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The Mariinsky II Opening Gala 2013 [Blu-ray]
The Mariinsky II Opening Gala 2013 [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Mikhail Petrenko
Price: $22.49
21 used & new from $18.50

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars After this, who could ever be afraid of Russian technology and decision-making?, February 9, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
First off, the debate over the Blu-ray sound is a side issue and distraction. (As is, needless to say, the association with Putin, who does happen to be in the audience by the way.) Two-channel PCM is not the ne plus ultra in Blu-ray surround sound coding, but would be pefectly fine if that was the only issue under consideration. Unfortunately it is not. There are so many things wrong with this disk that questions of how many channels the sound was recorded in (or who was sitting in the audience) pale by comparison. To start with, the production itself is shockingly bad and banal. Oh, there are moments, brief moments--when Netrebko or Domingo sings for example--that are more than adequate, but so much of the production is as bad as a high school play. A weak one at that. Makes one wonder how Russia can still claim to be a world power, if it ever was. On the evidence of this disk, certainly not in opera, ballet, stagecraft, or bureaucratic decision-making. Many of the acts are actually (not metaphorically) children's productions, as if each of the Marinsky schools (of singing, ballet, etc.) fought for and succeeded in demanding a place in the program. Is that socialism? Or nepotism? That quality doesn't matter and the only thing that counts is keeping every bureaucratic fifedom happy? Then there is the actual production and staging. It's worse than I can describe (or than you will believe if I described it in detail). In this case, it's as if each of the engineers/ stage technicians at the "new Marinsky" fought to have his/her "pet" device put on display. And were allowed to! Conveyor belts, odd-ball lighting effects, video back projections, rising and dropping stage levels, enormous props that dwarf the performers and distract from their performances---the whole mish-mash of High School Musical theatrical trickery is wheeled on stage. Get this: Even the orchestra pit is raised and lowered. Why? For no particular reason, except to show off that the "new Marinsky" can do it! Then there is the weird photography and crazy video production values. Closeups of singers or dancers bizarrely (and distractingly) include the faces of unrelated children behind the performer mugging, talking to each other, looking off in another directions not paying attention, and generally, annoyingly distracting the viewer in every way possible from the actual performance taking place (a second-rate performance, but really...). And then there is the even more distracting problem of the video backgrounds in about half of the acts interfering with the photography. Remember in the old days of TV when wagon-wheels turned backward, airplane propellers stood still, and the striped shirt the weatherman wore before the ChromaScreen made these funny wavy lines or made parts of him disappear? Well, believe it or not, the contemporary equivalent of that is what takes place for long stretches of this stage show. The technical terms are "interference bands" and "moire patterns," and the technical cause is that the background video scan rate (of the cheezy backprojected backgrounds--couldn't they afford real scenery?) is not synchronized with the foreground HD camera scan rate, but the technical reason doesn't matter: What matters is that half or more of the performances have wavy lines or moving dark bands shifting around behind the performers, like the snake in Magic Flute about to devour Papageno. Try to stay focused on the singing or dancing while a cityscape wiggles and throws up a series of moving black bands behind the performers. Then there is the weak conducting, weak performing, and bad miking of the orchestra. But I bettter stop before I can't. I forget the names of the Russian stage program director and the British TV productiion director, but they should both be fired, or maybe they have already died of embarrassment at the monstrosity they produced. Here's an idea. How about a good purge for old time's sake? Maybe Stalin had the solution. The whole Russian theater bureaucracy and governing body of the "new Marinsky" might benefit from some time in the Gulag if this is any evidence of the kind of productions they will produce as Russia's calling card in the West in the future.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 14, 2015 3:04 PM PST

Entre Elle & Lui - Live at the Chateau Versailles [Blu-ray]
Entre Elle & Lui - Live at the Chateau Versailles [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Michel Legrand
Price: $20.99
23 used & new from $16.66

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Grand, the Glorious Empire Strikes Back...., November 26, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Just a note for those unfamiliar with this Blu-Ray release: The front and back of the box is in English, the table of contents on the Blu-Ray menu is in English, the disk is 100 percent playable in America and other English-speaking countries, but more or less the entire concert (with the exception of two or three songs, ten minutes in all, out of more than an hour and a half of introductions, comments by the performers, and songs being sung by the performers) is in French, with no subtltles provided. (And no real help from the booklet, which is minimalist and more or less only consists of a listing of the French titles of the French material being presented in French.) Weird and unexpected. Weird that Erato (the releaser) would not have added Engish subtitles or supertitles as a courtesy for English-speaking viewers (or titles in other languages for viewers from other countries); but the fact is that they didn't. And unexpected in this day and age of international releases. My French is passable, though just barely, so this didn't affect me personally so much, but I think my mother or my father or many friends and other people I know, including my Boston University students, would be very disappointed if they purchased this, thinking they could follow along in English (or German or Italian or Spanish) and know what was being said and sung.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 5, 2015 12:59 AM PST

