music DVD reviews


Gluck - Orphee Et EuridiceChristoph Willibald Gluck’s opera, Orphée et Eurydice, is based on the myth of Orpheus. Set to a libretto by Ranieri de’ Calzabigi, it belongs to the genre of the azione teatrale, meaning an opera on a mythological subject with choruses and dancing. The premiere was in Vienna in 1762 and this was the first of Gluck’s ‘reform’ operas, in which he attempted to replace the abstruse plots and overly complex music of opera seria with a ‘noble simplicity’ in both the music and the drama. One of the composer’s most popular of works, it became a major influence on subsequent German opera. Though originally set to an Italian libretto, the work owes much to French opera, particularly in its use of accompanied recitative and a general absence of vocal virtuosity. It tells the story of Orphée’s descent into the Underworld to retrieve his wife Eurydice. His singing has the power to overcome the guardian Furies, but the path of true love is shadowed by sorrow and tragedy. As a true ‘drama of the soul’ with intense psychological and emotive power, Orphée et Eurydice shook Enlightenment Europe to its core. Hector Berlioz was a great admirer of of Gluck and in the 1859 version he prepared for the Théâtre Lyrique he exploited the score’s full potential through a synthesis of earlier versions. This Blu-ray release features a recording of Aurélien Bory’s striking production of the Berlioz version of Gluck’s masterpiece at the Opéra Comique in Paris in 2018. French soprano Hélène Guilmette is a lyrical Orphée, young mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa is wonderful as Eurydice, and Lea Desandre is Amour, the messenger of the gods. Raphaël Pichon conducts the Chorus and Orchestra of Ensemble Pygmalion. ‘Just breathtaking.’ - Opera Journal. Watch the trailer


Tchaikovsky - The Nutcracker, Blu-rayTchaikovsky wrote his last ballet, The Nutcracker, in 1892 shortly before his death. It wasn’t one of his favourite works but it has since become an established standard for music lovers around the world, especially at Christmas, when young Clara is swept into a fantasy adventure as one of her presents comes to life. This outstanding production features an exquisite Sugar Plum Fairy (delicately performed by Argentine dancer Marianela Nuñez) and chivalrous Prince (Vadim Muntagerov), with the mysterious magician Drosselmeyer (Gary Avis, Principal Character Artist of The Royal Ballet) and vibrant dancing by The Royal Ballet. Marcelino Sambé and Anna Rose O’Sullivan are excellent as Hans-Peter, Drosselmeyer’s nephew trapped in The Nutcracker doll, and Clara, the girl who brings him back to the real world. Conductor Barry Wordsworth and the Royal Opera House Orchestra bring Tchaikovsky’s ravishing music to life and the corps de ballet are in fine form for the enchanting snowflake waltz. Choreographer Peter Wright’s glorious interpretation remains as fresh as ever after thirty years and Julia Trevelyan Oman’s fabulous designs, rich with period detail, include an ingenious magical Christmas tree that grows and grows. Decorations magically come to life and combine with Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous score to create the quintessential Christmas ballet – an opulent treat for the senses for audiences of all ages. Recorded in High Definition and surround sound at the Royal Opera House in 2019, this presentation was directed for the screen by Ross MacGibbon. Extras with this Blu-ray release (also available on DVD) include ‘The Nutcracker: An Introduction’ and ‘Darcey Bussell at the Royal Ballet School’. ‘When it comes to Nutcrackers, there is simply nothing to beat it.’ - The Times.


Rossini - Il barbiere di SivigliaGioacchino Rossini’s most popular opera and greatest masterpiece, The Barber of Seville, or The Useless Precaution, was written in only thirteen days, though some of its themes were borrowed from two of his earlier operas. Il barbiere di Siviglia, ossia L’inutile precauzione, is an opera buffa in two acts with a libretto by Cesare Sterbini based on a scandalous Pierre Beaumarchais comedy. It’s première (under the title Almaviva, or the Useless Precaution) in 1816 at the Teatro Argentina, Rome, was a disastrous failure as the audience, many of them supporters Rossini’s rival, Giovanni Paisiello, hissed and jeered throughout. The second performance however was a huge success, and two hundred years later its place as a staple of the repertoire attests to the opera’s greatness. Rossini was only 23 years old when he wrote his most famous opera, an innovative work full of sophistication and finesse that first intrigued the Italian public, before winning over the entire peninsula and the rest of the world. The opera displays with great clarity the essence of the Rossinian revolution: situation comedy, sharp criticism of social hypocrisy, together with a witty musical style, the glory of belcanto, and the contagious energy of assertive melodic lines. With the adventures of the factotum Figaro and his master Almaviva, looking to seduce the beautiful Rosina and steal her away from the old Bartolo; through the endless criss-crossing of this lover’s chase, Rossini was to begin a new chapter in Italian opera, and forge a new brand that shaped the musical landscape of the 19th century. For this reprisal of director Hugo de Ana’s famous staging at the magnificent Arena di Verona, one of Italy’s best-preserved ancient Roman structures, Rossini’s opera is conducted by Daniel Oren. The wonderful Italian baritone Leo Nucci is a boastful and virtuoso Figaro, while beautiful soprano Nino Machaidze and Russian tenor Dmitry Korchak are perfect as the not-so-candid lovers around whom the opera revolves. And who better than veteran Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, who shines in the ‘Calunnia’ aria, for the part of Basilio?


PIQUE DAME1Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s opera in three act opera La Dame de Pique (The Queen of Spades) was a hit when it premiered at St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre in 1890, with famous Russian tenor Nikolay Figner in the demanding lead role (his wife Medea Mei-Figner created the role of Liza). Tchaikovsky himself took part in the preparation of that first performance and later wrote, ‘Figner and the St Petersburg orchestra... have made true miracles.’ The opera also played to great acclaim from critics and audiences in Kiev and at The Bolshoi Theatre. Tchaikovsky’s opera has a Russian libretto by the composer’s brother Modest Tchaikovsky, loosely based on a short story by Alexander Pushkin. This Blu-ray release features a recording of captivating production from the 2018 Salzburg Festival. In this compelling, multi-layered staging of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, director Hans Neuenfels ‘draws gripping performances from a strong cast’ ( The New York Times), including Brandon Jovanovich and Evgenia Muraveva in the title roles of Herman and Lisa, with legendary German mezzo-soprano Hanna Schwarz as Countess. The other soloists are Vladislav Sulimsky (Count Tomsky / Plutus) and Igor Golovatenko (Prince Yeletsky), and Mariss Jansons makes his rare appearance as an opera conductor, at the helm of the Wiener Philharmoniker. Mariss Jansons turns this Queen of Spades with verve as sensitivity into a ‘captivating musical drama’ - Die Zeit. Watch video


I Puritani1Vincenzo Bellini’s historical bel-canto drama, I puritani (The Puritans), was the Italian composer’s last opera (he died aged only 34 in 1835, the year of its first performance at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris. It’s one of Bellini’s most creative and influential masterpieces, a bel canto opera stamped with vocal and orchestral writing of intoxicating beauty and dramatic intensity. I Puritani is set in England in the Civil War of the 1640s shortly before Oliver Cromwell’s triumph, when the country was divided by those who supported the crown Royalists) and those who supported Parliament (the Puritans). The melodramatic and somewhat absurd plot involving romantic and political intrigues is more than mades up for by the sublime music of melodic raptness and melancholic depth. The opera inspired Bellini to compose some of his most breathtakingly virtuosic passages, notably Elvira’s Mad Scene, that call for the utmost in theatrical power. Bellini didn’t write very much for solo voice here, concentrating on the beautiful dance between the featured voices. This Stuttgart Opera production includes for the first time all the music performed at the work’s Paris premiere. Conducted by Manilo Benzi, the outstanding cast features Ana Durlovski and Gezim Myshketa as lovers Elvira and Riccardo, with René Barbera (Lord Arturo Talbo), Roland Bracht (Lord Gualtiero Valton), Diana Haller (Enrichetta di Francia), Adam Palka (Sir Giorgio Valton) and Heinz Göhrig (Sir Bruno Robertson). ‘Manilo Benzi’s conducting is idiomatic and accommodating of his soloists, and the chorus is very good.’ - Opera Now.


Swan Lake 1Peter 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. This much-loved ballet has a special place in The Royal Ballet’s repertory and this new production by Artist in Residence Liam Scarlett features additional choreography whilst remaining faithful to Petipa and Ivanov’s classic. John Macfarlane’s opulent designs provide an atmospheric, period setting for the enthralling love story, illuminated by Tchaikovsky’s sublime score. Marianela Nuñez brings both poignancy and glitter to the dual role of Odette / Odile, with Vadim Muntagirov as the yearning Prince Siegfried, while the corps de ballet are showcased at their spellbinding best as the enchanted swans and cygnets. Koen Kessels conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. ‘Nothing short of a triumph’ - Evening Standard. Extra Features with this ravishing Blu-ray release: An introduction; John Macfarlane talks about the design; Darcey Bussell on the Swans. Watch video


GiselleGiselle is one of the most popular and most often performed works in the classical ballet canon. It tells the story of a peasant girl named Giselle, who dies of a broken heart after discovering her lover, Albrecht, is betrothed to another. The Wilis, a group of mystic and supernatural women who dance men to death, summon Giselle from her grave. This Blu-ray release from Opus Arte features a stunning and highly original version of Giselle by the English National Ballet in which acclaimed dancer-choreographer Akram Khan ‘speaks tremendously of tremendous things’ - Financial Times. This stunning production, dramatically designed Tim Yip, reimagines the classic narrative ballet for the 21st Century. Giselle has become a former garment factory migrant worker, Albrecht, a member of the wealthy factory-owning class. An abandoned ‘ghost factory’ haunted by the memory of female migrant workers, many of them victims of industrial accidents, replaces the traditional glade of Act II. There, Giselle’s desire to break the cycle of violence will lead her to reconciliation with Albrecht and his release from the retributive justice of the Wilis. The outstanding soloists include Tamara Rojo as the sweetly beautiful Giselle, James Streeter as virile Albrecht, Jeffrey Cirio (Hilarion - now a shady character instead of a woodcutter) and Stina Quagebeur as Myrhta, Queen of the Wilis. The English National Ballet Philharmonic is directed by Gavin Sutherland. Extra features include The Creative Process; The Characters of Akram Khan’s Giselle; Creating the Costumes for Giselle; Interviews with Dramaturg Ruth Little, Stina Quagebeur, James Streeter, Madison Keesler, and composer Vicenzo Lamagna, whose score reworks elements of Adolphe Adam’s original music. ‘The ballet is a beautiful and intelligent remaking of the beloved classic’ - New York Times. Watch the video


Fairytale OperasFantastic storylines abound in opera, but these grand musical settings of much-loved fairytales embrace the imaginary, giving free rein to dreams. The Royal Opera’s acclaimed Hansel and Gretel by Humperdinck, with Colin Davis conductoring, combines wit and a knack for dark comedy with the story’s enduring charm. The cast includes Angelika Kirchschlager as Hänsel, Diana Damrau as Gretel, and the great Thomas Allen as Peter. Glyndebourne’s recounting of the quick-witted fox’s escape into nature balances the whimsy and mysticism in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen, brilliantly directed by Melly Still with Lucy Crowe is the Vixen and Emma Bell as the Fox - ‘Lucy Crowe’s glowingly sung Vixen... Tom Pye’s Hockneyish designs are evocative of a world of childish wonder, with animal costumes which cleverly suggest human characteristic.’ - The Daily Telegraph). Opera North’s enchanting staging of Jonathan Dove’s 21st opera, The Adventures of Pinocchio, is a wittily inventive feast for the eyes and ears, shining new light on Collodi’s original tale, by turns magical and dark. The stars include Victoria Simmonds (Pinocchio), Jonathan Summers (Geppetto) and Mary Plazas (Blue Fairy) - ‘Gorgeous characters, a busy story rich in incident and an exhilarating mix of music. Delight follows delight.’ - The Stage. This three disc Blu-ray box set has nearly eight hours of exhilarating music and many extra features: On Hansel and Gretel with Colin Davis · Fairytales feature · Creating Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen · Thoughts on The Adventures of Pinocchio by the Composer, Librettist, Director and Conductor · Illustrated synopses of Hansel and Gretel and The Adventures of Pinocchio · Cast Galleries. Watch video


Le CorsaireAdolphe Adam was a prolific French composer of operas and ballets, best known for his ballets Giselle and Le corsaire (The Pirate), his operas Le toréador and Si j’étais roi, and his Christmas carol Minuit, chrétiens!, later set to different English lyrics as ‘O Holy Night’. Adam was also a music critic and teacher of influential composers such as Delibes. Le Corsaire tells the swashbuckling story of a pirate, Conrad, who travels the high seas to save his beautiful harem girl, Medora. It’s a thrilling fantasy tale of captive maidens and cutthroats, love and betrayal full of action, passion and romance. Le Corsaire was first staged in Russia for the Imperial Ballet of St Petersburg, performed in 1858 at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, with the Ekaterina Friedbürg as the heroine Medora and a young Marius Petipa as the corsair Conrad. Petipa assisted director Jules Perrotin in rehearsals and revised some of the ballet’s key dances. This Blu-ray release features an extravagant and exhilarating production that enthralled audiences and received rave reviews when it premiered in 2013 at the Vienna State Ballet. With its narrative of buccaneering bravado, exotic opulence, romance and traitorous intrigue, Le Corsaire is one of the most impressive narrative ballets of the 19th century. Director of the Wiener Staatsballett, Manuel Legris, has choreographed this new version that draws on the rich performance traditions of Russia and France, and carefully combines spirited action, Adam’s wonderful music, choreography, scenery and costumes into an elegant and impressive production, bringing to life the colourful events that surround the leading couple. Staged by Anna-Marie Holmes and conducted by Valery Ovsianikov, with breath-taking sets by Hollywood designer Bob Ringwood, this unmissable, entertaining adventure stars fabulous Russian dancer Robert Gabdullin as the dashing Conrad and Prima ballerina Maria Yakovleva as the lovely Médora. Watch video


The Indomitable BowMstislav Rostropovich was a formidable personality as well as a complex, deeply political musician constantly engaged in a whirlwind of activities. Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1934, he grew up there and at the age of four, he learned the piano with his mother then began the cello at the age of 10 with his father. During World War II his family moved to Moscow and in 1943 young Rostropovich entered the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied cello with his uncle Semyon Kozolupov and his other teachers included Dmitri Shostakovich. He achieved international recognition as a cellist and conductor in the 1950s but was forced to flee his country in 1972 after he defended writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was expelled from the USSR for publishing the Gulag Archipelago. Deprived of of his citizenship by the Soviet authorities, Rostropovich settled in Paris and Washington and gave birth to his legend as one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century. In addition to his interpretations and technique, he was famous for both inspiring and commissioning new works, which enlarged the cello repertoire more than any cellist before or since. The Indomitable Bow (L’archet Indomptable) is a unique portrait of Mstislav Rostropovich by Bruno Monsaingeon, who is already famous for his acclaimed film profiles of legendary performers such as Yehudi Menuhin, Glenn Gould and Sviatoslav Richter. Rostropovich’s legacy has already guaranteed his immortality as an artist, but The Indomitable Bow provides us with those added dimensions that bring his character and work significantly closer. Including unreleased documents, archive films, interviews and concert performances from this key figure of the 20th century, the film is a remarkable testimony of the life and work of the legendary ‘Slava’. Bonus features with this Blu-ray release include previously unreleased performances of works by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Bach, and ‘Solzhenitsyn and Rostropovich’ (conversations with Olga Rostropovich, Elena Rostropovich, Natalia Solzhenitsyn and Ignat Solzhenitsyn). ‘He was in love with the music he played, with those who listened to him, with his loved ones, with the halls he played in ... And in this state of love one is capable of moving mountains. And he did.’ - Natalya Solzhenitsyn.


THE LAST WALTZMartin Scorsese’s classic rock documentary features some of the world’s finest musicians. Perhaps the greatest rock documentary ever made, The Last Waltz captures what was advertised as legendary rock group The Band’s final farewell concert appearance, featuring great performances of all theit best-known songs duch as ‘Stage Fright’ and ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’. Joined on stage by more than a dozen special guests, including Ronnie Hawkins (a wonderful version of ‘Who Do You Love?’), Eric Clapton, the mesmeric Bob Dylan with a sensational version of ‘Baby Let Me Follow You Down’, Neil Young (‘Helpless’), ‘Mannish Boy’ Muddy Waters and Joni Mitchell, The Last Waltz started as a concert, but it became a celebration. Interspersed with stories and candid discussions between director Scorsese and members of The Band, this iconic documentary has now been released by Eureka on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK. And remember, ‘This film should be played loud!’ Extras with this Limited Edition in a hardbound case include a 1080p presentation of the film on Blu-ray; PCM 5.1 Audio; Audio Commentary by director Martin Scorsese and musician Robbie Robertson; Audio commentary by ‘The Band’ members Levon Helm and Garth Hudson, journalists Jay Cocks and Greil Marcus, creative consultant Mardik Martin, producers Jonathan Taplin and Steven Prince, Cameraman Michael Chapman, Music Producer John Simon, Irwin Winkler and performers Mavis Staples, Dr John and Ronnie Hawkins (includes optional subtitles identifying who is talking); Revisiting The Last Waltz (a 22 mins documentary); Archival outtakes; a stills gallery; Plus a 100-PAGE perfect bound collector’s book including writing on the film by Adam Batty, Greil Marcus and Robbie Robertson, with extremely rare archival imagery, extensive notes, storyboards and sketches from the film’s production. ‘Arguably the most beautiful of rock movies.’ - Time Out.


D.O.A. - A RIGHT OF PASSAGEIn 1978, as the Sex Pistols first US tour descended into chaos and the punk pioneers imploded, punk rock was mushrooming in its birth place – London. Filmmaker Lech Kowalski was on both sides of the Atlantic to capture these seismic events in music history – the death of the Sex Pistols on their American tour, where they played their notorious gigs deep in the heart of Texas, culminating in their final show in San Francisco and the new wave of punk bands making an impact across the pond. This seminal moment in time is captured in the rarely seen D.O.A.: A Right of Passage, which finally has now been released by Second Sight for the first time on Blu-ray and DVD Dual edition. The film is the unique, grainy and up-close document of an iconic musical movement, packed with live footage of the Pistols’ incendiary American shows, as well as live performances from ‘the greatest punk and you’ve never heard of’, Terry and The Idiots, alongside Dead Boys, Generation X, Rich Kids, X-Ray Spex (with the wonderful Poly Styrene) and Sham 69, with additional music from The Clash and Iggy Pop. D.O.A. A Right of Passage takes us behind-the-scenes via bars, clubs and car parks and features the now infamous Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen bed interview. And no punk documentary would be complete without an appearance from the inimitable Mary Whitehouse. This impressive film enthrallingly captures the wild, nihilistic, sexy, funny, exciting, revolutionary world of punk in the 1970s. Essential viewing for anyone even remotely interested in the history of popular music. Bonus features include Dead on Arrival: The Punk Documentary That Almost Never Was (a feature length documentary produced by Richard Schenkman, including interviews with Punk magazine founder and Ramones cover-artist John Holmstrom, co-director & music journalist Chris Salewicz, photographer Roberta Bayley, Sex Pistols’ historian Mick O’Shea, former Rich Kid guitarist Midge Ure and original D.O.A. crew members David King, Mary Killen, Rufus Standefer plus never-before-seen interview footage with Malcolm McLaren); D.O.A. – A Punk Post Mortem (an exclusive interview with co-director and music journalist Chris Salewicz). The first 2000 copies include a Limited Edition booklet written by punk aficionado Tim Murray with additional article by Phelim O’Neill. ‘A landmark of punk cinema.’ - Spectrum Culture.


