Strauss, J-Fledermaus, Die (Bayerischen Staatsoper) (1987) (NTSC)

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Released 4-Jun-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Booklet
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1987
Running Time 155:02
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (72:31) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Brian Large
Studio
Distributor
Deutsche Grammophon
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Eberhard Wachter
Pamela Coburn
Benno Kusche
Brigitte Fassbaender
Josef Hopferwieser
Wolfgang Brendel
Ferry Gruber
Janet Perry
Franz Muxeneder
Ivan Unger
Irene Steinbeisser
Case Flexbox
RPI $36.95 Music Johann Strauss


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Audio 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 German
English
French
Chinese
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    It is good to see some great light operetta finally getting a release on DVD, and when it is as good as Die Fledermaus conducted by Carlos Kleiber, there is cause for double celebration. Whilst I am slightly biased inasmuch as I find Carlos Kleiber to be the finest modern conductor, I have long held the view that his performance of Die Fledermaus is the best around. Naturally, this was snapped up when it came up for allocation and the review has only been delayed for want of being able to dedicate the necessary time to watch the DVD in a coherent manner. This is not a programme that you can jump into and watch half an hour of, then expect to pick it up again later. It is an exceedingly funny work and to gain the most enjoyment out of it, you need to watch it all in one sitting if possible.

    Despite the title suggesting this is about a mouse, the title is actually German for The Bat. Now you might well wonder why the heck Johann Strauss, the greatest composer of light classical music (most especially waltzes and polkas), would want to write an operetta about a bat. Well, that is part of the fun - he didn't. What he did was write a very funny story about a cheating husband getting his comeuppance from his suffering wife - whilst providing some entertainment for a society bash along the way. Gabriel von Eisenstein (Eberhard Wachter) is the cheating husband and the story begins as he has just been sentenced to eight days in jail, thanks to the bumblings of his lawyer whose appeal resulted in an increased sentence! His wife Rosalinde (Pamela Coburn) is being wooed by her singing teacher Alfred (Josef Hopferwieser), whilst their maid Adele (Janet Perry) has received an invitation to a party being put on by Prince Orlofsky (Brigitte Fassbaender). Adele is trying desperately to find a way to get away from work as well as finding a gown to wear to the party. Before the prison governor Frank (Benno Kusche) arrives to take Gabriel to jail, Falke (Wolfgang Brendel), a long time friend of Gabriel, arrives to invite Gabriel to Orlofsky's party too, under the guise of the Marquis Renard. Gabriel sees this as a perfect way to spend his last free night and heads off to the party with Falke - as does Adele, complete with a gown stolen from her mistress. Alfred now enters the house to have some fun with his heart's desire, but this is sidetracked when Frank turns up to take Gabriel into custody. Rosalinde convinces Frank that Alfred is Gabriel, and so Alfred heads off to jail.

    Act 2 sees the story switch to Prince Orlofsky's party and the delightful gag that is about to unfold for Orlofsky's amusement, thanks to Falke. Adele is at the party at Falke's request, Gabriel turns up at the party at Falke's request, even Frank turns up at the party at Falke's request. The coup is that Rosalinde turns up at the party too, dressed up as a mysterious Hungarian woman. Orlofsky is in for a treat it seems - and a rare instance where he will laugh. Gabriel is true to form and starts chasing the mysterious Hungarian woman, and it is plain to see where this is heading. Most of the party sees Gabriel being the butt of the joke, which he takes in fair enough spirits. But the merriment will continue through the night and into the next day and Act 3 sees the action focused upon the jail and most notably the drunken guard Frosch (Franz Muxeneder) and the still drunk Frank. Much more than that I will not say for this is a comedy that you need to experience, rather than trying to make sense of my idiotic ramblings. And the answer to the riddle of why this is called The Bat is indeed answered!

    Featuring a very nicely crafted story and libretto, with some gorgeous music too, this effervescent sparkle of entertainment is brought to joyous life by a terrific cast and a conductor par excellence. There is not a weak link in this cast at all and it is hard to pick out real stand-out performances. Certainly Franz Muxeneder as the drunken Frosch is quite superb and adds enormously to the enjoyment of the third act. Pamela Coburn is brilliant as Rosalinde and Janet Perry is no less terrific as Adele. But across the board, this is terrifically sung and Carlos Kleiber provides the most sympathetic of accompaniments, a true gem even in his exalted discography.

    You would be very hard-pushed to find anything better in the field of operetta than this. The performance is virtually without peer in my estimation and if you enjoy genuine comedy there is every reason you should be rushing out to indulge in this DVD. Whilst there are quibbles about the technical qualities of the transfer we have been given, there are no such quibbles about the performance. A resounding recommendation even though cautioning that the transfer is not without problem and questioning why this was not given a good remastering and renovation.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Okay, we can start by making some allowances for the comparative age of the source material, and the fact that it is a live performance, but the fact remains that there is something just not right about the video transfer. It manifests itself pretty well throughout the show and it does unfortunately fall into the realm of not being exactly identifiable. But it just is not right and nothing will convince me otherwise, even if I cannot explain exactly what it is!

    The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format and it is not 16x9 enhanced. You should also note 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.

