PROKOFIEV – THE FIERY ANGEL    NAXOS NBD0113V

The Fiery AngelSergei 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 being Romeo and Juliet, with its high drama and tenderness revealing Prokofiev’s complete mastery of the orchestra. He created seven completed operas, including The Gambler, The Fiery Angel and The Love for Three Oranges (the only operatic success during his lifetime). The Fiery Angel was first performed in Paris in 1954, a year after the composer’s death and almost thirty years after the work’s completion. Based on a novel of the same name by Valery Bryusov, inspired by the author’s own experiences with Nina Petrovskaya, who was the mistress of Russian symbolist writer Andrey Bely. He nearly came to fisticuffs with Bryusov over his relationship with her and Nina, Andrey and Bryusov became the inspiration for this weird operatic tragedy by Prokofiev, who wrote the libretto for it himself. Set in 16th-century Germany, it tells the story of Renata, a young woman who guided since childhood by her guardian angel Madiel to lead a life of chastity. She then falls in love with the same angel, who turns into a raging pillar of fire, and is beset by demonic visions until the Inquisition condemns her to the stake. Although he bever saw the opera performed, the music’s brittle energy, drama and eloquent lyrical tenderness would re-emerge in his Third Symphony.

The narrative focuses relentlessly on Renata, who is haunted by an angel who turns out to be the devil. This Blu-ray release features an exciting Teatro dell’Opera di Roma production, conducted by Alejo Perez, that was acclaimed as a presentation of Prokofiev’s masterpiece which sparkles in all its grotesque glory. Director Emma Dante describes the work as an explosive mix of fantastical realism and endless confusion of nightmares, madness, sexual impulses and cultural clashes. The fine cast includes English baritone Leigh Melrose as the barbarous Ruprecht, Polish soprano Ewa Vesin as Renata, mezzo Anna Victorova as The Landlady, and Andrii Ganchuk as Johann Faust/The Servant. Watch the  trailer

 

INNER SANCTUM MYSTERIES: THE COMPLETE FILM SERIES     EUREKA CLASSICS EKA70406

Inner Sanctum Mysteries‘The mind – it destroys, it distracts, it creates monsters, commits murder.’ Inner Sanctum Mystery was a popular American radio programme from the 1940s based on a series of mystery novels of published by Simon & Schuster and over 500 episodes were broadcast. In 1943, Universal purchased the screen rights from Simon and Schuster to make The Inner Sanctum Mysteries hour-long feature film series starring Lon Chaney, Jr, who was hoping for more varied roles after Universal had cast him as a monster in many of their horror films. In a nod to the radio series, a ‘stream of consciousness’ voiceover was often incorporated into the scripts and the films were prefaced with the sequence a bobbing head of actor David Hoffman staring out of a crystal ball giving warnings to the audience about how each of them is capable of murder. British radio listeners in the 1960s will remember the popular Round The Horne comedy with its spoof sketches and echoing introductions to the ‘Inner Sanctum-um-um-um-um-um…’ This boxed set from Eureka contains all six of Universal’s Inner Sanctum series, available on Blu-ray in the UK for the first time. In each episode, Chaney plays a different character, usually a successful and respected member of the community. They also share a taste for clourful neckties and seem irresistible to every woman attractive around. Unfortunately, they have a knack for becoming involved in murder, often as the chief suspect.

The best of the series include Dead Man’s Eyes (directed Reginald Le Borg) in which an artist called Dave on the point of greatness is accidentally blinded. The operation to restore his sight depends on another person willing to donate their eyes, but who can be trusted? His exotic model Tanya (Acquanetta) is in love with Dave and jealous of his engagement to marry a rich girl (Jean Parker), which angers Nick, her jealous former suitor. Meanwhile, Alan (Paul Kelly), a psychiatrist and Dave’s closest friend, has a secret passion for Tanya. In the stylish Pillow of Death (directed by Wallace Fox), a lawyer in love with his secretary is suspected of suffocating his wife, among others, as the body count rapidly rises. With a sparky script and set in a dark, haunted house, this atmospheric mystery also stars the lovely Brenda Joyce (soon to become the second Jane to Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan), formidable English actress Rosalind Ivan, J. Edward Bromberg as a dubious psychic, and twinkling George Cleveland as the family sceptic. The other episodes are Calling Dr. Death, Weird Woman, The Frozen Ghost (in which a stage mentalist and a discredited plastic surgeon are involved in mysterious goings-on in an eerie wax museum), and Strange Confession.

