Saint Francois d'Assise [DVD Video]
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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
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Impressive in almost every aspect, this performance is almost 4 1/2 hours long playing time. There are 120 players in the orchestra, including woodwinds and tuned percussion, and... Read morePublished 25 days ago by A. Lupu
The Music is incredible, but there are some questionable staging decisions. It really should be five stars, for the music.Published 2 months ago by George Borrow
Another reviewer has stated it so well, that I cannot but rpeat his comments: No to the cacophony that some people call music. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Alfredo R. Villanueva
We have just seen a Francis enthroned in the chair of Peter. Pope Francis the First proclaims his own inspiration to come from Francis of Assisi, they are both unique and so is... Read morePublished on May 27, 2013 by DAVID BRYSON
Today, I finally put my fears behind me and permitted myself to establish my first contact with the totally different and peculiar music (to say the least) by Olivier Messiaen... Read morePublished on November 27, 2011 by Douglas E. Braga
I have seen countless operas, many of them very melodramatic and wrought with emotion both subtle and overt, but NEVER have I been moved to tears while watching one. Read morePublished on August 26, 2010 by Evan L Hart
I played this to an opera club I belong to. Reactions predictably were mixed. The majority seemed to find it at least interesting, even intriguing. Read morePublished on February 1, 2010 by RALPH P. GRAY
I also will give this production the full 5 stars. It is an excellent production in all respects; and has been fully described in other reviews.
However... T. C. Read more
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