer, songwriter and guitarist, bassist Peter Cruickshank, Ken Pustelnik on drums and Steve Rye harmonica. McPhee left to play with the John Dummer Blues Band for a while before before reforming the Groundhogs in the late 60s, with bassist Pete Cruickshank and Ken Pustelnik from the original lineup, and made their commercial breakthrough as a trio with the powerful rock albums Thank Christ for the Bomb (1970), Split (1971) and Who Will Save the World? The Mighty Groundhogs (1972). They also supported the Rolling Stones on their 1971 British tour at the request of Mick Jagger and went on to influence the US grunge music that emerged in the 1980s . This invaluable DVD features a concert filmed at the Buttermarket in Shrewsbury in 2003 and captures captures the classic lineup of the Groundhogs (McPhee, Cruickshank and Pustlenick) after they reformed for the first time since the 1970s. As well as two hours of concert footage, including a half-hour solo acoustic set by Tony McPhee, there is an an hour of extra on the road footage from across the years from 1975 to 1995 plus a revealing in depth interview with McPhee. Essential viewing - and listening - for all fans of an underrated blues-based band that also explored powerful rock music and psychedelia.

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE - TONY PALMER    VOICEPRINT TPDVDBOX1

The British documentary and historical drama film director Tony Palmer has won over forty international prizes for his work, including television’s coveted Prix d’Italia (the only person to have won this twice). His eclectic range of subjects include Margot Fonteyn, Leonard Cohen, Puccini, Handel, break-dancing and John Osborne (The Gift of Friendship). His ground-breaking and critically acclaimed television series, All You Need Is Love, first broadcast in the late 1970s, looked in loving detail at popular 20th century music up until that time. The series has now made its long-awaited DVD debut as a lavish boxed set containing all 17 episodes on 5 discs, encompassing Ragtime, Blues, Jazz, Vaudeville, The Musical, Folk, Swing, Country and Western, Rock ‘n’ Roll and beyond, including interviews with major artists such as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimi Hendrix, Stephen Sondheim, Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, The Beach Boys, Tina Turner, Sam Phillips, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Richard Rodgers, Roy Rogers, Benny Goodman, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Phil Spector, Bill Monroe, Bill Graham, Bill Wyman, Frank Zappa and Eric Clapton. Popular music has become an essential part of our daily lives and this celebratory series shows where it came from, how it developed, and how it has influenced or been influenced by social change. This is the definitive story told by the people who created it - a monumental achievement that has influenced every music documentary since. ‘One of the great, and uncompromising, poets of  television’ - Sight & Sound.

ITZHAK PERLMAN – VIRTUOSO VIOLINIST   ALLEGRO FILMS A 08CN D

The distinguished Israeli-American violinist, teacher and conductor Itzhak Perlman was born in 1945 in Tel Aviv, Palestine (now Israel) and became interested in the violin after hearing classical music on the radio. He studied at the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv before moving to the USA to study at the Juilliard School, making his debut at Carnegie Hall and winning the prestigious Leventritt Competition in 1964. He began to record and tour extensively and became known to a wider public with guest appearances on American television shows such as The Tonight Show and Sesame Street. Perlman contracted polio at the age of four but made a good recovery, learning to walk with the use of crutches. Today, he generally uses crutches for mobility and plays the violin while seated. While primarily a solo artist, he has performed with many notable musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman and his friend and fellow Israeli violinist Pinchas Zukerman. He has also played jazz, including an album made with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, and has been a soloist on several scores, such as Schindler’s List and Memoirs of a Geisha. Perlman has also found time to conduct (he was recently appointed as artistic director and principal conductor of the Westchester Philharmonic Orchestra), teach continue to be an effective spokesman for the disabled. This new DVD features Christopher Nupen’s acclaimed portrait film, Itzhak Perlman: Virtuoso Violinist (I know I played every note), as well as memorable performances by Perlman of two Partitas by JS Bach – the Partita in E major, BWV 1006 and in D minor, BWV 1004 which ends with the great Chaconne, shot live at a BBC concert in St John’s Smith Square, London in 1977. The DVD also contains a montage of sequences from past Allegro films and a sequence in which Perlman talks about The Trout film with particular reference to the contribution of Jacqueline du Pré. It also includes ‘Jacqueline du Pré Remembered’, an affectionate tribute made specially for this DVD using a recently recorded interview with Perlman. Other artists appearing include Vladimir Ashkenazy, Pinchas Zukerman, Lynn Harrell, Toby Perlman, Bruno Canino, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Chou Liang Lin and Lawrence Foster. This essential DVD takes a fascinating look at the formative years of one of the most extraordinary musical careers of our time, revealing the triumph of character, talent and tenacity over seemingly insurmountable odds.

THE CHARM OF LA BOHEME       BEL CANTO D534

Giacomo Puccini’s four-act opera La bohème is one of the composer’s best known works as well as one of the most performed operas in the standard repertoire - second only to Madama Butterfly, also by Puccini. With a libretto based on Scènes de la vie de Bohème by Henri Murger, the opera premièred in Turin on 1896 at the Teatro Regio (now the Teatro Regio Torino), conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini. The Charm of La Bohème (originally known as Zauber der Bohème) is 1936 film musical inspired by Puccini's masterpiece and featuring some of its music as well as specially composed music by Robert Stolz. The film stars handsome Polish tenor Jan Kiepura and the beautiful Marta Eggerth, two gifted opera singers who would soon become husband and wife. They play Rene and Denise, aspiring singers who hope to land a role in a Paris Opéra production of La Bohème. Denise wins the leading role of Mimi but tragedy ensues when she discovers that, like her character, she has contracted a fatal disease. Excellently sung, touchingly acted and sensitively directed (by Geza von Bolvary), The Charm of La Bohème cleverly combines Puccini’s much loved opera with contemporary drama. An enchanting experience - highly recommended.

PUCCINI - TONY PALMER    VOICEPRINT TPDVD115

Tony Palmer’s film tells the story of local girl Doria Manfredi, her relationship with the great Italian composer Puccini, and the opera that resulted, Turandot. It was a scandal that was suppressed by Puccini’s publishers or his family or both for almost 80 years, fearing that the consequences of revealing the truth of what had happened would damage sales of his work and further sully his already tarnished reputation as a philanderer. Robert Stephens is terrific as Puccini and Virginia McKenna gives an emotionally draining performance as his wife, Elvira. When the finished film was shown to Simonetta, Puccini’s granddaughter, she said she was astonished at how close the film had come to the heart of the matter. Tony Palmer explored the work of another composer in GOD ROT TUNBRIDGE WELLS (Voiceprint TPDVD114), looking at the life of Georg Frederic Handel. The film that was first shown on Channel 4 in 1985 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Handel’s birth. Written by John Osborne, it reveals a composer who had burst upon London like a tornado, shaking the smugness of Georgian England to its roots and laying the foundations of an entirely different tradition of British music making. The title comes from a letter Osborne claimed Handel had written after a visit to the Tunbridge Wells Ladies’ Music Circle who had invited him to hear ‘their Messiah’ only months before he died. ‘I always thought it was my Messiah’, Handel had written back. Trevor Howard gives one of his finest performances as Handel and the music is brilliantly played by Charles Mackerras and the English Chamber Orchestra.