The Special 3-disc Blu-ray Edition contains High Definition (1080p) presentations of all six films comes with estras that include audio commentaries; Kim Newman on The Inner Sanctum Mysteries (a new interview with journalist, film critic and fiction writer Kim Newman); This is the Inner Sanctum: Making a Universal Mystery Series; The Creaking Door: Entering The Inner Sanctum (A history of the radio series with author/radio historian Martin Grams Jr.) Mind Over Matter (Archival interview with actor Martin Kosleck; Inner Sanctum Mysteries: Radio Episodes (A selection of episodes from the original radio series; plus a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the series by Craig Ian Mann. A treat for every classic mystery and horror fan. Watch the trailer

 

HELENE GRIMAUD – WOODLANDS AND BEYOND     C MAJOR 755504

Helene Grimaud

French-born virtuoso pianist, author and wildlife conservationist Hélène Grimaud made her first recording aged just 15. She studied animal behaviour as well as music at the Paris Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique and later co-founded the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York state, where she now lives. As an internationally acclaimed musician, she has played everything from Gershwin to Bach but has concentrated on romantic music, particularly Brahms and Rachmaninov – The New York Times hailed her performance of the Rachmaninov Second Concerto as ‘bold, assured and properly rhapsodic’. Hélène Grimaud could be called a Renaissance woman for our times, a woman with multiple talents that extend far beyond the instrument she plays with such poetic expression and peerless technical control. As well as a passionate and committed musical artist whose pianistic accomplishments play a central role in her life, she has established herself as a committed wildlife conservationist, a compassionate human rights activist and as a writer. Together with her creative and life partner, photographer Mat Hennek, the pianist created the multimedia concert project, Woodlands And Beyond, captured on this Blu-ray recording at the Grand Hall of Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie.

Hélène Grimaud’s virtuoso piano performance is accompanied by Hennek’s highly praised photo series Woodlands, which depicts genuine portraits of trees, the results of numerous hikes through forests in Europe and the USA. With works by romantic and impressionist composers, such as Luciano Berio, Nitin Sawhney, Toru Takemitsu, Franz Liszt and Claude Debussy, Grimaud leads her audience into the enchanting world of those various Woodlands and even beyond. ‘Grimaud is completely at ease, showing flawless clarity in her interpretations.’ – Die Welt. Watch the video

 

VERDI – IL TROVATORE    CMAJOR 754707

IL TROVATORE

Giuseppe Verdi’s four-act opera Il Trovatore (The Troubadour), with an Italian libretto by Salvatore Cammarano based on a play by Antonio García Gutiérrez, received its first performance at the Teatro Apollo in Rome in 1853. In 1857, Verdi revised the opera for Paris as Le Trouvère and added a ballet. Despite its complicated and sometimes incomprehensible plot, Il Trovatore has since become one of the most popular works in the standard operatic repertoire. People are attracted to Il Trovatore because of its rousing melodies, its brutal, powerful plot, and its simple structure: elements that make it one of the best examples of Verdi’s theatre pieces. Set in the mountains of Medieval Northern Spain, Il Trovatore is a warrior named Manrico. His enemy is led by the Count di Luna, who loves Leonora, one of the queen’s ladies in waiting. According to Ferrando, the captain of the guard, an old woman had been accused twenty years earlier of casting an evil eye over the Count’s brother. She was burnt at the stake and the subsequent disappearance of the boy, followed by the discovery of a child’s skeleton in the ashes, led to the conclusion that the woman’s daughter had thrown him into the flames to avenge her mother. Meanwhile, back in the present, Leonora does not love the Count, but the troubador Manrico, raised by the gypsy Azucena. Manrico is not only the Count’s rival, but as a follower of the rebellious Count d’Urgell, he is also the Count’s sworn enemy. In the Second Act, Azucena tells Manrico her version of the terrible event twenty years ago and the plot becomes even more complicated.

