Schreker-Die Gezeichneten (Hale/Volle/Schöne/Berlin/Nagano) (2005) (NTSC)

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Released 1-Aug-2006

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Main Menu Audio & Animation
Booklet
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2005
Running Time 140:50 (Case: 145)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (66:33) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Andreas Morell
Studio
Distributor
Euroarts
Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring Robert Brubaker
Anne Schwanewilms
Michael Volle
Robert Hale
Wolfgang Schöne
Bernard Richter
Markus Petsch
Mel Ulrich
Thomas Oliemans
Guillame Antoine
Stephen Gadd
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $74.95 Music Franz Schreker


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None German Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German 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
English
French
Spanish
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Franz Schreker (1878-1934) was one of the most highly regarded opera composers of the 1920s but for decades was almost forgotten. Denounced as a Jewish scribbler by the Nazis, he was removed from his Berlin teaching post when they took power in 1933, and his music was banned. Late in that year he suffered a stroke from which he never recovered, and he died just before his 56th birthday.

    Just before the outbreak of World War One Schreker was commissioned by fellow Austrian composer Alexander Zemlinsky to write a libretto for him on the subject of the tragedy of the ugly man. Zemlinsky himself was short and ugly according to his own account, and would write an opera on a similar theme called The Dwarf. Schreker proceeded reluctantly to write the libretto, but found himself increasingly frustrated at having to give up the text for someone else to set to music. Eventually Zemlinsky decided to allow his colleague to set the text himself, and the result was Die Gezeichneten, which was premiered in Frankfurt in 1918 while the war was still being waged.

    The Nazis suppressed Schreker's works and forced numerous composers and musicians to leave (Zemlinsky himself fled Austria after the Anschluss in 1938 and died in 1942). Being dead and with no-one to champion his now unfashionable work after the war, Schreker fell into neglect and the opera was not performed again until 1979. In the early 1990s it was recorded as part of Decca Classics now defunct Entartete Musik (Forbidden Music) series highlighting works banned under the Third Reich.

    But in the 1920s the opera, whose title translates as The Branded, was performed regularly. The story is set in 16th century Genoa. Count Alviano, a misshapen hunchback, has built a paradise of artistic and aesthetic beauty on the island of Elysium. However he stays away for fear that his ugliness will taint his creation. Soon he learns that a group of fellow aristocrats led by Count Tamare have used the grottoes beneath the island for sexual depravity, including the kidnap and rape of the teenage daughters of the middle class. Alviano decides to donate the island to the city in order to stop this activity. However before he can do so he meets the daughter of Narvi, the Podestā of Genoa. Carlotta Narvi is a painter with a heart condition, and she wants to paint souls, including that of Alviano.

    Much to his surprise she falls in love with him and they are engaged. But once the painting is finished she starts to lose interest. Meanwhile she has aroused the lusts of Count Tamare...

    This Salzburg production designed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff does not set the work in the 16th century but in some undefined modern period. For the most part it works very well indeed. The set is a ruined giant statue lying prone across the stage, a three-level Roman colonnade behind it. The lighting and costumes add to the decadent subtext of the work, though some extras seem to have wandered in from the orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut. Instead of Alviano being a hunchback his affliction is changed to a psychological one: during the prelude to Act One he removes his cloak to reveal he is a cross-dresser, and spends some time adding rouge, lipstick and eyeliner. For me this did not work though it saves Robert Brubaker from wearing an uncomfortable hump. More disturbingly, the youthful victims of the debauched aristocrats in Act Three are changed from teenage virgins to young children. While there is nothing explicit it is certainly confronting. Aside from this the production is quite stunning.

    Brubaker isn't the most charismatic of singers but his voice does suit the character. More ideally cast is Anne Schwanewilms as Carlotta. She is superb and walks away with the production, closely followed by Michael Volle as Tamare.

    But the real star of this production is the music, ably conducted by Kent Nagano. If you've never heard it, it is like a mixture of Richard Strauss and Debussy performed at white heat. Full of dissonance, it is unlike other music of the era in that it is not pared to the bone, but detailed and chromatic to the extreme. Words like lush, luxuriant, intoxicating and so forth spring to mind. Schreker deserves to be better known than he is, and having this exceptional production of his masterpiece available on DVD will hopefully start to remedy that.

    The opera seems to be cut. It runs two hours and twenty minutes, while the recording mentioned above runs two hours and fifty minutes. Even allowing for differences in tempi there appears to be substantial amounts missing, though I cannot identify them. I should also point out here that the work is unrelated to the Carl Dreyer film of the same name released in 1923.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The opera is shown in the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The video transfer is in NTSC format.

    The opera was shot at a live performance so there would have been some limitations on camera placement, but despite this the video comes across very well. There is a reduction of detail in wide shots but this is minimal, and close-ups tend to be well lit and with a reasonable level of clarity. Colour is problematic. Flesh tones (when they are not covered in makeup) are a little on the pinkish side. Whites are sometimes crushed, for example on some of the white masks worn during the orgy scene in Act Three. Act Three also has the foreground of the set bathed in blue light, while the colonnades are highlighted in a reddish-brown light. This has the unintended consequence that the video sometimes has a three-dimensional look, which is somewhat distracting.

    There are a few video artefacts, with some minor edge enhancement and aliasing. More sinister is the noise created by filming in low light levels, which can be seen frequently and makes the surfaces of the statue seem to pulsate.

    Optional English subtitles are in a clear white text and contain no spelling or grammatical issues. Sometimes they seem to start appearing a little late in comparison to when the lines are sung, but not late by much.

    The work is contained on a single RSDL-formatted disc. The layer break occurs at 66:33 during a break in the music and is not disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Three audio options are available. I listened in full to the DTS 5.1 track and sampled the Dolby Digital 5.1 and Linear PCM 2.0 tracks for the purpose of comparison.

    The first thing I noticed about the audio was that it was loud. The volume level seems a little higher than normal. The second thing I noticed was distortion in some of the climaxes, so that the strings take on a hiss which should not be there. This doesn't occur more than three or four times so it is not a major problem.

    Otherwise the DTS track is exemplary. The voices can be heard clearly above the music most of the time, with only a couple of phrases being drowned out by the orchestra. There is considerable presence and spaciousness to the audio, while some details can be heard within the orchestral score. The listener is placed at the front of the audience, so applause comes mainly from the rear channels. Voices are centred in the sound stage, with less movement across the front channels than in other opera recordings.

    The low frequency effects channel carries plenty of information, and the subwoofer gets a considerable workout, though rarely so much that it stands out.

    The Dolby Digital track is not that different from the DTS, with perhaps more obvious separation of the channels. The PCM track has the most natural sound, and the issues with distortion are absent, at the expense of being less enveloping.

    There were no issues with audio sync.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Audio and Animation

    A very brief snippets from the video together with a brief snippet of music. As seems standard on Euroarts discs, navigating to one of the submenus and back to the main menu causes the audio to disappear.

Booklet

    The booklet contains a two page essay about the opera and quotes from the conductor and director repeated in several languages, plus a cast and crew listing and track list.

R4 vs R1

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

    This release appears to be identical to those in other regions.

Summary

    A sublime work that deserves to be better known. This release should go some way towards rectifying that.

    The video has some issues but these are not severe.

    The audio has a minor issue but again this is not significant.

    Not much in the way of extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Friday, November 09, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-HS60 LCD projector, 95 inch 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.
AmplificationReceiver: Pioneer VSX-AX4ASIS; Power Amplifiers: Elektra Reference (mains), Elektra Theatron (centre/rears)
SpeakersMain: B&W Nautilus 800; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Tannoy Revolution R3; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

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