VERDI – UN BALLO IN MASCHERA    DECCA 074 3227

Giuseppe Verdi’s supremely melodic three-act opera, Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball), has a text by Antonio Somma and was first produced at Rome’s Teatro Apollo in 1859. The opera is based on the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden, although not strictly historically accurate as Verdi was asked by government censors to make many changes due to its politically sensitive subject. Despite its tragic conclusion, Un ballo in maschera has many moments of the brilliance and irony associated with comedy - a mixture which has led critics to to describe it as ‘Shakespearean’. Ballo was first performed by New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1889, when it was sung in German, and has been produced there often since. Available for the first time on DVD from Decca, this new release features the classic 1980 Met production by Elijah Moshinsky, filmed live. The director provocatively staged the action for this eye-catching version in 18th-Century Boston, on the eve of the American Revolution. The all-star cast is led by Luciano Pavarotti in one of his most celebrated roles, with the brilliant lyric soprano Katia Ricciarelli, Judith Blegen (Oscar), Bianca Berini (Ulrica) and the Canadian baritone Louis Quilico, perfectly cast as Renato. The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus are intelligently conducted by Giuseppe Patane, Pavarotti is in fabulous voice as Riccardo and Katia Ricciarelli is a wonderfully moving as Amelia. DVD extras include interviews with Luciano Pavarotti, Katia Ricciarelli and James Levine, long-time music director of the Met.

TCHAIKOVSKY – SWAN LAKE      WARNER

Matthew Bourne’s controversial version of Swan Lake was first staged at London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre in 1995 and went on to tour the world and become the longest running ballet both in the West End and on Broadway. Loosely based on the Russian romantic ballet Swan Lake, from which it takes Tchaikovsky’s music and the broad outline of the plot, Matthew Bourne’s interpretation takes its stylistic inspiration from the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds and is famous for having the parts of the swans danced by men rather than women. In the original ballet, the heroine, the swan princess Odette, is portrayed as powerless but lovely in accordance with conventional gender roles, and her hero is portrayed as a hunter who alone has the power to save her. Having a man in the role of lead Swan puts love between men at centre stage, and the naturalistic choreography given to the swan corps discredits the archetype of the swan as a pretty, feminine bird of gentle grace. According to Bourne, ‘The idea of a male swan makes complete sense to me. The strength, the beauty, the enormous wingspan of these creatures suggests to the musculature of a male dancer more readily than a ballerina in her white tutu.’ This double DVD features luscious Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and the original stage cast, including handsome Adam Cooper as the Swan, Scott Ambler as the shy Prince Siegfried and ravishing Fiona Chadwick as The Queen. Extras include an informative booklet and the original soundtrack on two CDs. This is a witty and superbly crafted interpretation of a timeless classic that looks and sounds stunning.

BALLET BOX    WARNER 51442-7115-9

In this classic Kirov production, Yulia Makhalina stars as Odette/Odile and Igor Zelensky is Prince Siegfried. The Kirov company also perform Sleeping Beauty, with choreography by Marius petipa. This fairy tale story of the beautiful princess who pricks her finger on an enchanted spindle and falls asleep, to be woken by the kiss of the handsome prince, stars the great Russian dancer, Irina Kolpakova, with Sergei Berezhnoi and Lubov Kunakova. The Nutcracker is an enchanting fantasy in which a girl who is given a nutcracker in the shape of a soldier for a Christmas present. She falls asleep and when she awakes (or is she dreaming?) the nutcracker and all her other toys have come alive. The ballet features a sequence of short dances by various characters – ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’, ‘Dance of the Two Flutes’, etc - which are often played separately as The Nutcracker Suite. Peter Wright’s spakling production for the Royal ballet stars Lesley Collier as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Anthony Dowell (The Prince), Guy Niblett (The Nutcracker) and Jonathan Cope (the Mouse King).

IN THE HANK WILLIAMS TRADITION      WHITE STAR D1659

The American singer, guitarist, and songwriter Hank Williams is an icon of country music and rock and roll - one of the most influential musicians and songwriters of the 20th century. A pioneer of the honky tonk style, he had many hit records and was famous for his charismatic performances. The great songs he wrote are at the heart of country music and several have become pop standards. His premature death at the age of only twenty-nine helped fuel his legend. His son Hank Williams, Jr., daughter Jett Williams and grandchildren Hank Williams III, Holly Williams, and Hilary Williams also became professional singers. Hiram King Williams was born in 1923, in the small town of Mount Olive, eight miles southwest of Georgiana, Alabama. Named after Hiram I of Tyre, he was born with a mild case of spina bifida and life-long pain from this disorder contributed to his later abuse of alcohol and drugs. This DVD celebrates the undisputed ‘King of Country Music’ by exploring the tradition he started and which is still being followed today. Hank Williams’ incredible life story is told through rare film clips and revealing interviews with friends and fellow performers such as Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl and Chet Atkins. Many of Hank’s greatest songs are performed by some of today’s top country music artists, who explain how he inspired their careers. Highlights include performances by Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr. (Lovesick Blues), Randy Travis, Emmylou Harris (heartbreaking versions of Half As Much and May You never Be Alone), Kris Kristofferson (the moving Pictures From Life’s Other Side by ‘Luke the Drifter’), Waylon Jennings, and the legendary Chet Atkins. This warm tribute to country music’s greatest and most enduring star is highly recommended.

AVE MARIA - GIGLI    BEL CANTO DO494

The legendary Italian singer Beniamino Gigli was one of the greatest operatic tenors of all time, blessed with a richly toned voice of great beauty and technical facility. He rose to international prominence after the death of the mighty Italian tenor Enrico Caruso in 1921, and such was his popularity with audiences that he was sometimes called ‘Caruso Secondo’, although he much preferred to be known as ‘Gigli Primo’. Ave Maria, made in 1936, was his second film and tells the story of an opera singer Tino Dossi (Gigli) who has had one great love in his life, that for a devoted French-girl who died. He comes to Paris for his annual visit to her grave on the anniversary of her death, but is forced to go through with a concert his manager had arranged without his knowledge. He is temporarily shaken from his doldrums by vivacious Montmartre entertainer Claudette (Kaethe Von Nagy), not realising that she is only using him to advance her own singing career. Ultimately won over by Dossi’s sincerity and courtesy, Claudette falls in love with him, only to suffer the pangs of conscience. Directed by Johannes Riemann, Ave Maria was recorded by Itala Films in the Tobis Atelier in Berlin. Two versions were made - German and Italian – and both are included in this double-DVD set. Most of the musical selections are the same but an actor dubs Gigli’s speaking voice in the Italian one. Two separate audio soundtracks are provided for both versions - one of them restored to eliminate imperfections and the other not. Gigli turns in a decent acting performance and the consummate ease of his singing is well displayed in this charming yet little-known film. Highly recommended.

