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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
A Reissue of Fleming's 'Rusalka'June 19 2009
J Scott Morrison
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[This is a reissue on the Arthaus Musik label of a production of 'Rusalka' previously issued on TDK which I reviewed in 2004. It is, as far as I can tell, identical with the earlier DVD. I append my earlier review.]
Dvorák's 'Rusalka' is by far his most effective opera and the only one that has made its way in the non-Slavic world. Based on de la Motte Fouqué's fairytale, 'Ondine,' but with additions from Hans Christian Andersen and the Czech ballads of K. J. Erben, and with a symbolist libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil, Dvorák's music captures the story's ecstasy and anguish perfectly. Briefly, it is the story of a water nymph who falls in love with a Prince who visits the lake where she, her three sisters and her father, the Water Spirit, live. She wishes to become mortal so she can be with him and implores the witch, Jezibaba, to grant her that wish. Jezibaba does so but with two provisos: she will become human but lose the power of speech, and if her lover rejects her she will be forever cursed. Well, the Prince initially loves her but, dismayed by her muteness, is soon won over by the blandishments of the evil Foreign Princess, so Rusalka, with her father's help, flees back to the water world. Jezibaba tells her that her only way of extracting revenge is to kill human males by kissing them and when the Prince, who has seen the error of his ways, comes to reclaim her, she warns him (having gotten back her voice) that she cannot come with him because her kiss would be fatal. He says that to 'die upon a kiss' would be the only way he could ever attain peace. They sing a rapturous duet, she kisses him and he dies. Curtain.
Rusalka is a signature role for Renée Fleming; her audio recording of the opera six years ago was a huge hit. This production, from the Paris Opéra, conducted by James Conlon, followed in 2002. The direction of Robert Carsen and set and costume design by Michael Levine emphasize the duality and symmetry of the mortal and fairy worlds. In Act I, which takes place at the bottom of the enchanted lake, the stage set is designed with a vertical symmetry, rather like the reflections seen at the water's surface when one is submerged. In Act II, which occurs in a stylized palace, there is left-right symmetry with the singers on the left side and mute actors mirroring them on the right side. Quite effective, if sometimes unintentionally reminiscent of the famous mirror act done by Groucho and Harpo Marx. Still, it conveys visually the mirroring of the real and fairytale worlds whose inability to merge leads to the final tragedy.
The musical presentation is spectacularly good. Fleming, of course, is superb. Her two main arias, the famous 'Hymn to the Moon' and the Act III 'Vyrvana zivotu" ("I am torn from life") are stunningly beautiful. Her ecstatic final duet with the Prince, sung by Sergei Larin, is equally marvelous. Larin is in very good voice and has the requisite heft to manage the almost Wagnerian tenor role as the Prince. There is not a single weak member of the rest of the cast. Huge-voiced basso Franz Hawlata is touching as Rusalka's father, the Water Spirit. Larissa Diadkova is properly impish as the comic witch, Jezibaba. Eva Urbanova, strangely the only Czech in the cast of this quintessential Czech opera, is scary as the evil Foreign Princess. The three Wood Nymphs, as Wagnerian a trio as one can find outside the 'Ring,' are well done by Michelle Canniccioni, Svetlana Lifar and Nona Javakhidze. The Kitchen Boy, a pants role, is well-done by Karine DeHayes. It is particularly gratifying to see and hear the venerable French tenor, Michel Sénéchal, as the Gamekeeper. The Act II ballet, neatly carrying forward the mirror-image theme of the production, was crisply choreographed by Philippe Giraudeau and danced by the corps of the Opéra Ballet. The video direction was by François Roussillon; it is unobtrusive and natural.
I was both charmed and intrigued by this production. 'Rusalka' is slowly becoming better known throughout the world and I suspect this DVD of the Paris production will help further its spread.
Total time: 155 mins; Sound: PCM Stereo, DD 5.0, or DTS 5.0; Subtitles: English, German French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese; Menu language: English; Picture format: 16:9; Region 0 (worldwide)
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Notable production and musical performanceJan. 2 2010
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The musical performance seems pretty much flawless, at least it seems to me. Fleming may hold one or two notes a bit too long, just because she can, but her overall interpretation is charming as well as vocally perfect. The Jezibaba and Vodnik have sung their roles all over the world and deliver here. Larin, the Prince, can be a bit less convincing as an actor, but he manages the difficult big moments for his character without strain. The sound quality of the DVD and the conductor are excellent.
The production is a modern, reinterpretive one, and a very successful one at that, from the Paris Opera. It is a psychological slant on Rusalka, with the staging seemingly suggesting that Rusalka, The Foreign Princess, and Jezibaba are all different aspects of the same woman, mainly by means of matching costumes and by having characters move as reflections of each other in mirrors. The ending is reconceived as a happy one, a new beginning for Rusalka and the Prince. The sets are incredibly attractive, although spare, and the lighting is striking. The DVD's picture is excellent and detailed, with rich, bright photography, even in some fairly dark (interms of the stage lighting) scenes.
