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Thread: Lully on DVD and Blu-ray

  1. #1
    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Default Lully on DVD and Blu-ray



    This DVD of Lully's Cadmus et Hermione received a lot of praise from Gramophone a couple of months ago, and I've been looking at a few youtubes, eg here and here

    The stage sets are fascinating; the music sounds pretty fine to these ears; and there's a ring of authenticity to the production which I find quite thrilling. I may well be tempted to buy one of these. Any thoughts?

  2. #2
    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    I took the plunge and bought one. It costs an arm and a leg (see here), and there are no extras. Just two hours of opera. Just that.

    So far I've watched only the Prologue and Act I, but I think, already, that this is the finest opera DVD I've ever seen. The authenticity is palpable. Recognising that the most crucial factor in staging such a performance in 1673 was lighting, and integrating the lighting with the structure of the sets, these guys have done precisely that. The whole thing, as far as I can see, is illuminated with a mass of small naked flames, and this sets the stage apart in a world of its own, with this mysterious, very slightly shifting light (the changes consciously noticeable only when you look for them). So visually, it's very beautiful because of the lighting. But equal attention has been lavished on the costumes, the sets, and even the carefully articulated and rehearsed gestures and expressions of the singers. I can't imagine we could ever see anything closer to what Lully wanted his audience (the King primarily, one supposes) to see. The DVD is like a window into a world over 300 years old, yet bristling with life, and in no sense museumified.

    And as to what we hear ... the music is stupendous. There never seems to be a dull moment; the orchestral playing is brilliant as far as I can tell, and the singing totally convincing. The whole is far, far more than the sum of its parts, and while watching I found myself being deeply moved - not identifiably by the music, nor the lighting, nor the gestures, nor the sets - but by the magnificent synthesis of all of these. When Gramophone gave this a rave review, they got it absolutely right. (Gaston, this might have been made for you, I think.)

    Here are the you tube links again, for convenience: here and here.

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    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    It's on my wishlist, Alan. I think we're gonna drive each other to ruin if we keep this up.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jhar26 View Post
    It's on my wishlist, Alan. I think we're gonna drive each other to ruin if we keep this up.
    It might almost be worth risking ruin for, but in practical terms I don't think there are very many DVDs of this quality to be found. So there's a clearly visible limit in sight, this side of ruin.

    Just as well, though.

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    Senior Member nefigah's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elgarian View Post


    I took the plunge and bought one.
    ...
    Here are the you tube links again, for convenience: here and here.
    Wow, I know little about opera in general, and nothing about Baroque opera specifically, but those were fascinating clips. I can tell it must be a good DVD.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    I've now seen the whole of this ...



    ... and I hardly know what to say. I'm haunted by it. Images from it keep floating into my head at quiet moments. The expressive gestures - the focus on the hands of Cadmus and Hermione which, as the opera evolves, move closer and closer without touching until, finally ... they do. I have never seen hands used with such expressive power. And that is just one tiny aspect of this production. The finale is so formal, and yet so moving. The combination of Lully's superb music and the shifting tableau of characters on stage is perfect; I'll tell you, I found tears hovering all the way through the finale - not the gut-wrenching emotionalism of a Puccini opera, but something far more delicate, arising from the sense of great care lavished on every detail, the perfection of the way it's blended with the music. Yes, it has a 'happy ending' - but what's so moving is not so much the happy fate of the characters, but the astounding perfection of the art, and the sense of privilege at being able to see something so perfectly formed, both visually and musically. We all now can watch something made, with no expense or effort spared, for a King. And not just any king at that, but the Sun King himself. Great Art, indeed.
    Last edited by jhar26; Dec-25-2010 at 16:06.

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    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    Sounds like a must have to me, Alan.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jhar26 View Post
    Sounds like a must have to me, Alan.
    Definitely. I've been looking to see if the same people (Alpha Productions) have released anything else using the same 'authentic' treatment, but as far as I can tell the only thing available is Le Bourgeouis Gentilhomme, which I'm not sure about. It predates Cadmus, and seems to be a sort of half-formed not-really-opera. These DVDs are extremely expensive, so some serious research needs doing on that one.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Hmm. Been looking at a couple of you tubes, like this one, and (much better) this one. I'm not thrilled about the large amount of spoken dialogue, so I think I probably won't go for this.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Available here.

