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Handel: Belshazzar

3.6 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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(Jun 14, 2011)
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Editorial Reviews

René Jacobs is masterful leading a stellar cast of soloists, the RIAS- Kammerchor and the Akademie für Alte
Musik in a spectacular production of Handel s oratorio Belshazzar. Written in 1745, Belshazzar stands with Messiah as one of Handel s finest efforts in the genre. Based on a libretto by Charles Jennens, the story, from the book of Daniel, recounts the fall of Babylon at the hands of the Persian prince Cyrus who brought Belshazzar s tyrannical reign to an end an eternally relevant story with significant current resonance. Featured soloists include countertenor Bejun Mehta, a rising star in the world s opera houses and concert halls.

Special Features

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Product Details

  • Actors: Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin, RIAS-Kammerchor
  • Directors: Rene Jacobs
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Classical, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: German, English, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    G
    General Audience
  • Studio: Harmonia Mundi
  • DVD Release Date: June 14, 2011
  • Run Time: 166 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B004S1XCBG
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #291,336 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Blu-ray
This first-rate production of Handel's Belshazzar, conducted by Rene Jacobs and directed by Christof Nel, was recorded at the 2008 Festival d'Aix-en-Provence and originated at the Staatsoper Berlin. Once again--as with Theodora (Sellars/Christie), Hercules (Bondy/Christie), Semele (Carsen/Christie), and Acis and Galatea (McGregor/Hogwood)--we are dealing with a staged production of a piece that Handel did not conceive as such. Nonetheless, Belshazzar is one of Handel's most dramatic oratorios, based on a well known story from the Biblical book of Daniel. The libretto by Charles Jennens (who also prepared the text of Messiah and Saul) even includes "stage directions." As a result, this dramatisation seems entirely appropriate. Harnoncourt's 1976 recording Handel: Belshazzar retains its place in my affection, but this production benefits from its visual aspects and some 35 more years of experience with baroque performance practice.

The soloists are superb. Rosemary Joshua, a Welsh soprano who has made a name for herself in Handel and Mozart, shines as Belshazzar's mother Nitocris, who foresees that her son's degenerate empire will fall, like others before it. Kristina Hammarstrom, a young Swedish alto, delivers a moving portrayal of Daniel, the Hebrew prophet who translates the handwriting on the wall that confirms Belshazzar's doom. Bejun Mehta, one of the best contemporary counter-tenors, is Cyrus, the Persian prince who is God's instrument in delivering the Hebrews from their Babylonian captivity. Kenneth Tarver, an American tenor, effectively characterizes the dissolute Belshazzar, king of Babylon.
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Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
Belshazzar is my favorite Handel oratorio, more than Messiah, more than Judas Maccabeus. It has been for years. It's got so many great numbers: "Behold the monstrous human beast"; "Ye tutelar gods of our empire look down"; "Sesach, this night is chiefly thine"; "Let the deep bowl thy praise confess"; just thinking of these pieces sends chills down my spine. I have goosebumps as I type.

And Bejun Mehta singing "Destructive war, thy limits know" ... O my God, this is goosebump city. No one has ever done it so well! The musical performance here would be a 5-star slam dunk. I wish they would have contented themselves with an audio CD. I have very few quibbles concerning the performance, and those quibbles would not change the 5 star rating.

However, they had to turn it into a visual production, and so, they have to prepared for comments on that. Please keep in mind Belshazzar was written as an oratorio, not meant to be costumed or staged. However, I do not have any philosophical problem with staging it and I don't think Handel would have minded, so the low rating is not based simply on the fact that it was staged.

It has been staged with a mild Eurotrash approach, that is using elements not of the period (either of the period supposedly depicted, or any period Handel may have known about including possibly even his own). The costumes are a hodgepodge that range from ancient Middle East, up to nondescript modern work clothes. Well, I don't so much mind that--I may have knocked off a star for depicting people in modern clothes as members of an army, all brandishing sabres. And some of the ancient costumes were slightly cartoony. For example, the king's crown looked like it came out of a comic strip.
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Format: Blu-ray
Belshazzar, written in 1744, was among the first English oratorios that Handel composed after he had abandoned the Italian opera form, and it consequently has an interesting place among the composer's works, still retaining some the dramatic content and style of opera composition. The dramatic content comes about due to the nature of the subject, which is biblical in nature, if not entirely a religious piece of work. So while there are contemplative hymns to God and fervent pleas for deliverance sung throughout, the historical and religious conflicts of the 539BC setting, where the Babylon of King Belshazzar is under siege from Cyrus, Prince of the Medes and Persians (who enters the city via the diverted channel of the river Euphrates), means that there is a bit more variety to the content and the tone, as well as the opportunity for a staging to apply other meaningful references that could have some present-day significance.

The plot is not overly complicated for a three-act, almost three-hour oratorio, but there is a certain amount of dramatic ground to cover, which means that there is more opera seria-like recitative in Belshazzar, and consequently, it may not be always quite as musical and melodious as later Handel oratorios. The true impact of the oratorio however is on a dramatic level and in the piece as a whole. It's staged here for the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2008 by Christof Nel in a manner that doesn't set any modern agenda or updated interpretation of the work, letting the dramatic action be dictated by the words of the libretto.
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