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Handel: Tamerlano [Blu-ray]

3.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Placido Domingo, Monica Bacelli, Ingela Bohlin, Sara Mingardo, Jennifer Holloway, and Luigi De Donato star in this Teatro Real production of the Handel opera conducted by Paul McCreesh and directed by Graham Vick on 2 discs.

Review

ACT I

The Ottoman Empire has collapsed. Emperor Bajazet (Placido Domingo) has been captured by the powerful autocrat Tamerlano (Monica Bacelli). Devastated, Bajazet contemplates committing a suicide. His daughter, Asteria (Ingela Bohlin), appears and changes his mind.

Andronico (Sara Mingardo), a Greek dignitary and ally of Tamerlano, who has fallen in love with Asteria, arrives. Tamerlano grants him the Byzantian Empire but Andronico rejects his gift, realizing that if he accepts it, he would have to part ways with Asteria. Unaware of his feelings for Asteria, Tamerlano announces that Princess Irene (Jennifer Halloway), a beautiful woman he has been eying, would marry Andronico. In return for his generosity, he expects Andronico to help him win Asteria's heart.

Bajazet appears and immediately dismisses Tamerlano's plan. Meanwhile, Princess Irene arrives. She exchanges clothes with her maid and sets out to meet Tamerlano.



ACT II Tamerlano announces that Asteria has accepted his marriage proposal and that their wedding will take place soon. He also declares that Princess Irene will marry Andronico.

Leone (Luigi De Donato) escorts the disguised Princess Irene to Tamerlano where she begs him to change his decision, but he rejects her.

Meanwhile, Bajazet vows to prevent Tamerlano from marrying his daughter. Andronico also vows to never give up his beloved Asteria.

Tamerlano and Asteria are married. Bajazet appears and announces that now only death can calm his anger. Disturbed by her father's words, Asteria runs back to him. Enraged, Tamerlano immediately declares that Bajazet and Asteria will be executed.



ACT III

Bajazet and Asteria have decided to poison themselves. Tamerlano appears and announces that he will spare Bajazet's life if Asteria comes back to him. Andronico arrives and shocks everyone by revealing his feelings for Asteria. Tamerlano goes berserk.

Princes Irene reveals herself and pledges her love to Tamerlano. However, determined to revenge Asteria's betrayal, Tamerlano orders that Bajazet is punished in front of his daughter. Terrified, Andronico attempts to change Tamerlano's mind.

Tamerlano also announces that Asteria will become his slave. Devastated, Asteria sips the poison she and her father have been planning to take in a cup of wine and hands it to Tamerlano. But Princess Irene, who has been observing from afar, warns Tamerlano about the poison and he orders Asteria to choose between her father and Andronico. Asteria prepares to drink the poison herself, but Andronico takes the cup away from her. Barely able to contain his anger, Tamerlano orders his slaves to have their way with Asteria in front of Bajazit. Disgusted and hurt, Bajazit drinks the poison and then tells Tamerlano that his spirit will haunt him forever. Then, he collapses and dies. Realizing what he has done, Tamerlano pardons Asteria.

Composed by Georg Frideric Handel, on a libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym, after Agostino Piovene's Il Tamerlano (1711) and Il Bajazet (1719), both set by Gasparini, based on the play by Jacques Pradon, Tamerlan, au La Mort de Bajazet, Tamerlano is an Italian opera seria in three acts. It was first performed at the King's Theatre, Haymarket, London, on October 31, 1724.

This Blu-ray disc contains a production of Tamerlano courtesy of Orchestra of the Teatro Real, led by Maestro Paul McCreesh, and Stage Director Graham Vick, which was recorded live on March 29, 2008 at Teatro Real, Madrid. The first performance of the production was at Teatro della Pergola, Florence on May 17, 2001.

Like most baroque operas, Tamerlano has appeared in a number of different versions. Handel repeatedly edited the score until he finally settled on a version that reflected his vision. This specific rendition of Tamerlano is more or less representative of Handel's first version of the opera. It is notably long and with a number of sequences that did not make it into later versions.