THE MAGIC FLUTE - BRANAGH      REVOLVER REVD2076

Mozart’s two-act opera The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) was composed in 1791 to a German libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder and premiered in Vienna, when Mozart himself conducted the orchestra, Schikaneder played Papageno and the role of the Queen of the Night was sung by Mozart’s sister-in-law, Josepha Hofer. The work is in the form of a Singspiel, a popular form that includes both singing and spoken dialogue, and was a great success, drawing large crowds to hundreds of performances throughout the 1790s. Director Kenneth Branagh and his librettist Stephen Fry have adapted the opera by setting the strange, magical story against the backdrop of the First World War. In this spectacular, highly stylised film, opera singers mime to their own studio recording, which works well by allowing the performers freedom to concentrate on the drama to produce a pleasingly natural acting style. Joseph Kaiser is impressive as Tamino, Amy Carson makes charming Pamina, René Pape is Sarastro, Tom Randle is Monostatos, Benjamin Jay Davis is Papageno, and Lyubov Petrova’s Queen of the Night and her Three Ladies are an impressive ensemble. This is an entertaining and audacious version of Mozart’s masterpiece that makes for fascinating comparisons with Ingmar Bergman’s more conventional staging in his 1975 film. Extras include cast and crew interviews (including Kenneth Branagh) and a ‘Making Of’ featurette. More information can be found on The Magic Flute website http://www.magicflutefilm.com/

MUSSORGSKY – KHOVANSCHINA    OPUS ARTE OA0989D

Modest Mussorgsky’s epic ‘national music drama’ Khovanshchina was written between 1872 and 1880 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The composer wrote the libretto, which is based on historical sources. Although the setting of the opera is the Moscow Uprising of 1682, its main themes are the struggle between progressive and reactionary political factions during the minority of Tsar Peter the Great, and the passing of old Muscovy before Peter’s westernising reforms. Mussorgsky left an unorchestrated vocal score at his death in 1881. Both Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich completed orchestrations for the masterpiece and it received its first performance in the Rimsky-Korsakov version in 1886. In this 2007 recording of Mussorgsky’s loveless and brutal drama, the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona is conducted by Michael Boder in Stein Winge’s impressive production. The demanding title role is taken by acclaimed Russian bass Vladimir Ognovenko and the opera is sung in Russian, so the natural melancholic tones of the language effectively propel the drama to its tragic conclusion. Other soloists include Vladimir Galouzine (as Khovanshchina’s son, Andrei), Robert Brubaker, Nikolai Putilin (terrific as the boyar Shaklovity), Vladimir Vaneev and Elena Zaremba as Marfa. Extras with this double DVD include an interview with Michael Boder, an illustrated synopsis and a cast gallery.

HANDEL - ARIODANTE       DYNAMIC  33559

Handel’s three-act opera seria Ariodante has an anonymous Italian libretto based on Ginevra, principessa di Scozia by Antonio Salvi, which in turn was adapted from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. Each act contains opportunities for dance and the opera was first performed in 1735, when it opened Handel’s first season at London’s Covent Garden Theatre. Despite its initial success, Ariodante was little heard for more than two hundred years until revived in the early 1960s, since when it has come to be regarded with Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda as among the composer’s finest operas. The complicated plot revolves around Ginevra, daughter of the King of Scotland, who is betrothed to Ariodante. Polinesso, a jealous rival of Ariodante, wins the confidence of Ginevra’s friend Dalinda. With Dalinda’s unwitting help, Polinesso tricks Ariodante into thinking that Ginevra is his lover. The King, hearing of Ginevra’s alleged infidelity, disowns her, while Ariodante is reported dead by suicide. Polinesso then sends his agents to kill Dalinda, as the only witness to his plot. But Ariodante, having met Dalinda while wandering in the woods, drives off the would-be assassins. Polinesso, seeking to win the King’s favour, now offers to defend the honour of Ginevra in a tournament. In the combat, he is mortally wounded by Ariodante’s vengeful brother Lurcanio. Ariodante, having learned about Polinesso’s plot from Dalinda, now appears and offers himself as Ginevra’s champion. The dying Polinesso confesses his guilt and Ginevra is pardoned by the King. Although written at a time when Handel faced the prospect of financial bankruptcy, Ariodante contains some of his brightest, most ravishing melodies. This double DVD features a beautifully designed production recorded at the Teatro Caio Melisso in Spoleto, Italy, at the 2007 festival. Directed by John Pascoe, it has a splendid cast of soloists who include Swedish mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg (glorious as Ariodante), Laura Cherici (Ginevra), Marta Vandoni Iorio (Dalinda), Mary-Ellen Nesi (Polinesso), Carlo Lepore (Re di Scozia), Zachary Stanis (Lucranio) and Vittorio Prato (Odoardo), with Il Complesso Barocco conducted by Alan Curtis. Filmed in High Definition and with excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, the extras include filmed interviews with John Pascoe and Alan Curtis.

‘PREMIO PAGANINI’ - HEART & VIRTUOSITY   DYNAMIC 33539

The International Violin Competition ‘Premio Paganini’ (or Paganini Concore) was named after the virtuoso and founder of contemporary violin technique, Niccolò Paganini. Founded in 1954, the competition brings considerable prestige to the City of Genoa as well as providing a venue for discovering new, young talents. It quickly established itself as one of the most important violin competitions in the world, and since its foundation the ‘Premio Paganini’ has been awarded to famous artists such as Gyorgy Pauk, Gérard Poulet, Salvatore Accardo, Gidon Kremer, Ilya Grubert and, recently, Massimo Quarta, Giovanni Angeleri, Leonidas Kavakos, Ilya Gringolts and Sayaka Shoji, and it has acted as an effective springboard for their future artistic careers. There are three levels of competition: preliminaries, semi-finals, and finals. The repertoire includes solo violin, violin with piano accompaniment, and violin and orchestra. This fascinating and exciting documentary, subtitled Heart & Virtuosity, follows the 51st competition in 2006, from the arrival of the competitors and jury, to the proclamation of the winner and his concert played on Paganini’s violin. We see what happens behind the scenes, witness the emotions of the young violinists and hear the advice given to them by members of the jury such as Gyorgy Pauk and Massimo Quarta, who won the competition in 1956 and 1991 respectively. Alpaslan Ertüngealp conducts the Orchestra from Carlo Felice Theatre of Genova in a live recording of the triumphant concert. This is a fascinating, intimate look at one of the world’s most important and exhilarating music competitions.