Respighi - La Campana SommersaOttorino Respighi was one of Italy’s greatest composers and is best known for his orchestral music, particularly the three Roman tone poems: Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals. He was also a renowned violinist and musicologist whose interest in 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century music led him to compose pieces based on the music of these periods. For contemporary performers his music is sometimes a challenge as the continual use of assonance and allusion reflects a powerful psycho-emotional language anchored in tradition. Respighi was one of the leading members of the Generazione dell’Ottanta (Generation of the 1880s), along with Alfredo Casella, Gian Francesco Malipiero and Ildebrando Pizzetti, though he often composed for vocal forces and completed nine operas in his career. These include dramatic-tragic operas such as Marie Victoire and La Campana Sommersa (The Sunken Bell), which premiered in 1927 in Hamburg, Germany, as well as lighter works such as Belfagor and La Bella Dormente nel Bosco (Sleeping Beauty). La Campana Sommersa was written when Respighi was at the height of his powers and he considered it to be his finest work. The four-act opera has a libretto is by Respighi’s regular collaborator Claudio Guastalla, based on the play Die versunkene Glocke by German author Gerhart Hauptmann. The fairy-tale world of Hauptmann’s play inspired Respighi to create his most lavishly and imaginatively orchestrated operatic score, which frequently reminds the listener of his famous symphonic poems. Since the opera’s anti-hero Enrico is a bell maker, Respighi fills the music with many chiming and ringing effects. This Blu-ray release features a recording from the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari of a ravishing 2016 production, with the theatre’s Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Donato Renzetti. The excellent cast includes sopranos Valentina Farcas (as the charming Rautendelein) and Maria Luigia Borsi, mezzo Agostina Smimmero, tenors Angelo Villari (in the demanding lead role of tormented bell maker Enrico) and Filippo Adami, and bass-baritone Thomas Gazheli. The superb stage direction is by Pier Francesco Maestrini and the magical sets designed by Juan Guillermo Nova.


ARMINIOUntil recently, George Frideric Handel’s 1736 opera Arminio - one of three he wrote with Giustino and Berenice in 1736 - was one of the composer’s most neglected and least recorded works. The public in his day showed little enthusiasm for the opera and it was damned with faint praise by the Earl of Shaftesbury as ‘rather grave, but correct and labour’d to the highest degree’. Thanks largely to the efforts of the remarkable countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic, Arminio has lately become better known and more appreciated for its wonderfully rich score. The complicated plot sets two love stories against the backdrop of a battle between Roman forces (under General Varo) and Germans (under Arminio). Love, duty, patriotism and honour are the order of the day. This Blu-ray release features virtuoso Max Emanuel Cencic’s celebrated and award-winning production of Handel’s dazzling masterpiece at the International Handel Festival Karlsruhe. Cencic, who dedicates himself to the revival and performance of the music of the 18th century, demonstrates once more that Baroque singing can be both technically brilliant and at the same time modern and emotionally engaging. His enchanting staging of Arminio is the revival of the heroic story. When premiered in 1737 at London’s Covent Garden, Arminio strangely received only six performances, despite being praised as a miracle and in every respect excellent and vastly pleasing by contemporaries. Handel’s opera fell into oblivion until Cencic put it into the limelight, resulting in the rehabilitation of the piece. Cencic’s production created a furore when performed at the Theater an der Wien, featuring the ensemble Armonia Atenea under the baton of George Petrou and starring the stage director in the leading role. Other performers include the formidable young italian mezzo-soprano Gaia Petrone, American Lauren Snouffer, Spanish tenor Juan Sancho as Varo, and Russian bass Pavel Kudinov. ‘Cencic is not only as countertenor, but also as stage director, at the peak of his success.’ - Süddeutsche Zeitung.

MARIA CALLAS - TOSCA 1964       CMAJOR 746104

MARIA CALLAS - TOSCA 1964Maria Callas was born Maria Anna Sofia Cecilia Kalogeropoulos to Greek parents in Brooklyn, New York, and moved with her mother to Athens at the age of 13. She studied with the soprano Elvira de Hidalgo at the Athens Conservatory and made her professional debut at the Athens Opera in 1941, as La Tosca. Combining an impeccable bel canto technique with great dramatic gifts, Callas became the most famous singing actress of the post-war era. An extremely versatile singer, her repertoire ranged from classical opera seria, such as Spontini’s La Vestale to late Verdi and the verismo operas of Puccini. This film tells the story of one of the most magic moments in operatic history as Maria Callas returned to the opera stage in 1964 in one of her greatest roles. Her Tosca at the Royal Opera House became a sensation, eclipsing even the Beatles for press coverage. All this, for an artist whose glorious career was said to be over, with the singer herself passing over to legend. However, it was no longer her performances, but her scandals that were dominating the headlines. Unlucky in love with Aristotle Onassis, Callas wanted to show the world that the title of ‘Primadonna assoluta’ was still rightfully hers. On condition that famed stage director Franco Zeffirelli took on the production, she assumed on the role of Tosca once more. Fans queued through freezing winter nights in London’s Covent Garden for the sought after tickets. This documentary film tells the story of the event and features interviews with Antonio Pappano, Rolando Villazón, Rufus Wainwright and Thomas Hampson. As bonus her profoudly moving performance of Tosca´s dramatic second act is included. The film recording is one of the few opportunities to see Maria Callas on stage in the part she was made for and that came to define her. This is a chance to celebrate the work of a supreme artist at her dramatic and emotional peak. Watch video


Symphonic VisionsThis unique DVD features music written by Ed Hughes for a series of silent films, both new and old. Ed Hughes is a master of large scale works and these movie scores are a little more traditionally styled than his usual chamber and operatic work. Whichever genre is chosen, his reputation as a highly inventive and skilled composer grows steadily. The main piece here is a ‘Brighton: Symphony of a City’, by producer/director Lizzie Thynne. This seven movement celebration of Brighton brings together past and present scenes, from hardy bathers and beach hijinks to present day hipsters and an obsession with looking at screens. Ed Hughes’s music if perfectly judged to empathise with the joyful and occasionally sombre moments, superbly edited by Phil Reynold, culminating in an explosive fireworks finale. Elsewhere on the DVD, Hughes has written music for intriguing fragments of the first ever Alice In Wonderland film (now over a hundred years old), the famous classic 1902 Georges Méliès film Le Voyage dans le Lune (Voyage to the Moon), piano accompaniment for a magical, surreal animation of Gogol’s short story Le Nez (The Nose) by Russian born Alexandre Alexeieff and his American wife Claire Parker, and Night Music, reflecting bombing raids during the Second World War. Artists include Clare Hammond, New Music Players, Orchestra of Sound and Light and Richard Casey. A bonus film extra is Sky Giant, a sound film documentary providing historical context and a tribute to the unmistakable Avro Lancaster bomber. The soundtrack for this DVD (excluding Sky Giant) is also available as a digital-only album.


Pique DameThis Blu-ray release features former Music Director Mariss Jansons conducting Tchaikovsky’s opera La Dame de Pique (The Queen of Spades) at the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam with ‘his’ Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. The Latvian maestro encounters a noteworthy cast and under his baton in this unforgettable production and the orchestra sounds ‘brilliant and splendid’ (Der Tagesspiegel). Renowned director Stefan Herheim staged Tchaikovsky’s much-loved opera about a young man who, for the prospect of earthly wealth, gambles away his chance for love and happiness. Herheim, whose stagings are famous for their multi layered levels of interpretation, attempts to reflect on the composer’s hidden love for men. The Chorus of Dutch National Opera is outstanding and the impressive cast includes Ukrainian-born tenor Misha Didyk as Herman, Alexey Markov as the virile Count Tomsky, marvelous baritone Vladimir Stoyanov as Yeletsky, Svetlana Aksenova as Liza, Larissa Diadkova as the Countess and mezzo Anna Goryachova memorable in the trouser role Polina. ‘A masterpiece.’ - Der Standard.


Romeo and Juliet2Sergei 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. Dynamically choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan (revived by Julie Lincoln) and directed for La Scala, Milan, by Frederic Olivieri, this outstanding production features passionate performances - together for the first time in the title roles - by the Italian Roberto Bolle, principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and a dancer étoile at La Scala, and iconic ballerina Misty Copeland, the first African American Female Principal Dancer with the prestigious American Ballet. Copeland has a huge popular following, and in 2015 she was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine, appearing on its cover. She has performed on Broadway in On the Town, toured as a dancer for Prince, appeared on reality television shows, and written two autobiographies. Antonino Sutera takes the role of Mercutio, with Mick Zeni ais Tybalt and Marco Agostino as Benvolio. This timeless drama of two doomed lovers, filmed in high definition and released on Blu-ray, is enhanced by ravishing sets and costumes designed by Mauro Carosi and Odette Nicoletti. The Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala is conducted by Patrick Fournillier. Highly recommended.


Il Trovatore blu-ray1Giuseppe 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 release features a live recording of the elegant production directed by Francisco Negrin at the Sferisterio theatre of Macerata in 2016. Daniel Oren vibrantly conducts the Fondazione Orchestra Regionale delle Marche and a first-rate cast that includes Sardinian tenor Piero Pretti as Manrico, Italian soprano Anna Pirazzi as Leonora (the role in which she made her Royal Opera debut), Marco Caria as Il Conte di Luna, and Albanian mezzo-soprano Enkelejda Shkosa as the formidable Azucena. The characters burn with the passions of love, hatred, sexual desire and revenge that eventually destroy them.


LohengrinThe controversial German composer and musical theorist Richard Wagner was an anti-semitic egomaniac given to excessive gambling and womanising. He was single-mindedly ruthless in his exploitation of anyone who might help him achieve his ambitions, but his work had a revolutionary influence on the course of Western music and is often sublimely beautiful. His three-act opera Lohengrin, first performed in 1850, is an entrancing medieval romance in which shimmering violins pour out music, in Wagner’s words, ‘like streams of gold, ravishing the senses of the beholder’. Telling the story of the eponymous character taken from medieval German romance, the opera was inspired by other works of art, including King Ludwig II of Bavaria’s fairy-tale castle, which he named ‘New Swan Castle’ after the Swan Knight. King Ludwig’s patronage would later give Wagner the means and opportunity to compose, build a theatre for, and stage his epic cycle The Ring of the Nibelung. This much anticipated double DVD release features Russian soprano Anna Netrebko as Elsa (her first Wagner role) and Piotr Beczala (also making his debut as Lohengrin) in an acclaimed production at the Semperoper in Dresden in 2016. Anna Netrebko sings in impeccable German and is immensely touching as Elsa, her rich and melodious voice proving ideal for the part. Polish tenor Piotr Beczała is impressive and elegant as Lohengrin, the mysterious swan knight, and the outstanding cast also includes a striking performance by Evelyn Herlitzius as Ortrud, Tomasz Konieczny as the misguided Telramund and George Zeppenfeld as King Heinrich. The production was directed by Angela Brandt and the conductor is Christian Thielemann, one of the world’s leading Wagner maestros. ‘One of the finest Lohengrins of all time.’ - Die Welt.


Shostakovich - The Golden AgeDmitri Shostakovich’s first ballet, created in 1930, is an energetic and sharply satirical critique of the cultural and political upheaval in Europe and the Soviet Union in the late 1920s. Written following the composer’s first trip abroad to Weimar Germany, and his influential encounters with jazz, cabaret and the music of contemporaries like Kurt Weill, the score fizzes with new ideas. The improbable plot concerns the adventures of a Soviet football team in a corrupt Western city, where they are subjected to wicked temptations (financial, moral and political). The noble Soviet sportsmen find themselves victims of match-rigging, police harassment and, finally, unjust imprisonment by the evil bourgeoisie. The Soviets are only released from prison by a courageous uprising on the part of the local working classes who triumphantly overthrow the wicked capitalists and join their Soviet guests in a climactic Dance of Solidarity. This modern and visionary work largely vanished from theatres until 1982, when Yuri Grigorovich restaged it with sets by Simon Virsaladze and a completely new libretto mainly revolving around the love story between Rita, a cabaret dancer, and Boris, a young idealist. The conflict in the original production was also recast as a clash between fishermen, the morally superior workers, and society’s criminal elements. Bringing back The Golden Age in Autumn 2016, a few months prior to Yuri Grigorovichs 90th birthday, was a highly symbolic choice for the Bolshoi Ballet: this work, the last Grigorovich would ever choreograph for his company, had not been staged for almost 10 years. A rare and refined ballet, which ran the risk of falling into oblivion twice, is danced by the new generation of the Bolshoi Ballet, including Nina Kaptsova and Mikhail Lobukhin.


Verdi - Un ballo in mascheraGiuseppe 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 often since. The all-star cast on this recording from London’s Royal Opera House is led by the incomparable Placido Domingo at his best as as the dashing King Gustavus, with brilliant lyric soprano Katia Ricciarelli wonderfully moving as Amelia, Piero Cappuccilli as her husband Anckarström, Elizabeth Bainbridge as fortune-teller Madame Arvidson, and pioneer African-American soprano Reri Grist delightful as Oscar, the page. The Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House are intelligently conducted by the great Claudio Abbado in this classic 1975 production directed by Otto Schenk, with traditional costumes and attractive sets. This is one of the finest productions of one of Verdi's best operas, with outstanding vocal and acting performances


Der Ring des NibelungenRichard Wagner’s largest and most famous composition, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), consists of four operas telling the story of a magic ring made by the Nibelung dwarf Alberich from gold stolen from the Rhine. The complicated plot also involves the god Wotan, the hero Siegfried and a wild horsewoman of the air, Brünnhilde. Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold) is a relatively short two-hour prologue to the main three operas: Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods). A full understanding of the story of the Wagner’s Ring cycle (Der Ring der Nibelungen) requires all four operas to be viewed in sequence and this set of four Blu-ray discs includes live recordings of all the operas performed at the Deutsches Nationaltheater Weimar in 2008. Outside Germany, the name Weimar tends to evoke mixed feelings and pictures of German history of the last hundred years. Within Germany, Weimar means a town in the state of Thuringia arguably saturated with the ‘Deutsche Kultur’ of the ‘Weimarer Klassik’, the legendary Bauhaus, and finally the life and work of Franz Liszt and his son in law Richard Wagner. In Weimar Richard Wagner began composing the first part of his Ring-cycle, Das Rheingold. The Nationaltheater Weimar’s production of Richard Wagner’s unique tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen features the Orchestra and Chorus of the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Carl St.Clair, a former student of Leonard Bernstein. Michael Schulz’ fine and highly intelligent staging of this new Ring production makes it an outstanding document of contemporary opera theatre. Soloists include Frieder Aurich, Kirsten Blanck, Erin Caves, Catherine Foster, Christine Hansmann, Mario Hoff, Renatus Mészár, Tomas Möwes, Norbert Schmittberg, Hidekazu Tsumaya, Johnny van Hal, Nadine Weissmann and Marietta Zumbült. ‘Carl St.Clair is adept at handling both the apocalyptic mood of the music and the translucent shimmering of the forest. A brilliant achievement.’ - Frankfurter Rundschau.


Gypsy LoveThe Count of LuxembourgWith his operetta Zigeunerliebe (Gipsy Love), which premiered in 1910, Franz Lehár succeeded in combining the dramatic genre of opera with rousing Viennese waltzes and Hungarian folksongs. Impoverished Peter Dragotin (Heinz Friedrich) has promised the hand of his beautiful daughter Zorika (an outstanding performance by American soprano Janet Perry) to Jonel Bolescu (Adolf Dallapozza). Shortly before the engagement is formalised, headstrong, nature-loving Zorika comes across rascally gypsy Józsi (Ion Buzea) on the Czerna, a mountain river in Romania inhabited by mermaids, and invites him to play music at her engagement party. But when it comes to the engagement kiss from Jonel, she takes fright and flees back to the Czerna, where she hopes a glass of water from the river will reveal the future to her. Somehow she has to choose between faithful Jonel and the free-spirited Józsi. Meanwhile, impecunious Dragotin attempts to woo rich woman of the world Ilona von Körösháza (imperiously played by Colette Lorand). The Bavarian Radio Chorus and Munich Radio Orchestra are conducted by Heinz Wallberg. Impressively directed byVáclav Kaslik, this delightful film was shot partly on colourful locationa. This is one of many enjoyable new releases from Arthaus Musik Operetta Films, including Franz Lehár’s DER GRAF VON LUXEMBURG (‘The Count of Luxembourg’, ARTHAUS MUSIK 109312). This was composed in 1909 and is a worthy equal to the composer’s other operettas in terms of imaginative content, visual ideas and instrumental colouring. Circus PrincessThe Opera BallAfter the sensational success of the Merry Widow (1905), Lehár quickly wrote an operetta that displayed real Parisian flair. This film version offers a wealth of artistic entertainment, with a superb cast that includes Eberhard Wächter as Graf von Luxemburg, Lilian Sukis, Erich Kunz, Jane Tilden, Peter Fröhlich and Helga Papouschek. DER OPERNBALL (‘The Opera Ball’, ARTHAUS MUSIK 109307) was composed by Richard Heuberger, who was born in 1850 into a well-to-do middle-class family from Graz. He created many instrumental compositions, ballets, cantatas and operas, and worked as a music journalist. Perhaps his best-known work is the superbly orchestrated and colourful operetta ‘The Opera Ball’ (1898). This film version from 1970 features stars such as Harald Serafin, Tatjana Iwanow, Uwe Friedrichsen and the great Heinz Erhardt. Emmerich Kálmán’s DIE ZIRKUSPRINZESSIN (‘The Circus Princess’, ARTHAUS MUSIK 109308), first produced in 1926, contains elements of modern dance music in addition to the usual Kálmán mixture of Hungarian folk music and Viennese waltzes. In this entertaining filmed version some of the great singer-actors from the 1960s and 70s can once again be seen and heard, including Ingeborg Hallstein, Rudolf Schock and Peter Frankenfeld. Kálmán’s other successes from the ‘Viennese Silver Operetta Era’ include The Csardas Princess and Countess Mariza.