    I must admit this has some hard acts to follow (see above, all of which I hereby award 5 stars); and in that context, it doesn't do so well, really. This is more how I always found DVDs/videos of opera to be in the past: worthy, but tending towards dullness; as if the not-being-there-really sucks some of the life out of it.

    There are some negative things that affect my enjoyment of the music. First, the sound balance doesn't seem quite right. The male singers seem very much louder than the female singers, and when several of each gender sing together this seems particularly noticeable. The other thing is... well, you know that nasality, and the rolling of 'r's that is somewhat emphasised in French singing? Well here, it seems quite obtrusively overemphasised sometimes, and can be irritating. (Here's a youtube where you can hear a bit of it for yourself and decide if it matters.)

    Some of the dancing is very good - there's a fine session of danced fencing (with swords) that's really good stuff. And there's no silly nonsense about the production; it's set firmly in the C17th (though seeing Perseus and Andromeda pottering about the stage in seventeenth century garb does require a bit of suspension of disbelief).

    So far then - I'd give it 3 stars. Worth having, but not to be compared with Les Indes Galantes, Giulio Cesare, or Cadmus et Hermione, described above. Of course, I have been known to change my mind ....
    Last edited by jhar26; Dec-25-2010 at 15:38.

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    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    Yes, judging from that youtube it doesn't seem to be as sparkling as the others. Still, three or four five star dvd's followed by a three star effort is pretty good going I'd say. Thanks for posting - Cadmus & Hermione stays on the number one spot of my 'what baroque opera dvd to get next' list.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jhar26 View Post
    Cadmus & Hermione stays on the number one spot of my 'what baroque opera dvd to get next' list.
    Good. It's not just desirable. It's necessary.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    I'm still doggedly plodding my way through this (with the emphasis on 'doggedly' and 'plodding'), and have two more acts to plod through later today. Perseus's encounter with Medusa, here - which I'd expected would be a great dramatic climax - turns out to be the dampest of squibs. I didn't actually realise anything had happened, until a reference a couple of minutes later made it clear that the Gorgon had indeed been defeated. My original three star estimate is now hovering closer to two and a half.

    My earlier comments about costumes weren't quite right - the ladies are indeed clothed in what seem to be C17th dresses, but the men's costumes might best be described as seventeeth-century-plus; there's a sort of heroic shimmery veneer to what they're wearing, presumably befitting 17th century superheroes.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Continuing from my last post ....

    Things do liven up a bit in the last two acts; there's some spectacular dancing, again, involving swords; and we discover that Perseus is capable of all sorts of acrobatics (Perseus wears a mask when he's out adventurin', so they can use a stand-in very effectively). The tableau at the end is certainly one of the highlights of the opera in terms of spectacle: I'll try to get a screenshot and post it here.

    But despite all this, the overall impressions are of wooden acting, with everyone trying too hard, and the eccentricities of the sound balance become quite wearing after a while (which of course is the responsibility of the recording engineers, not the singers). Two and a half stars, rather than three, in my book.

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    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elgarian View Post
    Continuing from my last post ....

    Things do liven up a bit in the last two acts; there's some spectacular dancing, again, involving swords; and we discover that Perseus is capable of all sorts of acrobatics (Perseus wears a mask when he's out adventurin', so they can use a stand-in very effectively). The tableau at the end is certainly one of the highlights of the opera in terms of spectacle: I'll try to get a screenshot and post it here.

    But despite all this, the overall impressions are of wooden acting, with everyone trying too hard, and the eccentricities of the sound balance become quite wearing after a while (which of course is the responsibility of the recording engineers, not the singers). Two and a half stars, rather than three, in my book.
    Do you think it's exclusively the production and the singers who are to blame or is it simply not as good an opera as Cadmus & Hermione in your opinion?

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