Mostly Music
DVD-Video Reviews - November 2002, Pt. 1 of 3
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PROKOFIEV: The Love for Three Oranges, (1989)

Opera in Four Acts with a Prologue
Opera National de Lyon
French Libretto by the Composer and Vera Janacopoulos
Conductor: Kent Nagano
Stage Director: Louis Erlo
The King of Clubs: Gabriel Bacquier
The Prince: Jean-Luc Viala
Truffaldino: Georges Gautier
Ninetta: Catherine Dubosc
The Cook: Jules Bastin
Clarisse: Hélène Perraguin

RM Associates/Image Entertainment
Video: 1.78 widescreen enhanced
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo; French, with English subtitles
Length: 105 mins.
Rating: **

This is an odd comment to make about an opera, but the real star in this French production of Prokofiev’s farcical Love for Three Oranges is the outstanding choreography. On a stage often crowded with unusual fairy-tale characters and a chorus commenting on the action, there was not a single faux pas to be seen in the entire complicated footwork.

Prokofiev’s choice of libretto is unfortunate, as this lightweight opera is replete with gags that emphasize the ensemble’s acting prowess rather than their vocal abilities. It is also racist. Nevertheless, there is some decent singing to be heard, particularly in Reinhart’s portrayal of Tchelio the magician. Perraguin as Clarissa, the King’s conniving niece, has a bright, pleasant mezzo-soprano. Dubosc as Ninetta, the princess, is a sweet and pure lyric soprano with some lovely high notes.

Le Texier as Leandro, the prime minister, looks creepy enough, but his range is limited, and he sounds as though he has cotton balls in his nose. Fata Morgana’s curse (sung by Lagrange) is as shrill as a Queen of the Night determined to defeat the King of Clubs, the Sarastro in this opera. And for a man with a long litany of imaginary ailments, the Prince, who is unable to laugh, ironically elicits the most laughter.

The conducting is brisk, and the music is full of wit and changing tempi.

--Dalia Geffen

Cowboy Junkies- Open Road (2002)

Studio: Latent Recordings/Zoe Records
Video: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: DD 2.0
Extras: Behind the Scenes Stills, Video, and Music; Interview with Margo and Michael Timmins regarding the record and concert
Length: 167 minutes
Rating: ****

This 2-disc set comes with both a CD and DVD containing music and video from the Cowboy Junkies tour promoting the release of the Open CD (previously reviewed). The CD is a nice collection of the songs from the tour, although the DVD is much more comprehensive. The DVD is broken up into parts and contains 8 songs from the Quebec Summer Festival Concert, including: Lay It Down; Hard To Explain; Bread and Wine; (The River Song Trilogy:) River Waltz; Bea’s Song; Dragging Hooks; Blue Moon Revisited; Anniversary Song. This concert is in a large open setting complete with a good crowd and looks professionally produced. The entire touring band is present and the performance is quite good. There are some older songs as well as some newer favorites. The River Song Trilogy has spanned a couple albums and now you get to hear the band perform the songs together. As Margo explains in the interview later on the DVD, the first song, “River Waltz” is a fairly optimistic song from the guy’s perspective. “Bea’s Song” tells the tale of the relationship from a woman’s point of view and things aren’t so peachy. The last tune in the trilogy, “Dragging Hooks”, tells how everything is coming undone and falling to pieces.

A Documentary in Music, Ones and Zeroes is another section of the DVD. It is divided into seven sections and chronicles much of what happens during the long tour spanning 15 countries, 100 cities, 35,000 miles, and 108 gigs. Included is video and stills of band members at signings, snapshots of maps detailing the travels of the band, various concert footage, pictures of fans, beautiful scenery and footage of just about every location played during the tour. Each section opens with comical skits and contains a song played during the tour—some duplicate titles from other parts of the disc.

Margo and Michael are the performers on the Live From the Temple television benefit special. The two perform seven acoustic songs in a much smaller venue with a much quieter crowd. It is in this section as well as the Interview section that they perform one of the most powerful tunes on the Open CD—“Thousand Year Prayer”—a soft, beautiful tune as good as anything previously written by the Junkies.

