Favorite Opera DVDs?

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jaime_Weinman, Jun 4, 2004.

  1. Jaime_Weinman

    Jaime_Weinman Supporting Actor

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    I don't know if there are any opera fans here, but I am, and lately I've found myself buying a few favorite operas on DVD. The good thing about operas on DVD is that they usually cost less than audio recordings while providing the visual element that opera requires. The bad things include less-than-optimal picture quality, over-enthusiastic audience applause, and good musical performances compromised by bad directing or sets or costumes.

    With the major record labels giving up on audio opera recordings (which are too expensive for smaller labels to make), it seems like the future of opera recording is on DVD, and there will be more and more productions taped for DVD release. What I would like to see more of is "studio" DVD operas -- by which I mean not actually taping in a television studio, but taping a stage production without the audience (some of this is already done to fix mistakes etc). This would allow more freedom in where to put the cameras and the microphones, and allow the singers to play to the camera, just like in an audio recording they play to the microphone. I'd like to see more opera DVDs that are specifically conceived for the format, rather than just being souvenirs of a night in the theatre.

    Meanwhile, here are some opera DVDs I've gotten recently that I like a lot:

    - Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte, cond. John Eliot Gardiner -- a really well-done production, directed by the conductor himself, with a cast of singers who actually look their parts as well as sing them well (unfortunately Gardiner's Marriage of Figaro DVD, which he didn't direct himself, isn't as good a production, though it's still worthwhile)
    - Verdi, Falstaff, cond. Riccardo Muti, with the La Scala Orchestra and an almost all-Italian cast performing in a small theatre in Verdi's hometown, using the sets and costumes from a production from 1913 -- has a great "retro" feel to it because the sets and costumes and staging are so deliberately old-fashioned
    - Verdi, Otello, cond. Riccardo Muti, with Placido Domingo and the La Scala Opera company (TDK)

    I also picked up the Carlos Kleiber DVDs of Die Fledermaus and Der Rosenkavalier, both with good casts (though Fledermaus suffers from an Eisenstein who can no longer sing) and productions that aren't very imaginative but at least don't detract from the music. Unfortunately these seem to be going out of print because Unitel (which taped these productions) is going out of business.

    Any other favorites?
     
  2. Mark Fontana

    Mark Fontana Stunt Coordinator

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    There's a DVD of Baz Luhrmann's 1994 Australian Opera production of La Bohème that's worth checking out.
     
  3. JimmyK

    JimmyK Second Unit

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    I would also add bad mastering of the soundtrack. Unfortunately, low quality seems to be the norm for operas and music videos on DVD. This has kept me from buying more than the few titles I currently have.

    I really don't understand why it's such a problem. It's obvious from the many excellent movie soundtracks on DVD that they could put out much better quality opera and music video DVDs.

    JimmyK
     
  4. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    I think that there are several fine choices—although to be sure, much of opera on DVD is a compromise among the various elements (just as it is on the stage). Some recommendations, with comments:

    ·The Magic Flute, the Swedish Radio Symphony, Eric Ericson conducting. This is a movie made by Ingmar Bergman. It is available on Criterion. On the positive side, it is directed by one of the great directors of cinema, and it is Mozart. But it is sung in Swedish, which I find a bit off-putting and not every singer is world-class. The audio is in 2-channel PCM, a very big plus.
    ·Turandot at the Forbidden City, Maggio Musicale Fiorention, Zubin Mehta conducting. Giovanna Casolla may not be Birgit Nillson, but she is very good—and looks that part. This is the most stunning visual performance of this opera we are ever likely to see. Staged on location at the Forbidden City and using the Red Army as extras this is everything grand opera is meant to be. Wait until you see the executioner. Great stuff. The DVD makes some use of the alternate angle feature, so you can often choose between close-ups of the singers or a wide shot of the ensemble. There is a PCM track, but you can’t choose it and the video at the same time.
    ·Rigoletto Vienna Philharmonic, Chailly conducting. Luciano Pavarotti as the Duke, Ingvar Wixell in the title role and Edita Gruberova as his daughter. This is a film (directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle), not a stage performance, and there are sumptuous locations—if your display has red push you may be in for more than you can stand. Pavarotti is in very fine voice, but Wixell steals the show. Very well done and well sung. Over-the-top staging.
    --Der Ring des Nibelungen Bayreth, Peirre Boulez conducting. Personally I think Boulez is today’s premier conductor of Wagner. This recording has Gwyneth Jones as Brunnhilde and Donald McIntyre as Wotan. Revisionst staging (it was somewhat controversial when it opened) set in the industrial revolution, so if you want more a more traditional-looking ring, you should check out the Met version, James Levine conducting.
     