The opera’s libretto may call for a considerable suspension of disbelief but its gloriously melodic score features such riches as the ‘Anvil’ Chorus, the ‘Miserere’ scene, two great tenor arias and a beautiful baritone aria. This Blu-ray 4K Ultra-HD television recording features a vibrant 2019 production from the Arena di Verona, a 2,000-year-old amphiteatre – one of the largest and best preserved Roman constructions of its kind, with over 22,000 seats. The master of opera Franco Zeffirelli, who died shortly before its premiere, created its legendary scenery with groups of giant sized armoured knights, a fortress turning into a luminous cathedral, an enormous choir, horses and breathtaking fights. Pier Giorgio Morandi conducts a prestigious cast that includes powerful Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov as Manrico, the wonderful Anna Netrebko making her debut as Leonora, Italian Luca Salsi as Il Conte di Luna, with bass Riccardo Fassi as Ferrando and mezzo-soprano MET star Dolora Zajick as the formidable Azucena. ‘Unforgettable’ – Verona Settegiorni.

BUSTER KEATON – 3 FILMS (VOL. 3)      EUREKA EKA70391 

Buster Keaton

Between 1920 and 1929, Buster Keaton created a peerless run of feature films that established him as ‘arguably the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies’. Following BUSTER KEATON, VOL 2, in its Masters of Cinema series, Eureka has now released a further collection of brilliant films from the silent comedy genius. Available heree for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK, with excellent new restorations, this Limited Edition three disc box set (3000 copies) features Our Hospitality, Go West and College. Directed by Keaton and John G. Blystone in 1923, Our Hospitality is one of his most significant films – as well as one of his funniest. Based on the notorious feud between the Hatfield and McCoy clans (here renamed the Canfields and McKays), Keaton is luckless William McKay, who must journey down South to view his lacklustre inheritance, only to be seduced along the way by one of the Canfields, Virginia, who lures him to her family’s house. William knows that thanks to Southern hospitality the Canfield men won’t kill him as long as he’s in their house, so he endeavours to stay there, against all obstacles.

With its attention to 19th-century period detail and emphasis on integrating the gags into the storyline, Our Hospitality was not just a breakthrough in Keaton’s career, but it was also an advancement in the medium, with Variety proclaiming, ‘It marks a step forward in the production of picture comedies.’ The film is also a family affair as it stars not only Buster but also his father Joe as the high-kicking rain engineer, one-year-old Buster Junior as young Willie, and Keaton’s wife Natalie Talmadge as Virginia. In Go West, directed by Keaton in 1925, he is at his most stone-faced as the memorably named ‘Friendless’, who abandons city life to ride the rails to an Arizona ranch, where his ineptitude only makes his nickname even more accurate. But when his one beloved companion, a cow named Brown Eyes, seems to be headed to the slaughterhouse, Friendless intervenes.

Go West is an irresistible blend of deadpan darkness and spectacular comic set-pieces, including a cattle stampede through the streets of Los Angeles. ‘Buster Keaton’s ingenuity, acrobatics, and romanticism flourish equally in this antic twist on melodrama’. – Time Out on Our Hospitality. In College, Keaton follows up The General with a higher education comedy that seems to take a cue from Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman. Keaton is bookworm Ronald, whose high school girl Mary (Anne Cornwall) ditches him for someone with the athletic prowess that Ronald lacks. Determined to win her back, Ronald enters college with an eye on sports, but two left feet mean that he struggles, even with help from wonderful Snitz Edwards as the sympathetic College Dean.

The enormous range of extras includes new audio commentaries for Our Hospitality (by silent film historian Rob Farr) and Go West (by Joel Goss and Bruce Lawton); A shorter work-print version of Our Hospitality with optional commentary by film historian Polly Rose; Making Comedy Beautiful – a video essay by Patricia Eliot Tobias; Video essays by John Bengtson on filming locations for Go West and College; A Window on Keaton – a video essay by David Cairns; The Railrodder (1965) – produced by the National Film Board of Canada and starring Buster Keaton in one of his final film roles; Optional audio commentary for The Railrodder, with director Gerald Potterton and cameraman David De Volpi; Buster Keaton Rides Again – a revealing documentary feature produced concurrently with the film; Audio recording of a post-screening Q&A with Gerald Potterton; Stills Galleries; Plus a perfect bound collector’s book featuring new writing by Philip Kemp; essays on all three films by Imogen Sara Smith; a piece by John Bengtson on the filming locations of Our Hospitality; Gerald Potterton’s original treatment for The Railrodder; and an appreciation of Keaton by writer and silent cinema aficionado Chris Seguin. Watch clips 