MerryWidowFranz Lehar’s The Merry Widow tells the story of a rich widow and her countrymen’s attempt to keep her money in the principality Marsovia by finding her the right husband. Based on an 1861 comedy play by Henri Meilhac, the operetta has enjoyed extraordinary international success since its 1905 premiere in Vienna and continues to be frequently revived and recorded thanks to its marvelous score featuring the ‘Vilja Song’, ‘Da geh’ ich zu Maxim’ (‘You’ll Find Me at Maxim’s’), and the ‘Merry Widow Waltz’. This lavish and romantic production of one of the world’s most beloved operettas stars the beautiful actress and singer Anne Jeffreys in the title role and Metropolitan Opera tenor Brian Sullivan as dashing Count Danilo. The wonderful Edward Everett Horton is Baron Zetta (nobody does worrying funnier) and his flirtatious wife Valencienne is played by the charming soprano Helena Bliss, star of Broadway’s Song of Norway, in a rare TV appearance. John Conte is the charming, amoral Georges de Fontanne, and the brilliantly choreographed dancers include delightful Beatrice Kraft. The Merry Widow is witty, sophisticated masterpiece, with a bittersweet note beneath the glittering jewels and fizzing champagne. This 1955 Black & white telecast was produced and directed by Max Liebman, and the great Neil Simon had a hand in writing the book. The DVD also includes a series of seductive original commercials for Oldsmobile, sponsor of the original production. This is one of many invaluable historic releases on the VAI label, including Lady in the Dark and One Touch of Venus.


OTTO KLEMPEREROtto Klemperer, one of the twentieth century’s great masters of the German musical repertory, was a major figure in that country’s cultural lif until forced to leave when the Nazi Party came to power in 1933. He eventually settled in the USA, where he became conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. After a brain tumour operation in 1939 his career faltered until he became director of the Hungarian State Opera in 1947, and in the 1950s and 60s he achieved a remarkable Indian Summer of success through his association with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, where he was principal conductor until his death in 1973 aged 88. The exacting conductor, sometimes described as an architect of music, is celebrated in this box set release of two DVDs and two CDs. Two documentary films by Philo Bregstein are included: Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey Through His Times (evoking the musical, cultural and political history of the twentieth century through the life and work of an exceptional musician), and Klemperer the Last Concert (film during the three rehearsals and the ensuing concert). Extras include filmed Interviews with Pierre Boulez and Ernst Bloch, as well as fragments of rehearsals for the concert. The complete concert recording with the New Philharmonia Orchestra, live from the Royal Festival Hall in 1971, can be heard on the two CDs. As well as Beethoven’s König Stephan (King Stephen) Overture and Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major (soloist Daniel Adni) this features the Brahms’s wonderful Third Symphony.


No Exit, Marianne FaithfullIn 1979, Marianne Faithfull’s album Broken English was an immediate critical and commercial success, bringing her a new image, an international following, a Grammy nomination and the confidence to record more of her own compositions. The wistful teenager and beautiful blonde muse of the Rolling Stones was dramatically reborn as a different animal altogether: wild, and feral, with a voice ravaged by experience and betrayal. Her songs were either literally autobiographical or clearly rooted in the singer’s own experiences, and the same could be said of the tracks on Give My Love to London - the twentieth solo album by this unique singer and songwriter that marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of her recording career. No Exit is a live album and DVD set featuring a ‘best of’ collection of Marianne Faithfull’s acclaimed live performances in Europe in 2014, recorded during her 50th anniversary tour. The album is accompanied a video recording of the 2014 Budapest concert and four highlight songs from her 2016 performance at the Roundhouse in London when she performed ‘in the round’ with her band - Ed Harcourt, Rob Ellis and Rob McVey. Marianne’s first performance at the Roundhouse was in the acclaimed Tony Richardson production of Hamlet back in 1969. In a remarkable career, she has proved utterly fearless in her music and everything else besides and remains a unique and compelling musical figure: adventurous in her life, adventurous in her art. ‘Remember death is far away and life is seet.’ Highlights include Broken English, the Everly Brothers song Price of Love, the beautiful Marathon Kiss, ‘Sixties Corner’ (As Tears Go By and Come And Stay With Me), ‘Junkies’ Corner’ (Sister Morphine and Nick Cave’s heartbreaking Late Victorian Holocaust), Who Will Take My Dreams Away and the classic Ballad Of Lucy Jordan. ‘A lifetime’s famously rich experience lends power and poignancy.’ - The Observer.


Lady in the DarkKurt Weill’s audacious, groundbreaking musical Lady in the Dark, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and book and direction by Moss Hart, premiered at Broadway’s Alvin Theater in 1941, when the cast included Gertrude Lawrence, Danny Kaye and Victor Mature. The protagonist, Liza Elliott, is the unhappy female editor of a fashion magazine, Allure, who is undergoing psychoanalysis. The theme is said to be based on Hart’s own experiences with psychoanalyst Gregory Zilboorg. The 1944 film version of Lady in the Dark, which cut most of the Weill/Gershwin songs, starred Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland. There have been several radio versions (Judy Garland starred in a CBS production for Lux Radio Theatre) and the musical was broadcast on NBC Television in 1954 as part of an intermittent series under the umbrella title Max Liebman Presents. Ann Sothern plays the smart yet vulnerable Liza perfectly, and The excellent cast also includes Sheppard Strudwick as her psychiatrist Dr. Brooks, James Daly, Luella Gear and Carleton Carpenter. Max Liebman directed this critically acclaimed live black and white television performance, praised by The New York Times as ‘Real theatre. It had vitality, it had mood, and it had illusion – all the way from start to finish.’ Lady in Dark is one of the legendary musicals of American musical theatre, its innovative concept of a ‘musical play’ presenting the main character’s therapy sessions and waking life as spoken drama and her dream sequences as musical numbers. The show’s brilliant score includes ‘Beautiful Girl’, ‘My Ship’ and the wonderful ‘Saga of Jenny’. The dances are choreographed by Rod Alexander. Highly recommended.


Einstein On The BeachPhilip Glass’s modern opera Einstein on the Beach has been called the greatest artwork of the 20th century. Instead of traditional narrative, it uses a formalist approach based on structured spaces laid out by director Robert Wilson in a series of storyboards. The music was written in 1975 and the premiere took place the following year at the Avignon Festival in France. The opera contains writings by Christopher Knowles, Samuel M. Johnson and Lucinda Childs, and is Glass’s first and longest opera score, taking approximately five hours in full performance without intermission (the audience is permitted to enter and leave as desired). ‘The static tableaux are as much art installation as music theatre, and need to be seen rather than just heard.’ - Financial Times. This seminal work of avant-garde opera now arrives full-circle, coming back to France for a 2014 revival tour and filmed for first ever in a landmark Theâtre du Châtelet production by award-winning arts filmmaker Don Kent. The opera revolves loosely around pacifist Albert Einstein’s relationship to the creation of the atomic bomb. This new production was hailed by Le Figaro as ‘meticulously crafted total artwork in which the visual and musical craft are inseparable’. The music is again performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble and the choreography devised by original cast member Lucinda Childs for her own dance company, with the scenes taking place under Bob Wilson’s digitally remastered light design. Michael Riesman conducts the performance, which features soloists Helga Davis, Kate Moran and Antoine Silverman. This special double-Blu-ray release is packaged with a handsome 56 page hardcover book. ‘I don’t care about music theory, I’m only interested in listening to music. I begin by listening. Like images emerging from the mist and becoming visible.’ - Phlip Glass.


Cavalleria Rusticana, PagliacciItalian composer Pietro Mascagni was born in Livorno, Tuscany, in 1863. He enjoyed immense success both as a composer and conductor of his own and other people’s music and created a variety of styles in his operas: the exotic flavor of Iris, the idylls of L’amico Fritz and Lodoletta, the steely power of Il piccolo Marat, and the post-romanticism of the lush Parisina. Despite this versatility, he is easily best known for the Sicilian passion and warmth of his 1890 masterpiece Cavalleria Rusticana, which caused one of the greatest sensations in opera history and single-handedly ushered in the Verismo movement in Italian dramatic music. Like Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo has also sometimes been called a ‘one-opera man’, although he produced numerous operas and other songs throughout his career (‘Mattinata’ was popularised by Enrico Caruso), as well as the symphonic poem La nuit de mai. His most lasting contribution to the operatic repertoire is undoubtedly his short two-act work Pagliacci, written in 1892 and still one of the most-performed operas worldwide. Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci are often produced together as a double bill and here award-winning Damiano Michieletto directs new productions of these crowd-pleasing operas, both set in a poverty stricken village in 1980s southern Italy, where the Mafia has a hold. Antonio Pappano conducts the Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus and the cast members include charismatic Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek (Santuzza), Italian soprano Carmen Giannattasio (Nedda), Elena Zilio (Mamma Lucia), Dimitri Platanias (Tonio), and the wonderful Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko (Turiddu).


Tristan und IsoldeRichard Wagner’s three-act opera Tristan und Isolde, with a libretto by the composer based largely on the romance by Gottfried von Strassburg, was composed between 1857 and 1859 and premiered in Munich in 1865. This groundbreaking masterpiece, now widely recognised as one of the peaks of the operatic repertoire, was inspired by the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer and by the composer’s affair with Mathilde Wesendonck. The hugely influential Tristan is notable for Wagner’s unprecedented use of chromaticism, tonality, orchestral colour and harmonic suspension. The opening three bars may best be described in the composer’s own words writing of the Prelude that there is ‘henceforth no end to the yearning, longing, rapture, and misery of love: world, power, fame, honor, chivalry, loyalty, and friendship, scattered like an insubstantial dream; one thing alone left sole redemption: death, surcease of being, the sleep that knows no waking!’ This Blu-ray release from Deutsche Grammophon (also available as a double DVD set) features a production Tristan und Isolde directed in Bayreuth by the composer’s great-granddaughter, Katharina Wagner. The Bayreuth Festival Orchestra is conducted by Christian Thielmann, arguably the most important Wagner conductor of today, and the soloists who include Stephan Gould and Evelyn Herlitzius in the title roles. This production was premiered on 25 July 2015 – the 150th anniversary of the opera’s premiere – and marked the high-point of last year’s Bayreuth Festival. ‘As I have never in life felt the real bliss of love, I must erect a monument to the most beautiful of all my dreams, in which, from beginning to end, that love shall be thoroughly satiated.’ - Richard Wagner in a letter to Liszt.


The Rape of LucretiaBenjamin Britten’s two-act opera, The Rape of Lucretia, has an English libretto by Ronald Duncan based on André Obey’s play Le Viol de Lucrèce. The work was first performed at Glyndebourne in July 1946 and featured Kathleen Ferrier’s operatic debut as Lucretia. Her character is wife to the Roman general Collatinus and is reputed to be the only chaste woman in Rome, making her an irresistible challenge to the loathed Etruscan Prince, Tarquinius. The rape drives Lucretia, her honour lost, to suicide. An interesting aspect of this opera is the telling of the story by a Greek Chorus - a tenor and a soprano. The story is set about 500BC, but the Chorus is Christian. Thus the pagan myth of Lucretia is juxtaposed with the Christian morals identified by the Chorus, who comment on the action ‘out of time’ (as in Greek tragedy). For both economic and aesthetic reasons, Britten devised this work, first performed a year after Peter Grimes, as a chamber opera utilising a small cast and an orchestra of only thirteen players. The pared-down textures enhanced the composer’s operatic vision and later inspired Albert Herring and The Turn of the Screw. Seventy years after its Glyndebourne world premiere, The Rape of Lucretia is welcomed home in an outstanding production subtly directed by Fiona Shaw, underpinned by ‘febrile playing’ from members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leo Hussain (The Telegraph). The 2015 production eloquently and tastefully tackles the difficult subject, which is lent emotional weight by Christine Rice’s grandly sung Lucretia, baritone Duncan Rock’s powerful Tarquinius and the ‘smooth bass’ of Matthew Rose as the caring Collatinus (The Guardian). The cast also includes Allan Clayton (Male Chorus), Kate Royal (Female Chorus), Michael Sumuel (Junius), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Bianca) and Louise Alder (Lucia). ‘Piercingly intelligent, immaculately realised.’ - The Daily Telegraph. Extras with this Blu-ray release include The History of Lucretia and Innocence Corrupted - A conversation with Fiona Shaw.


PoliutoGaetano Donizetti’s three-act tragic opera Poliuto Poliuto has an Italian libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, based on Corneille’s play Polyeucte about the life of the early Christian martyr Saint Polyeuctus. This has been called Donizetti’s most personal opera, and although rarely performed it includes some of the composer’s finest music. The opera was written in 1838 for performance at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples later that year. However, King Ferdinand II refused to allow the martyrdom of a Christian saint to be seen on stage and forbade the production. A revised version was produced in 1840 at the Paris Opéra with the title Les martyrs, and it was not performed in Italy until 1848, months after the composer’s death. Glyndebourne has brought to light a long-overlooked winner in Donizetti’s Poliuto, delivering ‘a superb musical performance’ (The Telegraph) offering ‘lucent accounts of the principal roles and an incandescent London Philharmonic Orchestra, under Enrique Mazzola’ (New York Times). This first-ever professional UK staging of the story of third-century Armenian martyr St Polyeuctus features Michael Fabiano in the title role, with Ana Maria Martinez, Igor Golovatenko, Matthew Rose, Timothy Robinson and Emanuele D’Aguanno. Enrique Mazzola conducts the Glyndebourne Chorus & London Philharmonic Orchestra. Extras with this 2015 recording include Passion & Faith: Preparing for a UK premiere, and Love & Oppression: An Interview with Mariame Clément (stage director of this production).


Mozart - HarnoncourtWolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria, in 1756. He began composing minuets by the age of five and was already writing symphonies by the time he was nine, as well as being a virtuoso keyboard player and violinist. He went on to excel at every type of music in which he composed, helping to perfect the grand forms of symphony, opera, string quartet and concerto during the classical period in music. Mozart’s operas in particular contain remarkable psychological insights and were central to the composer’s creative life, representing the peak of his genius. In the 1780s, he wrote three unsurpassed operas with the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte that deal with love in its many forms, from the humanely comic (The Marriage of Figaro) and mythically resonant (Don Giovanni) to the elegantly cynical (Così fan tutte). All three operas are included in this box set of three Blu-ray discs featuring Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting the Chorus and Orchestra of the Zürich Opera House in productions directed by Jürgen Flimm. Nikolaus Harnoncourt was a legend who brought music to life and made it speak, and this set has been released in memoriam of one of the greatest musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries. The first-class array of soloists includes Cecilia Bartoli (Fiordiligi in Cosi Fan Tutte and Elvira in Don Giovanni), Isabel Rey as Donna Anna, Liliana Nikiteanu (a delightful Cherubino in Figaro), Eva Mei as La Contessa, Agnes Baltsa (Despina), Carlos Chausson (Don Alfonso), and Rodney Gilfry (Count Almaviva).


I Due FoscariIn Giuseppe Verdi’s little-known early tragedy, a despairing father is torn between love for his family and his duty to a corrupt city. Jacopo Foscari, son of a 15th-century Doge of Venice, is convicted of murder and treason on a trumped-up charge. His wife Lucrezia is sure of his innocence. But the Doge, trapped by the machinations of the city, is forced to make a terrible decision. I due Foscari is one of Verdi’s darkest and saddest as the father realises that there is nothing he can do to protect his family against the world’s cruelties. The opera premiered successfully in Rome in 1844 and it has been revived occasionally, especially since it was taken up by tenor Plácido Domingo in singing baritone roles. He takes on the role of the weak-willed Doge in this production of Verdi’s potent and dramatic work, recorded in London’s Covent Garden in 2015. Antonio Pappano conducts the Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus in director Thaddeus Strassberger’s setting that explores the corruption lurking beneath the opulent display of the Venetian court. The spectacular sets and stunning Renaissance-style costumes are designed by Kevin Knight and Mattie Ullrich. Tenor Francesco Meli eloquently sings Francesco Foscari’s son Jacopo, unjustly accused of treason and forced to appeal to his father’s mercy, with Italian soprano Maria Agresta as Jacopo’s courageous wife Lucrezia, determined to free him at any cost.


FidelioLudwig van Beethoven is perhaps the greatest composer of classical music, rivalled only by Mozart. He was born in 1770 in Bonn, Germany, and by the time he was 13 he was supporting his family as a court musician, having already written his first symphony. His father, an obscure tenor singer, was apparently a violent man, who would drag young Ludwig from his bed in order to ‘beat’ music lessons into his head. Despite such abuses, Beethoven developed a sensitivity and love for music, going on to study with Mozart, Haydn, Johann Schenk, Johann Georg Albrechtsberger and Antonio Salieri. He began slowly to lose his hearing from the age of 30 yet increasing deafness did not end his career and his fame peaked in 1814 when his only opera, Fidelio, was successfully revived. Fidelio has never since ceased to fascinate audiences with its spellbinding story of true love. Adroitly staged by director Jürgen Flimm, this production features an outstanding cast of soloists that includes Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund as the loving wife, Leonore, and her alter ego, the young Fidelio. Acclaimed tenor Jonas Kaufmann is her counterpart Florestan, brought back to life by marital love. László Polgár is the jailer Rocco, torn between greed and sympathy, and Alfred Muff is the sinister Don Pizarrog. The Orchestra and Chorus of the Zurich Opera House are conducted in refreshingly unaffected style by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, celebrated for the structural transparency of his interpretations, his intellectual penetration and his emotional understanding of both music and opera plot.


La Boheme, San FranciscoAccording to Opera America, La Bohème is the second most frequently performed opera in the United States, just behind another Puccini favourite, Madama Butterfly, and the work has been performed countless times around the world since its premiere in Turin in 1896. The opera tells the story of a group of artistic friends in Paris, particularly the romantic relationship between the poet Rodolfo and grisette Mimi. Like the parallel relationship of Rodolfo’s roommate Marcello and the beautiful Musetta, Mimi and Rodolfo’s love is beset difficulties caused by the depth of their passion, jealousy, fear and poverty. Despite all this, they are united tragically in the opera’s moving climax. This blu-ray release features a live 1988 recording of Puccini’s bittersweet masterpiece from the San Francisco Opera, with Luciano Pavarotti as the quintessentially romantic Rodolfo and Mirella Freni as a sweetly vulnerable Mimi. Francesca Zambello’s naturalistic production is beautifully designed by David Mitchell and the conductor is Italian Tiziano Severini, who was critically acclaimed for his passionate and spontaneous reading of the score. Pavarotti made his debut in Italy in La Bohème in 1961, and this remained one of his signature roles throughout his long career. The outstanding cast here also includes Gino Quilico as Marcello, Nicolai Ghiaurov as Colline, Stephen Dickson as Schaunard and Sandra Pacetti as free-spirited Musetta. This Blu-ray recording is one of several fine new opera releases from Arthaus Musik, which also include Madama Butterfly (directed in opulent style by Franco Zeffirelli at the Arena di Verona, with Fiorenza Cedolins as Cio-Cio-San), Weber’s Der Freischutz (directed by the legendary Ruth Berghaus and conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt at Operhaus Zurich) and Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (superbly conducted by Daniel Barenboim at the Staatsoper, Berlin, with Dorothea Röschmann as Susanna and Emily Magee as Contessa Almaviva).