STRAVINSKY - THE RAKE’S PROGRESS       OPUS ARTE OA0991D

Igor Stravinsky’s three-act opera, The Rake’s Progress, has a libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman and is based loosely on a series of 18th century engravings by William Hogarth, which the composer had seen in 1947 at a Chicago exhibition. The opera was created for La Fenice in Venice in 1951, with a story that concerns the decline and fall of Tom Rakewell, who deserts Anne Trulove for the delights of London in the company of Nick Shadow, who turns out to be the Devil. After many misadventures, all initiated by the devious Shadow, Tom ends up in Bedlam. The moral of the tale is: ‘For idle hearts and hands and minds the Devil finds a work to do’. This DVD features an amazing production from La Monnaie - De Munt, recorded live in High Definition and surround sound at the Theatre Royal in Brussels. This 2007 production ‘jazzifies’ the setting by replacing Hogarth’s sin city, London, with 1950s Las Vegas, turning it into a glittering, cinematic gallery of tableaux vivants inspired by the early days of television. Staged by one of the most visionary theatre directors of our age, the Québécois Robert Lepage, the neo-classical morality tale truly becomes a grand spectacle. Lepage’s visual imagination works its magic superbly, while Kazushi Ono’s energetic musical direction drives the sparkling ensemble to exhilarating heights. An excellent cast is headed by Laura Claycomb (Anne Trulove), the fine young English tenor Andrew Kennedy (Tom Rakewell), William Shimell (Nick Shadow) and Julianne Young (Mother Goose). Extras include an interview with Robert Lepage, behind the scenes and rehearsal footage, photo and cast galleries, and an illustrated synopsis.

TEATRO LA FENICE OPERA COLLECTION    DYNAMIC 33558

Venice’s Teatro La Fenice (‘The Phoenix’) is one of the most famous theatres in Europe and has seen many famous operatic premieres. The theatre’s name reflects its role in permitting an opera company to ‘rise from the ashes’ despite losing the use of two theatres (to fire and legal problems respectively). In 1774, Venice’s leading opera house, the San Benedetto Theatre, burned to the ground and it was decided to build a new opera house on the Campo San Fantin. Construction was completed 1792, when and the theatre, named ‘La Fenice’, was inaugurated with an opera by Giovanni Paisiello entitled I Giochi di Agrigento, and during the early 19th century La Fenice acquired a European-wide reputation with major productions of works by composers such as Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. In December 1836, disaster struck again when the theatre was destroyed by fire. This time La Fenice was quickly rebuilt with a design by the brothers Tommaso and Giambattista Meduna rose from its ashes to open its doors on December 26, 1837. Giuseppe Verdi’s association with La Fenice began in 1844, with a performance of Ernani during the Carnival season, and over the next thirteen years, the premieres of Attila, Rigoletto, La Traviata and Simon Boccanegra took place there. La Fenice reopened after the First World War and in 1930, the Venice Biennale brought such composers as Stravinsky and Britten to write for La Fenice. In 1996, the theatre was again completely destroyed by fire (two electricians were later found guilty of arson) and the present theatre is a painstaking reconstruction that recreated the ambience of the old theatre at a cost of €90 million. It reopened in 2003, and this magnificent box set from Dynamic celebrates the Teatro La Fenice with a 6-DVD collection of outstanding recent productions of operas by Richard Strauss (Daphne), Donizetti (Pia de’ Tolomei), Rossini (Maometto Secondo), Bizet (Les Pêcheurs de Perles) and Massenet (Le Roi de Lahore and Thaïs).

DELIBES – SYLVIA         OPUS ARTE OA0986D

Clément Philibert Léo Delibes was born in Saint-Germain du val, France, in 1836. After studying at the Paris Conservatoire he became accompanist and chorus master for the Théâtre-Lyrique. He was also second chorus master at the Paris Opéra and organist at Pierre de Chaillot. He composed many light operas and vaudevilles and wrote his first ballet score for La Source in 1866, followed four years later by the hugely successful Coppelia. The delightful Sylvia, or ‘The Nymphs of Diana’, was first performed in Paris in 1876 and is considered Delibes’ finest ballet, with the best ballet music written before Tchaikovsky (who thought it superior to his own Swan Lake). This new Opus Arte DVD stars Roberto Bolle, Thiago Soares and Britain’s favourite ballerina Darcey Bussell in Frederick Ashton’s opulently choreographed version of this marvellously romantic work, originally created in 1952 and restored to the splendour of its elegant and opulent three-act form for the 75th anniversary celebrations of The Royal Ballet. Taken from Greek mythology, it tells the story of Sylvia, loved by Aminta, abducted by Orion and eventually rescued by Eros. Ashton was inspired by the music of Delibes to create such great choreographic sequences as the famous Act 3 pas de deux and the mischievous role of Eros, one of the delightful, darkly comic characterisations for which Ashton became known and loved. Sylvia is a wonderful showcase for virtuosity, invention and classical beauty, the epitome of Ashton style in stage settings of great detail and painterly perfection. DVD extras include introductions and conclusions to the ballet by Darcey Bussell as well as a cast gallery and synopsis. ‘It is gorgeous - do not miss it’ - The Stage.

THE FULL MONTEVERDI – I FRAGOLINI     NAXOS 2.110224

Claudio Monteverdi’s fourth book of madrigals (1603), generally accepted as the finest, most virtuosic and varied, collection of unaccompanied vocal music ever written, explores the emotional state of lovers at different stages of break-up. In each of its twenty miniatures, varying aspects, moments and feelings are portrayed with profound human understanding through the most dramatic and thoroughly modern music for ensemble. The Full Monteverdi is a unique ‘music drama on contemporary love’ that follows the simultaneous break-up of six couples, from shocking revelation, through vengeful anger and erotic longing for reconciliation, to ultimate abandonment. It does so in a way that is at once vulnerable and disarming, drawing the viewer into its intensely moving emotional journey. Having started life as a live performance, the production has been played all over the world to great acclaim. This DVD film features the award-winning ensemble I Fagiolini and was directed for television by John La Bouchardière. It is set in a contemporary restaurant over the period of evening to morning, with several scenes shot as flashback to give viewers the back-story to the lovers’ downfall, and is sung in Italian with English subtitles. This passionate and erotically-charged performance brings Monteverdi’s beautiful music to dramatic life.