Bach: St. Matthew Passion [Blu-ray]
Bach: St. Matthew Passion [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Brooks
Price: $39.99
21 used & new from $28.38

5.0 out of 5 stars A genuine stunner, November 19, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I may hold some kind of record of owning every single DVD and Blu-Ray available of this piece (St. Matthew Passion) and of Bach's B-minor Mass. Most have their ups and downs, their strong and their weak moments (and the ones from the choir at St. Thomaskirk are particularly uneven) but this performance is a stunner. It's my reference copy for excellence in every respect--the singing performances (the Evangelist, Jesus, the Soprano and Mezzo/Alto are especially strong, but no one is weak), the interpretation, the photography, and (above all, if there were anything to be below it) the sound, the sound, the sound. A 24 bit/48K recording, which is not bad in itself, but it sounds even better than that, it sounds as good as 96K or better, and the microphone placements, the sense of the space and air around the singers or instrumental soloists, is close to perfection. In short: the sweetness, harshness, wonder, beauty, majesty, sadness, tragedy, magic of the great-minded, great-souled Bach is all there. in a crowded DVD and Blu-Ray field, highly recommended. To the glory of God, music, and the human soul.

Live in Berlin [Blu-ray]
Live in Berlin [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Erwin Schrott
Price: $19.98
25 used & new from $11.96

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars How's your Spanish?, November 19, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Live in Berlin [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
How's your Spanish? Though the case prominently blazons that this Blu-Ray disk has English subtitles, DG weirdly and inexplicably (or stupidly and lazily, more likely) makes English subtitles available only for all of the sections of the disk and performance where Erwin Schrott is speaking English. Get it? Whenever he speaks English in his introductions to the music, you can read English in the subtitles. But whenever he sings in Spanish (which is for all of the songs, every last one of them, 95 percent of the content of this disk), no subtitles are available. None. So you're on your own, pal. You let yourself be tricked by the case. Who does quality control on these releases anyway?

Mozart on Tour - 14 Piano Concertos & 13 Documentaries Following Mozart's journey through Europe [Blu-ray]
Mozart on Tour - 14 Piano Concertos & 13 Documentaries Following Mozart's journey through Europe [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ André Previn
Price: $52.39
22 used & new from $41.52

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A real disappointment, November 19, 2014
While the other reviews to date are about the old VHS and DVD releases, this review is of the new Blu-Ray release. In one word: Beware. Particularly if you are buying this to listen to it. To hear the performances. To listen to the music. The sound is not only not of Blu-Ray quality, but not even of DVD quality. It is highly compressed and coded. Unfortunately, EuroArts, the releaser, did not go back to the master tapes, but took the sound more or less directly from the earlier release formats. I bought the disk because it said, clearly and prominently, on the outside of the case, that it was in LPCM (translation: redbook CD-quality, 16 bit, 44.1KHz--not state of the art, but not bad either). But it is not. The entire soundtrack, both films and concert footage, is mastered in the old, superseded, outdated (and completely unnecessary in this day and age) Dolby II compression lo-resolution algorithm. No LPCM in sight. False advertising. Or a cheap-it-out, rush-it-out change of plans after the design of the box had been finalized. Alas. And, take it from me (I am an audio and video professional) the uncompressed, unDolby-ized, PCM soundtrack, all ten or more hours of it, would have easily fit on a single double-layer 50Gig Blu-Ray disk. Another potentially wonderful project acoustically spoiled, either by stupidity or budget-considerations. Not recommended, unless you are buying it strictly for the grainy and blurry 16mm documentary footage or the equally grainy and blurry (old NTSC TV standard) concert footage to go along with the grainy, blurry Dolby compresed and lo-res sound. A missed opportunity. A real missed opportunity.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 27, 2014 10:14 PM PST