Aida - ScalaGiuseppe Verdi’s spectacular opera Aida is set in Egypt and was commissioned for 150,000 francs by Isma’il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, to celebrate the opening of Cairo’s Khedivial Opera House. The premiere was delayed though because of the Siege of Paris (1870–71), during the Franco-Prussian War, when the scenery and costumes were stuck in the French capital, and Verdi’s Rigoletto was performed instead. Aida eventually premiered in Cairo on Christmas Eve in 1871, with Giovanni Bottesini conducting after Verdi withdrew. Today the opera is an established favourite with many performances around the world each year. New York’s Metropolitan Opera alone has seen Aida sung more than 1,100 times since 1886. The Italian libretto by Antonio Ghislanzonischeme follows a scenario often attributed to the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, but Verdi biographer Mary Jane Phillips-Matz argues that the source is actually Temistocle Solera. This Blu-ray release features a recording of Verdi’s masterpiece at La Scala in Milan - an experience in itself. This new production is an event barely to be surpassed, especially when played before La Scala’s notoriously critical audience. Legendary stage director Peter Stein succeeds in delivering a lucid, uncluttered and elegant production acclaimed in equal measure by the press and public. The Choir and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala are conducted with authority by Verdi specialist Zubin Mehta and the outstanding soloists include Carlo Colombara as the King, young mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili as the fiery Amneris, Kristin Lewis as an irresistible Aida, the wonderful Fabio Sartori Radamès, Finnish bass Matti Salminen as the High Priest, George Gagnidze as Aida’s father Amonasro and Chiara Isotton. ‘A perfect coup de théâtre.’ - Giornale della musica.


The Searchers of the GrailWhat do Adolf Hitler, Harrison Ford and Plácido Domingo have in common? All three of them wanted to find the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus Christ drank at the Last Supper, and which subsequently collected His blood as He bled on the Cross. The Grail was said to have brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea and the search for it became the principal quest of the knights of King Arthur. It first appears in a written text in Chrétien de Troyes’s Old French verse romance, the Conte del Graal in 1180. Many others have since been inspired by the story, including 19th Century authors Scott and Tennyson as well as Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of artists and Monty Python. Hitler, the most dangerous dictator of all time, identified himself with Parsifal, on his quest for the Holy Grail. Harrison Ford, alias Indiana Jones, engages in a fierce race for the cup with the German Nazis in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And Plácido Domingo is considered to be one of the best performers ever of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, a mystical vision first conceived by the composer in 1857 but not finished until twenty-five years later as his last completed opera, first seen at the second Bayreuth Festival in 1882. This Wagnerian opera and the three men mentioned meet in director Tony Palmer’s intriguing documentary, The Searchers of the Grail, which features in this Blu-ray release. Starting with a Parsifal production starring Plácido Domingo in the title role, Violetta Urmana as Kundry, Nikolai Putilin as Klingsor and Matti Salminen as Gurnemanz, the film takes us to the gardens of the Villa Rufolo in Ravello, Italy, which had been a principal source of inspiration for Wagner; on to the actual stage in Bayreuth for a rare interview with Wolfgang Wagner, the composer’s grandson; and finally to Hollywood and Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones. Palmer impressively weaves together documentary, fiction and the everlasting spell of the myth of the Holy Grail - one of the most enduring in Western European literature and art.


Sharon IsbinMulti-Grammy Award winner Sharon Isbin is an American classical guitarist born in 1956 in in Minnesota. She began her guitar studies aged nine in Italy, where her nuclear scientist father went to work as a consultant. Sharon Isbin was a student of Andrés Segovia as well as noted keyboard artist and Bach scholar Rosalyn Tureck. She collaborated with Dr. Tureck in preparing and recording landmark first performance editions of the Bach lute suites for guitar and began practicing Transcendental Meditation. Since graduating from the Yale School of Music she has become an acclaimed concert performer and prolific recording artist as well as founder of the Guitar Department at the Juilliard School. This hour-long documentary, produced by Susan Dangel for American Public Television in 2014, explores the inspiring journey of Sharon Isbin which has expanded and transformed the landscape of the instrument. Performances are showcased from international concert stages, the Grammy Awards and from the White House to create a portrait of one of the world’s leading classical guitarists - a trailblazing performer and teacher who broke through numerous barriers to rise to the top of a traditionally male-dominated field. The colourful array of guests appearing in interviews and performances include composers John Corigliano, Christopher Rouse, Tan Dun, Joan Tower, rock musician Steve Vai and Stanley Jordan, as well as commentary from such celebrated figures as First Lady Michelle Obama, Joan Baez, Martina Navratilova, David Hyde Pierce, and Garrison Keillor. ‘Classical guitar’s reigning diva’ talks about her coming out as an openly gay woman and the film also explores her role as teacher of a new generation of guitarists at both The Juilliard School, where she created the first guitar department, and the Aspen Music Festival. In addition to the documentary, the disc includes extra scenes, commentary from conductor Leonard Slatkin, and full-length performances of works by Howard Shore, Mark O’Connor (in performance with Isbin), Augustín Barrios Mangoré, Antonio Lauro and Isaac Albéniz. ‘A wonderful piece that artfully shares this artist’s passion for musical creation and exploration ... Fantastic ... wonderful to watch.’ - Guitar World.


Jazz on a Summer's DayBert Stern’s timeless music documentary film, Jazz on A Summer’s Day, vividly captured on celluloid some of the greatest performers of the 1950s and has taken on the mantle of a classic. Made at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island, USA, it was co-directed by commercial and fashion photographer Stern and Aram Avakian, who also edited the film. Columbia Records jazz producer George Avakian was the musical director and there are terrific performances by Jimmy Giuffre, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Stitt, Dinah Washington, Big Maybelle, Gerry Mulligan, the mesmeric Chico Hamilton Quintet, Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden. Anita O’Day, in her broad-brimmed hat, cocktail dress and kid gloves, presented an iconic visual image of jazz chanteuse cool. Many performances ran so long that the last act, Mahalia Jackson, did not appear on stage until after midnight, performing The Lord’s Prayer. Also featured are Buck Clayton, Jo Jones, Armando Peraza, and Eli’s Chosen Six, the Yale College student ensemble that included trombonist Roswell Rudd, shown driving around Newport in a convertible jalopy, playing Dixieland. The film mixes images of the performers and audience at the festival with scenes of the 1958 America’s Cup yacht races. In 1999, Jazz on A Summer’s Day was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for its cultural, historical and aesthetic significance. This beautifully-packaged DVD / CD set features the original film as well as detailed illustrated biographies of the film’s artists and an illuminating documentary narrated by Bert Stern providing an insight into the making of the film and the Newport Jazz Festival. The film and the accompanying soundtrack CD have been remastered to exacting contemporary standards, and the lovingly illustrated accompanying booklet comes with a new sleeve note by Mojo and former NME writer Fred Dellar. Jazz on A Summer’s Day is a joyous celebration of a time when America was changing and is still totally cool after nearly 60 years. Not to be missed.


Cosi Fan Tutte bluray EuroartsThe Italian librettist and poet Lorenzo Da Ponte was born in 1749 in Ceneda (now Vittorio Veneto). Originally Jewish, he converted to Catholicism at 14, became a priest and moved to Venice, from where he was banished in 1779 due to various scandals. He eventually settled in Vienna, where Emperor Joseph II named him ‘poet of the imperial theatres’, and wrote the librettos for many operas. The most famous of these were for three of Mozart’s great Opera buffa - The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte – in which Da Ponte’s elegantly witty words and powerful plots perfectly complemented Mozart’s sublime music. This Blu-ray release features a dynamic interpretation of Mozart’s best loved opera in a live recording of the 2013 Salzburg Festival opera production directed by Sven-Eric Bechtolf. This comic tale of fiancée-swapping is flirtatiously retold by an outstanding cast, including Swedish soprano Malin Hartelius (Fiordiligi), the brilliant baritone Luca Pisaroni (Guglielmo), Marie-Claude Chappuis (Dorabella), Martin Mitterrutzner (Ferrando), Czech-born Martina Janková (delightfully sexy and funny as the serving maid Despina) and the acclaimed Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley (Don Alfonso). The Vienna Philharmonic and Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor are spiritedly conducted by Christoph Eschenbach.


La Traviata GlyndebourneGiuseppe Verdi based his three act opera La traviata on La dame aux Camélias, a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils. The title La traviata literally means The Fallen Woman, and it was originally called Violetta, after the main character, a beautiful courtesan. Violetta abandons her happy but empty life in Paris and takes up with young nobleman Alfred Germont. His father demands that Violetta leaves as the relationship disgraces the Germont family name. Violetta agrees for Alfredo’s sake and is abandoned by everyone until Alfred discovers the truth and begs her to forgive him. Verdi and his Italian librettist Francesco Maria Piave wanted to follow Dumas in giving the opera a contemporary setting, but the authorities at La Fenice insisted that it be set in the past. It was not until the 1880s that the composer’s original wishes were carried out and ‘realistic’ productions were staged. This Blu-ray release a live recording of Verdi’s tragic masterpiece in an elegant production directed by Tom Cairns at Glyndebourne Opera House in 2014. Violetta’s death is cast as an idée fixe, creating a liberating framework that is well supported by Hildegard Bechtler’s smart, semi-abstract designs. Described as a soprano of ‘huge presence, compelling to watch’, Bolshoi star Venera Gimadieva is ‘thrilling’ (Guardian) in her company debut as the doomed courtesan, well matched by American tenor Michael Fabiano’s sharply suited and ‘robustly-sung’ Alfredo (Financial Times), with Tassis Christoyannis delivering an imposing performance as the formidable Germont Père. Conductor Mark Elder reveals his mastery of the opera’s dramatic shape, coaxing each and every nuance out of the London Philharmonic Orchestra to create beautifully stylish music-making. Extras include interviews with Mark Elder and the cast as well as a stills gallery.


Bach - Mass in b minorJohann Sebastian Bach’s awesome Mass in B minor was one of his last compositions, completed when he had already gone blind in 1749, the year before his death. This musical setting of the complete Ordinary of the Latin Mass gave new form to vocal music that Bach had composed throughout his career, dating back (in the case of the ‘Crucifixus’) to 1714, but extensively revised. In the late 1740s Bach composed new sections of the Credo such as ‘Et incarnatus est’ to complete a popular grand-scale work that is now regarded as one of the supreme achievements of classical music. Bach scholar Christoph Wolff describes the work as ‘a summary of his writing for voice, not only in its variety of styles, compositional devices, and range of sonorities, but also in its high level of technical polish ... Bach’s mighty setting preserved the musical and artistic creed of its creator for posterity.’ The Mass in B minor is a sublime blend of musical and spiritual unity that includes some of Bach’s most profound and beautiful music. Although one of the composer’s most frequently performed vocal works, it continues to present performers and scientists with new enigmas and problems. This applies not only to the still unanswered question of why Bach composed but never performed this work, but also continues to the core of the musical text. Directly after Bach’s death, the original manuscript was massively changed by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel. This new recording Hans-Christoph Rademann with the Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart and Freiburger Barockorchester rigorously follows - in the Kyrie and Gloria - Bach’s own meticulously configured ‘Dresdner Stimmen’ (Dresden parts) and is thereby based, for the first time, exclusively on the musical text that emanated from Johann Sebastian Bach’s pen. Additional movements with marked deviations from today’s familiar version have been made accessible as variants in the bonus material. The recording is based upon the new edition by the renowned Bach and Mozart scholar Ulrich Leisinger in cooperation with the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, who also prepared the introduction in the comprehensive CD booklet. The renowned soloists include soprano Carolyn Sampson and tenor Daniel Johannsen, and this meticulous recording is both sumptuous and vibrant. ‘The greatest musical work of all times and all people.’ - Hans Georg Nägeli.


Die ZauberflöteMozart’s two-act opera The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) was composed in 1791 during the final year of the composer’s life. Its German libretto is by Emanuel Schikaneder and the opera premiered in a small suburban theatre 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. Die Zauberflöte is a Singspiel, a popular form that includes both singing and spoken dialogue, and it was a great success from the start, drawing large crowds to hundreds of performances throughout the 1790s. The work has prominent Masonic elements - Schikaneder and Mozart were both Masons and lodge brothers - and was strongly influenced by Enlightenment philosophy. Mozart’s masterpiece seamlessly alternates seriousness and jollity, and combines philosophical ideas with a fairytale world of wondrous animals and magical musical instruments. This inventive new interpretation from director Simon McBurney fuses music, technology and stagecraft in an exciting production for the De Nederlandse Opera. Recorded live in 2014, it features a cast of scintillating soloists: German tenor Maximilian Schmitt (Tamino), beautiful soprano Christina Landshamer (Pamina), Thomas Oliemans as the comical birdcatcher Papageno, Brindley Sherratt (Sarastro), Íride Martínez (Königin der Nacht), Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Monostatos) and Nina Lejderman (a delightfully mischievous Papagena). The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and Chorus of Dutch National Opera are conducted by Marc Albrecht.


Fairy QueenBorn in London in 1659, Henry Purcell incorporated Italian and French stylistic elements into his music, devising an original and particularly English style of Baroque music. Although he lived a very short life he benefitted from the renewed flowering of music after the Restoration of the Monarchy. As the son of a musician at Court, a chorister at the Chapel Royal, and the holder of continuing royal appointments until his death, Purcell worked in Westminster for three different Kings over twenty-five years. In addition to his royal duties he wrote operas, most notably Dido and Aeneas, as well as incidental stage music and chamber music in the form of harpsichord suites and trio sonatas. There is hardly a department of music to which Purcell did not contribute with great distinction and his epitaph in Westminster Abbey reads, ‘Here lyes Henry Purcell Esq., who left this life and is gone to that blessed place where only his harmony can be exceeded.’ The Fairy-Queen is a masque or semi-opera that Purcell wrote to a libretto adapted anonymously from William Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. First performed in 1692, The Fairy-Queen was composed three years before Purcell’s death in 1695 at the age of 35. Following his death, the score was lost and only rediscovered early in the twentieth century. This Arthaus blu-ray release features David Pountney’s enchanting and colourful production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen launched in 1995 by the English National OperaUnder the musical direction of Nicholas Kok, this was received with great enthusiasm by both the public and musical press. The dancing roles, brilliantly choreographed by Quinny Sacks, include Puck (Simon Rice) and the Indian boy (Arthur Pita), and the outstanding cast of singers includes Yvonne Kenny as Titania, Thomas Randle as Oberon and Richard Van Allan as curmudgeonly King Theseus. Jonathan Best, with his comic portrayal of the drunken poet, was loved by the audience and praised highly by the press, while other singers like Michael Chance, Mary Hegarthy, Janis Kelly, Marc Le Brocq and Christopher Ross all contribute to produce an unusual and riotous musical theatre experience. ‘It’s exhilarating, funny, romantic, sexy ... the sense of a big company at full stretch thoroughly enjoying itself, is enormously invigorating.’ - The Times.


Rigoletto1Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto was commissioned by the La Fenice opera house in Venice in 1850. By this time he was already a well-known composer and had a degree of freedom in choosing the works he would prefer to set to music. He asked Francesco Maria Piave to work with him on Victor Hugo’s five-act play Le roi s’amuse, explaining that ‘The subject is grand, immense, and there is a character that is one of the greatest creations that the theatre can boast of, in any country and in all history.’ The tragic story revolves around the licentious Duke of Mantua, his hunch-backed court jester Rigoletto, and Rigoletto’s beautiful daughter Gilda. The opera’s original title, La maledizione (The Curse), refers to the curse placed on both the Duke and Rigoletto by a courtier whose daughter had been seduced by the Duke with Rigoletto’s encouragement. The curse comes to fruition when Gilda likewise falls in love with the Duke and eventually sacrifices her life to save him from the assassins hired by her father. Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered in 1851 in a sold-out La Fenice and the opening night was a complete triumph, especially the Duke’s cynical aria, ‘La donna è mobile’, which was sung in the streets of Venice the next morning. This DVD features the only Rigoletto stage production on film featuring Luciano Pavarotti, The performance was discovered in the Metropolitan Opera Archives and is available here for the first time. Recorded in 1981, it presents Pavarotti at the peak of his career, supported by an outstanding cast that includes Louis Quilico in the title role, Christine Eda-Pierre as Gilda, Ara Berberian as Sparafucile, and Isola Jones as Maddalena, with Met Music Director James Levine conducting one of Verdi’s best-loved operas.


Hansel and GretelGerman composer Engelbert Humperdinck described Hänsel und Gretel as a Märchenoper (fairy tale opera). In the 1890s, his sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote a libretto based on the Grimm fairy tale and asked her brother to set it to music as a Christmas entertainment for her children. Later, Engelbert and Adelheid decided to turn this modest family project into a full-scale opera, which premiered in 1893 at Weimar and was an instant hit. The young composer Richard Strauss, who was the assistant conductor for the premiere, called it ‘a masterwork of the first rank’, and its Hamburg premiere the following year was conducted by no less than Gustav Mahler. This much-loved work has been associated with Christmas since its earliest performances and today is still most often performed at Christmas time. Humperdinck’s masterpiece is an endearing and musically adroit opera that continues to entrance adults and children alike. Steeped in the guileless world of folk-song: the children’s songs and dances, the idyllic forest scenes, the supernatural material and the central thematic chorale are all rooted in German traditional music. Conductor Franz Welser-Most draws this impressive diversity of sound from the orchestra of the Zurich Opera House in Frank Corsaro’s stylish and imaginative production for Zurich Opera. Designed by Maurice Sendak, renowned for his classic children’s books, the vivid, magical and often disturbing imagery is perfect for the fairytale world of Hänsel und Gretel. He expands the Witch’s gingerbread cottage into an entire farmyard of sweetmeats, complete with windmill, and the house has a life of its own, with menacing, glowing eyes which also dominate the stage during the ‘Witch’s Ride’ interlude. This beautifully produced Blu-ray release features a live recording with Alfred Muff and Gabriele Lechner as Peter the broom maker and his wife Gertrud. Volker Vogel plays the scary witch and the title roles are charmingly sung by Liliana Nikiteanu and Malin Hartelius.


Peter & the WolfIn 1936 Sergei Prokofiev composed the music to Peter an the Wolf, a children’s story he had written himself, and the work has been an international favourite ever since. He had been commissioned by Natalya Sats and the Central Children’s Theatre in Moscow to write a new musical symphony for children, intended to cultivate musical tastes in children from the first years of school. Intrigued by the invitation, Prokofiev completed Peter and the Wolf within a few days. The story is about a boy named Peter who lives with his grandfather, who does not want Peter going out of their garden because there are wolves around. One day Peter goes out the garden gate and sees a duck swimming in a nearby pond. The duck is arguing with a little bird. Peter sees a cat approaching and warns the little bird who flies up into a tree. When a hungry wolf appears, the cat climbs a tree to escape but the duck is swallowed by the wolf. The bird distracts the wolf by flying over his head while Peter lowers a noose and catches the wolf by his tail. Hunters then come out of the woods and fire at the wolf but Peter stops them. They all bring the wolf to the zoo and at the end, the duck can be heard quacking in the wolf’s stomach. Each character in this magical tale is represented by an instrument or group of instruments and some of the world’s greatest actors have narrated, including Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud and Boris Karloff. Director Suzie Templeton’s animated film takes us into a world in which little boys can find extraordinary courage and, with a little help from a crazy bird and a dreamy duck, catch the wily wolf. Prokofiev’s music is played by the Philharmonia Orchestra. This enchanting and beautifully observed film was produced at Poland’s Oscar-winning Se-ma-for Studios using stop-frame model animation and state-of-the-art digital technology. Extras with this Blu-ray release include an optional director’s commentary and several documentaries showing the dedication of more than a hundred people involved in the film, which took five years to make.