    Whichever way I look at this, I keep on coming away with the impression that this is only a moderately decent transfer as far as sharpness goes. Whilst I would not wish for intense over-sharpness, the slight lack of solidity to lines tends to detract from the overall image. At times there is a distinct amount of diffuseness in the image, and this is compounded by rather obvious lapses in focus. Detail is quite good and the rather lavishly detailed sets come up very well indeed. Shadow detail is good throughout the transfer. There is unfortunately a minor but consistent problem with grain in the transfer, and this does tend to detract from the clarity of the transfer. There appears to be some minor noise issues during the opening sequence (mainly the shots of the curtain) and the latter part of Act 3 in the jail. It is nothing serious but when combined with the other minor issues, ends up creating a slightly unfavourable response to the video transfer.

    In general, the colour palette here is quite good and quite vibrant. That being said though, there are definite instances where it goes somewhat awry. Towards the end of Act 2 for instance, there is some rather weird colouration in the shots of Carlos Kleiber conducting - unless he is suffering from yellow fever that is. There are also problems in the colours flaring, especially in the shots of the orchestra pit where the strong podium light seems to play havoc with tonal integrity. I am guessing that this was filmed on video tape, as this sort of reminds me of the problems I see in video tapes at times, and that is the cause of the lack of serious tonal depth throughout the show. Thankfully, there is nice depth to the blacks and this helps keep a degree of naturalness to the whole show. Act 2 is also a good example of general colour flaring, where the result is a ghostly coloured aura around any centrally focused character. Couple this with the obviously diffuse image and that is part of the explanation for what I feel is not quite right about the transfer. There is nothing in the way of significant oversaturation of colours, but obviously the aura suggests some problems with colour bleed in the transfer, although whether this is source material related is not known (although suspected).

    There does not appear to be any issue with MPEG artefacts in the transfer, apart from one instance around 142:55 where there seemed to be some blockiness in the background. There is a consistent problem with flaring and other resolution issues on camera movement, but I am taking this to be inherent in the way the performance was filmed. Certainly a more modern recording would not have had these problems I would suspect. I did not recall seeing any film-to-video artefacts in the transfer at all, but I would think that there might have been some minor shimmer here and there. There were no real film artefacts in the transfer either.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming during Act 2 at 72:31. This is during a fade-to-black change between scenes, which seems a little contrived for a stage performance but is not really disruptive to the flow of the show.

    The subtitle options on the DVD are a tad limited, and I only sampled the German and English efforts. I would not wish to push myself with the French efforts, and as for the Chinese ones! The German subtitles are really only lyric subtitles, as none of the incidental dialogue is subtitled. This seems a bit peculiar as most of the amusement is in the dialogue. Hopefully not too many of our Hearing Impaired readers will require the German subtitles, but what is there seems complete and accurate. The English subtitles, on the other hand, cover everything - song and dialogue. They seem to be accurate and certainly do not seem to leave you pondering what the heck is going on.

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

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being a German Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 soundtrack. It is naturally a German soundtrack since this is the original language of the piece, so this is a good way to brush up a little on your German comprehension - at least with the English subtitles on too.

    The music comes up well in the transfer, and apart from a few occasions when the dialogue was a little hushed, there were no issues with understanding both the spoken and sung words. It should be noted that the dialogue is noticeably more hushed than the songs, and it does take a little while to adjust to this early on. By the end of the show, I really was not that bothered by it. The delightfully witty score by Johann Strauss shines through well, and the only real downer on the whole is that the enthusiastic accolades from the audience can get a bit intrusive. There did not seem to be any audio sync issues with the transfer at all.

    Whilst a good Dolby Digital (heck, even dts) soundtrack would not have gone astray here, there really is nothing to complain about with this uncompressed Linear PCM soundtrack. Wonderfully open and clear, there is nothing at all hidden here and in most respects this sounds even better than I recall the compact disc sounding. Of course, we miss out on all the surround presence that a Dolby Digital soundtrack could have brought to the party, but it is not that missed after a while to be honest. Such is the quality of the soundtrack and the singing, you just get transported into the enjoyment of the whole show and pretty much forget the rather mundane nature of the soundtrack. There is of course no bass channel use here and for that I am perhaps eternally grateful.

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

Extras

    Once again we have a DVD from Universal Music that is sadly lacking in the serious extras package department. Given the classic nature of just about anything done by Carlos Kleiber, this is yet another serious disappointment.

Menu

    The DVD fires up straight into the programme and turns itself off right after the end of the curtain calls. So you could own this DVD for years and never know that it does actually have a menu. Mind you, you would not really be missing anything since all it does is give access to the start of each Act.

Booklet

    Providing little more than a track listing and a scene by scene synopsis, this is another underwhelming effort from the people who are rapidly becoming the masters of the underwhelming. Where is the history of the piece? The conductor? The singers? Sheesh, is it really asking too much for just some modest biographies?

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.

Summary

    Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus is a superb piece of operetta and this performance is extremely distinguished indeed. Carlos Kleiber makes very few recordings in comparison to most other woefully over-exposed conductors, so when you get the chance to see him or listen to him, you take it willingly. Personally, I believe this to be the very best Die Fledermaus I have ever seen, or heard (since I do have the equivalent CD recording of it), and am more than pleased in most respects with its incarnation on DVD, which clearly is an example of where the whole is much more than the sum of the parts. This is superb entertainment, extremely funny (even if, like me, your German is not terrific) and sung by a brilliant cast. Great music, great singing, genuine laughs - there really is not much more to say than just go out and buy this. We may eventually see something more technically superb aurally and visually, but I doubt that we will ever see anything approaching this in sheer performance quality.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Wednesday, August 08, 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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