MARK-ANTHONY TURNAGE – GREEK    ARTHAUS MUSIK 102 105

Mark-Anthony Turnage was born in Essex in 1960 and studied at the Royal College of Music, where he won many of the major prizes. Widely acclaimed internationally as a composer of outstanding ability and a unique compositional voice, often inspired by jazz (especially Miles Davis), he first attracted attention with the première of his two-act opera Greek at the Munich Biennale Festival in 1988, where it won the prizes for best opera and best libretto. The opera is based on Steven Berkoff’s adaptation of Oedipus the King to a present-day London setting and is typical of Turnage’s musical style: lyrical yet also dramatic and aggressive. Since then the composer has held positions with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (under the Musical Directorship of Simon Rattle), the BBC Symphony Orchestra and English National Opera, and has received commissions from many of the world’s leading orchestras. He is the author of numerous orchestral and chamber works, as well as two operas, and is currently a ‘Mead composer in Residence’ with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra alongside Osvaldo Golijov. Greek is a typical example of Turnage’s determinedly urban type of music. His compositional style is not consistently tonal, but remains accessible, colourful, often with aggressive effects, but always retaining an underlying lyricism, at times with a powerful dramatic impact and emotional power. Director Jonathan Moore has adapted his original stage version for this special studio recording, with Richard Bernas conducting The Almeida Ensemble and soloists Helen Charnock, Fiona Kimm, Quentin Hayes and Richard Stuart. This is a stylish production of an extraordinary work by one of the most distinctive voices in modern British music.

VERDI – OBERTO      OPUS ARTE OA 0982 D

Giuseppe Verdi’s Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio, is an opera in two acts with an Italian libretto by Temistocle Solera, based on a libretto by Antonio Piazza. It was Verdi’s first opera, written when he was in his 20s, and was first performed at Teatro alla Scala, Milan, in 1839, 54 years before his last opera was premiered there. The first British performance did not take place until February 1982, at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London. Set in Bassano in 1228 the opera tells the story of young count Ricardo, who is to marry the sister of Ezzelino da Romano, Cuniza. However, deceiving his friend Oberto, he seduces his daughter Leonora. Discovering the deception, Oberto convinces Leonora to go to Cuniza to tell her the truth and unmask the seducer. Upset by what Leonora has to say, Cuniza decides to quit Ricardo, who will thus be forced into a marriage of reparation. Oberto is unhappy with this solution and challenges the young man to a duel. For Leonora all that remains is the convent. The opera already shows Verdi’s instinctive melodic gift and heightened sense of drama which was to make him a giant among composers of grand opera. This excellent recording, filmed with high definition cameras and full multi-track surround sound, features the wonderful young Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov as Oberto, with Evelyn Herlitzius (Leonora), Carlo Ventre (Ricardo) and Marianne Cornetti (Cuniza). The Chorus of Ópera de Bilbao and Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias are conducted by Yves Abel and the stage director is Ignacio García. Extras include interviews with Yves Abel and Ignacio García as well as an illustrated synopsis and cast gallery.

ROSSINI – L’ITALIANA IN ALGERI     DYNAMIC 33526

L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) is an operatic dramma giocoso in two acts by Gioachino Rossini to an Italian libretto by Angelo Anelli, based on his earlier text set by Luigi Mosca. Its the earliest of Rossini’s great full-length comedies and he claimed to have composed the work in only eighteen days. It received its first performance at Venice’s Teatro San Benedetto Theatre in 1813, where it was rapturously received. The opera subsequently fell from the repertoire until revived for the Spanish coloratura Conchita Supervia in 1925, since when it has been popular for its appealing overture and delightful melodies. The plot concerns the feisty eponymous heroine Isabella. She has been sailing in the Mediterranean, accompanied by an elderly admirer Taddeo, in search of her lover Lindoro. After her ship is wrecked, Mustafa, the Bey of Algiers, finds her the ideal replacement for his neglected wife who he intends to marry off to a captured slave, who happens to be Lindoro. After complicated situations involving Taddeo being awarded the honour of ‘Kaimakan’ and Mustafa in turn becoming a ‘Pappataci’, a spoof award invented by Isabella to keep him obeying strict instructions, all ends well in a rousing finale with the Italians escaping from the clutches of the Bey. Dario Fo’s exuberant production, staged at the Rossini Opera Festival last summer with Donato Renzetti conducting the Orchestra of Teatro Comunale di Bologna, stars Marianna Pizzolato in the title role, Marco Vinco as Mustafa, Barbara Bargnesi, Maria Jose Lo Monaco, Alex Esposito, Maxim Mironov and Bruno De Simone as Taddeo. This is highly enjoyable production of Rossini’s delightful opera – indisputably one of the composer’s masterpieces.

JACQUELINE DU PRE: A CELEBRATION   ARGOS A 07CN D

Jacqueline du Pre Du Pré started learning the cello at the age of six and by the time she was twelve years old was playing professionally for the BBC. Her full-blooded recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1961 brought international recognition, and her 1965 recording of this work under Sir John Barbirolli was equally acclaimed. Tall, blonde and ebullient, du Pre would wrap herself around her cello and play with an intimacy and intensity that transported her audiences. She was a musical lioness, ferocious and playful, uninhibited and passionate. She was married to the powerhouse pianist/conductor Daniel Barenboim, a match that thrilled listeners around the world. Sadly, she began to lose sensitivity in her fingers in 1973, marking the onset of multiple sclerosis. This cruel disease caused her health to deteriorate until her death in 1987 aged 42, when she remained as vibrant a figure in the public mind as she had been at the height of her glittering career. This unique DVD contains the film Who was Jacqueline du Pré? which consists entirely of material never before seen in public and presents du Pré as seen through the eyes, ears and words of the people who were closest to her and knew her best, including Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlman among others. The DVD also includes a 15 minute interview with Jacqueline du Pré, shot in 1980, which has never been seen before, together with the revealing film Remembering Jacqueline du Pré as well as Interlude with Johannes Brahms, a montage of images of Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim in action, taken from the Allegro Films archives and accompanied by an audio recording, made by Christopher Nupen, of the first movement of the Brahms E minor cello sonata with Daniel Barenboim. This DVD is a sequel to Christopher Nupen’s Jacqueline du Pré In Portrait DVD which became the top-selling classical DVD title of the year following its release in 2004. This new DVD complements the earlier one and presents other sides of the the Jacqueline du Pré story. As such it is a remarkable document and one that is sure to be warmly welcomed by critics and the public alike.

POULENC – DIALOGUES DES CARMELITES     TDK DVWW-OPDDC

In 1953, Poulenc was approached to write a ballet for La Scala in Milan. When he found the proposed subject uninspiring, a screenplay by Georges Bernanos was suggested instead. Based on the novella Die Letzte am Schafott (The Last on the Scaffold), by Gertrud von le Fort, the story tells of historical events that took place at a French Carmelite convent in Compiègne during the late eighteenth century. The action highlights the impact of the Revolution and later Robespierre’s Reign of Terror on religious institutions. Poulenc’s substantial and compelling opera was first performed in an Italian version at la Scala in January 1957 before the original French version premiered in June the same year at Paris’s Théâtre National de l’Opéra. Canadian director Robert Carsen intense production at the Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam in 2001 was much acclaimed and Riccardo Muti, then musical director of La Scala, arranged for it to be staged in Milan in 2004. Muti himself conducted the Orchestra and Chorus of the Scala and German soprano Dagmar Schellenberger made her debut in the role of the young aristocrat Blanche, who seeks salvation in a convent. Following a decree dissolving all the country’s religious houses, the Carmelite nuns take a vow of martyrdom and sing their way to the scaffold. The last to die is Blanche, together with Sœur Constance, her close friend in the convent, sung by the American soprano Laura Aikin. American mezzo Barbara Dever gave her debut at La Scala in this production in the role of the assistant prioress Mother Marie. The production was particularly notable for the participation of the celebrated Anja Silja as Madame de Croissy, allowing us to experience one of the greatest singing actresses of our times. This outstanding production makes clear the clash between religion and revolution from the start as director Robert Carsen introduces the chorus as a mass of nameless individuals whose silence makes them all the more threatening and who later develop into a crowd and finally into a bloodthirsty mob. This provides the staging with its outer framework. Internally, by contrast, the work is held together by the theme of fear: the opera confronts us with the searing sounds of dying, and the fear that permeates the entire piece proves ultimately to be the mortal anguish of an age that is moving inexorably to its end. Recorded live by Italian Television, this DVD reveals Muti’s understanding of Poulenc’s lush music and the production reflects the composer’s deep religious feelings.

