Tchaikovsky Gala, Blu-ray (2008)

by | Nov 12, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Tchaikovsky Gala, Blu-ray (2008)

Featuring La Scala Ballet corps & international guest dancers
Director: Denis Caiozzi
Studio: Belair Classiques BAC437 (Dist. by Harmonia mundi)
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 color, 1080i HD
Audio: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, LPCM Stereo
Extras: Backstage/Rehearsal featurette
Subtitles: None
Feature Length: 83 minutes
Rating: ****

One of the great things about the arrival of the Blu-ray era is getting to see really high quality presentations of classical music performance in high def – it just seems that standard definition offerings are such a mixed bag, with seemingly so very little effort put into the technical presentation, and often abysmal image quality the norm. I saw this disc in Harmonia mundi’s latest advance catalog, and was really intrigued, so imagine my excitement when it and a sister offering (the also excellent Belair Classiques Die Walkure Blu-ray) showed up on my doorstep a couple of days later! This was my first experience with the French label, and if this superb offering is any indication of things to come, I’m totally stoked!

At first the disc was a bit hard to follow, as there are no subtitles (it’s a ballet piece, after all), and the opening titles and credits are all in French. The disc opens with vignettes of the Teatro alla Scala and the surrounding Milan cityscape, and it was shot last December 31, so everything has a very festive holiday character. My main problem was with the onstage action; the program contains excerpts from Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, but rather than present the individual sequences separately, a whole new choreography has apparently been created, mixing the characters of the three ballets to interesting effect. A quick look at the accompanying booklet revealed that, since it was New Year’s Eve, after all – with liberties being taken excessively everywhere – well, the choreographer decided to take a few liberties as well! Once I’d gotten beyond that, everything really began to make sense, and I really found this new presentation quite enjoyable. The dancing is uniformly excellent, and conductor David Coleman leads the La Scala orchestra in bravura performances of some of Tchaikovsky’s greatest ballet music. As the evening comes to a close, the entire cast assembles onstage with champagne glasses in hand to toast the New Year.

Technically, the Blu-ray disc is magnificent, and captures the live event with a very film-like quality to the overall image presentation. Colors are superb, the blacks are deep, and the image offers exceptional rendering of contrast and detail. The DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is also reference quality, and offers a really believable impression of the acoustic of the Teatro alla Scala, with just the right mix of surround action to provide an even greater sense of reality of being present at the event. The disc also includes a really interesting thirty minute bonus featurette that documents the backstage on goings and rehearsals leading up to the performance. It’s a series of vignettes with no narration or interviews, but is highly effective and entertaining – at one point, a set carpenter is hammering away while the orchestra plays, and is so taken by the music, he starts hammering in unison! It was really quite amusing.

If I had even the slightest quibble with this excellent disc, it would be that surely in this digital age, we could find the editing tools to at least minimize the occasional atrocious cough from the audience – I fully realize this is a live event, but why does it seem that someone always finds the quietest, most intimate moment in the performance to unleash a horrific cough? Oh, well, aside from that, this disc is very highly recommended, and hopefully a harbinger of more to come from Belair Classiques!

— Tom Gibbs

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