Harman Kardon AVR 1650 5.1-Channel, 95-Watt Audio/Video Receiver with HDMI v.1.4a, 3-D, Deep Color and Audio Return Channel (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
Harman Kardon AVR 1650 5.1-Channel, 95-Watt Audio/Video Receiver with HDMI v.1.4a, 3-D, Deep Color and Audio Return Channel (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
3 used & new from $262.00

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a good experience, August 23, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I am very experienced with audio and video equipment, and have several very complex installations in different locations, but I learned a lot in the last two weeks about buying equipment I am not already familiar with. Bought the HK AVR 1650 and received it about ten days ago. The price seemed unbelievable. Turned out it was. After less than 10 hours of use, it failed completely. Got the "Protect" warning on the display and an auto shut-off, which is the worst message you can get. It means something died or shorted inside the amplifier. It now won't turn on and shuts itself down automatically every time I try to turn it on to protect itself from itself. Not a great experience since I spent about five hours removing my old equipment and installing this replacement (lots of in-wall wiring to juggle and recut and rethread and lots of teeny-tiny holes on the back of the AVR 1650 to try to feed wire-ends into blind). Five hours lost of course since I am now returning the unit as defective/damaged/non-functional, which it is. Bad quality control, Harman Kardon. No wonder the price has dropped on these. I'll bet you've gotten a lot of them back. To add insult to injury (and waste of my time) the support folks at Harman (based on their names, they are probably in Bombay or Delhi I'd guess) have been completely useless. One support request went unanswered for days (and is still unanswered as of now) and a second support email was answered by someone who only told me to do what I had said in my email that I had already done. Clearly she didn't even read the email I sent describing the problem and my actions to date to resolve it, or didn't speak English well enough to understand what I was writing. Good old off-shore sourcing for support. Way to go, number two, Harmon Kardon. A double bad experience. Live and learn. I'll never buy the Harman Kardon brand again.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 11, 2013 6:53 AM PDT

Six Classic Albums
Six Classic Albums
Price: $19.47
21 used & new from $6.28

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Warning -- Defective Issue, March 25, 2013
This review is from: Six Classic Albums (Audio CD)
Another defective cheapie compilation album. Many tracks lack RC's voice. All you hear is the intrumental track! The audio engineer obviously forgot to include the main channel (the voice track) off the LP he was duping. Who do these budget CD companies hire? Who, if anyone, supervises their work? Who does quality control? (The answers: Anyone. No one. No one.) This should never have made it into production. Buyer beware.

8 Classic Albums - Dinah Washington
8 Classic Albums - Dinah Washington
Price: $17.52
27 used & new from $8.13

37 of 48 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Beware---Missing Audio Feeds, March 3, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I'd give zero stars if that was an option. I received this yesterday and put disk three on last night. Imagine my surprise to discover that the audio transfer (presumably from LP to digital input) is defective. Massively defective. The entire album "What a Difference a Day Makes" (the first 12 tracks on disk 3) the album and disk I put in last night, leaves out Dinah's voice track! Nothing. Nada. It's easy to see what happened. The sound engineer for the transfer only fed the "orchestra track" (the left track in the LP) and forgot to feed the "voice track" (the right track on the LP) to his digital storage system. When you listen to the CD as now issued, you get the left track (the music only) on both the right and left speakers, with Dinah's voice only being heard very very faintly in the background, almost imperceptible, since her microphone feed was not included in the transfer. All you are hearing is her voice being picked up in the distance from one of the orchestra track mikes, with her own mike feed not being included. This is what one or more other reviewers on Amazon call "including tracks that do not have Dinah on them," but they are wrong. Dinah is (or was) in these performances, but she is now unhearable, a faint sound buried in the distance, since her voice track was left out of the transfer! An unforgiveable, inexcusable defect in the transfer. It's almost unbelieveable that no one at MusicMelon/Real Gone/101 would have listened to this transfer and not detected the glaring error before pressing and selling a couple thousand CDs from the defective master. Just disgraceful. But these transfers were obviously a quickie project strictly to take the money and run, and to heck with the listener. (FYI: I tried going to the company web site to report this, but the web site doesn't exist. Just an empty, blank page at the url where it is supposed to be. It figures.) Buyer beware.
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 30, 2014 11:08 PM PDT

George Frideric Handel: Messiah (Recorded at Pieterskerk, Leiden, 1993) [Blu-ray]
George Frideric Handel: Messiah (Recorded at Pieterskerk, Leiden, 1993) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Choir of King's College Cambridge