The opera itself is quite unusual - it is incredibly intense and with a surprisingly rich score. Maestro McCreesh and Orchestra of the Teatro Real do not use period instruments, but their treatment of the musical text - particularly in regard to vibrato, dynamics, and sound transparency - is stylistically convincing.

The cast is fantastic. This rendition of Tamerlano marked Placido Domingo's first ever involvement with Baroque opera. Nonetheless, he sings with relentless passion and vigor. Sara Mingardo, Jennifer Halloway, Ingela Bohlin and specifically Monica Bacelli, as Tamerlano, are every bit as impressive.





Video

Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080i "live" transfer, Handel's Tamerlano arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Opus Arte.

This is only the second 2BD release the distributors have released on the North American market. As expected, it is a terrific package - contrast is top-notch, clarity fantastic and detail very pleasing. The color-scheme is also quite strong. Light blues, greens, whites and blacks are all colors of importance that look rich and well-saturated. Furthermore, there are no lighting issues to report, though there are a few very awkward shots that I noticed (mostly due to the operator's desire to capture the stage and the orchestra at the same time). Edge-enhancement and macroblocking are not an issue of concern. Mild motion-judder, however, occasionally pops up. This being said, there is no artificial sharpening that I could detect. I did not see any serious image distortions to report either. To sum it all up, this is a strong and very convincing presentation of Handel's Tamerlano which I am convinced opera aficionados will enjoy tremendously. (Note: This is Region-Free Blu-ray release. Therefore, you will be able to play it on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location).



Audio

There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: Italian LPCM 5.0 and Italian LPCM 2.0. I opted for the Italian LPCM 2.0 track and later on did a few random comparisons with the Italian LPCM 5.0 track for the purpose of this review.

I tested this Blu-ray disc the day I received it. I picked one of Placido Domingo's arias and quickly experimented with the two LPCM tracks. I liked the Italian LPCM 2.0 track better (I will explain why) and decided to watch Tamerlano in its entirety with it. The key reason why I picked the Italian LPCM 2.0 track over the Italian LPCM 5.0 track was balance. As I noted in my analysis of the opera, Maestro McCreesh and Orchestra of the Teatro Real did not use period instruments. Therefore, they were forced to introduce all sorts of adjustments in order to achieve the type of period sound Tamerlano necessitates. As a result, I felt that the Italian LPCM 2.0 track reflected better what Maestro McCreesh and the orchestra musicians were looking for (particularly as far as string section is concerned). The singing was practically identical on both tracks. This being said, the Italian LPCM 5.0 track is also quite good. However, I do believe that the more sensitive amongst you will notice that the track tends to reveal quite a few acoustic issues. For example, there are a few echo effects that pop up here and there that are far more difficult to her on the Italian LPCM 2.0 track. Finally, I did not detect any disturbing dropouts, pops, cracks, or hissings. For the records, Opus Arte have provided optional English, French, German, Italian and Spanish subtitles.



Supplements

This Blu-ray disc arrives with a stylish 32-page booklet containing the informative essay "The Shadows of Hell" by Juan Jose Carreras, which focuses on the rich history of Handel's opera as well as its fascinating characters. The essay is available in English, French and German.

On the actual Blu-ray disc, there is an illustrated synopsis for the opera, cast gallery, and an interview with Maestro McCreesh where he dissects Tamerlano and offers his thoughts on why it is considered one of the best operas from the Baroque repertoire. The interview arrives with optional French, German, Italian and Spanish subtitles.