  5. Burke Strickland

    Burke Strickland Second Unit

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    The DVD of Ingmar Bergman's production of Mozart's "Magic Flute" is enjoyable. It looks like a filmed record of a stage production, rather than being "opened up" for cinema. Nevertheless, production values are first rate -- it was a rather lavish stage production. Although it is sung in Swedish, it has English subtitles (which would also be necessary if it were sung in German)and both the acting and the music are very engaging.

    The only distracting elements are the occasional pans and close ups of the audience showing their rapt enthusiasm for the performance. The performance would "sell itself" on its own merits without those shots, but then again, those shots are part of Bergman's artistic vision, and had to be included on the DVD if for no other reason than to maintain musical continuity, since the singing still continues from the stage on the soundtrack while we see the audience's faces.

    Not at all like any other Bergman movie I've seen, yet distinctively reflective of his style, "Magic Flute" is a satisfying rendition of a popular, favorite Mozart opera. Highly recommended.
     
  6. Jaime_Weinman

    Jaime_Weinman Supporting Actor

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    I don't think the Bergman Magic Flute is based on a stage production -- it was made specifically for Swedish TV and (like most of Bergman's TV films) released to theatres afterwards. Bergman used the stage "setting" as part of the trick of starting out the piece in its stage origins and gradually opening it up, and cuts to audience members as a device to show how fun and entertaining this piece is. But I don't think an actual live audience was used for the film; it's a studio production done (I think) to a pre-recorded soundtrack.

    It's a wonderful film, of course, but its being sung in Swedish is a problem for me (just as an English-language Magic Flute would be a problem for a Swedish viewer).
     
  7. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    I think that my problem is that I either expect opera in the original language or in English (which I can tolerate, but don’t prefer). But this may well be an American prejudice, as it used to be not at all uncommon for operas staged in Europe to be sung in the local language.

    Until the advent of surtitles, only upscale houses like the Met routinely staged their productions in original languages. Really not a bad practice, as otherwise opera would only be accessible by those who already knew the opera. Just a continuation of an art form being restricted to a limited audience.

    After all Papageno sounds the same in English, Swedish and German. And Tamino falls in love in a New York minute when he sees a miniature potrait of Tamina. Pretty silly regardless of language.

    And the Queen of the Night still hits F above high C in any language.

    Even so I’d like German. Silly no?
     
  8. StevenA

    StevenA Second Unit

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    Anybody have the Zeferelli film of La Traviata with Domingo and Stratas?

    I like the film and was wondering aboiut pic and sound quality.
     
  9. Robert James Clark

    Robert James Clark Second Unit

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    One of my favorite opera DVD's is the Munich National Theater's production of Tristan und Isolde for two main reasons:

    The Anamorphic video is excellent and Waltraud Meier's performance as Isolde is incendiary (and she looks great, too!).

    The tenor is OK but the stage director is an idiot. He has Tristan spend the whole first act with shaving cream over half his face and has the ill-fated couple embracing before they ever drink the potion...
     
  10. Rod

    Rod Agent

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    I have several operas on laser disc, but none so far on DVD. In its hey day laser was a great format for opera. In addition to live performances, there are some wonderful stage productions - among them The Marriage of Figaro, La Boheme, Tosca and Zeferelli's La Traviata. Many of the DVD versions appear to be re-mastered from laser disc so I've held off buying them.

    I'm wondering if there are any recent productions that are anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 channel sound. Anybody know?

    -Rod
     
  11. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    The Turandot DVD I mentioned has 5.1 sound and I think that the aspect ratio is wider than 4:3, but not really widescreen.

    There is an alternate PCM track.
     
  12. Angsty

    Angsty Stunt Coordinator

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    I'd like to add my vote for the Baz Luhrman production of La Boheme. It captures the feelings of the characters and the spirit of the opera with a beautiful intimacy. The only negative that I can whisper with this DVD is that the source material was recorded over 10 years ago for tv, so it is 4:3 and the transfer quality shows its age...

    I personally want to see live performances released on DVD, not those recorded only for DVD in a studio. I want to hear the variations and raw emotion that come with a live performance, not the polished perfection of a studio production that has had all the rough edges smoothed out of existence, thereby losing the heart and soul of the performance (IMHO).

    Could a recorded-in-a-studio performance of La Boheme ever capture the same resonance as the 15 seconds of sheer, gut-wrenching silence that follows the final note of Baz's La Boheme? Hearing the live audience reaction adds to the overall experience.

