Dr Svet Atanasov
, May 2009
The Blu-ray disc I hold in my hands offers a production of Orlando courtesy of the Zurich Opera House and Orchestra “La Scintilla” that was recorded live in 2007. It was staged by Jens-Daniel Herzog and conducted by Maestro William Christie, produced by the Felix Breisach Medienwerkstatt, and supported by Ringier AG and the Zurich Theaterverein.
This specific rendition of Handel’s Orlando offers a slightly modernized version of the work set in an isolated sanatorium spared from the intensity of known historic events (even though there is plenty of talk throughout the opera about war, the conflict remains unidentified). The main characters and the relationships between them are also updated in accordance with the new environment. For example, Zoroastro, a magician and traditional power figure, has been transformed by Jens-Daniel Herzog as a man of science and logic.
The distinctively baroque themes Handel initially introduced, however, have been retained. The all-important conflict of values—love versus morality versus reason—is once again the focus of attention. The complex tonal language is also unaffected by the thematic updates. In fact, Orchestra “La Scintilla” and Maestro William Christie, deliver a fantastic performance of that will surely please those of you looking for an adequate period treatment of the music text.
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080i “live” transfer, Handel’s Orlando arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Arthaus Musik.
Yes, this is yet another stunning disc from Arthaus Music that has me firmly convinced that they would be a worthy competitor of Opus Arte. Thus far, I have seen every single release the distributors have brought to the US market and, with the exception of Verdi’s La Traviata, they have all been of top-notch quality. Orlando is not an exception. Contrast and clarity on this disc are simply stunning, detail fabulous and motion-judder absolutely not an issue of concern. There aren’t any issues with the stage lighting that I could detect either. On the contrary, the recording team has done a superb job of capturing the actors (as well as the orchestra) as best as possible. This being said, neither edge-enhancement nor macro-blocking appear to be serious issues of concern. To sum it all up, this is a very strong release by Arthouse Musik that will surely impress those of you who have already gotten used to Opus Arte’s terrific Blu-ray catalog. (Note: This is a Region-Free Blu-ray disc which you will be able to play on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location).
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray release: Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track and Italian PCM 2.0 track. I opted for the Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track and later on did a few random comparisons with the Italian PCM 2.0 track.
Given how incredibly difficult it is to produce a solid period recording, the Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track certainly impresses a lot. The balance between the singers and the orchestra is very pleasing. I am also pleased to report that I did not detect any disturbing dropouts, pops, or cracks. The strings are rich (typically, period instruments do not project as well as traditional instruments) and the woodwinds very convincing. The Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track also allows for substantially better dynamics, which I had a difficult time hearing on the Italian PCM 2.0 track. This being said, the surround channels are definitely used rather cautiously, which I assume has to do with the fact that the producers of the disc desired a more homogeneous and sustained sound.
As mentioned above, the Italian PCM 2.0 track lacks the dynamic richness of the Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. Balance is marginally improved on it, but I found the Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track to be superior in practically every other area. For the record, Arthaus Musik have provided optional English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese subtitles for the main feature.
This Blu-ray disc arrives with a lavish booklet containing the very informative essay “Orlando—An Experimental Arrangement” courtesy of Stafan Rissi, dramatic adviser at the Zurich Opera House. The essay highlights important facts from the history of Handel’s opera as while it also focuses on Jens-Daniel Herzog’s unusual rendition of it. Maestro William Christie’s contribution is addressed as well. The booklet also contains a short synopsis for Orlando. (The texts are also available in German and French). On the actual Blu-ray disc you will only find a gallery of trailers for other Arthaus Musik releases.
This is a solid-looking disc for a solid rendition of Handel’s Orlando. Some of the contemporary updates are unusual but, overall, I liked Jens-Daniel Herzog’s production quite a bit. The Blu-ray disc herein reviewed, courtesy of Arthaus Musik, is of exceptionally high quality. My only complaint is that there are no significant supplemental features on it. Still, Orlando comes Recommended.