 

GEORGES MELIES – A TRIP TO THE MOON & AUTOBIOGRAPHY   ARROW FCD2003

A Trip to the MoonBorn in Paris in 1861, Georges Méliès was a stage illusionist who became a wonderfully creative pioneer film director, leading the way on many technical and narrative developments in the earliest days of cinema. As well as being the the first person to build a film studio, he was a prolific innovator of special effects, popularizing such techniques as substitution splices, multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted colour. He was one of the first filmmakers to use storyboards on films such as A Trip to the Moon (‘Le Voyage dans la Lune’, 1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904), both involving strange, surreal journeys. As an illustrator, magician, filmmaker and inventor he paved the way for animation and multi-media filmmaking. A Trip to the Moon, his boldest and best known film, was loosely based on the writings of Jules Verne and follows a group of travellers who are fired off to the moon from earth on an exploration mission, only to end up in peril and captured by the strange local inhabitants, the Selenites.

Featuring a who’s who of theatrical cast from the era, with Méliès himself taking a lead role, this is one of cinema’s first forays into sci-fi and spawned one of the most iconic images of cinema – the man in the moon with a rocket in his eye. The film is included in this Deluxe limited edition in both black and white and its original colours, together with hardback casebound book of George Méliès’ autobiography, previously unpublished in English. Altogether this makes a perfect introduction to the work of one of the most adventurous, inspiring and talented early filmmakers. Extras with the High Definition Blu-ray presentation (in riginal uncompressed Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 surround audio), include ‘The Innovations of Georges Méliès’ – a video essay by Jon Spira exploring A Trip to the Moon and Méliès’ career; ‘An Extraordinary Voyage’ – Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange’s 2011 documentary on the film, its rediscovery and preservation for future generations, featuring interviews with Costa Gavras, Michel Gondry, Michel Hazanavicius, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet; ‘Le Grand Méliès’ (1952) – a loving film by Georges Franju about the life and work of Méliès, featuring poignant appearances by his son and 90-year-old widow, Jeanne. ‘I owe him everything.’ – D W Griffith. Watch the trailer 

 

LE CERCLE ROUGE      STUDIOCANAL

Le Cercle RougeControversial French directorJean-Pierre Melville is often regarded as the ‘godfather of the Nouvelle Vague’, and Le Cercle Rouge (‘The Red Circle’) is a great example of the daring and innovative filmmaking that would see the controversial director influence many artists and filmmakers. Though remembered primarily for his intense, spare 1960s gangster films, Melville had a varied range that included wartime dramas, psychosexual character studies, and a collaboration with Jean Cocteau. He worked mostly independently, even building his own studio, and it was this fierce do-it-yourself attitude that resulted in uncompromising films such as Les Enfants Terribles and Bob le Flambeur. French New Wave filmmakers adopted Melville as a sort of godfather (Godard even gave him a cameo in Breathless) but Melville went his own way, making highly idiosyncratic crime films that were beholden to no trend (he was one of the first French directors to use real locations). Supercool Alain Delon, Italian Gian Maria Volontè and suave Yves Montand star the aristocratic thief, ruthless fugitive and alcoholic ex-cop caught together in the thrall of destiny as they plan to carry out the ultimate robbery. The mismatched trio are locked in an elaborate and dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with an inscrutable police inspector (the excellent Andre Bourvil, in his final film). He is under pressure to get results and is determined to foil the thieves, despite being drawn irresistibly to his prey.

As the day of the heist dawns, the story unfolds with all four players determined to cheat fate, and the film climaxes in a near wordless heist that rivals Rififi. This skilfully choreographed tale, beautifully photographed by Henri Decae and stylishly directed by Melville, was a big hit with both critics and audiences when released in 1970. Newly resored and now looking better than ever, Le Cercle Rouge is released here in on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital with a wide range of extras that includes a new feature (‘The Perfect Circle’) as well as interviews with assistant director Bernard Stora and writer José Giovanni. ‘Melville blends the Chandleresque world of his own devising with gritty French reality.’ – Guardian.