Swan Lake (Vienna State Opera Ballet) (1966) (NTSC)

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Released 4-Jun-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Ballet Booklet
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1966
Running Time 107:08 (Case: 106)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (60:37) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Truck Branss
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Margot Fonteyn
Rudolph Nureyev
Case Flexbox
RPI $36.95 Music Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.0 (320Kb/s)
English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    When the word classic is applied to ballet, I suppose that no other ballet deserves that appellation more so than Swan Lake. This is such an integral part of what constitutes ballet to most people that it is arguably the first ballet people name if they are asked to name a ballet. It is the usual piece that gets dragged out by every school/amateur company/professional company to get the masses into the theatres of the world to watch their kids/friends and family/sublime talents offer their contribution to the legacy of the piece in true "bums on seats" tradition. Thus it is perhaps the most abused ballet of all time as well as being the most beloved ballet of all time.

    Of all of the performances of Swan Lake that have ever been performed, and I seriously doubt that anyone could possibly know just how many there have been, there is perhaps none more famous than this. After all, it stars arguably the two greatest ballet dancers of all time, the almost immortal pairing of Rudolf Nureyev and Margaret Hookham (probably better known as Dame Margot Fonteyn). After all, if people generally answer Swan Lake when asked to name a ballet, they equally would name Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn if asked to name a male and female ballet dancer. So basically you have the two most famous dancers of all time in the most famous ballet of all time, combined in the most famous ballet recording of all time. Is anything else really relevant?

    Not really, but I suppose that brief mention should be made of the story of Swan Lake, for those who don't know. Prince Siegfried (Rudolf Nureyev) is your typical spoilt royal, and is celebrating his birthday in the palace. The Queen bestows upon her son the gift of a crossbow for his birthday, and upon espying a flock of passing swans, he decides to go hunting. Act 2 sees the Prince near a forest lake under the spell of Rotbart, who keeps Princess Odette (Dame Margot Fonteyn) and her entourage as swans. At night however, the swans can assume their human form and it is during the night that the prince happens upon Odette and is enraptured. Odette tells him the story of the spell that holds her captive, and the prince swears that she will be his one and only true love, and thus he will be the man to break the spell. Act 3 sees the action swing back to the palace where another lavish entertainment is happening, but none of the girls paraded before the Queen and the prince take his fancy, at least not until a mysterious noble arrives with his daughter, Odile. The prince believes that she is his beloved Odette and seals the fate of Odette when he announces that he is to marry Odile. Act 4 sees an inconsolable prince trying to explain to Odette that he has been tricked by Rotbart and the temptress Odile. Odette forgives him and they reaffirm their love, but she is resigned to her life as a swan. Since this affirmation of love should be enough to break the spell, Rotbart seeks revenge by allowing the lake to burst its banks and with Odette swimming away safely, the prince sinks beneath the water.

    Rudolf Nureyev, Dame Margot Fonteyn and the most beloved ballet of all time. I guess it does not make any difference what I might think of the whole thing really. Nothing else really matters at all, which is obviously the attitude of Philips since the package does not even bother to provide any details of when and where the recording was made, nor of who danced the other roles in the ballet. Everyone else is just a generic member of the Wiener Staatsopernballet (Vienna State Opera Ballet).

    Anyone with a half-passing interest in ballet is going to snap this one up, irrespective of anything else. For the rest of us, this is not too bad a ballet to break the ballet virginity with, since it contains some of Tchaikovsky's greatest light orchestral music. However, it is 35 years old and is obviously an attempt to rake in more dollars from a well-and-truly superannuated piece from the archives, with little or no effort made to restore the film to its original glory. Don't expect too much in the way of a transfer or any enlightening extra material here at all.

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Transfer Quality


    Since we are talking about 35 year old material here, obviously it is presented in a Full Frame format and it is not 16x9 enhanced. You should note however that this is an NTSC formatted DVD and therefore you will need to have a display device capable of playing this signal in order to see anything.

    The overall package really smacks of being decidedly average, which is not entirely unexpected from this apparently unrestored source material. The transfer is not overly sharp but thankfully does not tend towards the diffuse end of the spectrum. A few lapses here and there in the sharpness notwithstanding, only the most fastidious should have cause for real complaint here. Definition is not exceptional, and in general the transfer has a flattish look with no great depth to the image. This is a bit of a pity, as the sets clearly have some detail in them and it would have been nice to see these details stand out a little more. The whole transfer has a grainy look to it, and this impinges upon the clarity level. Certainly these issues are partly the result of the age of the source material, and in a broad sense were no worse than I was really expecting. Shadow detail is not terrific and it is thankful that there is no central action occurring outside of the main stage-lit areas. There seems to be some problems with low level noise in the transfer, notably in the background during Acts 2 and 4.

