“Sempre libera” = Scenes and arias from operas of BELLINI, VERDI, DONITZETTI & PUCCINI – Anna Netrebko, sop./ Mahler Ch. Orch./ Claudio Abbado – DGG stereo-only Blu-ray

“Sempre libera” = Scenes and arias from: BELLINI: La Sonnambula; I Puritani; DONITZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor; VERDI: Otello; La Traviata; PUCCINI: Gianni Schicchi – Anna Netrebko, sop./ Mahler Chamber Orch./ Claudio Abbado – DGG 479 0075 Pure Audio stereo-only Blu-ray (PCM 2.0, DTS MA HD 2.0, Dolby TrueHD, 24-bit/96kHz), 68:59 [Distr. by Universal] ***:

I am referring everyone who reads these new DGG Blu-ray Pure Audio reviews to my review of the Kleiber Beethoven Symphonies 5 & 7 reissue for comments and details on this series in general.  This is one of DGG’s latest forays into the Pure Audio Blu-ray format. Why they decided to release this one is beyond me. Not because the recording is bad; far from it, even though Netrebko has been criticized for swallowing the end of her words, insufficiently idiomatic diction, and lack of passion, especially when compared to someone like Angela Gheorghiu, whom I don’t believe sings with half the passion of Netrebko, yet one cannot get around the fact of the pure beauty of her sound and the extraordinary way she inhabits a character. We reviewed this some years ago, and Tom Gibbs was impressed.

But here’s the rub—the original came out as a hybrid SACD/CD that was spectacular in its surround beauty, but on this new Blu-ray edition we get only 2.0! Why? It makes no sense at all, especially as the Blu-ray is four dollars more expensive than the hybrid edition. I don’t get it, and I hope DGG will offer some sort of explanation. The bit rates and kHz are the same for both, and even if the Blu-ray was superior it hardly matters when talking about two-channel only. Does the Blu-ray sound better than the original CD track? Except for the PCM option, you bet. Are the DTS MA and Dolby TrueHD 2.0 better than the SACD 5.1? Not a chance.

This is a wonderful album and everyone should have it. But the reasoning behind this particular format release makes no sense, and is a bit of a consumer rip-off for those with SACD players. For those who don’t have them—and I guess this is what DGG is hoping for—the Blu-ray offers marginally better sound in the DTS format, but I would be quite hesitant before shelling out $20 for it if I owned the CD version.

—Steven Ritter

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