The Art of Singing-Golden Voices of the Century (1996)

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Released 2-Oct-2000

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Booklet
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1996
Running Time 116:14
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Donald Sturrock
Studio
Distributor

Warner Vision
Starring Various
Case Super Jewel
RPI $39.95 Music Various


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
German
Spanish
Italian
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Ever since I first discovered that Warner Vision Australia were going to release DVDs, I have been awaiting one release in particular. Not that I have ever seen the VHS tape mind you, but it is one VHS tape that my friendly specialist classical music retailer has raved about for some time (and sold in comparatively significant numbers I might add). So when the latest (and rather large) listing of forthcoming releases from Warner Vision came out for allocation of reviews and this DVD was on it, I naturally grabbed the chance to review it. When it comes to singing I doubt that you will ever find a better compilation of some of the true greats of the past century than those on this DVD. I can vouch for the fact that my specialist retailer was absolutely correct: this is something very special to view and hear.

    What you will see and hear is a quality of vocal talent that is unexcelled to this day. Forget the overrated hacks collectively known as The Three Tenors: here you will find the real Three Tenors that the overrated hacks can only wish they could approach in ability. Add into the mix perhaps the greatest bass of all time, one of the greatest baritones of all time and some of the greatest sopranos of all time, and this oozes musical quality from start to finish - literally, for the talent on display here comprises:

    As I said, you start with one of the best and finish with one of the best - and in the middle are some of the very best! Highlights? The incomparable Enrico Caruso from 1907 is not a bad start, but the genuine highlight would have to be The Three Tenors - the greatest of all time in Jussi Bjorling, the wonderful Tito Schipa and magnificent Beniamino Gigli. And just for good measure having alternate choices of the great Richard Tauber and Lauritz Melchior! Amongst the female talent on display here are two of the very best in Victoria de Los Angeles and Maria Callas, although the ageless Magda Olivero, Renata Tebaldi and the wonderful Kirsten Flagstad are not too shabby either! There really is not a weak link here in terms of the quality of artist at all, and this is as enthralling a view as any true lover of great singing will ever experience. The performances themselves are from quite diverse sources. Obviously Enrico Caruso recorded mainly before there were such things as talkies, so his performances actually comprise recordings played against a montage of silent film in the case of Vesti la giubba (the recording is from 1907), and against an extract from the silent film Chantant, in which the actors were actually miming to his recording of Chi mi frena in tal momento? from 1908! Jumping forward at least twenty years sees a switch to extracts from films done by the various singers, whilst the later performances (1950s on) tend to be from television recordings of shows and operas. Some of the clips are introduced by interview material from the likes of Magda Olivero, Thomas Hampson, Rosa Ponselle, Rise Stevens and Nicola Rescigno, and there is an additional short narration about each singer.

    The music may be somewhat eclectic, as might the origin of the vision being watched, but there is nothing wrong with the quality of the vocal talent on display here. This is superb stuff indeed and anyone with a passing interest in singing should just get a hold of this DVD. Brilliant stuff indeed.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The material for this transfer dates from around 1915 through to 1974, so we are obviously talking about a fairly diverse assortment of source material. Overall, however, this is not too bad an effort at all, and I doubt that the 1915 stuff has looked any better than it does here.

    The transfer is presented Full Frame and is not 16x9 enhanced.

    Obviously, with the extracts coming from a variety of sources and a variety of eras, there is a significant disparity in the quality of the visual aspects of the transfer. However, in general, the older the source material, the better it looks! Some of the material is sadly lacking in really decent definition and detail, most especially the extracts for Maria Callas, but overall this was still a lot better than I was expecting - especially the pre-1935 sourced material. The clarity of the more recent material is a concern, especially the clip of Jussi Bjorling and Renata Tebaldi, amongst a couple of others, as it looks as if the camera lens has not been cleaned since the birth of the film industry, which is rather distracting at times. Some of the earlier clips, on the other hand, are actually a lot clearer than expected. Compounding the problem with the Jussi Bjorling clip is the fact that it suffers quite extensively from grain, although this is the only one to to do so. There does not seem to be any problems with low level noise in the transfer. Overall, the quality here is somewhat better than I was expecting, especially for the pre-1935 material.