    This started out as a surprisingly decent transfer colour-wise for most of Act 1, with the colours being well-saturated although not at all vibrant. Clearly, this was a colourfully-staged ballet and it is a pity that we don't get to see the entire glory - just a restrained hint of what it was like. Right at the end of Act 1, there is a distinct drop-off in the colours, with the transfer taking a slightly darker and greener tone than up to that point. It should be noted that the clarity of the transfer also tends to drop off from that point. Whilst the green tone is partly the result of some green stage lighting in Act 2 onwards, this is not entirely the cause of the greener hue. I am guessing that there has been some degradation in the film stock over the years that would partly account for the problem. Allowing for the degradation in the source material, I suppose that the result is not too bad. There is something of a lack of solidity to the colours and a bit more vivacity in the whites and blacks would not have gone astray in the transfer. There is no oversaturation in the transfer, and there is no colour bleed in the transfer.

    I have a rough little guideline that says you can tell the quality of the mastering of a DVD by looking at how good the transfer looks when you pause the image and advance frame by frame. Let me just say that you should not try this with this transfer, for it looks disgusting. The resultant images often display absolutely no definition whatsoever, with ghost images overlaying each other, amongst other issues. Even watching the programme normally, the lack of resolution in just about every shot involving motion is at times too obvious. Considering that ballet is all about motion, you can well guess that this detracts enormously from the programme. If you want a good example of how bad this can get, just check out the sequence from about 44:10 to 44:18 in Act 2, as the prince enters the scene from behind the swans, in normal motion and in slow motion. Now most of this problem can perhaps be tied back to the age of the source material, but I do not believe that it is solely a result of the source material at all. This just gives the impression of being sloppy mastering. Aside from the lack of resolution in movement, there are also some clear indications of pixelization in some scenes, including at the end of the sequence already noted. Other extended sequences displaying pixelization or blockiness in the background include from 48:40 to about 50:40, as well as some issues in the stage itself around the 73:20 mark. And just pray that your eye does not pick up the problems during Act 2 with the reeds and tree in the right background throughout the Act. The transfer is blighted with some shimmer in the background at times, but there is thankfully not much else of an issue with film-to-video artefacts. Naturally, there are some fairly prominent film artefacts on offer here, and at times it is difficult to not notice them. A good example is a rather large hair at about 82:10.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming at the very end of Act 2 at 60:37.

    The overriding impression with the transfer is one of tossing the whole thing onto DVD as cheaply and quickly as possible, with little or no thought or effort being given to any restoration of the image at all. From the way that Act 1 and Act 3 look, it is clear that this was originally a veritable feast of bright, vibrant colours - but that is precisely what we do not get here. Even allowing for 35 years, this looks like a cheap reissue of the VHS tape, possibly from the same master.

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


    There are two soundtracks on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack and an English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 soundtrack. The concept of English is of course a notional one in an art form that is purely music and dance. I sampled both soundtracks on offer. It is noteworthy that the Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack has a lower bitrate than normally expected for five or six channel soundtracks, and I am wondering whether this may be the reason for the slightly congested sound we have here.

    The music comes up fairly well in the transfer, although there is a slight congestion to the sound that is just a little detracting from the marvellous score penned predominantly by Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

    The Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack is a rather unexciting example of surround encoding, and this really gives the impression of having not much activity at all in the surround channels. There is a lack of serious rear channel usage, which I suppose is not unexpected, but the lack of decent front channel use is a bit curious. It almost sounds as if this 5 channel soundtrack contains silent channels at times. The overall soundscape is definitely lacking in bloom or any kind of prominence to the sound. The soundtrack is free from any significant distortions or other imperfections.

    The Linear PCM 2.0 soundtrack is a much nicer sounding effort, reasonably clear and open sounding. As you switch back and forth between the two soundtracks, the lack of presence in the Linear PCM really does not bother at all. It is not the greatest example of the format that you will ever hear, but it is on the whole a better proposition than the Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Apart from a decent booklet, there is nothing else on offer on the DVD.


    Since the DVD starts straight into the ballet, it is only when it gets to the end and heads to the menu that you know it is there. And since it has little to do, other than audio selection and direct access to the start of each Act, there really is not much point knowing it is there.


    Whilst it provides a track listing and a modest synopsis and brief history of the ballet, the lack of any additional information on either the performers or the composer is disappointing.

R4 vs R1

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

    Since this is an all Region coded NTSC DVD, it seems reasonable to assume that this is the same as the Region 1 release in every way.


    Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is a good "beginner's" ballet if you like, one that novices in the art can enjoy, whilst real aficionados can enjoy the artistry of the two greatest dancers of the last century. Unfortunately, the transfer is really showing signs of age and this compounds a less-than-stellar mastering effort. Even some slight restoration work would have seen this rate much better than it does.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Saturday, July 14, 2001
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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