    In closing, more opera on DVD is good [​IMG]

    Angela
     
  13. Jaime_Weinman

    Jaime_Weinman Supporting Actor

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    The Muti Falstaff (which seems to be out of print already) and Otello and the Gardiner Cosi Fan Tutte have 5.1 sound and anamorphic picture.


    This is the same argument that has been ongoing for years about audio recordings. And I'm in the studio-recording camp for those too -- not that live recordings can't be valuable, but I want to hear the performers adapting their performances to a different medium, not a replica of a live experience that I can no longer share (because it's not live any more). What works in the theatre might be subtly different from what works on DVD or CD, and I want to get the work re-thought for the different medium. It has nothing to do with "polished perfection" -- indeed, so-called "live" recordings are often just as polished and smoothed-over as "studio" recordings (since "live" recordings tend to use snippets of other performances, rehearsals, etc. to correct mistakes -- and rightly so, because a mistake that is tolerable in live performance can be intolerable on repeated viewing). I just want an acknowledgement that this is a different medium with its own ways of being effective.
     
  14. Matt Whealton

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    A moving performance on DVD is the Poulenc Dialogues des Carmelites, Opéra national du Rhin, Marthe Keller director (1999).

    Really stunning staging, very spare, with some wrenchingly emotional moments, especially when the nuns mark themselves as martyrs-to-be, and of course, the final chorale.

    I haven't watched this for a while, so won't comment on the transfer or sound quality. I'll try to pop it in the player and repost in a couple of days.

    Matt
     
  15. Seth--L

    Seth--L Screenwriter

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    Cosi Fan Tutte - Gardiner/EBS
    Very strong staging, especially when compared to other productions. Interpretation, singing, casting, and orchestra are all excellent. Only downside is that the aucostics are a bit dry (as they were on the CD release)

    Figaro - Gardiner/EBS
    The CD version is probably the best modern recording, so being able to see the action only adds to the experience. Smartly, throughout Gardiner's Mozart opera cycle he opted to cast singers who were right for the roles in terms of age and appearance, so no one looks 10 years too old and 30lbs too fat for a part.

    Now only if DG would release Gardiner's video recordings of Don Giovanni and Die Zauberflote.

    The Bayreuth Ring and Muti's Don Giovanni (now back in print)are also great. I hope EMI will release Sawallisch's Ring.



    I doubt this will happen (at least with big name singers) because of the cost of going into the studio. Of the few new opera recordings being made, almost all are live. Also, the more power you give the video director, the more problems you're going to have. It's another personality you're throwing into the mix that is going to increasing the number of clashes and arguments. Just imagine how the conductor, orchestra, singers, and producer are going to react to needing to do another take because the camera needs to be moved.
     
  16. Matt Whealton

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    First, everyone, thanks for all the tips on Opera disks, I'll be picking up some of these!
    I concur on the Forbidden City Turandot, by the way, very nice.

    Watched a good bit of Dialogues des Carmelites last evening.
    Picture: Good to very good - no edge enhancement (bravo!), but somewhat fuzzy in long shots (I view on a 110" diagonal Silverstar. Probably wont bother you on smaller displays). Maybe some very minor video artifacts, but they aren't bothersome. The stage itself is very minimal, lighting effects are done almost entirely with white or dimmed white lights, often vertically spotting or silhouetting the cast. The chiaroscuro effect of this on the cream colored habits and white underrobes of the nuns looks like a moving Zurbaran painting. And the closeups of brightly lit characters against black backgrounds looks great since there is no edge enhancement. Oh, if your display has 'issues' with black level (as my 10HT does!), you will really notice them in this piece. I think I might just use this opera as trial material for demoing my next pj. On a high cr projector, the close ups should be spectacular.
    The production makes use of embedded video during orchestral passages, which can look rather gritty and noisy, like a big blown-up tv image. But I think that is intentional and gives a documentary feel to those sequences.

    Sound: Fine, except for some very annoying pops at the very beginning of the program and (I think) each time an act starts. It is a recorded live performance, so there are stage and audience noises, but to me they just added to a realistic ambience. Guillotine noises are present without being too loud.

    Anyway, hope this is helpful.
    Matt
     
  17. Werner_R

    Werner_R Stunt Coordinator

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    I can recommend anything from the Arthaus label www.arthaus-musik.com

    They have some good historical recordings (always good video and audio!) and their recent recordings are 16:9 with 5.1 surround sound. I already have several of their dvd's in my collection. I must point out though that most of their dvd's are region coded, and in PAL !
     

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