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Saint Francois d'Assise [DVD Video]

4.6 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Cmilla Thilling, Rod Gilfry, Hubert Delamboye, Henk Neven, and Tom Randle star in this De Nederlandse Opera production of the Messiaen opera conducted by Ingo Metzmacher on 3 DVDs.


Messiaen's lone opera is an introspective series of scenes from the life of St. Francis. It runs over four hours with virtually no outward action; the drama consists of Francis's journey toward grace. Yet in this modernist production - with the Hague Philharmonic playing on stage amid a pile of metal crosses - it proves to be a riveting experience. This is due almost entirely to the astonishing portrayal of Francis by baritone Rod Gilfry, who makes him seem both commanding and touchingly vulnerable. He also sings beautifully throughout, as does soprano Camilla Tilling as the Angel. -- Boston Globe, David Weininger, January 2010

For the musically adventurous, a great choice would be the Opus Arte DVD of Messiaen's stunning masterpiece "Saint Francois d'Assise." The Netherlands Opera production deals quite well with the theatrical difficulties of this very long (275 minutes), sometimes very cerebral, but truly spiritual and transfixing work. The cast is headed by Rod Gilfry in the title role. Ingo Metzmacher conducts. -- The Baltimore Sun, Tim Smith, December 20, 2009

Gramophone Editor's Choice DVD of the Month This is the big one, as far as lovers of underappreciated operas are concerned (well, one of them anyway). Messiaen's huge Saint François d'Assise has yet to receive a full professional production in the UK, but its champions will find much to confirm its status here. Rodney Gilfrey and Co. deliver vivid, committed performances, while Ingo Metzmacher's conducting leaves no room for doubt. -- Gramophone, Awards 2009

It may not be the right thing to say in polite company, but sitting through a lot of new music feels like sonic self-flagellation. If, as the late philosopher Bertrand Russell once said, pleasure is the absence of pain, silence might be bliss. That concern could come to a head during the 5 1/2 hours of Olivier Messiaen's only opera, a series of vignettes depicting St. Francis's hourney toward light and grace. The music is atonal. Jean Kalman's set is stark, laden with rough-hewn symbolism.

But if you give it a chance, the 26-year-old score and symbol-laden staging (by Pierre Audi) in this 2008 production from the Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam, will eventually trap you in its tractor beam. You will find pleasure in the sly musical shifts that accompany The Angel (beautifully sung by Camilla Tilling), the birds (a gaggle of young cschoolchildren) and the chorus (the excellent ensemble of the Netherlands Opera). This opera rewards the patient viewer by shifting something in the soul.

An expanded Hague Philharmonic brings just the right texture to the music, thanks to conductor Ingo Metzmacher. But the real heroes are the singers, especially Californian baritone Rod Gilfry as St. Francis. He tells us in one of the three four-minute featurettes how he managed to memorize his part by associating words and notes with particular stage movements. That is a small miracle in itself.

Painful or pleasurable, this journey is not for the faint of heart. -- TheStar.com, John Terauds, October 6, 2009

Muti, Mahler and Ma: At holiday time, the joy of sets is unbounded

This year's boxed bounty in classical music comes in three categories -- not so pricey, pricey and way pricey. But the following CD and DVD sets are worth splurging on, and the music lovers on your gift list will appreciate your generosity.


Soloists, Hague Philharmonic and Netherlands Opera Chorus; Ingo Metzmacher, conductor: Messiaen, "Saint Francois d'Assise" (Opus Arte, $50.99): Not for the average opera fan but definitely for those listeners who respond to the spiritual and musical splendor of Olivier Messiaen's magnum opus, this three-DVD set, based on filmed performances given in Amsterdam in 2008, may be the best means of experiencing the four-plus hours of the French mystic-visionary's dramatically static but moving opera about St. Francis' faith, sacrifices and anxiety over the transience of life. Experience it an act at a time, and be enthralled.

... -- Chicago Tribune, John von Rhein, December 13, 2009

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Rodney Gilfry, Tom Randle, Hubert Delamboye, Armand Arapian, Andr Morsch
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Classical, Color, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: French (DTS 5.0), French (PCM Stereo)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Opus Arte
  • DVD Release Date: April 28, 2009
  • Run Time: 275 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001RE9HGQ
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #141,351 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Although he liked opera and delved into the operas of Mozart and Wagner, Messiaen never thought he would compose an opera himself because he believed that he is incompetent to do so. But after receiving a request for a new opera from the Paris opera, and with the encouragement of the French President Georges Pompidou he began working on his only operatic work Saint François d'Assise in 1975. He wrote the libretto and writing of the music continued until 1979. Orchestration of the new opera extended until 1983 and in this year, the opera was presented for the first time in Paris.