The Interview helps give the viewer some depth into the writing process, how the band functions to develop the tunes, as well as explanations detailing some of the meanings of the songs, the album concepts, the direction of the band. The last CD is the first recording after having left the Geffen label. It appears that the Cowboy Junkies have no problem surviving without the “trappings” of the record company (as Margo puts it). Fans of the Junkies will greatly enjoy this disc, but really anyone who likes alternative folk rock will find it well worth the listening.

CD tracks are: Murder, Tonight, In the Trailer Park; Lay It Down; This Street, That Man, This Life; Thousand Year Prayer; Bread and Wine; Witches; Something More Besides You; Escape Is So Simple; Dragging Hooks; Anniversary Song.

- Brian Bloom

Nanci Griffith -Winter Marquee (2002)

Studio: Rounder Records
Video: Wide Screen Enhanced
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo
No extras
Length: about an hour
Rating ****

This concert was recorded at historic Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville, Tennessee on May 29, 2002. Proceeds of the concert went to the renovation fund for the theatre. Nanci plays with her usual Blue Moon Orchestra. Her guest performers are Emmylou Harris, Tom Russell, and Andrew Hardin - each one playing on a couple of songs. There are four extra songs on the DVD, which are not on the companion CD. The DVD contains 18 tracks. The video quality is among the best I have seen for a concert. This shows that the video engineers are starting to get live concert recording down better. The images are very sharp and clear. You really get a feeling for her emotions from the close-ups of her face. The sound quality is about like a good CD. The song selection is well chosen. She gives a short commentary on her crusade against landmines. This disc gives a viewer far better audio and visuals than going to a live concert. This is an absolute must-have disc for any Nanci Griffith fan or fan of singer-songwriters. Liner notes are next to nonexistent.

- Clay Swartz

Buddy Rich and His Band- The Lost West Side Story Tapes (2002)

Studio: Hudson Music DVD HD-Z-WS01
Video: Wide Screen Enhanced
Audio: Choice of 4 channel DD or DTS
Extras: Interviews, photos, track commentary
Length: 110 minutes (concert is around an hour)
Rating: *** _

This is a concert recorded in 1985. The tapes were thought to have been lost in a fire. They were discovered in 2000. Buddy Rich was 67 years old at the time. Buddy Rich is considered one of the great jazz percussionist. The sound quality is quiet good - about that of a good CD. The highs are particularly good. The picture has a slight haziness to it. This is caused by lots of colored lights and a smoky room. In spite of this the picture is relatively good. The playing is spirited. Dynamic impact is slightly dulled on the disc. Tracks are Mexicali Nose, Willowcrest, ‘Round Midnight, Cotton Tail, New Blues, Tee Bag, The Red Snapper, and West Side Story Suite. Solos from the concert can be accessed separately for each soloist. I think fans of jazz drumming will really like this disc. The disc also contains extensive extras.

- Clayton Swartz

China (1987)

Produced by Dann Moss
Featuring the Music of Windham Hill
Studio: Pioneer Artists
Video: 4:3 full screen
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo
Extras: none
Length: 55 min.
Rating: ****

This is one of a series of creative music videos that were done in the late 80s by Will Ackerman’s Windham Hill record label and issued on Beta and VHS tape. In this case we have a sort of Chinese travelogue, though without narration, and accompanied by a compilation of artists from the record label: Philip Aaberg, Scott Cossu & Eugene Friesen, Schonherz & Scott, Shadowfax, Tim Story, and Ackerman’s own open-tuned guitar noodling. The images are poetic and striking, some - of the hoards of workers on bicycles for example - reminded me of the Godfrey Reggio films such as the current Noyaquatsi. Generally a flowing and meditative feeling to the parade of striking images. All in all a very tasteful production that provides a change of pace from most other DVDs. In comparison the old Beta tape I still had of one of the videos looked like someone had smeared Chinese restaurant starchy brown gravy all over the lens.

