Carlos Acosta (Spartacus); Alexander Volchkov (Crassus); Nina Kaptsova (Phrygia); (Maria Allash (Aegina); soloists and Corps de Ballet of The Bolshoi Theatre; Orchestre Colonne/Paval Kinichev, cond.
DECCA DVD BLU-RAY VIDEO 0743304 TT: 133 min.

BIZET: Carmen
Anna Caterina Antonacci (Carmen); Jonas Kaufman (Don José); Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (Escamillo); Norah Amsellem (Micaëla); Royal Opera House Chorus and Orch/Antonio Pappano, cond.
DECCA DVD BLU-RAY VIDEO 0743313 TT: 152 min.

Arias and duets from Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflöte, La clemenza di Tito, Il barbiere di Seviglia, Semiramide, L'elisir d'amore, Judas Maccabeus and L'anima del filosofo
Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano); Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone); London Philharmonic Orch/Myung-Whung Chung, cond.

Ballet enthusiasts must get this spectacular performance of Spartacus recorded in the Paris Opera House January 22, 2008, with the Bolshoi Ballet and Carlos Acosta in the title role. Cuban-born Acosta, now 35, is at the peak of his career and considered by many to be the finest male dancer of our time. He is amazing in his sheer energy and identification with the role of the doomed warrior. This is the production choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich, which also can be seen in two other Bolshoi performances on DVD: 1990 (with Irek Mukhamedov in the title role (REVIEW), and 1997 (with Vladimir Vasiliev (REVIEW), both conducted by Algis Zhuratis. The entire cast in the new version is extraordinary and the precision displayed in the massed scenes is quite remarkable—never will a large group of dancers be totally coordinated—after all they are human beings. I've never heard of conductor Paval Kinichev, but he is perfect for Khachaturian's vivid, exciting music. This is a Blu-Ray release, and stunning technically. Video is of utmost clarity, almost three-dimensional at times, and the sound, including feet on the floor, is extraordinary. The intriguing bonus includes scenes from rehearsals and comment by Acosta and Kaptsova. This is a magnificent issue in every way!

From Britain's Royal Opera House we have a performance of Carmen filmed in December 2007. Francesca Zambello's production is beautiful indeed, but costumes are ultra-colorful, exaggerated and inappropriate: in the final scene. Carmen wears an elaborate gown with a bustle that would have fit in well in a production of Gone With the Wind—totally wrong. There usually is a lot of activity on stage as well as, on occasion, a horse, a donkey, and chickens! All female singers display maximum cleavage, even in wintry scenes. The performance is valuable in some ways, particularly the intense Don José of Jonas Kaufman, beautifully sung with dramatic intensity. He almost sounds like a baritone, and one can easily imagine him singing major Wagner roles in the future. Anna Caterina Antonacci is a rather matronly Carmen, coping as well as she can with Zambello's costumes. Norah Amsellem's Micaëla is assured and at least she is not overdressed, and Ildebrando D'Arcangelo is a strong Escamillo. Antonio Pappano keeps things moving nicely, and the Blu-Ray production is vivid visually and sonically. The primary interest here is Jonas Kaufman.

The legion of admirers of Cecilia Bartoli and Byrn Terfel will wish to investigate this Blu-Ray issue of their concert at the Glyndebourne Opera House April 24, 1999. The rather brief program includes arias of Mozart, Rossini, Haydn and Handel performed with the quality one expects from these artists and Blu-Ray processing provides the ultimate in visual and audio impact. However, inexplicably this Blu-Ray edition costs more than twice as much as the original DVD issue. Is this double-plus in price really necessary?

R.E.B. (December 2008)