I have 2 dvds of Rusalka, this one and the English National Opera one with Eileen Hannan. They are both modern productions, and similar in interpreting Rusalka as a story about the difficulty of achieving maturity and breaking away from from one's parents. They are both excellent, but I have to admit, I would like to see something different. I am hoping the recent Glyndebourne production or some other will be released on DVD soon.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
BEAUTIFUL SINGING, AWFUL PRODUCTIONJan. 4 2011
John F. Cahill
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I bought this DVD when it first came out. I was a little hesitant about purchasing it because the production is by Robert Carsen whose productions of operas are just trashy!! However, the singing is just wonderful by all the main characters, but the sets and production are just plain awful! Where is the beautiful lake in the woods at the beginning of the opera and particularly at the end?? There the Prince dies after kissing Rusalka and she sinks below the waters of the lake. Why are they in a motel room at the end!!! It looks like a Motel Six room (with apologies to Motel Six). Where is the beautiful Prince's Palace??? I saw the MET production in New York with Fleming - it was glorious and thrilling to see and hear, and the final scene was beautifully done. I would hope that the MET would put this out on DVD, but it may not have been filmed. Too bad. I don't recommend anyone purchasing this current DVD - buy the CD instead and listen to the glorious music! You will be glad you did.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A beautiful and creative production of a rare masterpiece.Nov. 9 2011
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John Cahill has written an excellent and detailed review of the performance and production, so I see little point in reiterating his words. But I do think the unique nature of the production can benefit from some emphasis.
As I always say in my opera reviews, one thing that I think is of paramount importance, is that all aspects of the production must make a united whole, and not, like some, just a showpiece for a famous singer. Here, we are lucky to have both, as Fleming, (who I understand, prefers traditional productions) fits into this psychologically motivated performance with no appearance of being presented as the "STAR" attraction. If you are unfamiliar with this work, I feel it is a contender for Dvorak's greatest achievement. Although there are definite arias, the work is really continuous, extraordinarily beautiful melody from start to finish.
The story is a subtle one, and productions like that from the Met. (I have given up on Met performances, they rely too much on showcase extravagance, and the video production usually detracts from the opera) entirely miss out on the significant psychology in this story. When the opera started, I thought the set was terrible. But, as the story unfolded, and it's surface simplicity became apparent as a vehicle for something with much greater depth, so the set, lighting, the detailed mirrored movement on the stage (for much of the opera, the action takes place on a set divided down the middle, and action is mirrored between left and right of the stage). You should make up your own mind on this staging, but it certainly relates to the psychological aspects of the story. And the ballet is the most extraordinarily creative work I have ever seen. Not long, but it conveys much.
With the DVD, engineering allowed a greater presentation of the environment of a water nymph, giving the viewer a superior result than I imagine the theatre audience would have seen.and it almost seems as if the DVD was the final aim for this production. Unfortunately, at least on my 2-disc set (it is a long opera with Act 3 on a second disc; but it doesn't drag, you want more) the physical DVD was poorly manufactured, In many ways, the image was sharp and able to handle rich color almost to Blu-ray quality, but I found dark areas just merging into an amorphous blackness with no grey-shades at all. I'm afraid I don't know the term for this technical flaw. Also, there was something wrong with the set-up options, with a tendency to freeze when trying to select audio and sub-title options. And this was tried on five players, three DVD and two Blu-ray, with costs ranging from budget to very expensive. Once underway, there was only the problem with dark areas. Fortunately, the audio is essentially flawless.
I have wandered a bit from my original intention of emphasizing that this was a rare and very beautiful opera, given a superb performance all round (OK, one minor role could have been sung a little better, but this is carping); but quite different to any opera I know. Strangely, and I guess most might not agree with this, but I had a feeling of influence from Wagner, but not so deep, and more immediately appealing. The producers have seized on the unique quality of the work, and come up with a unique DVD presentation. It won't appeal to all, but for those prepared to take on something unusually creative, there are many rewards.
Don't let this description of the deeper aspects of the work turn you away. Just buy it and enjoy some of the most beautiful music, singing and acting presented most imaginatively, in a way that is a rare experience. Congratulations are also due to James Conlon's musical direction, and the excellent playing of the Paris Opera Orchestra. This is my second Rusalka, the first being from a production for TV recorded in 1961. It's age removes it from the sparse competition. A pity it isn't on Blu-ray, but I think the technical problems with the vision made that out of the question.
Well, here I am, verbose as usual, but please, don't miss this one. (Oh. Only four stars because of the poor video engineering, and the testing was done on a very high-quality system.)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Rusalka- great music and great performers; the modern staging and costumes detract from this fine performance.Feb. 6 2014
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ALOHA. I am new to this beautiful opera. The performance is vocally splendid in every way. The weak link is the sets and staging by Michael Levine. I just don't understand why so many operas have gone "modern" with their costumes and staging. The Met did it with La Traviata; Barcelona has insulted Modest Moussourgsky's (sp?) Boris Godunov with the great Matti Salminen. Having him step down from a chair as big as a small house and showing dozens of placards showing the picture of Dimitri, the seven year old who was murdered by Boris, makes no sense to me. Isn't one picture of him enough? Wagner's Ring has also slipped into this "modern" peudo-creativity. What is the reason for this? Is it to save money for the opera houses? A lot of opera goers who have been attending and seeing "traditional" staging may be bothered by this more than that of a novice. I resent pseud--symbolism and pseud-creativity. This is an insult to the composer, the performing artists, and so many of the viewers. Are the intentions of the composer being met? Finally, Renee Fleming. She is a prima donna assoluta; she is creme de la creme. What Greta Garbo is to cinema, Renee Fleming is to opera. In closing, I thoroughly enjoyed her "Song to the Lamps" I mean "to the Moon," The duet that culminates the opera is so moving that no one has to understand one word of Czech to understand what they are conveying! I am hoping that the Met's performance of this opera this Saturday, February 8th, will provide us with better staging and costumes. I can't wait! Michael Hughes February 6, 2014 Honolulu