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Warning about the U.S. Blu-Ray Disk of this performance, December 7, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
If there were a zero-star rating I would have awarded it. A warning about the U.S. Blu-Ray Disk of this performance. It will not play on most American Blu-Ray players. Though it is labeled "playable worldwide," it is not true. It is coded at a 50Hz (50i HD) display rate. American HD television and Blu-Ray players are 60Hz. The two formats are incompatible. I live in the U.S. and bought and tested TWO different Blu-Ray disks (both of course labeled "for worldwide playback" including U.S. playback), and though I have two high-end, recent model Sony Blu-Ray players (different models), and know every trick and tweak possible (I am a video and audio professional), I could not get either an image or note of sound from either disk. The "playable worldwide" label is wrong. The disk is not compatible with U.S. system playback. Caveat emptor. You will be disappointed and frustrated if you try to play this disk on a U.S. machine no matter what the label says or the seller assures you. The disk will play in the U.K., France, Germany, and most of the rest of Europe, but not in the U.S. Based on comments here, I have to conclude that the DVD disk apparently has no problems with U.S. playback.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 11, 2013 7:19 AM PST

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro [Blu-ray]
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Ludovic Tézier
Price: $29.89
10 used & new from $21.28

6 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don Kent, You have your priorites wrong, December 5, 2012
Let me begin with the obvious: First, opera is about music and singing not costumes, sets, clever staging, lighting, etc. No one would contest, I presume. But the second truism is more easily forgotten because it is a more recent observation that builds on the first but takes it in a more technical direction. A Blu-Ray opera disk is about the quality of the sound, not the quality of the image, etc., etc.

Don Kent is identified as the video director of this production (i.e. he was brought in to film it for the Blu-Ray release) and he completely missed the second point (and, by implication, did not serve the first one either). The sound on this production is deplorable, high-level deplorable, but deplorable none-the-less. If this sound were in an off-brand CD, I'd understand it. If it were on a 1958 "live" LP, maybe I'd cut it some slack, but it's on the highest of high-tech productions currently available, a Blu-Ray disk, and it just doesn't cut the mustard.

To start with (though this may be too technical for some) it is recorded at 16 bit (rather than 24). Same as a CD. But the proof is not in the specs, but the listening, and even if it had been done at the higher sample rate, I suspect the microphone placement or mix would have resulted in similar problems to what this disk shows. The sound is muddy in duets, trios, and quartets. Voices are not separated. Worse still, the sound is echoic. You hear the walls of the flats, you hear the depth of the stage. Like listening through a cardboard tube, or maybe the better comparison would be to say it is like listening from the nosebleed fourth ring (the cheap seats high up) in an acoustically less than ideal theater. The voices are deeply recessed, you lean forward in your seat and you hear them, but they might as well be fifty yards away, off in the distance.

The whole problem is made worse by the mix, which puts the orchestra on top of the voices, dominating them, not behind them, supporting them. If you turn up the volume on your amplifier all you will get is even more drowning out of the voices. Oh, you can hear them all right, but as I say it feels like the way they would sound from a bad seat in the theater. Mr. Kent, I have news for you (and it may really be news): The sound on a Blu-Ray production of this sort should actually be better (yes, really better) than the best seat in the house. It should, more or less, sound like you are either in the front row or on-stage with the singers, hearing them the way they hear each other. A Blu-Ray should actually be capable of more "separation" and a better "mix" than life, than a live performance.

That may sound like heresy and madness, but it is not. But this Blu-Ray doesn't even try to be as good as life, as a live performance. It sounds about as good as one of those old Mercury Living Stereo LPs. Not terrible, of course, but so much less than contemporary technology is capable of.

I leave the performance itself to others. The performances of the singers and orchestra. I agree with a few of the other commentators that this is just a middle of the road quality performance, not inspired, not demon-possessed, not thrilling. But I thought (since I am a film and audio professional) I would focus on the technical side instead. And that, Mr. Kent, leaves a lot to be desired.

P.S. For anyone who wants to hear what a really well-miked, well-recorded (24 bit), well-mixed opera Blu-Ray sounds like, I highly recommend Colin Davis's Die Zauberflote (Magic Flute). Technically impeccable. And not bad as a performance either. It shows that even in a cavernous old theater (The Royal Opera House) great sound can be obtained, if the director (Sue Judd in that case) knows what she is doing and pushes the Blu-Ray to the limit.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 31, 2012 7:18 PM PST

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