Final Words

Opus Arte continue to add terrific titles to their already very impressive catalog of opera releases. This time around, they have put together a strong package for Handel's beloved Tamerlano. The Blu-ray disc herein reviewed looks and sounds great. This said, I must warn you that Tamerlano is a very long opera. So, plan your time accordingly! Highly Recommended! -- Blu-ray.com, Dr. Svet Atanasov, May 19, 2009


Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: Placido Domingo, Monica Bacelli, Sara Mingardo, Jennifer Holloway, Paul McCreesh
  • Directors: Graham Vick, Angel Luis Ramirez
  • Writers: Goerge Frideric Handel, Nicola Haym
  • Producers: Teatro Real Madrid, Angela Alvarez Rilla
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Classical, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: Italian (PCM 5.0), Italian (PCM Stereo)
  • Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Opus Arte
  • DVD Release Date: April 28, 2009
  • Run Time: 242 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001RE9HES
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #163,118 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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I'm also a Mingardo fan, and she doesn't disappoint in this production. I have to disagree with the other two reviewers about Domingo and Bacelli, though, particularly the latter. She uses far too much vibrato for a Baroque performance, and warbles her way through this production in a most irritating fashion. The music and staging are great, but I don't think I'm going to be watching this disc very often, and will rather try and find a good version on CD.
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This is another opera where viewing the extra feature discussion with the conductor Paul McCreesh is very helpful preparation to better appreciate this very long opera so should be viewed first. He explains some fundamental differences between Baroque Opera and the later genre and this makes appreciation of this Handel work so much better.

Tamerlano is spread over 2 BD discs but is like Rameau's Zoroastre in that it is a work I'm attracted to come back to again and again. As with most Baroque operas it is a very long winded story caused basically by lengthy recitatives and arias with considerable repetition in its 3+ hours. But the Handel's music and its singing is so good in this production one can just relax and wallow in the emotion it generates so its length becomes an asset rather than a liability.

The voices of the female singers are not powerful but have a lovely timbre and are backed up by Placido Domingo who has never tackled baroque opera before but does so here brilliantly. The final duel with Monica Bacelli and Sara Mingardo is beautifully done and very touching. Their voices blend superbly and the recording generally is very well balanced..

And one should not ignore the musical contribution from the Orchestra of the Teatro Real (Madrid Symphony Orchestra) so ably and intelligently conducted by Paul McCreesh. Somehow he has managed to extract a very appropriate Baroque sound from these players using standard instruments.

The staging is relatively stark but very effective with the artists in appropriate costumes highlighted by clever lighting and stage effects.

But I'll level the same criticism at this presentation as I did with Zorostrate.
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I love Sara Mingardo so I buy anything that she does. I was not expecting such a wonderful performance from Placido Domingo, however. I was wrong in my estimation of his grasp of Baroque. His performance was flawless and moving. My favorite was, of course, Sara Mingardo, who gives a stellar performance in her role of Andronicus. You will be pleased by the many beautiful arias.
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I was incredibly excited to watch this when I ordered it. I mean, Domingo singing Handel on Blu-Ray? Sign me up! But then I received it in the mail, and, oh dear god...

To put it mildly, the English subtitles on this performance are an abomination to all organic and inorganic matter that has ever existed or will exist in any and all realms of the multiverse. It reads like something Yoda wrote while high on PCP, and instead of typing the subtitles into a keyboard, he threw darts at a dartboard where each space represents a letter, while blindfolded and hanging upside down from a swinging rope.

It's almost worth buying just to see it. The grammar. The word choices. The (lack of) punctuation. The ordering of the words. How in the hell was this approved for publishing? And more importantly, WHO WROTE THESE SUBTITLES?! At first I thought it was just a word-for-word English-to-Italian translation(which would still be deplorable), but upon cross-referencing the subtitles with the libretto(I have a decent enough understanding of Italian), it's not! They actually took liberties! I mean, someone actually read the libretto, scratched their noggin for a moment, and made a deliberate decision to write specific English words!

I tried. I really did. But I didn't even have a damn clue what was going on in the story because of the subtitles.

Allow me to illustrate what it's like. Imagine you're watching a production of Shakespeare's magnificent play, Hamlet. Recall this brief excerpt:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
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