MUSSORGSKY – BORIS GODUNOV     VIDEOLAND VLRT 055

Modest Mussorgsky’s only completed opera, Boris Godunov, was composed between 1868 and 1874 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Its subject is the Russian ruler who reigned as Tsar from 1598 to 1605 and the libretto was written by the composer, based on the drama of the same name by Aleksandr Pushkin. The music is written in a uniquely Russian style, drawing on Mussorgsky’s knowledge of Russian folk music and rejecting the influence of German and Italian opera. Boris Godunov is perhaps the most intensely dramatic of all operas, showing the fall of a great man marred by his guilt in the struggle for power. That decline and fall is reflected in the rise of his nemesis, Gregory (the false Dmitri), who in history died shortly after seizing the crown at the hands of the ever conniving Shuisky. Beyond these personal tragedies and intrigues is deeper tragedy of the Russian people; they are forever suffering and misled. This splendidly staged Russian production of Mussorgsky’s masterpiece was directed by Evgheniy Kolobov at the Stanislavsky Theatre in Moscow and stars V. Matorin, S. Beljjaev, T. Jasko, V. Osipov, V. Voinarovskij, V. Kirnos, V. Svistov, N. Deminov and Ju. Abakumovskaja.

COPPELIA – DELIBES   VIDEOLAND VLD138

Coppélia is a sentimental comic ballet with original choreography by Arthur Saint-Léon to a ballet libretto by Saint-Léon and Charles Nuittier, with music by Léo Delibes. Based on a macabre story by E.T.A. Hoffmann titled Der Sandmann (‘The Sandman’), the ballet premiered in 1870 at the Théâtre Impérial de l´Opéra, with Giuseppina Bozzachi in the title role. Bozzacchi, a young student aged only sixteen, was expected to have a great career ahead of her, but she contracted cholera during the siege of Paris and died on her seventeenth birthday. Its successful run was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris siege but eventually it became the most-performed ballet at the Opera Garnier and has been a staple of the ballet repertoire ever since. Influenced by travelling shows of the late 18th and early 19th centuries starring mechanical automatons, the story concerns a mysterious and faintly diabolical inventor, Doctor Coppélius, who has made a life-size dancing doll. This is so life-like that Franz, a village swain, is infatuated with it, setting aside his true heart’s desire, Swanilda, who in Act II shows him his folly by dressing as the doll and pretending to come to life. The part of Franz was danced en travestie, a convention that pleased the male members of the Jockey-Club de Paris and was retained in Paris until after World War II. If Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein represents the dark side of the theme of scientist as creator of life, then Coppelia is the light side. If Giselle is a tragedy set in a peasant village, then Coppélia is a comedy in the same setting. This excellent performance features the Ballet of the Hungarian State Opera with soloists including Katalin Csarnoy as Swanilda, Imre Dozsa as Franz and Levente Sipeki as the eccentric Coppélius.

VERDI – STIFFELIO        DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00440 073 4288

Giuseppe Verdi’s three-act Stiffelio opera in by, with an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave based on a French play Le Pasteur, was first performed in 1850 at the Teatro Grande, Trieste. This dramatic opera disappeared from the world’s stages soon afterwards, not because it was a musical failure but because its Ibsenesque story about a Protestant minister who discovers his wife’s infidelity fell foul of the Roman Catholic censors. The libretto by was so disfigured by attempts to eliminate signs of a married religious leader considering divorce and murder that Verdi cannibalised the music to create a more artificial drama, Aroldo. Modern musicologists restored the original score and New York’s Metropolitan Opera launched a handsome production of this rarely staged masterpiece in 1993. Conducted by James Levine, directed by Giancarlo del Monaco and filmed by Brian Large, it is now released for the first time on DVD. Placido Domingo is in vibrant form as the pastor faced with the adultery of his wife, powerfully sung by Sharon Sweet. This recording celebrates a welcome return of this acclaimed opera, which the composer thought contained some of his finest music. ‘A striking production’ - New York Times.

DON PASQUALE – DONIZETTI        TDK DVD DVWW-OPDPSC

Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale is an opera buffa, or comic opera, in three acts with a an Italian libretto by the composer and Giovanni Ruffini based on Angelo Anelli’s libretto for Stefano Pavesi’s Ser Marcantonio. At the time of the opera’s composition, Donizetti had just been appointed music director and composer for the imperial court of Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria, and Don Pasquale was the 64th of his 66 operas. This work harkens back to the stock characters of the commedia dell’arte, with a genuinely humorous plot that turns on a trick played by Ernesto and Norina, a pair of lovers, upon Ernesto’s uncle and guardian, Don Pasquale. Pasquale is easily recognised as the blustery Pantaleone, his nephew Ernesto as the lovesick Pierrot, Dottore Malatesta as the scheming Scapino, and the young widow Norina is a wily Columbina. The false Notary echoes a long line of false officials used as operatic devices. Recorded live by Italian Television in 1944, this DVD features a sophisticated staging of Donizetti’s wittiest opera in a production at the famous Scala in Milan. The conductor is Riccardo Muti, whose reading reveals a flexibility and poise that matches the overall intention to take the opera’s humour seriously. This production is directed by Stefano Vizioli, who was praised for stripping the piece of any clichés acquired over a century-and-a-half of performing tradition, and making the characters truly live and breathe. The approach emphasised the unaffected brightness and gaiety of the opera, especially as the director was brilliantly supported by a pre-eminent international cast of singer-actors and expressive set and costume designs. The opera is famous for having been written for the best singers at the time of its premiere in 1843 and much of its beautiful music relies on the quartet of main roles, sung and acted here with aplomb by Ferruccio Furlanetto, Nuccia Focile, Lucio Gallo and Gregory Kunde. A feast for the ear and the eye.