This month appeared on the Opus Arte label a new DVD version for Messiaen's opera that was recorded in June 2008 at the Dutch opera in Amsterdam (De Nederlandse Opera). The opera is set in the 13th century, and deals with episodes from the life of Saint Francis of Assisi: He teaches his fellow friars, heals a leper, has an encounter with an angel, gives a sermon to the birds, hears the sound of Christ and than receives the Stigmata and dies.

The opera is an enormous creation that lasts for over four hours and was written for a mammoth orchestra that includes nine percussion players, a huge choir and nine soloists. This opera has a meditative and philosophical character and expresses a deep religious feeling. Messiaen used in the opera a variety of the composition techniques that he was using during his life like birdsong, elements of Serialism, plainchant etc. Relatively to the length of the opera, there are not too many occurrences. The drama moves on a very slow time scale and is quite static. In this aspect reminds me of Wagner's Parsifal. The third act is the more dramatic part of the work.
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Messiaen spent eight years creating Saint Francois d'Assise, his only opera and one he probably understood that (for an host of reasons) would prove something of a trial for both performer and audience. But, man of faith that he was, he also must have sensed that, for anyone willing to go along with him for the ride (and it is as inexorable one as any I've been on) - there is much to love, and yes, rejoice in. Now, after 25 years, the work has finally made it onto commercial video and the three disc set for OpusArte could not be more welcome than they are right now.

As much as I love Messiaen the beginning of this score has always been something of a tough row to hoe. I have a mild impatience at the sameness of the orchestration with which Messiaen begins, a seemingly endless, unrelenting twofold `smear" created by the striking of a loud chord, followed by a downward glissando: Yahhhhhhhh---da! This sort of falls into a universal rhythm that returns throughout the opera: a couple of sung (often unaccompanied) words, followed by that "yaahhhhhhh-da!" This effect is then punctuated by a fury of wild rhythmic punches from the entire orchestra, winds, brass, bells, strings, percussion - all of it comes blasting past your ears at once. Ah, but if we stick with it we find a "miracle" just waiting to happen - and happen it does. Having heard this score many times over the past 25 years, my reaction has almost always been the same: prickly annoyance until Messiaen and his forces beat me into submission resulting in one of those "aha!" moments. (How very religious!)

In the title role, Rod Gilfry provides his own miracle. It is one of the greatest assumptions of a role I can recall witnessing.
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Saw the production in 2002 in San Francisco after gearing up with the Nagano/Salzberg production on CD that had just surfaced at the time on DG. That box set contributed to many's fascination with the brilliant Messiaen.

Gorged on this opera a few times in a great breakthrough production with Sir Willard White as Saint Francis. The whole thing was incredible beyond words. Hoping to see the production commercially available - but never materialized.

Been waiting since then for any DVD of this Opera to become available, but began to think it would ever be released -- even though the piece had some momentum at the time. Even if it was released, was afraid it would fall short of the potential due to the complexity of the production and difficulty to the performers.

However, this DVD is in a class by itself, I concur with the other reviewers "TC" and "Paolo" - who have done a great job detailing the accomplishment.

Having this release in the catalog at this quality and level of commitment is a major achievement -- a thrill -- moreover OPus ARTE and Pierre Audi have reached a pinnacle that may never be matched on DVD ever again.
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Of all the opera dvd's I've watched in the last year or so (which is many), this one sets me up with my biggest dilemma- because I'm so divided about it. Music- NO, opera- NO, performance and production- a big YES. I'll elaborate.

Olivier Messiaen is one of the major 20th century French composers who worked in a complex musical language- dissonances, atonal, multi-harmonic, etc. I'm familiar with some of his songs, but little of his orchestral output, which is his major work. This is his only operas, commissioned by Paris Opera in 1975 and completed in 1983. It is a bout the life of Saint Francis on Assisi. It is a difficult work to get into- at least for me.

The music is harsh, with many dissonances, and striking percussive elements, especially the many xylophone-like instrumental passages. It is apparently very hard to sing (Rodney Gilfry in his interview so indicates), and I didn't find it any easier to listen to. Without going on at length, the music was a very difficult and not enjoyable for me. Without a tune, I couldn't hold onto anything. No apologies here- it just doesn't work for me at all.

The opera? Well, it is a series of scenes or tableaux, rather than a lineal story, focusing on key myths of Franc's life. For me this is not a problem. I've enjoyed many operas that don't have a strong story element to them ("Nixon in China" is one, for example, and there are others.) Here, there a few scenes that really worked for me (the leper scene and the final death scenes), and others just didn't have enough to them. And, again, musically they were a struggle for me as well.

This is also a religious piece, with very strong liturgical aspects to the story, character, etc.
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