One Touch of VenusOne Touch of Venus was hard-working composer Kurt Weill’s most successful musical written for Broadway, and the only ‘book musical’ for which the legendary poet Ogden Nash wrote the sophisticated lyrics. The inspiration was British author F Anstey’s 1898 comic novella, The Tinted Venus, which tells the whimsical tale of a statue who briefly comes to life and expresses her disgust at love’s debasement to the furtive, repressed sexuality of Victorianism. Weill’s Broadway show satirizes contemporary American suburban values, artistic fads and romantic and sexual mores. The 1948 Hollywood film version – shorn of all but a few of the songs – failed to capture the show’s charms but this 1955 television adaptation, directed by George Schaefer and based on a stage production by the Dallas State Fair Musicals, is a delight. Despite being trimmed down to just 79 minutes, this version retains nearly all of the glorious score, including such hits as Speak Low and I’m a Stranger Here Myself. It also includes two ballets originally conceived and choreographed by Agnes DeMille as well as most of the original book, co-written by Nash and S J Perelman. The cast is headed by the lovely Janet Blair, with Russell Nype as Rodney the hapless barber and George Gaynes as his rival in love, the suave millionaire art collector Whitelaw Savory. Janet Blair sings and dances beautifully and the strong supporting cast of character actors includes scene-stealers such as the formidable Adnia Rice, Mort Marshall as a hopeless private detective, Laurel Shelby as Savory’s sassy secretary and Louis Nye as a frustrated psychiatrist. This essential DVD presents the complete live telecast, including the original Oldsmobile commercials added as a separate bonus feature. The informative program notes are by musical-theatre historian George Dansker. Witty yet surprisingly poignant, One Touch of Venus is a sophisticated example of American Broadway theatre brought to life in this light-hearted production.


Don Giovanni1Don Giovanni may not be Mozart’s most popular opera but it is certainly one of his most admired. First performed at the National Theatre in Prague in 1787, it combines comedy and tragedy to tell the story of an insatiable womanizer, Don Giovanni, otherwise known as Don Juan. Don Giovanni represents a force of nature without conscience and sense of responsibility. His sole aim in life is to win the female he has just fallen in love with. Therefore, all the people around him become his victims. Not able to own up his crimes he is dragged down to hell. All the characters are fascinating and the timeless music and sharp-witted libretto contribute equally to this masterpiece. This new Blu-ray release features a live recording made at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in February 2014 of director Kasper Holten’s production of Mozart’s tragic ‘opera of all operas’. This acclaimed production has spectacular set designs by Es Devlin that make innovative use of projections by video designer Luke Halls. Nicola Luisotti conducts the Royal Opera Orchestra and Chorus and Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecień is outstanding as the inveterate seducer Don Giovanni, a role he has excelled in may times around the world. The distinguished cast also includes Alex Esposito as Leporello, Alexander Tsymbalyuk as Il Commendatore, French soprano Véronique Gens as Donna Elvira, Malin Byström as Donna Anna, Antonio Poli as Don Ottavio and the delightful Elizabeth Watts as Zerlina. Extras include an introduction, Don Giovanni's Women, director's commentary and a cast gallery.


Anna Netrebko Live from the Salzburg FestivalAnna Netrebko is arguably today’s greatest operatic soprano, regularly headlining in productions at the world’s leading opera houses and enchanting audiences while continuing to cultivate the respect and admiration of opera’s most devoted and demanding fans. Her beautiful, dark and distinctive voice, together with her vivacious style, supreme musicality, and dazzling stage presence, have prompted critics to hail her as ‘Audrey Hepburn with a voice’. Born in 1971 in Krasnodar, Russia, she studied at the St Petersburg Conservatory and made her operatic stage debut at the Mariinsky Theatre aged 22, singing Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro. Following her breakthrough performance as Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the 2002 Salzburg Festival she has gone on to a remarkable series of artistic triumphs around the world, including La Scala, Covent Garden and Carnegie Hall. Anna Netrebko has redefined what it means to be an opera star, and in the process has become one of the most acclaimed and widely-recognized classical singers in the world today. In 2007 she became the first soprano to feature in Time magazine’s Time 100 list. Her gilded, lyric soprano, good looks and acting abilities make her a natural fit for opera’s great heroines – Mimì, Violetta, Juliette. This superb Blu-ray collection includes three operas recorded during the Salzburg Festival featuring Anna Netrebko and the Wiener Philharmoniker. Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts in the production of ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ with Netrebko singing the role of Susanna. Puccini’s ‘La Bohème’ sees Daniele Gatti lead the orchestra while Netrebko’s Mimi is joined onstage by Piotr Beczala’s Rodolfo and Nino Machaidze’s Musetta. Finally, in ‘La Traviata’, Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón play the lovers Violetta and Alfredo while Carlo Rizzi conducts. A 28-page booklet includes a new essay by Roger Pines and full cast lists.


L'elisir d'amore blu-rayItalian composer Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love) is a ‘melodramma giocoso’ in two acts with a libretto by Felice Romani after the French playwright Eugene Scribe’s comedy, based on the legend about a magic love potion taken from Gottfried von Strassburg’s courtly romance Tristan. The opera’s action takes place in a country farm and its brilliant comedy has many points of contact with semi-serious operas, the choice of subject probably being influenced by the recent success of Bellini’s La Sonnambula. Donizetti’s opera premiered at the Teatro della Canobbiana in Milan in 1832 and with its witty plot about the relationship of a loving couple it was an immediate success. Scintillating melodies have also helped L’elisir d’amore to become one of the most frequently performed 19th-century Italian operas in the repertoire. This Deutsche Grammophon release brings to life Donizetti’s intoxicating and ultimately deeply touching opera in a live recording directed by Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón at the Baden-Baden Festival. The unusual staging was inspired by the cartoon character Lucky Luke and Spaghetti Westerns and marks Villazón’s debut as both stage director and singer as he also takes the role of lovelorn Nemorino. Miah Persson is Adina, the rich girl he yearns for, Roman Trekel is the bumptious Sergeant Belcore and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo is quack potion seller Dulcamara. Dynamic young Pablo Heras-Casado conducts the Balthasar-Neumann-Chor und Ensemble. Extras with this Blu-ray include ‘Rolando Villazón’s L’elisir d’amore in the Wild West’, a documentary film by Friedemann Hottenbacher.


Madama Butterfly blu-rayGiacomo Puccini’s poignant opera Madama Butterfly (Madame Butterfly), with an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, was based on a book by John Luther Long and a play by David Belasco. The first version, premiered 1904 at La Scala in Milan, had only two acts and was poorly received. The revised version split the long second act in half and proved more acceptable, although the two-act version is still preferred in Italy. Sometimes criticised for its stereotyping of ‘passive’ Asians or reflecting the supposed anti-American tone of the play on which it is based, Madame Butterfly nevertheless remains one of the most popular works in the operatic repertoire. This Blu-ray release of a 1974 production staged, directed and designed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, with Mirella Freni in the title role and a young Placido Domingo as the faithless Pinkerton. The cast also includes Christa Ludwig as an outstanding Suzuki, Robert Kerns as Sharpless and Michel Sénéchal as Goro. Conductor Herbert von Karajan, conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker and Staatsopernchor, reveals the sheer beauty of the music and Mirella Freni is radiantly beautiful and affecting as Butterfly.


Notre-Dame de ParisWith Roland Petit’s cool, cabaret-style choreography and chic costumes by Yves Saint Laurent, and a dark, percussive score by Maurice Jarre, Notre-Dame de Paris has been a modern ballet hit ever since its 1965 premiere. Petit’s deft condensation of Victor Hugo’s sprawling 19th century epic and tragic novel is now renewed by two stars of our own time, handsome Italian ballet virtuoso Roberto Bolle as hunchback bellringer Quasimodo and former Bolshoi artist Natalia Osipova as Esmerelda, the sensual gypsy girl. Mick Zeni is the obsessive archdeacon Frollo and Eris Nezha is Captain Phoebus. Teatro alla Scala’s colourful production, filmed in Italy in 2014 and broadcast to cinemas worldwide, is stunning tribute to Petit’s genius following his death in 2011. The Blu-ray recording was filmed in Milan, Italy, in 2014 and broadcast to cinemas worldwide. Extras include behind the scenes footage and a cast gallery. ‘Osipova is every bit the thespian as the ballerina.’ - Herald-Tribune.


Turandot1Turandot is a Persian word and name meaning ‘the Daughter of Turan’, Turan being the region of Central Asia which used to be a part of Persian Empire before its name was changed to Iran. Giacomo Puccini's three-act opera is based on a play by Carlo Gozzi, with an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni. Turandot remained unfinished at the composer’s death but he left behind thirty-six pages of sketches on twenty-three sheets and the score was completed by Franco Alfano. The first performance, at the Scala in Milan in 1926, was conducted by Arturo Toscanini and included only Puccini’s music. As with Madama Butterfly, Puccini strove for a semblance of Asian authenticity (at least to western ears) by using music from the region in question. Eight of the themes used in Turandot are based on traditional Chinese music but for many years, the People’s Republic of China forbade performance of Turandot because they thought it portrayed China and the Chinese unfavourably. In 1998 they relented, and the opera was performed at the Forbidden City, complete with opulent sets and soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army as extras. The opera is set in the Imperial Palace of Peking, where the Emperor announces that any prince seeking to marry his ice princess daughter Turandot must first answer three riddles. Prince Calaf falls in love with Turandot and successfully answers all three. However before the Prince marries her, he asks her a riddle of his own. Andrei Serban’s spectacular and thrilling production of Puccini’s final and grandest opera has long been a classic at the Royal Opera House. First filmed for BBC TV in the 80s, this new recording - of its fifteenth revival - is in stunning HD and makes this famous production available for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray. American Lise Lindstrom is an outstanding Turandot, supported by a touching Liù from Japanese soprano Eri Nakamura and an unashamedly Italianite Calaf from Marco Berti. The young Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási directs the large orchestra and all-important chorus in this live recording at the Royal Opera House in 2013. Extra features include Turandot - An Introduction, Behind the Masks and a cast gallery. The accompaying booklet has an interesting essay by Linda Fairtile on the creation of Puccini’s final opera.


StradellaThe composer and organist César-Auguste-Jean-Guillaume-Hubert Franck was born in Liège in 1822 and studied music there before going to the Paris Conservatoire. He briefly returned to Belgium, but went back to Paris in 1844 and remained there for the rest of his life, making his living by teaching and as an organist. In 1858, he became organist at the basilica Sainte-Clotilde, where he remained until his death. He was professor of Organ at the Paris Conservatoire, where his pupils included Vincent d’Indy, Ernest Chausson, Louis Vierne, and Henri Duparc, and as an organist he was particularly noted for his skill in improvisation. Although his output of compositions was small, it was hugely influential, laying the groundwork for the French great symphonic organ style. During his early days in Paris Franck earned a living partly as an accompanist to the Italian tenor Mario Bordogni, becoming familiar with the world of opera. His first opera, Stradella, was written when he was only 15. This three act work has survived virtually complete, as a piano score with some hints of orchestration. The manuscript has been orchestrated by Luc van Hove and Stradella was staged for the first time in this brilliant production at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in 2012. The music is full of youthful ardour, animated by a strong romantic spirit, and the story is set in Venice. Carnival is in full swing and Spadoni, lieutenant of the Duke of Pesaro – a leading figure in the city and a member of the Council of Ten – and his henchmen abduct the beautiful young Leonor. Unaware of the love affair between Stradella and Leonor, the Duke has hired singing teacher Stradella to make the girl love him. When Leonor escapes from the palace, the Duke is furious and pursues her all the way to Rome, where Spadoni hires gangsters to kill Stradella. Will the Duke have to step aside when confronted with the reality of their love? Direction is by filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael and the spectacular set design by Vincent Lemaire. Isabelle Kabatu, an acclaimed Belgian soprano of African origins, takes the role of Leonor and lyric tenor Marc Laho is outstanding as Stradella. Bass-baritone Werner van Mechelen makes a worthy lieutenant Spadoni and Philippe Rouillon is impressive as the Duc de Pesaro. Paolo Arrivabeni conducts this recently rediscovered opera that provides a fascinating addition to the repertoire.


Madama Butterfly1This high definition Blu-ray release captures a stylish and sophisticated production of Giacomo Puccini’s timeless Japanese tragedy conducted by Alexander Joel and recorded live at the Staatsoper Hamburg in 2012. Director Vincent Boussard elicits fine acting and vocal performances from an international cast that includes the impressive Greek soprano Alexia Voulgaridou as doomed Cio-Cio-san, Romanian tenor Teodor Ilincai as the selfish B. F. Pinkerton, Estonian baritone Lauri Vasar as Consul Sharpless and Cristina Damian as the faithful Suzuki. Vincent Lemaire’s simple yet ingenious set features a white spiral staircase and the beautiful costumes are by Christian Lacroix.


Death in Venice1Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice is a two act opera with an English libretto by Myfanwy Piper based on a novella by Thomas Mann and set in Venice, the composer’s beloved city. This was Britten’s last opera, written between 1971 and its first performance was at Snape Maltings, near Aldeburgh, in 1973. The composer probably identified with the opera’s hero, the writer Gustav von Aschenbach who, aware of failing powers, seeks inspiration by travelling to Venice. There he falls in love with the young Polish boy Tadzio though he has no contact with the boy, his family and his companions. It was an inspired idea of Britten’s to cast them in non-singing roles as dancers, accompanied by the colourful, glittering sounds of tuned percussion to emphasize their remoteness. This Blu-Ray release features a live recording from The London Coliseum in 2013 of Deborah Warner’s subtle, beautiful and evocative production for English National Opera. The superb ENO chorus and orchestra are conducted by Edward Gardner, a long-standing champion of Britten’s music, and John Graham-Hall is superb and moving as the aging von Aschenbach, a role for which he had already been acclaimed at La Scala. Other performers include Andrew Shore, Tim Mead, Sam Zaldivar (Tadzio), Laura Caldow and Joyce Henderson. This is an outstanding production of a masterpiece by one of the twentieth century’s greatest and most individual composers. ‘Exquisitely achieved marriage of music, drama and design’ - The Independent.


Legend of the Invisible CityRimsky-Korsakov’s opera is a fanciful fairytale, yet at the same time a realistic parable on repression and political conceit. The peasant girl Fevroniya lives in harmony with the forest and prays that the city of Kitezh becomes invisible, thus protecting it from Tatar attack. Her prayer is magically heeded but the girl herself is captured and humiliated by the invaders. The leitmotifs and highly expressive musical tone-painting, masterfully orchestrated, tell the story, based on a pantheist world view, almost on their own. Grand crowd scenes contrast with a internal treatment similar to the music dramas of Richard Wagner in an epic battle between the forces of good and evil. The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronya (to give the work its full title) is one of the 20th century’s most underrated operas, with a ravishingly beautiful score and a complicated plot that combines fairytale with pantheistic and Christian elements. This Blu-ray release features a 2012 recording of Marc Albrecht conducting the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and a stirring modern-day staging of this dramatic masterpiece by renowned Russian director, Dmitri Tcherniakov. Rising young soprano Svetlana Ignatovich is wonderfully moving as the saintly Fevroniya and the outstanding, mostly Russian cast also includes the excellent bass-baritone Vladimir Vaneev as Prince Yuri Vsevolodovich, Alexei Markov, Maksim Aksenov and British tenor John Daszak as the villainous drunkard Glishka. Extras include interviews with the cast and crew.


Muscle ShoalsLocated alongside the Tennessee River, Muscle Shoals, Alabama is the unlikely breeding ground for some of America’s most creative and defiant music. Under the spiritual influence of the ‘Singing River’ as Native Americans called it, the music of Muscle Shoals changed the world and sold by the millions. At its heart is the remarkable Rick Hall who founded FAME Studios. Overcoming crushing poverty and staggering tragedies in his life, he brought black and white together in Alabama’s cauldron of racial hostility to create music for the generations while giving birth to the ‘Muscle Shoals Sound’ and ‘The Swampers’, a house band par excellence. This fascinating and critically acclaimed documentary, directed by Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier, takes us to a place filled with magic and music, legend and folklore. Muscle Shoals first recorded the great Arthur Alexander and has since lured many Rock and Roll and Soul legends, drawing from them some of the most uplifting, defiant and important music ever created. Jimmy Cliff, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Alicia Keys, Wilson Pickett, The Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, Paul Simon, The Staple Singers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Percy Sledge and countless others have come to this remote and mystical place to work with its legendary musicians and producers. Raw and candid interviews, a rich and soulful soundtrack, live performances and the magic of the milieu itself capture and convey this tale. Special features include two commentary tracks as well as Abstract Intro: Combining visual elements from re-enactments of the native myth of the Singing River, W.C. Handy and Helen Keller, this mysterious and intriguing segment was the original opening sequence to the film; Aretha Call Me Session: Jimmy Johnson describes the magical and emotional experience of watching Aretha Franklin record the song Call Me live in the studio; Harvey Thompson: Former Muscle Shoals Horn Section member Harvey Thompson plays some lively tenor saxophone licks in a local bar; Muscle Shoals Montage: Footage and location stills showcase southern culture, landscapes, and star musicians in the Muscle Shoals area; Recording in Muscle Shoals: Muscle Shoals musicians describe the special experiences and unique aspects of the recording process in Muscle Shoals; Spooner Oldham: Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section member Spooner Oldham plays the Wurlitzer and talks about his life experiences in the music business; Candi Staton: An extended interview with the charming Candi Staton, who talks about her life experiences in the music business; Swampers & Rick Reunion: Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, and Roger Hawkins sit down with Rick Hall in his office and share stories and thoughts about their lives and experiences together; Donnie Fritts: Musician Donnie Fritts talks about his experiences in the music business.


Accardo 3Salvatore Accardo is one of today’s most celebrated violinists, particularly for his meticulous and expressive performances of Bach and Paganini. Born in 1941 in Turin, northern Italy, he studied violin in Naples in the 1950s and gave his first professional recital at the age of 13, playing Paganini’s Capricci. In 1958 he became the first prize winner of the Paganini Competition in Genoa and was the first violinist to record all six of the composer’s violin concerti. He has also performed as part of the Accardo Quartet and in the 1970s he was a member of the celebrated Italian chamber orchestra ‘I Musici’. In this latest DVD in Dynamic's compelling series featuring master classes held by Salvatore Accardo at the Walter Stauffer Musicology Centre in Cremona, the acclaimed violinist explores Szymanowski’s elegant Notturno and Tarantella op.28 and J S Bach’s sublime Chaconne. ‘What we try to pass on to our pupils is the idea that they must approach the music score with rigour. We must always convey to the audience, to those who listen to us, what is written on the score we play. For this reason it is important to perfect one’s technique, not only one’s expressivity. Without technique you cannot express what you feel inside.’ - Salvatore Accardo.


