STRAVINSKY: Le Rossignol (The Nightingale) (2005)

by | Aug 15, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

STRAVINSKY: Le Rossignol (The Nightingale) (2005)

A Film by Christian Chaudet
Performers: Natalie Dessay and other soloists/Orchestra and Chorus of the National Opera of Paris/James Conlon
Studio: Arte France/Virgin Classics 5 44242 9
Video: 16:9 widescreen, color
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM Stereo, French
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian
Extras: Making Of featurette (26′), Post-production (26′), Audio recording session, Photo album, Sketches, Set design of the Forbidden City, Animatic, Special effects
Length: 50 minutes for film
Rating: ****

Igor Stravinsky’s short opera is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the Chinese emperor and the nightingale. Filmmaker Christian Chaudet wanted to achieve more than just pretty images to accompany Stravinsky’s music; he wanted to give priority to the whole concept of opera. The actual recording used is available on an EMI Classics disc which also includes Stravinsky’s Renard. I gather from the extras that the woman playing the human  for of the nightingale is in fact Natalie Dessay, but I doubt that all of the other seven performers on screen are actually singing in the recording of the opera. In fact I found it occasionally a bit off-putting that Dessay’s mouth movements failed to always match her voice on the soundtrack. 

At the conclusion the film has a dedication to the late French maven of musical films Jacques Demy. That explains much of the visual quirkiness of the film. While the setting is ancient China and the emperor holds sway over a land constructed of giant Chinese porcelain vases, his Chamberlain has a cell phone and banks of computers. (Shades of Demy’s fairy godmother in Donkey Skin having a wired phone and helicopter!)  It might be well to read the story synopsis in the illustrated booklet with the DVD if you aren’t familiar with the fairy tale.  I was left a bit in the cold while watching the first time.

The film has a great deal more going on visually and action-wise than any opera you have ever seen.  The computerized and blue-screen special effects are state of the art.  The initial marvel is a giant blue porcelain vase which the little boy touches, and when he does it lights up and becomes another world inside, with a fisherman in his sampan singing about the nightingale. There are many images of disembodied instruments of the orchestra flying around as their sounds are heard in the score. It’s something like sequences out of Disney’s Fantasia, except that these are images of real instruments, not drawn animation.  At one point the character of the Cook is being chased by a swarm of flying headphones and microphones around her head. There are also hovering characters inside flying Chinese lanterns. The feeling of a dream is beautifully conveyed, and all the special effects are convincingly done.  The extras allow those interested enough in how it was done to see the tremendous amount of work that went into this unique production.

– John Sunier

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