ZOROASTRE – RAMEAU         OPUS ARTE OA 0973 D

Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opera Zoroastre (Zoroaster) was first performed in 1749 in a spectacular production at the Opéra in Paris. It was the fourth of his ‘tragédies en musique’ to be staged and the last to appear during the composer’s lifetime. The original production had a lukewarm reception so Rameau and his librettist, Louis de Cahusac, extensively reworked the opera, giving the two main female characters stronger roles and extensive romantic entanglements before the work’s highly successful revival at the Opéra in 1756. The opera is set in ancient Bactria, then part of the Persian empire and now in Afghanistan. The plot concerns the efforts of the prophet Zoroaster to introduce a new religion celebrating goodness and light and to win the hand of Princess Amelite, heiress to the throne of the kingdom. Ranged against him are the evil sorcerer and tyrant Abramane, and Erinice, another princess in love with Zoroaster, whose anguished dilemma whether to kill the hero or warn him of the Machiavellian Abramane’s scheming make up a much of the drama. As contemporaries realised, the libretto as an allegory of the ideals of freemasonry and invites comparisons with Mozart’s Magic Flute. Director Pierre Audi makes good use of the unique 17th century Baroque machinery at Stockholm’s Drottningholm Theatre and shows a deep understanding of this drama, creating a production that is fully in the spirit of Rameau. Choreographer Amir Hosseinpour’s dances perfectly match the weight and meaning of both plot and music. The ensemble, Les Talens Lyriques, reinforced with musicians from the Drottningholm Court Theatre Orchestra and Chorus, is passionately led by musical director Christophe Rousset. The soloists in this intensely dramatic live recording are Anders J Dahlin (in the title role), Evgueniy Alexiev (as the evil Abramane), Sine Bundgaard (Amélite), Anna Maria Panzarella (Erinice), Lars Arvidson, Marcus Schwartz, Gerard Théruel and Ditte Andersen. Extras include a documentary, ‘Zoroastre: Discovering an opera’, by Olivier Simonnet, as well as an illustrated synopsis and cast gallery. This is a terrific recording of Rameau’s emotional, spectacular and rarely staged opera.

FRANCOIS-ANDRE PHILIDOR - TOM JONES     DYNAMIC 33509

The French composer François-André Danican Philidor (1726-1795) was the youngest son of André Danican Philidor, composer and music librarian, and half-brother of Anne Danican Philidor, also a composer. Of Scottish origin, the Danican family (Philidor being a nickname) produced a dozen musicians and composers - the best known being François-André. As a pageboy in the royal chapel at Versailles he studied music with André Campra and learned to play chess. In 1740, he went to Paris where he earned a living by copying and teaching, although he was more interested in chess. He studied with and defeated France’s best player, Légal, and was soon recognised as the best chess player of his age, writing a book on the subject that became the standard manual for a century. He also found time to write eleven opéras comiques, including Le Maréchal ferrant, Le Sorcier and Tom Jones (1765). After 1771 he spent much of his time in London, giving lectures on chess and producing his major choral work, the Carmen saeculare. Tom Jones is certainly one of his best operas and is a perfect example of 18th-century French Opéra-comique. The libretto was derived from Henry Fielding’s novel The History of Tom Jones, a foundling, while the music, with its dialogues, airs, ariettes, and ensembles delightfully embodies the elegant and caustic spirit of the Age of Enlightenment. This live live world premiere recording features the Lausanne Opéra production of 2005, conducted by the brilliant Jean-Claude Malgoire. Soloists include Sébastien Droy in the title role, Sophie Marin-Degor (as Sophie), Marc Barrard (Squire Western) and Rodolphe Briand (Blifil). A rare treat that revives an unjustly neglected work by this intriguing composer. This Lausanne Opéra recording is also available on CD (DYNAMIC CDS509).

MONTEVERDI CYCLE – PIERRE AUDI    OPUS ARTE OA 0972B D

Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi’s work marks the transition from Renaissance to Baroque music. He was born in Cremona in northern Italy in 1567 and by the age of 16 he was an accomplished organist and viol player. He had also written and published several sacred madrigals. After being employed by the Duke of Mantua as viol player and madrigal-singer, Monteverdi travelled on military expeditions to Danube and Flanders. His first operas, La favola d’Orfeo and Arianna, were performed in 1607 and 1608. After the death of the Duke in 1612, Monteverdi became Master of Music in the Venetian Republic, composing many marvellous sacred works for St Mark’s Church. As well as numerous secular and sacred works, Monteverdi wrote at least eighteen operas during his long life (he died in 1643). Unfortunately, L’Orfeo, L’incoronazione di Poppea, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, and the aria ‘Lamento’ from l’Arianna are the only operas to have survived. This magnificent box set of seven DVDs (nine and a half hours in all) from Opus Arte features Pierre Audi’s compelling productions of Monteverdi’s operas from the Amsterdam Muziektheater. The cast of the beautifully styled, evocative L’Orfeo, under the musical direction of Stephen Stubbs, includes John Mark Ainsley, Michael Chance and David Cordier. Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria features Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Graciela Araya, both commanding and very moving under Glen Wilson’s transparent and inspired musical direction. In L’incoronazione di Poppea Christophe Rousset and the musicians of his Les Talens Lyriques lead an all-star cast, including Brigitte Balleys, Cynthia Haymon, Claron McFadden and Dominique Visse, together reaching great heights in a highly evocative production. As a bonus disc, this box set includes the previously unreleased Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, starring Lorna Anderson and Maarten Koningberger, with the ASKO Ensemble led by David Porcelijn. Extras include discerning introductions to each opera, directed by Roeland Hazendonk and featuring interviews with Pierre Audi, the musical director and members of the cast. ‘This is opera as music drama, and an experience not to be missed’ - New York Post.

RICHARD STRAUSS - DAPHNE       DYNAMIC 33499

Strauss’s single act opera Daphne premiered at Dresden’s Staatstheater in 1938, when Germany Nazism was rampant (the original librettist, the Jewish writer Stefan Zweig, had to be replaced by Joseph Gregor). Drawn from classical myth, Daphne tells the story of a young virgin, the daughter of Gaea (here human, but named for the goddess of the earth) and Peneios (a fisherman, named for a river god). On the slopes of Mt. Olympus, Daphne proclaims her love of nature and daylight while Leukippos, her childhood friend, tries vainly to win her heart. At the feast of Dionysus, a thunderstorm rages and the god Apollo arrives in the guise of a mortal to fall in love with Daphne. Leukippos, disguised as a woman, dances with her, provoking the god’s jealousy. Apollo gives away Leukippos’ masquerade then angrily kills him, leaving Daphne filled with grief and remorse. Apollo, moved by her sorrow, begs pardon from Dionysus and asks Zeus to grant Daphne’s wishes. In the moonlight, she is transformed into a sacred laurel tree, her wordless song echoing from its branches to express her deep identification with nature. The opera is a masterpiece of early twentieth century vocal music, with refined orchestration and demanding vocal writing for all the main characters. This superb DVD features a production filmed at Venice’s La Fenice opera house with High Definition cameras and recorded in Original Dynamic Sound. The soprano June Anderson is outstanding as Daphne and Birgit Remmert, a mezzo with an amazing vocal range, makes a splendidly dignified Gaea. The other main soloists are Roberto Saccà, Scott Mac Allister and Daniel Lewis Williams, and the excellent Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice di Venezia is conducted by Stefan Anton Reck. This recording is also available as a double CD (DYNAMIC CDS 499/1-2).