Violins of CremonaIn this DVD, Salvatore Accardo shows us fascinating insights into the violin world of of Cremona, a beautiful small northern Italian city made famous since the end of the 16th century by great musical instrument makers such as Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari. The documentary highlights their craftsmanship, showing and allowing us to hear some of the most prestigious instruments kept in the Lombard city, including a violin by Andrea Amati made in 1566 for the king of France. Even today, Cremona is filled with violin makers’ shops, though the houses and workshops of the great luthiers of the past no longer exist. Accardo is joined by Andrea Mosconi, President of the Stradivari Museum and curator of the Palazzo Comunale instrument collection, by the violin maker Francesco Bissolotti, and by the US restorer and violin maker Bruce Carlson in this fascinating journey into the world of Cremonese traditional craftsmanship.


Mozart & MahlerThe works in this recording were originally composed for an instrument which had a wide bass register; the basset clarinet was tuned in A and enjoyed some popularity when the clarinet was not yet a standard orchestral instrument. One of Mozart’s most famous and beloved symphonic works, his Clarinet Concerto in A major, was created shortly before his death and is both poignant and sublimely beautiful. Even in Mozart’s day, the basset clarinet was a rare, custom made instrument, so when the piece was published posthumously, a new version was arranged with the low notes transposed to regular range. New basset clarinets have been built in recent years for the specific purpose of performing Mozart’s concerto and clarinet quintet and there can be no doubt that the concerto was composed for a clarinet with an extended range. The debut of Gustav Mahler on the international symphonic scene could hardly have been more sensational. When his Symphony No. 1 in D major ‘Titan’, which the composer had begun in early 1885 and completed in 1888, was premiered in Budapest in 1889, Mahler’s revolutionary nature became unmistakably clear – a new era for music had begun. Diego Matheuz conducts the Orchestra of La Fenice in Venice, with Vincenzo Paci playing solo Basset Clarinet.


Verdi Collection, Vol. 2Luisa Miller is an early period opera by Giuseppe Verdi, who composed the music while travelling between Paris, Busseto, Rome and Naples. First performed at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, in 1849, the opera tells a tragic story of love and intrigue and occupies a central role in the evolution of composer’s work. This great value set of six DVDs includes a recording of Luisa Miller in a production staged at Teatro La Fenice di Venezia in 2006, with the orchestra and chorus conducted by Maurizio Benini. Luisa Miller requires great technical gifts and vocal extension of its four leading roles. Luisa (Darina Takova) is portrayed now with delicate touches now with bold strokes, in a manner that anticipates the great heroines of Verdi’s future operas. Rodolfo, here interpreted by Giuseppe Sabbatini, has the classical boldness of the tenor accompanied by openly elegiac accents that had rarely before been heard in Verdi. The other operas in this second volume of their Dynamic’s splendid Verdi Collection are Simon Boccanegra (with Roberto Frontali and Amarilli Nizza at the Teatro Massimo di Palermo), La Traviata (with Cinzia Forte as Violetta and Saimir Pirgu as Alfredo), Il Trovatore (directed by Stefano Vizioli at Opéra Royal de Wallonie in 2011), Falstaff (with Ruggiero Raimondi, Luca Salsi and Virginia Tola), Attila (recorded at Sofia National Opera with Orlin Anastasov and Radostina Nikolaeva). Born in 1813, Giuseppe Verdi became the greatest name in Italian Opera, changing what had become a stilted and stylised entertainment into real music drama. The early death of his young wife and children, the controversy over his later life-style, his involvement with the Risorgimento movement for the unification of Italy and above all the glory of his operas makes Verdi the most interesting composer of the 19th century. This collection of operas is a fine tribute in Verdi’s bicentenary year.


Les TroyensWritten between 1856 to 1858 and revised up to 1863, The Trojans (Les Troyens) was Hector Berlioz’s largest and most ambitious work, and the summation of his entire artistic career. Its origins go back to his childhood and his reading of Virgil’s Aeneid under his father’s instruction. Citations from Virgil frequently occurred in the composer’s writings and the idea of adapting Virgil’s epic matured in his mind for many years before he eventually undertook to write it. The opera represented the convergence of many influences, both literary and musical. Berlioz ascribed a major part to Shakespeare’s influence in addition to that of Virgil, and the music is reminiscent of Gluck and Spontini. Les Troyens is a tour de force that ranges from fiery military marches to intense choruses, passionate soliloquies and the lyrical love duets of Dido and Aeneas. This sumptuous two-disc Blu-ray release features a live recording director David McVicar’s fabulous staging at London’s Royal Opera House in 2012. The production is on an enormous scale, assembling one of the largest casts ever seen at Covent Garden. The sweeping theme of the rise and fall of empires runs throughout Les Troyens, along with moving meditations on love and honour. Antonio Pappano conducts the Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra and the singers include Anna Caterina Antonacci (Cassandra), Bryan Hymel (Aeneas), Eva-Maria Westbroek (Dido) and Fabio Capitanucci (Coroebus). ‘David McVicar’s stupendous production would be worth seeing for Es Devlin’s mighty sets and Constructivist Trojan horse alone.’ - The Wall Street Journal.


Bird on a WireCanadian singer-songwriter, musician and poet Leonard Cohen is second only to Bob Dylan in terms of his musical influence and critical attention. A major figure during the 1960s, 78 year old Cohen is still touring to great acclaim and producing new work in the 21st century. His songs and poetry continue to explore his regular themes of religion, loneliness, sexuality and personal relationships. In 1972 he toured 20 cities in Europe and Israel with some of the band-mates who had appeared with him two years earlier at the Isle of Wight Festival, including Charlie Daniels and his producer, Bob Johnston. Billed as Cohen’s last ever tour, it was filmed by Tony Palmer under the title Bird on a Wire, which was shown re-cut under Cohen’s guidance in 1974 but only released to the public in 2010, reconstructed according to Palmer’s original version. The tour began in Dublin on March 18 and ended in an emotional concert in Jerusalem, taking in London, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Vienna, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Tel Aviv among many other places along the way. Bird On A Wire is a fascinating and touching film that captures the highs and lows of Cohen’s life on the road as well superb performances of his early songs. It’s an intimate and revealing portrait of a great artist. Cohen is funny, charismatic, sexy and highly self-critical. His intelligent and resonant performances feature here in ‘One of the most beautiful and moving music documentaries I have ever seen.’ - The Telegraph. Highly recommended.


200 MotelsFrank Zappa’s career spanned more than 30 years as a musician, songwriter, composer, recording engineer, record producer, film director and scourge of the hippies. Highly productive and prolific, he was a brilliant guitarist who composed rock, jazz, orchestral and musique concrète works, made feature-length films and music videos, and designed album covers. Zappa produced almost all of the more than 60 albums he released with his band The Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist. In 1971, he co-wrote and directed 200 Motels with British director Tony Palmer. Starring The Mothers of Invention, Theodore Bikel, Ringo Starr and the Who’s drummer Keith Moon, this revolutionary film loosely tells the story of The Mothers of Invention as they go crazy in a small town called Centerville - ‘a real nice place to bring your kids up’. Dubbed a ‘surrealistic documentary’, tensions between Zappa and several cast and crew members arose before and during shooting, which included scenes with the London Philharmonic Orchestra filmed at Pinewood Studios. Tony Palmer claimed that all elements of the script derived from Frank Zappa’s trunk’s worth of material were completed during production, and that the film’s original video tapes still existed. It was the first feature film photographed on videotape and transferred to 35 mm film using a Technicolor film printer, a process which allowed for novel visual effects. In the opening scene Zappa tells us ‘Ladies and gentlemen, you can go mad on the road’ and 200 Motels proves just that, with cast members including sassy real-life groupies along for the ride. Keith Moon is the deranged, lusted after Hot Nun and Ringo Starr is ubiquitous Larry the Dwarf. Filmed in London, where Zappa was living at the time, 200 Motels is an anarchic, sharp-witted, iconoclastic, funny and erotic tour de force, with a fractured story interspersed with some of the band’s superb live performances including Lonesome Cowboy Burt, Magic Fingers and Strictly Genteel. ‘A joyous, fanatic, slightly weird experiment’ - Roger Ebert.


La Sonnambula1Vincenzo Bellini’s romantic opera La Sonnambula (The Sleepwalker), based on a ballet-pantomime by Eugène Scribe, was first produced at the Teatro Careano, Milan, in 1831. The libretto by Felice Romani tells a simple story of humble pastoral life in a Swiss village where Amina, a rustic damsel, walks in her sleep. Rodolfo, the young lord of the village, has just returned from abroad, and Amina, in her sleep, enters his room at the inn. Her wedding to Elvino, a wealthy landowner, was about to be celebrated but the jealous Lisa, the pretty hostess of the inn, denounces Amina and herself gains the temporary regard of Elvino. Rodolfo proclaims Amina’s innocence, but nobody believes him until she is seen walking in her sleep, so confirming her innocence resulting in a satisfyingly happy ending. The plot may be flimsy but Bellini’s graceful and effortlessly melodic music has made La Sonnabula hugely popular with audiences through the years, if not always with critics. This Blu-ray release features a charming staging by Hugo de Ana of Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece in a production at the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari. Through fascinating tableaux vivants, references to 17th century Romantic painting and refined visual projections, it is a tribute to Luchino Visconti, who produced a memorable performance of Sonnambula at the Scala di Milano with the great Maria Callas. The fine cast here includes Simone Alaimo as Rodolfo, Eglise Gutierrez as Amina, and Antonino Siragusa as Elvino, with conductor Benini Maurizio.


La Cenerentola1Donizetti - LuciaGioacchino Rossini composed La Cenerentola in a mere three weeks of the following year, when still only 25. His version of Cinderella abandons fairy tale elements and transformation scenes in favour of a series of disguises It had a hostile reception when first performed in Rome in 1817 but soon became popular throughout Italy and beyond. For most of the 19th century, its popularity rivalled that of the Barber, but as the coloratura contralto became rare it gradually fell out of the repertoire. Since the 1970s, Rossini has enjoyed a renaissance and a new generation of mezzo-sopranos have again made La Cenerentola part of the standard operatic repertoire. Recorded live at the Metropolitan Opera during one of the fabled theatre’s greatest nights in 2009, this production of Rossini’s touching and hilarious comic masterpiece in which goodness triumphs in the end. It stars the beautiful Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca as Cinderella, with American tenor Lawrence Brownlee as Don Ramiro, Simone Alberghini as Dandini, Alessandro Corbelli as Don Magnifico, Rachelle Durkin, Patricia Risley and John Relyea The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus are conducted by Maurizio Benini. Elina Garanca is endearing as Cinderella, John Relyea is brilliant as Alidoro, and the vain, mean-spirited sisters are very funny. Extras include an introduction to the opera by baritone Thomas Hampson, who also interviews Elina Garanca, Simone Alberghini, Alessandro Corbelli, Lawrence Brownlee and John Relyea. Other new Deutsche Grammophon releases include DONIZETTI: LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR (DG 734545, BLURAY) which stars Anna Netrebko in an ingeniously staged Metropolitan Opera production of this opera, directed by Mary Zimmerman and conducted by Marco Armiliato. In this tale of passion and betrayal there are two feuding families. Lucia falls in love with a man disapproved of by her brother Enrico and tragedy ensues when he insists that she marries Rigolettoa husband he has chosen instead. As well as the wonderful Anna Netrebko, the excellent cast includes Piotr Beczala, Mariusz Kwiecien and Ildar Abdrazakov. Extras include interviews by Nathalie Dessay with Anna Netrebko and other members of the cast. Conductor Marco Armiliato and director Mary Zimmerman. VERDI - RIGOLETTO (DG 734935, DVD) features a live performance by The Metropolitan Opera of Verdi’s masterpiece adapted from Victor Hugo’s play ‘Le roi s’amuse’. In this version, which has been updated to a 1960s Las Vegas setting by director Michael Mayer, lyric tenor Piotr Beczala portrays the philandering Duke with Zeljko Lucic as his sidekick Rigoletto and Diana Damrau as Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda, who has been kept a secret by her father and falls for the Duke while unaware of his true identity. Michelle Mariotti conducts the Metropolitan Orchestra. ‘Captures both the emotional depth and surface glitter in an audacious staging’ - Bloomberg News.


Beatrice di TendaVincenzo Bellini’s penultimate opera, coming after Norma and before I puritani, was written in 1833. Inspired by a real historical figure, Beatrice di Tenda is a convoluted love story featuring the eponymous heroine who is married to Duke Filippo Maria Visconti, though neither is happy in the marriage. Filippo is in love with Agnese del Maino, who, in turn, is in love with Orombello. Agnese conspires with Filippo to frame Orombello and Beatrice for adultery - punishable by death in 15th-century Italy. Filippo and his judges have the pair tortured to elicit confessions of their crime but Beatrice refuses to confirm the false accusations, with tragic consequences. Bellini’s opera is rarely performed but with its lyrical, elegant melodies and wonderful, complex chorus work it deserves to be much better known. On this blu-ray release, soprano Dimitra Theodossiou (Beatrice) and impressive Romanian baritone Michele Kalmandi (Filippo) lead the cast in a production of Beatrice di Tenda recorded live at the Teatro Massimo Bellini in 2010. Spanish mezzo-soprano José Maria Lo Monaco is powerful as Agnese and Alejandro Roy is Orombello. The director is Henning Hermann Brockhaus and Antonio Pirolli conducts the excellent Teatro Massimo Bellini Orchestra and Chorus.


La Forza del Destino-001Giuseppe Verdi’s La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny) has an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave based on a Spanish drama, Don Alvaro o La Fuerza de Sino, written by Ángel de Saavedra, Duke of Rivas, with a scene adapted from Friedrich Schiller’s Wallensteins Lager. It was first performed in the Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre of St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1862 but Verdi later made major revisions. When the opera opened in Milan at the Scala Theatre in 1869, the composer asked for help from Antonio Ghislanzoni, since Francesco Maria Piave was seriously ill. This performance, incorporating changes to Act three, Act four and the finale, was well received by audiences and critics and has become the standard performance version. Some people expressed doubts about the mixture of the plot’s tragic elements and some characters’ comic traits; Verdi always defended this choice, which was almost Shakespearean but had no tradition in Italy. La Forza del Destino is an experimental creation by a composer who was already mature but still looking for new incentives and challenges. The composer’s choral writing is quite extraordinary; far from being conceived as a monolithic bloc, the chorus is treated in a variegated and complex way. During the first half of the twentieth century La Forza del Destino was one of Verdi’s more neglected operas, but from the 1950s it entered the repertoire and attracted some of the best lyrical singers of the post war period. This blu-ray release features a live recording from the beautiful Maggio Musicale theatre in Florence, conducted by Zubin Mehta. The story was originally set in 18th century Spain, but in this imaginative production by French director Nicolas Joël sets the action in a slightly later period, in the time of the Empire, the early 19th century. The outstanding cast includes Lithuanian soprano Violeta Urmana as Donna Leonora, Carlo Guelfi as Don Carlo and Marcello Giordani as Don Alvaro, with Julia Gertseva (Preziosilla), Roberto Scandiuzzi (Padre Guardiano) and Bruno De Simone - excellent as Fra Melitone.


Lucinda Williams Live From Austin, Texas03Elvis Costello has compared American singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams to the great Hank Williams, no less, and was named ‘America’s best songwriter’ by Time Magazine in 2002. She first recorded in the late 1970s, playing music in traditional country and blues style, but it wasn’t until 1988 that she gained worldwide attention with the release of her eponymously titled album, Lucinda Williams, featuring the song Passionate Kisses. This was later memorably recorded by Mary Chapin Carpenter and earned Williams her first Grammy. She has since released albums only when she had something new to say - Sweet Old World in 1992 and her greatest success, the universally acclaimed Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, in 1998. This excellent DVD features Lucinda Williams’ first appearance on Austin City Limits, recorded with a band of fine musicians in 1989 when she was riding the wave of that first big hit. Her marvelous songs are about the kind of self-destructive losers, heartbroken romantics and restless dreamers that you might find along the lonely highways and dilapidated towns of America’s eerie Southern emptiness. The show captures everything she does - simple folk, blues, heart-worn country, American roots, and rock & roll. Highlights include I Just Wanted To See You So Bad, Crescent City, the devastating Changed The Locks and, of course, Passionate Kisses. She can turn from fragile to hard as stone, from one song to the next, but no matter what she sings, you can tell she’s been there. Also just released is CALEXICO - LIVE FROM AUSTIN, TX (NEW WEST NW8057-9), featuring the band named after a border town on the California/Mexico line. Calexico consists of: Joey Burns on lead vocals and Guitar, John Convertino (drums, percussion), Martin Wenk (trumpet, guitars, vibraphone, keyboard ,accordian, vocals), Volker Zander (contrabass, bass guitar, vocals), Jacob Valenzuela (trumpet, vibraphone, shakers, vocals), and Paul Niehaus (pedal steel guitar and vocals). Special guests include Salvador Duran from Mexico on vocals, shakers, and tarima, and Sam Beam on vocals and guitar, as well as Sarah Beam on violin and vocals, and consists of 15 eclectic songs that show why this band has been called ‘the voice of the southwest’. Highly recommended.


La Boheme - NetrebkoAccording to Opera America, La Bohème is the second most frequently performed opera in the United States, just behind another Puccini favourite, Madama Butterfly, and the work has been performed countless times around the world since its premiere in Turin in 1896. The opera tells the story of a group of artistic friends in Paris, particularly the romantic relationship between the poet Rodolfo and grisette Mimi. Like the parallel relationship of Rodolfo’s roommate Marcello and the beautiful Musetta, Mimi and Rodolfo’s love is beset difficulties caused by the depth of their passion, jealousy, fear and poverty. Despite all this, they are united tragically in the opera’s moving climax. This DVD features a live performance from the 2012 Salzburg Festival in Austria, where this striking modern production directed by Damiano Michieletto created quite a stir. Boldly designed by Paolo Fantin, it stars Piotr Beczala as Rodolfo and the luscious-voiced Anna Netrebko, acting and singing beautifully as Mimi. Massimo Cavalletti is the painter Marcello and Nino Machaidze his sexy, intelligent and independent girlfriend Musetta. Alessio Arduini is the lively musician Schaunard, Carlo Colombara is philosopher Colline, David Fersini the easily-duped landlord Benoît, and Peter Kálmán the put-upon Alcindoro. Daniele Gatti conducts the impeccable Vienna Philharmonic, the Vienna State Opera Chorus and the Salzburg Festival and Theatre Children’s Choir.


