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Palestrina

4.2 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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(May 25, 2010)
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Editorial Reviews

Christopher Ventris, Peter Rose, Michael Volle, John Daszak, Roland Bracht, Falk Struckmann, and Christiane Karg star in this 2009 Bavarian State Opera production of the Pfitzner opera conducted by Simone Young. This 2 DVD set also includes a bonus film o

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Format: Classical, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: German (Dolby Digital 5.0), German (DTS 5.0), German (PCM Stereo)
  • Subtitles: English, French, German
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: EuroArts
  • DVD Release Date: May 25, 2010
  • Run Time: 207 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B003E113Q2
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,462 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

By J. Shaver on July 17, 2010
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I suppose that we in the 21st century will never again see an opera the way the composers intended it to be seen. Instead we will see stagings by directors who have no knowledge of operatic tradition and/or are possessed of colossal egos. When we see a director deciding to stage overtures or preludes we know also that he or she has no love of music. This is an opera that I never expected to see in any guise. Now I have (more or less). The sets and costumes are bright primary colors that make the opera appear to be a cartoon. Anachronisms abound. One of the participants at the Council of Trent is eating an ice cream cone and the papal legate arrives in a limousine. Makeup is particularly garish and reminds one of kabuki. If one is wearing a green costume then he has green eyeshadow and green lipstick. The Pope resembles a Hindu deity, and Palestrina's son has so much eyeshadow that one knows that the composer will never be a grandfather. Although visually it is a fright, the opera is well sung with the surround sound clearer than the 2-channel stereo. As mentioned above the opera has much in common with Die Meistersinger, but Pfitzner is no Wagner. There are sublime moments, but also long stretches where inspiration lags or disappears altogether. It will make you want to run out and listen to one of Palestrina's masses.
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Since I have loved this opera since I was 16, when I heard it with Gedda and Fisher-Diskau (now on CD), I have looked for it on film. Alas, there are several other CD versions now, but this is the ONLY filmed version so far, so I have to live with its idosyncracies. I immediately recongized the strange color scheme as psychodelic; In fact, the Christ figure could be a poster for the Fillmore East. I love the angel nuns but hated the Masters in the first act looking like members of a circus troupe. And, sorry to say, this is a typically early 20th Century opera, Straussian more than Wagnerian. In fact, both Gedda and another famous Palestrina, Julius Patzak were not heldentenors. In this performance there was not a single bad voice, so it was a total pleasure to the ear. The eye . . . well, had to get used to it, but I do not consider it Eurotrash, which I hate. In the end, it's not about the composer's outsize ego or Nazi sympathies. It is about the very peculiar relationship of all artists to the diverse Daimons (Gods at work) that guide them. Inmensely moving.
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Pfitzner based his "musical legend" on a (fictional) incident in the life of composer Giovanni Pierluigi di Palestrina. The opera depicts the grieving composer (Christopher Ventris) in his struggle to overcome the death of his wife and write the Missae de Papae Marcelli. At stake: the fate of polyphonic music in the Church at the Council of Trent, featuring a vast array of squabbling cardinals and archbishops jockeying for political power. There is some sublime orchestral writing to be heard, and the last half of Act I (which depicts the creation of the Mass) soars with inspiration.

This production (by Christian Stückl) presents a surreal drama, with Palestrina himself as the one living man surrounded by white-faced ghosts and (worse yet) rebellious music students. The staging presents a fever-dream environment picked out in white, hot pink and luminous, sickly green. Huge, hideous puppets depict Palestrina's deceased wife and later the Pope.

The Council of Trent becomes a nightmare in the middle of the opera, a meeting of grotesque men in funny hats, with one Cardinal arriving in a white stretch limo. All this is very interesting to look at for a while, but the puppets make it hard for the singers to articulate and the makeup makes the viewer long for actual flesh tones.

The title role requires a strong Wagnerian tenor who can act and bring pathos to Palestrina's creative crisis. Christopher Ventris does an admirable job, soaring through the "Kyrie Eleison" passage and the lengthy dialogues with his nemesis, Cardinal Borromeo. Falk Struckmann brings his fine acting abilities to the role of the Cardinal, but his voice shows the wear of singing Wotan on the international stage.
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... BUT THIS ONE DOES! And I say that despite the fact that I have no great enthusiasm for the musical heirs of Richard Wagner. During his lifetime, Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949) was rightly perceived as the chief rival of Richard Strauss (1864-1949). I won't be so rash as to claim that Pfitzner belongs in the same echelon as Strauss -- not on the basis of this single DVD! -- but I was entranced by Pfitztner's orchestral art, which is more conservative than Strauss's. Conservativism in music isn't always a dead end; witness Shostakovich and Bach! Pfitzner was also a conservative on social issues, one who almost had the stomach to be a Nazi but who so offended Hitler that the Führer branded him as half Jewish. He wasn't, but his chief offense against Nazism was his refusal to be a loyal anti-Semite. He maintained his support for Jewish musicians, especially for conductor Bruno Walter, at considerable risk and cost to his career. You gotta like anyone whom Hitler detested, right? Unfortunately, Hans Pfitzner was anything but a likable character: dour, sour, jealous, resentful, humorless. There isn't much doubt that he intended a self-portrayal in the character of his Palestrina, the tormented Hero of this opera. Pfitzner suffered gravely from the commonest mental illness of his era: Romantizismus!

The opera Palestrina, with a libretto by Pfitzner himself, portrays the aging composer in conflict with his own "demons" and with the Catholic Church in the final year of the Council of Trent. Cardinal Borromeo commands Palestrina to compose a polyphonic mass that will so affect the Pope and the Tridentine delegates that they will refrain from banishing polyphony from liturgical music. Palestrina demurs; his "genius" has failed since the death of his wife.
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