CORELLI IN CONCERT        BEL CANTO SOCIETY BCS-D91

The Italian tenor Franco Corelli (1921-2003) was born in Ancona, the son of a ship worker. He studied briefly at the Pesaro Conservatory of Music, but was mainly self-taught by listening to the recordings of singers such as Caruso and Gigli. Corelli won the Maggio Musicale in Florence in 1951 and made his debut at Rome Opera two years later in Riccardo Zandonai’s Giulietta e Romeo, becoming a regular member of the company with a repertory of more than thirty roles. He worked hard throughout his career to refine his technique and taped many of his own performances, including those at La Scala of Giordano’s Fedora and Bellini’s Il Pirata, both with Maria Callas. During the 1960s, Corelli was widely regarded as the greatest Italian tenor in the world, acclaimed for his charismatic stage presence and good looks as well as his powerful voice. He made his New York Metropolitan Opera debut in 1961 in Il Trovatore with Leontyne Price and later that season performed in Turandot with Birgit Nilsson. He went on to take nineteen roles in fifteen seasons, despite suffering so badly from stage fright that according to soprano Renata Scotto he sometimes had to be pushed on stage. He retired from the stage aged only 55, leaving some fine commercial recordings as well as many live ones. The DVD features Franco Corelli in concert in 1971, giving typically thrilling performances of arias from Rigoletto, Chénier, Africana, Bohème, Fanciulla and Cid, with lively encores. Bonuses in this collectors edition include a 64-page booklet with rare photos and two revealing radio interviews with ‘Opera Fanatic’ Stefan Zucker in which the great tenor talks about legendary fellow performers such as Callas, Caruso, Del Monaco, Bjorling and Pertile. This exemplary DVD is a rare opportunity to see one of the world’s finest singers in his prime.

BRITTEN - GLORIANA        OPUS ARTE OA 0955 D

‘Dedicated by gracious permission to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’, Gloriana was completed in 1953 and first performed as part of that year’s Coronation celebrations. It tells the story of the previous Elizabeth’s relationship with the Earl of Essex but its tone is not courtly or complimentary. Elizabeth is shown as old, besotted and spiritually tortured, disturbing audience’s expectations and causing a critical furore at the premiere. There has been a reappraisal of Gloriana in recent years, helped by the acclaimed Opera North production staged by Phyllida Lloyd, and the work is now regarded as a worthy successor to Billy Budd. However, the opera is unusual for Benjamin Britten in that the three acts are generally made up of self-contained set-pieces, rather than the continuous narrative he normally prefers. Although there are scenes of ceremony and pageantry (as befits the occasion for which it was written), the work’s dramatic core is the unfolding relationship between Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex, the Queen torn between her private affection for the Earl and her sense of public duty when he is found guilty of treason and condemned to death. The sound-world of the opera has an appropriately ‘Elizabethan’ atmosphere, the famous ‘Choral’ and ‘Courtly Dances’ evoking a period flavour without ever lapsing into pastiche. This DVD release features Phyllida Lloyd’s award-winning adaptation of the opera for film, based on the Opera North production. Paul Daniel conducts the English Northern Philharmonia and Chorus of Opera North, with inspired performances by Josephine Barstow - magnificent and moving as Elizabeth - and Tom Randall as Essex. The other soloists include Emer McGilloway, David Ellis, Susannah Glanville, Eric Roberts and Clive Bayley. DVD extras include a cast gallery as well as interviews with Phyllida Lloyd, Josephine Barstow, Tom Randle and Paul Daniel.

HANDEL - GIULIO CESARE     OPUS ARTE OA 0950 D

George Frideric Handel’s dramatic and sumptuous opera Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar) was first performed in London in 1724 and became an immediate success. Like most of Handel’s opera seria, Giulio Cesare was subsequently neglected until it was revived, much changed, in Göttingen in 1922. Since then it has become one of his most popular works and is considered to be his finest Italian opera. This three-CD set features David McVicar’s exciting Glyndebourne Opera production of 2005, which combines serious insight with entertainment, bringing Handel’s masterpiece to life in a powerful, convincing and highly intelligent way. Filmed in High Definition and recorded in surround sound, the all-star cast is accompanied in thrilling style by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, conducted by William Christie. The title role and the those of Sesto and Tolomeo were originally written for castrati, but in modern productions Giulio is either transposed for baritone or sung by a contralto, mezzo-soprano or countertenor. Sesto is here sung by a mezzo-soprano (a spirited performance from Angelika Kirchschlager) and Tolomeo by the brilliant French countertenor, Christophe Dumaux. The role of Giulio is sung by the excellent Sarah Connolly and there is a sensational and passionate performance as Cleopatra from Danielle de Niese, making her British stage debut. The handsome Romanesque set is by Robert Jones and the exotic costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel. Extras include a Cast Gallery & Synopsis; Entertainment is not a Dirty Word - documentary about the opera including interviews with William Christie, David McVicar and the cast; and Danielle de Niese & the Glyndebourne experience - an informal portrait of the young American singer.

LA FILLE MAL GARDEE      DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00440 073 4158

Premiered in Bordeaux two weeks before the storming of the Bastille, ‘La fille mal gardée’ is the only classic 18th-century ballet still in the repertoire today. It was originally created by the choreographer Jean Dauberval, and 40 years later Louis-Joseph Ferdinand Hérold added new music, which until then had consisted only of arrangements of folk tunes. In 1864 Peter Ludwig Hertel wrote more music when the ballet was presented with new choreography at the Royal Opera in Berlin. The work was choreographed anew by Sir Frederick Ashton to great acclaim in 1960, and Heinz Spoerli’s rather more classical and sprightly 1981 interpretation uses music by both Hérold and Hertel. The slight, comic tale of ‘La fille mal gardée’ is set in France in the 18th century. Lise, daughter of Widow Simone, is in love with a poor peasant lad named Colas but her mother wants her to marry Alain, son of the rich farmer Thomas. Naturally, all ends well in this wonderfully sunny rural romp and the lovers are eventually happily united. This DVD features the choreography of Heinz Spoerli in a performance by the brilliant Basel Ballet from Switzerland, with the Vienna Philharmonic rousingly conducted by John Lanchbery. The cast of dancers include the delightful Russian born ballerina Valentina Kozlova as Lise, American Chris Jensen (Colas), Otto Ris (in the travesti role of Mother Simone) and the Swiss virtuoso Martin Schlapfer (outstanding as Alain)

 

 

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