La Partenope DVDThis is the world première recording of Leonardo Vinci’s opera La Partenope, ‘with the maiden face’. Not to be confused with Leonardo da Vinci, Italian composer Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730) is best known for his comic operas in native Neapolitan dialect and produced a string of successful works during his brief career of little more than a decade. Vinci’s music was admired by Vivaldi and Handel and he led an eventful life that included a long-running professional feud with rival composer Nicola Porpora as well as death by poisoning, rumoured to be the consequence of an illicit love affair. Set to music by a number of composers - such as Caldara, Hasse, Sarro, Handel and Vivaldi - the myth of Partenope, one of the sirens who taunted Odysseus, was very popular and has existed in as many as sixteen different versions. This double DVD set features Leonardo Vinci’s opera in a rich and colourful production by Antonio Florio and world renowned specialists of the Baroque repertoire. Founded in 1987 by Antonio Florio, the ensemble I Turchini is made up of instrumentalists and singers living and working in Naples who specialize in the performance of Neapolitan music from the 17th and 18th centuries, including the rediscovery of music by gifted composers who are now largely unknown. Soloists include contralto Sonia Prina (Partenope), sopranos Maria Grazia Schiavo (Rosmira) and Maria Ercolano (Arsace), mezzo-soprano Eufemia Tufano (Emilio), tenor Stefano Ferrari (Armindo) and baritone Charles do Santos (Ormonte).


Ringo at the RymanRingo Starr is a living legend whose contribution to the roots of rock and roll is immeasurable, not only as a Beatle, but also through his prolific and successful solo career. In gathering a new group of iconic rockers to play as the All Starr band each tour, every configuration offers a new and memorable moment where we get to experience songs we all know and love. Ringo At The Ryman, filmed on July 7, 2012, celebrates Ringo’s birthday with a twohour concert at the famed Nashville theatre. The outstanding lineup of distinguished rock veterans includes Steve Lukather of Toto, Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie of Journey, Mr. Mister singer Richard Page, Gregg Bissonette and Mark Rivera. The set list features familiar Ringo favourites such as It Don’t Come Easy, Act Naturally, Photograph, I Wanna Be Your Man, Yellow Submarine, as well as contributions from his bandmates, including Roseanna, Peter Green’s Black Magic Woman and Todd Rundgren’s wonderful Love Is The Answer. Joe Walsh makes a special guest appearance to play Rocky Mountain Way and is then joined for the encore, With A Little Help From My Friends, by his daughter Lucy and some of Nashville’s finest players such as Brendan Benson, Gary Burr, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley and former All Starr members Felix Cavaliere and Richard Marx. Ringo at the Ryman is a memorable musical journey featuring classic hit songs as well as a genuine love fest and joyous birthday party celebration.


I PuritaniIn this high-definition live recording of Vincenzo Bellini’s historical bel-canto drama, I puritani (The Puritans) made in 2009 at the Teatro Comunale, Bologna, Italy, tenor superstar Juan Diego Flórez is partnered by the young Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze. Joining them in a striking new staging by Pier’Alli is celebrated bass baritone, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Sir Giorgio Valton. The context is England’s Civil War between the Roundheads (the Parliamentarians, or Puritans of the title) and the Cavaliers (Royalists). A love triangle between the Puritan Lord Arturo Talbo (Flórez), Royalist Sir Riccardo Forth (Gabriele Viviani) and the beautiful Elvira (Machaidze) results in a drama of escapes, disguises and captures, during which Elvira loses her reason, before a final pardon restores her senses and unites her with her beloved Arturo. Other members of the outstanding cast include Ugo Guagliardo, Gianluca Floris and Nadia Pirazzini, and the theatre’s brilliant ‘direttore principale’, the photogenic 29-year-old Michele Mariotti, conducts with wonderful panache. This new production benefits from the use of a new critical addition, with significant added material i.e. all Santothe music that Bellini wrote for the opera. It makes this release, apart from the excellent cast, even more interesting for the opera lover. The charismatic Juan Diego Flórez is in fine voice in this straightforward, attractively minimalist production that lets the music tell the story. Flórez has also recorded a CD of sacred arias and songs for the Christmas season. SANTO (DECCA 4782254) includes favourites such as César Franck’s Panis Angelicus, Schubert’s Ave Maria and the Cantique de Noël (O Holy Night) and reveals a more intimate side of the much-loved tenor. In this personal choice of music, popular hits feature alongside less familiar pieces, including the Qui sedes from Bellini’s Mass in A minor and the virtuosic Alleluia from Fux’s Plaudite, sonat tuba.. A highlight is the title track Santo, composed by Flórez himself, and infused with the musical colours and rhythms of his Latin American roots. ‘My father was a folk-singer and I grew up with Peruvian music. My hobby is to compose and orchestrate, and the melody came to me very easily. The hard part is then to find the right instrumental colours and write for all the instruments and the chorus. But it’s fun.’ The Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna is again conducted by Michele Mariotti.


RitaThe thorny subject of marital violence is set against a hilarious backdrop in Gaetano Donizetti’s one-act opéra comique, Rita Ou Le Mari Battu (Rita, or The Beaten Husband). Contrary to what we are used to seeing in opera, tenor and baritone do their best to free themselves of the female protagonist, to whom both are married. Gaspar’s aria on the joys of chastising one’s wife in the way she deserves may cause a few raised eyebrows these days but the funny side is genuine and the music brilliant, making of this forgotten little opera a true gem. The opera was completed in 1841 under its original title, Deux hommes et une femme (Two Men and a Woman) but was never performed in the composer’s lifetime, being premiered posthumously at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1860. Although not a great success at the time, it was successfully revived first in Rome in 1955 and has since become one of Donizetti’s most frequently performed operas. The concise story of the waspish innkeeper Rita, her husband Peppe and first husband Gaspar, the latter believed dead in a shipwreck, unrolls in a single act, effectively divided into eight closed numbers: one aria for each singer, three duets, one trio and the finale. The result is a perfect balance of all elements, which makes of Rita a small but significant example of Donizetti’s musical experience. This first recording on DVD of the original French version of Donizetti’s light-hearted farce features Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera’s funny and disarmingly intimate production recorded live at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liege, Belgium. Claudio Scimone conducts and the soloists include Aldo Caputo as the put-upon Peppe (with his entertaining hat), Swiss soprano Priscille Laplace as the leggy, flame-haired Rita, and Alberto Rinaldi as crafty Gaspar.


Little WomenItalian American composer and librettist Mark Adamo’s opera, Little Women, has been performed in more than 70 national and international productions since its 1998 première by Houston Grand Opera. Based on Louisa May Alcott’s enduringly popular and much adapted novel about the adventures of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy in New England soon after the American civil war, Adamo’s vivid and moving portrayal of family life has achieved the status of an American classic. This television recording, made at Houston Grand Opera’s Cullen Theater in 2000, brings to life an opera that The New Yorker hailed as ‘A beautifully crafted work, brilliantly molding Alcott’s tale into operatic form’. The excellent cast includes mezzo-sopranos Stephanie Novacek and Joyce DiDonato as Jo and Meg, with tenor Chad Shelton as Jo’s long-suffering suitor Laurie. Also featured are sopranos Margaret Lloyd as Amy and Stacey Tappan as Beth, with mezzo-soprano Gwendolyn Jones as Alma March. Patrick Summers conducts the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra in this production directed for the stage by Peter Webster. The attractive, rhythmic music is often reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein and the acting is exceptional in this ingeniously staged production. ‘A masterpiece’ - New York Times.


Wagner - The Ring CycleA full understanding of the story of the Wagner’s Ring cycle (Der Ring der Nibelungen) requires all four operas to be viewed in sequence and this set of seven DVDs includes all the operas complete: Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold), Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), Siegfried and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods). These legendary performances from the Staatsoper Stuttgart feature four different sets of stage directors (Joachim Schlömer, Christoph Nel, Jossi Wieler & Sergio Morabito, and Peter Konwitschny) with the Staatsorchester Stuttgart, conducted by Lothar Zagrosek. Singers include Wolfgang Probst (Wotan in Das Rheingold), Michaela Schuster (Fricka), Angela Denoke (Sieglinde), Renate Behle (Brünnhilde in Die Walküre), Jan-Hendrik Rootering (Wotan in Die Walküre) and the excellent Luana DeVol (Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung). Appreciating the individual operas of Der Ring des Nibelungen without having to relate to the previous or following storylines enabled the directors to express their individual insights into the well-known drama of Siegfried and Wotan with these fascinating, innovative productions that proved satisfyingly controversial with some Wagner purists.


Maria Maldaur is a veteran of the US Roots music scene, with a career that stretches all the way back to the early 1960s Greenwich Village Folk era that also produced many other enduring talents. The most renowned of these was the young Bob Dylan, and it is Dylan’s work that is celebrated on this excellent live, full-length concert CD and DVD. Fronting a fine band, Maria Muldaur performs selections from her acclaimed 2006 album of Dylan covers, Heart Of Mine, together with a smooth version of her infallibly sexy signature hit, Midnight (or Midnite?) At The Oasis. Included in the set list is an inspired reworking of Dylan’s amiable You Aint Going Nowhere, re-titled Ride Me High, the wonderful Heart of Mine, and the soulful interpretation of Make You Feel My Love. Throughout, Muldaur proves that she is an engaging, eminently likeable performer, and backed by a funky eight piece band, her distinctive voice does full justice to the Duluth bard’s oeuvre. She brings an extra dimension to these great songs and gives the impression that she’s lived every one of them.


Keyboard player, singer and songwriter Paul Carrack is one of the hardest working musicians in the music industry. His career spans four decades and includes guest appearances on over 60 albums, as well as writing for The Eagles, Diana Ross, Tom Jones, Michael McDonald and Jools Holland. Carrack was born in Sheffield in 1951 and has been a member of several top bands including Ace, Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics and Roxy Music, as well as being a session and touring musician for others and pursuing a successful career as a solo artist. His recording career began as the keyboard player with progressive rock band Warm Dust in the early 1970s, after which he and Warm Dust bassist Tex Comer formed the pub rock band Ace. Carrack both wrote and was vocalist on Ace’s debut hit single, How Long. When Ace disbanded, he worked as a backing musician for Frankie Miller and became a member of Roxy Music, playing keyboards on their 1979 reunion album Manifesto. He also issued his first solo album, Nightbird. In 1981, Glenn Tilbrook recruited him to join Squeeze in place of Jools Holland and he went on to work with Nick Lowe, Carlene Carter, John Hiatt, The Smiths and The Pretenders. In 1985 he joined Mike + The Mechanics and since then he has maintained his solo career alongside his work with the band. A Different Hat, his 15th solo album, reunites Carrack with producer, friend and former Van Morrison drummer Peter van Hooke to record with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Inspired by his recent work with big bands, as well as by Joni Mitchell’s album Both Sides Now and the work of Ray Charles, Carrack wanted to reassess the way he would traditionally record. Van Hooke brought in noted orchestral arranger David Cullen to arrange the parts for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and with Carrack doing live vocal takes, A Different Hat was put together in four three-hour sessions. Paul Carrack has always had the ability to combine the contemporary with the timelessly classic, and this album shows he is still able to meet new challenges and create exceptional results.


King of InstrumentsDame Gillian Weir is one of the world’s most distinguished musicians, performing internationally as an acclaimed concert organist at many great festivals and with leading orchestras and conductors. Her virtuosity, integrity and outstanding musicianship, combined with great personal charisma, have earned her the admiration of audiences and critics alike, being nominated by Classic CD magazine as one of the 100 Greatest Players of the Century and by the Sunday Times as one of the 1000 Music Makers of the Millennium. Her repertoire is exceptional for its breadth and variety, stretching from the Renaissance to contemporary works; she has performed the complete organ works of Bach and others, as well as of Olivier Messiaen. In the late 1980s BBC Television filmed Gillian Weir in a series of six programmes, entitled ‘King of Instruments’, watched by an audience of two million. Gillian Weir takes us on a tour across Europe on six different organs, providing engaging dialogue about the history of the times, music and instruments. Priory has now released this series for the first time on one DVD, which for many will provide the first opportunity to hear the soundtracks of the programmes in stereo, as such transmissions on television were in their infancy when the series was originally broadcast. The BBC issued a CD to accompany the series, which is included as a bonus and features separate recordings by Dame Gillian (not taken from the television soundtracks), of one of the pieces from each of the programmes. ‘Her playing really is beyond all praise’ - Gramophone.

HALEVY - CLARI         DECCA 0743382

Halévy - ClariCecilia Bartoli stars in this obscure but dazzling work by French composer Fromental Halévy, best-known for his opera, La Juive. Clari was written for the great 19th-century mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran, who became a legend after dying at the age of 28 in a riding accident. This delightfully frothy work received its first performance at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris in 1828 but has not been seen in another production until now. As a so-called opera semiseria it features both comedy and tragedy and involves a spotless heroine whose virtue is called into question. A girl of lowly origin, Clari is assured in writing by the Duke of his intent to marry her but becomes a kept woman, passed off as his cousin. For her birthday, she is treated to a dramatic presentation attended by members of court. This first recording may resurrect Clari onto the stages of the world, since this captivating tragicomedy’s beauties are floral, but unfading, and the score is a neglected treasure. Zürich Opera’s period instrument band La Scintilla contributes stylish support under Adam Fischer. Decca has also released an excellent DVD of WERTHER (DECCA 0743406), which marks the astonishing debut performance by Jonas Kaufmann as Goethe’s love-lorn hero, Werther, in Massenet’s romantic opera. His premiere appearance in the role, in Paris in January 2010, took the operatic world by storm and he was supported by a superb French cast, including Sophie Koch as Charlotte and Ludovic Tézier as Albert, with the venerable Michel Plasson giving an expansive, lyrical interpretation from the pit. Film director Benoît Jacquot’s attractive, straightforward production, first seen at the Royal Opera House in London, focuses successfully on the various personal dramas of the opera. Filmed in high definition widescreen by Idéale Audience, this new Werther is Jonas Kaufmann’s third Decca DVD, following his Royal Opera Carmen and the recently-released Lohengrin from Munich.


Giacomo Puccini’s considered La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West) to be the best of his operas. Based on a hit play by David Belasco, ‘the original spaghetti Western’ was first performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1910, conducted by Arturo Toscanini with Met stars Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destinn for whom Puccini created the leading roles. The setting is California during the Gold Rush of 1849 and the love triangle story features a crafty criminal, a suspicious sheriff and a frontier woman who knows how to shoot. Recorded live at The Amsterdam Music Theatre in 2009, Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s extravagant Hollywood-style production updates this Wild West story to the capitalist culture of Wall Street, perfectly reflecting Puccini’s innovatory spirit. In a new angle on the age-old love triangle theme, corrupt Sheriff Jack Rance (Lucio Gallo) and charismatic criminal Dick Johnson (Zoran Todorovich) vie for the love of glamorous blonde and devout Christian Minnie (the wonderful Eva-Maria Westbroek), finding her way in a man’s world. Carlo Rizzi’s idiomatic conducting draws excellent singing from the large cast and fine playing from The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. Filmed in High Definition and recorded in true surround sound. Extras with this blu-ray disc include a cast gallery and a documentary about the acclaimed Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek. ‘A high-powered show throughout’ - The Financial Times.


The excellent Pretenders feature in this DVD/CD set recorded in July 2009 at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire. The in-concert film is a dynamic and vivid capturing of the band, before a packed and appreciative crowd. As well as such classics as Kid, Brass In Pocket, Back On The Chain Gang and Don’t Get Me Wrong, the concert also includes recent gems such as Love’s A Mystery and Break Up The Concrete, proving that Chrissie Hynde has lost none of her talent for writing emotive, finely crafted grown-up’s pop music. Other highlights include the bluesy Don’t Lose Faith In Me, Tequila, Rosalee and the punk-influenced Precious. This powerful incarnation of The Pretenders comprises Chrissie Hynde (vocals, guitar), Martin Chambers (drums), brilliant lead guitarist James Walbourne, Nick Wilkinson (bass guitar) and Eric Heywood (pedal-steel guitar). Hynde is one of the few women ever successfully to front a rock band and she’s in great form - still cool, sexy and in fine voice as she struts the stage, striking a rapport with the audience along with a mean pose. The film’s directors, Pierre and Francois Lamoureux, aimed to capture the band’s energy in its purest form by returning to London at a venue where the audience was close to the stage and ‘what you are about to see and hear is an honest reproduction of that moment in time. There are no overdubs or fake crowd noise.’ DVD extras include Warholian glimpses of life on the tour bus (‘swine flu?’).

PUCCINI - TOSCA        DECCA 0743410

Giacomo Puccini three-act opera Tosca was first performed at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome in 1900. Based on a melodramatic French play by Victorien Sardou, the opera features torture, murder and suicide, as well as some of the composer’s best-known lyrical arias. Puccini’s ‘shabby little shocker’ (according to opera historian Joseph Kerman) hasn’t always been a favourite with the critics but was an immediate success with the public from the start amd has inspired many memorable performances. This DVD features an outstanding Metropolitan Opera production filmed live in 1978 at the height of Luciano Pavarotti’s career. It was produced by legendary Italian baritone Tito Gobbi - best remembered as the greatest of all Baron Scarpias opposite the Tosca of Maria Callas - and co-stars two internationally acclaimed American singers, soprano Shirley Verrett, thrilling in the title role, and baritone Cornell MacNeil as a particularly moving Scarpia. Specially restored and released for the first time in any format, this DVD marks the 75th anniversary of Luciano Pavarotti’s birth on October 12th, 1935. Bonus features include unique footage of the great man in rehearsal with Shirley Verrett and conductor James Conlon; A conversation between Tito Gobbi and Cornell MacNeil; and a revealing discussion with James Conlon and Metropolitan Opera Music Director, James Levine.

PUCCINI - LA BOHEME       WARNER / NVC ARTS 51865-9489-2

According to Opera America, La Bohème is the second most frequently performed opera in the United States, just behind another Puccini favourite, Madama Butterfly. It has been performed countless times since its premiere in Turin in 1896 but in a world first for broadcasting, Sky Arts television screened Jonathan Miller’s eagerly awaited production of Puccini’s masterpiece for English National Opera, whilst simultaneously showing the backstage action live. That ground-breaking simulcast is captured on this DVD featuring a dynamic cast of young artists, including Peruvian-born conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya making his British opera debut and the sweet-voiced British tenor Alfie Boe as Rodolfo. Doomed Mimì is convincingly sung by Melody Moore and fellow American Hanan Alattar is a feisty Musetta, with Roland Wood an elegant Marcello, Latvian bass Pauls Putninš as Colline, smooth baritone David Stout as Schaunard, Simon Butteriss as Benoit and Richard Angas as Alcindoro. Jonathan Miller’s association with ENO goes back over 30 years and he has been responsible for some of the company’s most successful productions, including The Mikado and Rigoletto. He and his ingenious designer Isabella Bywater have set the action for La Bohème in atmospheric 1930s Paris, creating an unsentimental view of bohemian life and deprivation peopled by the demi-monde. The subdued design draws inspiration from the realism and atmosphere caught in sepia-tinted photographs by Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï and Kertész, as well as from 1930s films such as Hôtel du Nord and Atalante. This is a thoughtful, unpretentious version of Puccini’s masterpiece, with its Depression era setting making it particularly relevant today.