    Whilst most of the clips are in black and white, the interview material is generally in colour as are a few of the clips, notably that of Ezio Pinza and of Jon Vickers. Funnily enough, the latter is the most recent clip (1974), but is quite possibly the worst looking effort of all on offer! The clip of Ezio Pinza is a little ropey in the colours and really looks pretty poor for such a relatively recent film extract: there is no naturalness to the colours here at all. The black and white on offer is quite varied and unfortunately does on occasions descend into the murky grey tones that we all know and generally hate. However, a few clips are really very good and have a decent depth of black and white to them that helps to relieve the program a little. The colour interview material is generally very nice, quite natural looking and without a trace of oversaturation or colour bleed, but I would not describe this as a vibrant transfer.

    There are no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There were no real problems with film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. Film artefacts were variable in their prominence with one or two clips being especially plagued with the problem, most notably the clips for Magda Olivero, which does detract a little from the enjoyment. The problems are all source-related and in general there is little to fault the actual transfer over.

    The subtitles on the DVD do not provide any lyrics to the songs but rather provide a translation of the interview material predominantly from Magda Olivero, which is in Italian. Accordingly, it is a bit disconcerting that the subtitles default to off rather than with the English subtitles on.

Audio

    Just as the video material is generally quite decent for its age, so is the audio reasonably decent. However, that does not mean that it is great.

    There two audio tracks on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack and a French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. Since the lyrics are sung in the language they were written in, the soundtrack choice is only applicable to the narration and interview material. That being the case, I stuck with the English soundtrack.

    Dialogue and vocals were reasonably clear and reasonably easy to understand.

    There did not appear to be any really serious problems with audio sync in the transfer, although naturally enough some of the earlier material was not exactly in sync. This is not a DVD mastering problem but is the result of inherent problems with the source material I would suspect. The music itself obviously comes from a rather diverse range of composers, although most are certainly giants in the field of opera.

    The main problem with the soundtrack is the fact that there is a fair degree of background hiss to some of the music. However, if you are used to CD recordings of the early 1930s and earlier, the hiss is not any worse than what you are used to. Whilst it could perhaps have been better, and I would hazard a guess that had the original been remastered more recently it certainly would have been better, I have to say that even in the case of the rather old recordings of Enrico Caruso I have heard far, far worse on CD. It is also important to remember to balance the quality of the sound with the comparative rarity of some of the material on offer here. Overall, I am happy enough with the quality, but don't come to this DVD expecting brilliant definition. This is real mono with thankfully no attempt to tweak it into false stereo, and therefore the sound is very frontal. It is a little congested at times, and really could have benefited from a bit more air. At its best there is ample scope to convey the majesty of the voices on offer and even when there is not, some of those voices shine anyway. I would rate this as a good soundtrack overall, despite its faults.

Extras

    Whilst this is pushing the limits of a single sided, single layer DVD in terms of length, it is a shame that RSDL formatting was not used and the opportunity to include detailed biographical notes and lyrics was not taken. That really would have aided the package no end.

Menu

Booklet

    This contains a decently extensive detailing of the music and some worthwhile background notes, albeit hampered a little by the rather smallish font size used to keep the booklet small enough to slip into the super jewel case.

R4 vs R1

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

    This does not yet appear on Region 1 release sheets.

Summary

    The Art Of Singing is an essential purchase for anyone even remotely interested in great singers of the past century. The fact that it is on a good DVD for material of this age is an added bonus. Whilst I could imagine a better collection, I doubt that we will see it anytime soon, and therefore this will be the benchmark for collections such as these for quite a time to come.

    A good video transfer of some aged material.

    A good audio transfer of some aged material.

    An extras package that should have been so much more.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Tuesday, August 29, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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