Monteverdi-L'Orfeo (Ainsley/Lascarro/Amsterdam/Stubbs) (1997) (NTSC)

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Released 9-Jan-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Introduction
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1997
Running Time 120:00 (Case: 140)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Hans Hulscher
BBC Opus Arte
Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring John Mark Ainsley
Juanita Lascarro
Brigitte Balleys
Russell Smythe
David Cordier
Michael Chance
Mario Luperi
Case Amaray-Opaque-Dual
RPI ? Music Claudio Monteverdi

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Italian Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Italian dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles German
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    In the late 16th century a group of artists and thinkers based in Italy sought to revive the ancient Greek form of drama, which encompassed not just spoken text but also music, song and dance and in fact all of the arts. This culminated in the 1597 work Dafne by Jacopo Peri, which is now regarded as the first opera. This work has not survived to the present day but Peri's second opera Euridice, based on Ovid's version of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, has. But it is not often revived. Some ten years after Dafne Claudio Monteverdi composed L'Orfeo, based on the same legend, which is still performed to this day.

    The first performance took place on February 25, 1607, when Monteverdi was 39 years old. Much of his sacred and secular work has survived to the present time, but only three of his eighteen operas are still extant. The three theatrical works are included in a new box set from Amsterdam.

    The story would have been reasonably well known to audiences of the day, though of course the early opera performances were held in palaces and villas owned by the rich and aristocratic, with the general population excluded and probably totally unaware of the existence of this new musical form. The story is probably not so well known nowadays, though the Robin Williams film What Dreams May Come was based on it.

    Orfeo and Euridice celebrate their wedding day with much joy, but this is suddenly tempered when news comes that Euridice has been bitten by a serpent and has died. Distraught, Orfeo determines to enter the nether regions and retrieve his love from the clutches of Plutone, God of the Underworld. With Hope to cling to, he seeks passage across the river Styx from Caronte, who repudiates him as he has vowed never to carry a living being in his craft. Orfeo lulls him to sleep with his song and steals his craft to cross into the Underworld.

    Plutone's wife Proserpina prevails on her husband to grant Orfeo's wish, but only on the condition that Orfeo leads Euridice out without once looking back at her.

    The performance on this disc comes from the Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam and has as stage director Pierre Audi. It dates from 1997, and unlike many modern European opera productions this one actually attempts to tell the story and allow the music to express itself without distraction. The setting appears to be in Thrace where much of the story takes place, the settings are generally minimalist and the performers are called upon to act in a fashion consistent with the emotions that the music is seeking to convey. Audi also staged the Ring cycle that is available on DVD from Amsterdam, and that cycle similarly benefits from an approach that takes the needs of the music and drama as its starting point. If only this practice would be followed more generally throughout the operatic world.

    The performers are all first-rate and sing well. John Mark Ainsley looks like he is made up to audition for the title role in The Mummy, with shaven head and a robe that might have inspired the makers of that film. Or possibly not. He sings with conviction as Orfeo and has a nice light tenor voice. Similarly Juanita Lascarro acquits herself well as Euridice. Of note are Mario Luperi as Caronte and Bernarda Fink as Proserpina.

    The orchestra, which does not really have a conductor and is led by musical director Stephen Stubbs, contributes some fine playing on period instruments, starting with the famous and thrilling opening toccata for trumpets. As can be seen in the accompanying featurette some of the instruments are quite obscure today.

    This is quite an enjoyable performance of this very early opera and is well worth investing in, either in its standalone version or as part of the box set.

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Transfer Quality


    The aspect ratio of this NTSC video is 1.78:1 and the transfer is 16x9 enhanced. This appears to be how it was shot for television in 1997.

    The transfer is not bad at all. The low level lighting reduces the amount of detail and sharpness on display, but the softness of the light also reduces expectations as to what would be visible anyway. The lighting has a lot of blue in it so colours tend to have a bluish tinge and lack any vibrancy.

    There is a little bit of low level noise visible in the backgrounds, but this is mitigated in some of the Acts with a pool of water in the centre of the action that reflects light onto the back of the stage. There is some posterisation on the smoke that appears when Caronte is on stage. I did not see any aliasing or other significant artefacts. As a video production there are no film artefacts.

    Optional subtitles are provided in several languages. The English subtitles are in a clear white text and are timely and easy to read. There were a couple of minor problems with spelling.

    The opera is somewhat extravagantly laid out on two discs. Disc One is dual-layered but there is no layer change during the performance. Disc Two is single-layered.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Two audio tracks are provided, being DTS 5.1 and Linear PCM stereo.

    I started out listening to the DTS surround track, but after about twenty minutes found it difficult to listen to and so switched over to the Linear PCM track. The issue was that in remastering the audio for surround the voices now have far too much reverberation around them, totally unlike the orchestra, and the inconsistency between them was too jarring for me. It was as if they were recorded in two different acoustics.

    The rear channels in the surround mix were prominent before the start of the opera, as audience sounds could clearly be heard. Just before the opera commenced the level in these speakers appeared to drop and from this point on they were used to convey the acoustics of the concert hall, with some music and occasional audience noise thrown in. There were a lot of low frequency effects, none so substantial that they stood out but stage noises and some of the music was augmented by additional bass coming from the subwoofer.

    The Linear PCM stereo track had a more natural acoustic, the voices and instruments blending together well and sounding as though they were coming from the same hall. There was a slight edginess to the voices on the higher notes, but the bass sounds were captured and reproduced well. As the orchestra was small individual instruments could be picked out. The trumpets had a pleasing, burnished sound to them.

    There were no issues with audio sync.

    Overall I could not recommend the surround track, but the stereo track is more than a decent substitute for it.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Featurette-Introduction (15:38)

    This is almost certainly the opening quarter hour of the original telecast. It covers some of the background to the opera but mainly concentrates on behind the scenes at rehearsals. Audi is filmed directing the singers in some scenes, and we also get the orchestra leader demonstrating some of the instruments that are used. This documentary starts out in Dutch but most of those featured speak in English. Unfortunately the English subtitles cover both the Dutch and English, rather than having an option for subtitles for the Dutch words alone.

Synopsis (4:29)

    Rather than having a text synopsis, we have a voice-over narration with stills from the video explaining what happens in each Act.

Photo Gallery-Cast Gallery

    Stills of each of the cast members with text identifying them and the characters they play.


    The 28-page booklet includes a lengthy essay by the musical director about how the work might have been orchestrated.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As usual with opera releases this DVD is identical to those in other regions.


    A very good opera well performed.

    The video quality is good.

    The audio quality is problematic in surround.

    A few good extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-HS60 LCD Projector projected to 80" screen. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-AX4ASIS for surrounds, Elektra Reference for mains
SpeakersMain: B&W Nautilus 800; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Tannoy Revolution R3; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

Other Reviews NONE
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excellent review -