When You're StrangeThe Doors were formed in 1965 in Los Angeles, California, and became one of the most influential and controversial American rock band rock bands of all time. The group consisted of charismatic vocalist and self-styled poet Jim Morrison, keyboard player Ray Manzarek, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger. They were genuine iconoclasts, musical visionaries and a whole lot more, but while everyone knows the myth, few know the real story of The Doors. When You’re Strange is the first, feature length documentary looking at one of America’s most ‘dark and dangerous bands’. Using original footage - both unreleased and rarely seen as well as classic clips of the band in action at the peak of their powers - the film is directed by cutting edge filmmaker Tom DiCillo and narrated by Johnny Depp. When You’re Strange opens a window into the band’s world of fame, drugs and alcohol but always returns to their fierce commitment to the music. Though Morrison’s struggles and excesses shape the film, this is also the story of Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore - musicians whose insistence on artistic freedom and refusal to compromise inspired generations. After Jim Morrison’s somewhat mysterious death in 1971, the remaining members continued as a trio until finally disbanding for good two years later. Their music’s popularity has persisted, selling around 100 million albums worldwide, and Morrison in particular remains a cult figure. The restored footage in DiCillo’s film looks and sounds great and Doors fans are likely to prefer this impressionistic documentary to Oliver Stone’s overblown 1991 movie. ‘A heady trip through the dizzying career of an American rock institution. Utterly brilliant.’ - Little White Lies.


La Clemenza di Tito was Mozart’s last great opera, written to celebrate the Coronation of the Emperor Leopold II as King of Bohemia in 1791. Its final performance in Prague coincided with the first performance in Vienna of The Magic Flute, only three months before the composer’s death. The libretto is based on an opera seria by the brilliant Italian-born librettist Metastasio (Pietro Trapassi), who had worked with Gluck, Handel and Haydn. Less often performed than the more accessible Da Ponte trilogy, La Clemenza di Tito is a powerful, inventive and dramatic work. Mozart wrote some of his most beautiful music to create an opera seria of great nobility - a humane reflection on relationships, power and forgiveness. This intelligent, stunningly designed Opéra national de Paris production was directed by Ursel and Karl-Ernst Herrmann, with the Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Sylvain Cambreling. Soloists include Susan Graham (wonderful as Sesto), Hannah Esther Minutillo (Annio), the delightful Catherine Naglestad as Vitellia, Ekaterina Siurina as Servilia, Roland Bracht and Christoph Prégardien (superb in the title role). Extras with this Blu-ray release include an excellent documentary film by Reiner E. Moritz featuring interviews with Ursel and Karl-Ernst Herrmann, Sylvain Cambreling, Susan Graham, Christoph Prégardien, Hannah Ester Minutillo, Ekaterina Siurina, Catherine Naglestad and Gerard Mortier. ‘An evening of overwhelming beauty’ - Le Monde.


La Boheme - Royal OperaGiacomo 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. The Italian libretto is by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, based on Scènes de la vie de Bohème by Henri Murger. The opera’s première was in Turin on 1896 at the Teatro Regio (now the Teatro Regio Torino), conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini. Covent Garden’s first production of La Bohème was in 1899, and this wasn’t replaced for almost three-quarters of a century until John Copley’s enduring 1974 production. This 2009 revival, in which conductor Andris Nelsons, music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, makes a distinguished Royal Opera House debut, features historically accurate designs by the late Julia Trevelyan Oman and an excellent cast headed by Russian soprano Hibla Gerzmava, delicately lyrical as the doomed Mimi, and young Romanian tenor Teodor Ilincai as Rodolfo. Other roles are sung by Gabriele Viviani (Marcello), Inna Dukach (a bewitchingly funny Musetta), Kostas Smoriginas (Colline) Jacques Imbrailo (Schaunard), Jeremy Whitea (Benoit) and Donald Maxwell (Alcindoro). The acting is of a high standard throughout and the duets between Rodolfo and Mimi are as intensely moving as the composer intended. Filmed in high definition and surround sound, this Blu-ray recording does full justice to Puccini’s masterpiece. Extra features include a cast gallery and interviews with Jonathan Copley and Andris Nelsons.


One of the world’s great opera companies, New York’s Met was established in 1883 by a group of millionaires who had failed to get boxes at the Academy of Music. The Metropolitan Opera soon became America’s equivalent of La Scala in Milan and over the years has attracted some of the finest performers in the world, from Enrico Caruso to Placido Domingo. Diva such as Maria Callas, Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Renata Tibaldi and Beverly Sills have appeared with conductors such as Arturo Toscanini, Gustav Mahler, Bruno Walter and Andre Previn. Directors like Franco Zefferelli and Julie Taymor have been involved with extravagant and memorable productions designed by artists such as Chagall and Hockney. The Met was originally located at Broadway and 39th Street but moved into its new home at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in 1966. It now puts on over two hundred performances a year, and in addition to 800,000 people in the audience many millions more watch on television and listen to the frequent radio productions. Conductor James Levine made his debut in 1971 and has been Artistic Director since 1986. Recorded in September 1991 to celebrate the company’s debut at Lincoln Center, the concert on this stunning double DVD features the following: Mirella Freni, Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Cheryl Studer, Anne Sofie von Otter, Barbara Daniels, Justiano Díaz, Leo Nucci, Hermann Prey, June Anderson, Kathleen Battle, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Thomas Hampson, Uwe Heilmann, Barbara Kilduff, Aprile Millo, Sherrill Milnes, Paul Plishka, Samuel Ramey, Birgitta Svendén, Frederica von Stade. After The Star-spangled banner is sung by the audience, James Levine conducte The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet in Act III of Verdi’s Rigoletto (with Nucci, Studer, Pavarotti and Ghiaurov), Act III of Otello (produced and designed by Zeffirelli, with Domingo magnificent as Otello, Díaz as Iago and Freni Desdemona, and Act II of Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus (with Anne Sofie von Otter, Barbara Daniels as the outrageously flamboyant Rosalinde, and Hermann Prey - who sang Papageno in the Met’s first Lincoln Center production). A champagne-fuelled finale features selections from various operas and musicals sung in German, French, Italian and English, including show-stopping arias from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Don Giovanni, Offenbach’s La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, Bernstein’s West Side Story, and Puccini’s La bohème (with Pavarotti and Domingo in their first ever duet). There are fascinating glimpses backstage, and the New York audience reacts with warm enthusiasm to possibly the greatest gathering of operatic talent ever seen.


The Pretenders formed in 1978, when the band consisted of founder and main songwriter Chrissie Hynde (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), James Honeyman-Scott (lead guitar, backing vocals, keyboards), Pete Farndon (bass guitar, backing vocals) and Martin Chambers (drums, backing vocals, percussion). Both Scott and Farndon later died from drug overdoses less than a year apart from each other and many personnel changes have taken place over the years, with Hynde (born Christine Ellen Hynde in 1951 in Akron, Ohio) the sole continual member. Still one of the most successful British based rock bands, The Pretenders feature in this excellent DVD/CD set recorded in July 2009 at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire. The in-concert film is a dynamic and vivid capturing of the band, before a packed and appreciative crowd. As well as such classics as Kid, Brass In Pocket, Back On The Chain Gang and Don’t Get Me Wrong, the concert also includes recent gems such as Love’s A Mystery and Break Up The Concrete, proving that Chrissie Hynde has lost none of her talent for writing emotive, finely crafted grown-up’s pop music. Other highlights include the bluesy Don’t Lose Faith In Me, Tequila, Rosalee and the punk-influenced Precious. This powerful incarnation of The Pretenders comprises Chrissie Hynde (vocals, guitar), Martin Chambers (drums), brilliant lead guitarist James Walbourne, Nick Wilkinson (bass guitar) and Eric Heywood (pedal-steel guitar). Hynde is one of the few women ever successfully to front a rock band and she’s in great form - still cool, sexy and in fine voice as she struts the stage, striking a rapport with the audience along with a mean pose. The film’s directors, Pierre and Francois Lamoureux, aimed to capture the band’s energy in its purest form by returning to London at a venue where the audience was close to the stage and ‘what you are about to see and hear is an honest reproduction of that moment in time. There are no overdubs or fake crowd noise.’ DVD extras include Warholian glimpses of life on the tour bus (‘swine flu?’).


José Plácido Domingo was born in 1941 in Madrid to parents who were zarzuela performers. He was brought to Mexico at the age of eight and later attended Mexico City’s Conservatory of Music to study piano and conducting. When his vocal talent was discovered he began to take voice lessons and made his first performance as a leading tenor in the city of Monterrey when he was twenty. After having spent three seasons with the Israel National Opera in Tel Aviv, he launched his hugely successful international career in 1965, performing at all of the world’s most prestigious opera houses. This superb boxed set features three of Plácido Domingo’s greatest roles in operas by Giacomo Puccini. The extraordinary and highly innovative ‘live’, real-time Tosca was filmed in Rome in 1992, with the acts staggered so that they were broadcast live by satellite around the world at the same times of day that Puccini wrote into his score. The scenes were also performed in their exact settings: the 16th-century church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, the nearby Palazzo Farnese and finally at Castel Sant’Angelo. Domingo is marvelous as the brave Mario Cavaradossi, with Catherine Malfitano as Tosca and Ruggero Raimondi as ruthless Scarpia. The Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Rome RAI is conducted by Zubin Mehta. The famous Royal Opera production of Manon Lescaut included here features Kiri Te Kanawa in the title role, with Domingo as the definitive Des Grieux. This role is one of the most taxing in the tenor repertoire and his passionate portrayal is one of the singer’s finest achievements. Lescaut is sung by Thomas Allen, and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House is conducted by Giuseppe Sinopoli. ‘Plácido Domingo’s magnificent singing as Des Grieux was cause for drop-jawed wonder.’ - The Spectator. Puccini’s penultimate opera, La Fanciulla del West, is set at the height of the California gold rush. In this 1983 recording of a much-admired Royal Opera production by Piero Faggioni, the conductor is Nello Santi, Carol Neblett sings the role of Minnie - ‘The Girl of the Golden West’ - and Placido Domingo is suitably dashing as Dick Johnson, alias the bandit, Ramirez. ‘The greatest singer in history.’ - BBC Music Magazine.


Renowned for his resonant, powerful voice, imposing physical stature, good looks and acting ability, Plácido Domingo became one of the twentieth century’s most popular tenors, acclaimed by Newsweek and others as ‘the King of Opera’ and ‘the greatest operatic artist of modern times.’ This splendid four-DVD box set features three great operas by Verdi, including Ernani from La Scala (recorded in 1982, with Mirella Freni, Renato Bruson and Nicolai Ghiaurov), Otello, with Domingo’s supreme performance from The Royal Opera, Covent Garden in 1992 (Kiri Te Kanawa is a magical Desdemona), and Il trovatore from Vienna State Opera, filmed in 1978 with Herbert von Karajan as both conductor and stage director. The set also has an hour-long bonus DVD in which Plácido Domingo talks with passion about his roles in all three operas. Essential viewing for all fans of a ‘true renaissance man of music’ whose repertoire includes 130 stage roles – more than any other famous tenor in history.


This sparkling new production of Gioachino Rossini’s comedy of love features María Bayo as the young ward Rosina and Juan Diego Flórez as her handsome suitor, Count Almaviva. The wily Figaro (the Barber) is Pietro Spagnoli, Bruno Practicò is the hapless guardian Don Bartolo, and the cunning singing teacher Basilio is the renowned Ruggero Raimondi. Filmed in widescreen High Definition, this Blu-ray disc brilliantly capturesdirector Emilio Sagi’s Teatro Real production as it progresses from an elegant silver-and-white to a kaleidoscope of colour for the boisterous finale. The disc has both stereo and DTS 5.1 surround sound, with subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish and Chinese. Bonus features include a 58 minute documentary giving the story behind Rossini’s opera, as told by members of the cast and the director, and a behind the scenes featurette on the staging of this production, as well as a photo gallery with more than a hundred rehearsal and performances photos.


Les TroyensDecember 11th in 2003 marked the anniversary of Hector Berlioz’s 200th birthday and enthusiasts gathered to lay a wreath on his grave in Montmartre. President Jacques Chirac nevertheless blocked a proposal to move the composer’s remains to the Panthéon and no street in Paris bears the name of the greatest musical figure of the French Romantic movement. The grandeur of his five-hour opera on the Trojans at Carthage was reduced to only three acts on its first performance. Dejected by failure, he wrote a caustic book of memoirs for posthumous publication and died in 1869, aged 65. His last words were: ‘enfin, on va jouer ma musique - at last, they will now play my music.’ The Trojans, based on Virgil’s imperial vision of the founding myth of Rome, received its first five-act performance over two nights at Karlsruhe in 1890 and its first authentic staging at Covent Garden in 1958. The stunning 2003 production featured on this Blu-ray disc has Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Monteverdi Choir, Chœur du Théâtre du Châtelet and the period-instrument Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique in an inspired performance from Le Chatelet, Paris. Italian mezzo-soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci leads a marvelous cast as the prophetess Cassandra, with American tenor Gregory Kunde as Aeneas and Renata Pokupić as Anna. Extras include a cast gallery, an illustrated synopsis and a documentary, ‘The Trojans, a masterpiece revived’, which has interviews with John Eliot Gardiner, Yannis Kokkos, Susan Graham, Anna Caterina Antonacci, Gregory Kunde and others. ‘An unforgettably dramatic experience’ - Gramophone.


George Frideric Handel first composed his Acis and Galatea as a masque in 1718, setting it to a libretto by John Gay, Alexander Pope and John Hughes based on John Dryden’s translation of Ovid published a year earlier. Galatea, a semi-divine nymph, is in love with the shepherd Acis, who is friends with Damon, another shepherd. Along comes a monstrous giant, Polyphemus, who falls in love with Galatea. She rejects Polyphemus, as she loves Acis, and in anger Polyphemus kills Acis. Galatea is distraught, but her attendants remind her that she is divine, so she turns him into a fountain, making him immortal. This Blu-ray disc features features a live recording made at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, in 2009, in which The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet appear in a rare and beautifully crafted collaboration. Christopher Hogwood conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and a excellent cast that includes Danielle de Niese as Galatea (danced by Lauren Cuthbertson) and Charles Workman as Acis (danced by Edward Watson) in Wayne McGregor’s production, with Matthew Rose as Polyphemus, and Paul Agnew and Ji-Min Park as attendant shepherds. Filmed with high definition cameras and surround sound, the extras include an illustrated synopsis, cast gallery and documentary, Staging Acis and Galatea. ‘An evening of exquisite sensual pleasure.’ - The Telegraph.


Alice Sommer HerzAlice Sommer Herz, born in 1903, became a famous concert pianist and a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. Despite the tragedy of losing most of her family and friends in the Holocaust, she remains resolutely optimistic and full of energy. As a young girl, she knew Franz Kafka, who was the best friend of her elder sister’s husband. With her Jewish background, she endured the miseries of the Prague ghetto and spent two years in the Terezin-Theresienstadt concentration camp, where nearly 35,000 prisoners perished. Her husband Leopold was moved to Auschwitz in 1944 and she never saw him again because he died in Dachau shortly before the war ended. In the camps where she was imprisoned she played more than a hundred concerts, and credits music for saving her life during this horrific experience. In 1949, she and her son went to Israel with her sisters and taught music in Tel Aviv before moving to London 20 years ago. At the age of 104 she gained international fame after a book based on her life, A Garden of Eden in Hell, became a bestseller, and also appeared in the prize-winning film, We Want the Light. Now aged 106, she is the second oldest person in London and continues to practice piano for over two hours every day. This new film, broadcast for the first time on Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January 2010, was made when Alice Sommer Herz was sharp and wise at 98. In conversation with Christopher Nupen, she speaks in her quiet, brave and straightforward way even when describing shocking events, and movingly plays Schubert, Smetana and Beethoven in a manner reminiscent of Artur Schnabel, who was one of her teachers. The style is redolent of a happier and more confident time in music making and is one which many will find heartwarming. ‘Old age is an illness. I am not myself. The body cannot resist as it did in the past. I think I am in my last days but it doesn’t matter because I have had such a beautiful life.’ This is an inspiring film that celebrates the life of one of the world’s most remarkable people.


Don CarloComposed at the height of Giuseppe Verdi’s musical career, the dark Don Carlo is the composer’s greatest work. Based on a play by Friederich Schiller, it describes the cruel world of the victims of authority during the Spanish inquisition. The Spanish infante is in love with his stepmother, while at the same time desired by his father’s lover. Philip II’s throne is itself controlled by the ecclesiastic power: the Great Inquisitor even obtains the sacrifice of his son and of his most loyal friend, Posa. This double DVD set features a controversial production - the tenor Giuseppe Filianoti was abruptly pulled from the title role - staged by Stéphane Braunschweig to open the 2008-2009 season at La Scala opera house in Milan. The opera is presented in its 1884 Italian-language version (the shortest of the five known versions), which Verdi composed for La Scala. The original version, premiered in Paris in 1867, was a five-act score, sung in French. The excellent Daniele Gatti condusts the Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro alla Scala and soloists include then charismatic Ferruccuo Furlanetto as Filippo II, American Stuart Neill in the title role, Dalibor Jenis as Rodrigo, Anatolij Kotscherga as Il Grande Inquisitor, Fiorenza Cedolins as Elisabeth de Valois and Dolora Zajick as Princess Eboli.


Jules Massenet’s beguiling three-act opera Thaïs (pronounced tah-eess) was first performed at the Opéra Garnier in Paris in 1894, with a French libretto by Louis Gallet based on the novel Thaïs by Anatole France. The religiously erotic story is set in Egypt during Byzantine rule, where an ascetic monk, Athanaël, attempts to convert Thaïs, an Alexandrian courtesan and devotée of Venus, to Christianity, discovering too late that his obsession with her is rooted in lust. The courtesan’s true purity of heart is revealed, and so is the religious man’s baser nature. After Manon and Werther, Thaïs is Massenet’s most performed operas, though still not part of the standard operatic repertoire. This exciting DVD features a high definition recording of the first Metropolitan Opera, New York staging of Thaïs in over 30 years. The radiant Renée Fleming deftly portrays Egyptian courtesan with ease and sumptuous beauty of tone, retaining at all times the glamour injected into the role by many of her well known predecessors such as Anna Moffo, Beverly Sills, Leontyne Price and Géori Boué (Renée Fleming’s costumes for this production were made by French designer Christian Lacroix). Her co-star is the great American baritone Thomas Hampson is also in top form in the role of Athanaël, the monk who falls from grace, a part he sings and acts with ease and mastery. The Orchestra and Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera are conducted with admirable restraint by Jesús López-Cobos and the director is John Cox. Also included is a short bonus feature: ‘Backstage at the Met’ with Plácido Domingo, featuring interviews with Fleming and Hampson. The wonderful Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus also feature in a live recording of Rossini’s delightful LA CENERENTOLA (DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 0734577). Latvian-born mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca takes the bel canto title role of the heroine, a spirited and mischievous Cinderella, in this touching and hilarious comic masterpiece. Conductor Maurizio Benini waves a magic wand over the production, eliciting effervescent, transparent, shining sound from the Orchestra and Chorus. Piquant visuals and superb acting by the entire cast, including also Rachalle Durkin, Patricia Risley, John Relyea, Alessandro Corbelli, (as the pompous Don Magnifico), Lawrence Brownlee (a dashing Don ramiro) and Simone Aleberghini (Dandini), make this an indispensable DVD.


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