- John Sunier

Spellbound (1945)

Starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Music by Miklos Rosza
Video: 1.33:1 full screen, B & W
Audio: Dolby Digital mono; English subtitles for the deaf
Extras: Commentary track by a Hitchcock scholar, llustrated essay on the making of the Salvador Dali-designed dream sequence, Excerpts from a l973 audio interview with Miklos Rozsa, Complete l948 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Spellbound, an audio piece on the theremin from New York Public Radio, Essays by two other Hitchcock scholars, Theatrical trailer, Hundreds of behind-scenes photos and documents - including ads. Set photos, posters and publicity material, Theater entrance and exit music by Rozsa (with a dark screen)
Length: 111 min.
Rating: *****

This is obviously not a music video, but in my youth the music aspect was uppermost - Spellbound introduced me to the the music of Miklos Rosza and the wonderful instrument the theremin - both of which have remained lifelong interests. As well as the special genius of Hitchcock. I reviewed this some time ago but this new Criterion Collection effort is such an improvement and with so many fascinating extras that it certainly warrants covering again. The new digital transfer is glorious and the sound track music has been cleaned up enough to become an effective partner to the screen images rather than an annoyance as I found it previously. If you’ve never seen it, get it.

The story is briefly of a new chief of staff at a mental institution (Peck) who elicits the attention of staff psychiatrist Bergman partly because he is suffering from a very specific amnesia. It’s a love story, a mystery, a drama with striking imagery - not the least of which is the famous surrealistic dream sequence which Hitchcock commissioned Dali to design. The electronic vibrato of the theremin was a perfect choice of Rosza’s to communicate the erie mood of the story. It’s fun to listen to the hour-long radio adaptation after seeing the film version - the same was done with Criterion’s previous Hitchcock reissue - Notorious (reviewed here last month). The story of how the dream sequence came about, titled “A Nightmare Ordered by Telephone” is also fascinating. At an art gallery show on the theme of the movies I recently saw a 12-minute encapsulation of the complete Spellbound, with rapid-fire Rorshach looking images processed from the film accompanied by a minimalist soundtrack. I highly recommend the 111-minute alternative.

- John Sunier

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (1990)

Kennedy, Violin
The English Chamber Orchestra
Directed by: Geoff Wonfor
Studio: EMI Classics
Video: 4:3 Full Frame
Audio: PCM Stereo
Extras: Introductions to all movements by Kennedy
Length: 48 minutes
Rating: *1/2

Nigel Kennedy, or ‘Kennedy’ as he prefers to be called, has pretty much done everything to secure his image as classical music’s ‘bad boy,’ and this video in no way diminishes his standing in that category. It does, however, diminish (at least in my eyes) his standing as an artist in the classical community at large. I’ve never really taken to the whole “bad boy” approach he’s adopted, seeing it really more as an attention-getting device than anything; perhaps his heart is in the right place and he’s only trying to broaden his (and classical music’s as a whole) audience by appealing to non-traditional listeners, and God bless him if it’s working – but it just doesn’t seem to work for me. There are so many other artists of his generation who have taken a more traditional (and satisfying) approach in their presentation of the music.

The first real problem I have with this disc is its sound, which is subpar on every level of enjoyment. The PCM stereo sound is among the worst I’ve encountered on any performance DVD, and to make matters worse, there’s an awfully uncomfortable level variance between the actual movements and Kennedy’s introductions – the end result is, Kennedy screams at you in his quasi-cockney brogue every ten minutes or so. The sound was so bad, I even found myself resorting to the almost unthinkable by attempting to use one of my receiver’s surround modes to enhance the presentation, all with extremely mixed results. A 5.1 mix would have made this disc infinitely more enjoyable.

Of course, then, we get back to the whole ‘bad boy’ aspect (mostly visual). Kennedy’s appearance is a bit scruffy – he sports about three day’s growth of beard – and then there’s constantly annoying lighting changes, and then not to mention the members of The English Chamber Orchestra all adorning sunglasses periodically throughout the presentation. The overall effect is mostly comical, if anything.

If Kennedy’s playing was superlative (it’s quite rough around the edges on some of his solos) and sound quality was to match, I’d probably toss aside my quibbles and offer a decent recommendation. All things considered, I’d have to pass on this one.

- Tom Gibbs

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