Puccini-Madama Butterfly (Arena Di Verona) (1983)

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Released 9-Jul-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Booklet
Music Highlights
Synopsis
Listing-Cast & Crew
Web Links
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1983
Running Time 143:30
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (106:57) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Brian Large
Studio
Distributor

Warner Vision
Starring Raina Kabaivanska
Nazzareno Antinori
Eleonora Jankovic
Lorenzo Saccomani
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $39.95 Music Giacomo Puccini


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (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

    Madama Butterfly  by Puccini is probably one of the most popular operas ever written. It did not receive a warm welcome when it was first performed in 1904, though there is a story that Puccini's enemies had stacked the audience against him. It was withdrawn and reworked to some extent and from there its popularity has grown to make it one of 'the standard works'.

    The performance on this disc was recorded at the Arena Di Verona. The following quote from the Arena's home page describes this magnificent location: "The Arena of Verona, a Roman amphitheatre, is one of the greatest and most prestigious archaeological monuments in Europe. Built in the first century A.C. during the last years of the emperor Augustus, it forms an ellipsis and is 138,77 m. long, from one end to the other. On the inside the major axis is 73,68 m. long and the minor one is 44,53 m. long, while the auditorium has 45 steps with an average height of 45 cm. From the very beginning of its existence, the Arena of Verona has been a powerful and suggestive place of entertainment: gladiatorial fights, jousts, tournaments and nightly games took place against a rich scenic background."

    To see this opera in these surroundings would be a very moving and powerful experience. This disc goes some way towards bringing that experience into your home but unfortunately there are many distractions throughout the disc that detract from the experience. The first problem is a soft transfer with some problems, the second is that the performers' voices appear to have been recorded from a distance, and in some cases are somewhat below the level of the orchestra. To be fair, there are two ways of looking at this. One is to say that this is a problem because the voices are not recorded with the clarity that a closer microphone would bring. The converse is to say that this is what you would hear if seated in the arena and that this is the goal of the director. The last couple of problems relate to the director's choice of close-ups on a particular performer where you miss out on action elsewhere on the stage, though this only happens occasionally. Far worse than this is some of the people in the audience. Even at an outdoor arena, the use of flash photography during a production is totally inexcusable. Thankfully, it does not happen often but when it does it can make your blood boil.

    The story of Madama Butterfly is set in the very early 20th century in Japan and tells the story of a beautiful young Japanese bride and her heartless American husband. It is a simple and lovely story, but with an heart-rending ending. This story, combined with the music should not leave a dry eye in the house.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Unfortunately, this is quite a soft transfer. Some foreground shots approach acceptability, but the majority of the disc does not. While the image is probably better than the view from the back row of the Arena, it is still a disappointment.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. I have been unable to find the original aspect ratio, but suspect that it was recorded on video at this ratio. This is a shame, because it loses some of the width of the stage unnecessarily and also means that the subtitles must impinge on the image.   

    As mentioned, this transfer is quite soft. The shadow detail is surprisingly good, particularly as this is a stage production in an outdoor arena at night. This could have been a recipe for disaster, but the lighting is excellent. The only problem is that it was a little dark in places causing some low-level noise to creep in as the video cameras turned up the gain. An example at 8:57 shows this clearly in the grey panels of the backdrop.

    The colours are somewhat muted, however, the costumes give hints of vibrant colours that are not captured on this disc. There is also some chroma noise and colour bleed evident, such as the Obi worn by Butterfly at 20:32.

    I think the low level noise has confused the MPEG encoder in some places, leading to some macro-blocking, such as in the background at 25:37. There are also some artefacts from the excessive edge enhancement that has been applied, leading to ringing on the edges of  light/dark transitions. 22:35 is a good example with all of the above problems in the one frame.

    I believe this was recorded on video which means there are no film artefacts, but I believe a lot of the blame for the softness of the image may be directed at this original recording.

    A note unrelated to the transfer - at the start of the third act, there is a musical introduction lasting a few minutes. During this time, someone has decided to fill the screen with a series of shots of flowers and trees that go in and out of focus. The first time this happens you cringe, but after several minutes of it, I felt quite seasick.

    As I do not speak Italian, and this opera is sung in that language, I had the English subtitles on throughout the opera. These appeared over the image with a light grey, see-through backing. They were easy to read and did not greatly distract from the on-screen action. As to their accuracy, I cannot say, but they appeared to tell the story in a coherent fashion.

    The layer change was hidden between the second and third acts and thus did not distract at all.



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

Audio

    The audio transfer is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and appears to be Pro-Logic encoded. It also had me reaching for my copy of the AVIA alignment disk to check my system. The left track is marginally louder than the right, meaning that if you listen to this in straight stereo, the soundstage is biased towards the left, a subtle but distracting problem. Thankfully, the auto balance mechanism of pro-logic encoding corrects this problem and brings the voices back to centre.

    As mentioned previously, the performers are recorded from a distance leaving the voices overwhelmed by the orchestra at some points - that this does not happen too often is a testament to the sheer power of the voices of the performers. Apart from this, the audio is full range, reproducing the tinkle of the triangle right down to the impact of the timpanis.

    The Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is the only audio track available on this DVD.

    As the dialogue is slightly below the level of the orchestra, there are some moments when the dialogue might be hard to understand, but not speaking Italian I could not be sure.

    The audio is in sync throughout.

    My exposure to opera is limited mostly to Gilbert and Sullivan and the opera scene in Fifth Element. Setting that aside, I found the music to be very moving and amplified the feelings that were invoked by the story. I don't think you could view this opera without feeling the emotional impact.

    The surrounds carried what ambience you would expect from a very large, open air arena. The volume of these was quite low, but did add a certain feel to the soundtrack.

    The subwoofer gave an excellent foundation to the music with the redirected bass from the mains.



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

Extras

    There are several extras, but none of noteworthy mention.

Menu

    The menus are presented in 1.33:1. The first screen presents you with a choice of menu languages, the second a range of options; Play/Resume, Highlights, Chapters and Synopsis, Cast, Subtitles, and Weblink.

Highlights

    A listing of the highlights of Madama Butterfly. Selecting any of the highlights will take you directly to that scene.

Chapters and Synopsis

    A very quick synopsis of each act and direct access to that act.

Cast

    A single page listing the cast.

Subtitles

    Select the language of the subtitles and turn them on/off.

Web Link

    A single page instructing you to place the disc in a DVD-ROM, then select a link that takes you to www.NVCARTS-VIDEO.com, the home page of the distributors of the disc.

Booklet

    A small booklet containing the story of Madama Butterfly in five languages.

R4 vs R1

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

   There does not appear to be a Region one version of this disc.

Summary

    Yet again I am faced with a disc that has some fantastic content, but has been let down by the transfer. At times I was carried away by this opera, only to be brought down to earth by the transfer problems.

    The video is soft.

    The audio reproduces the experience of the Arena Di Verona.

    There are minimal extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Tuesday, August 21, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic A-350A, using S-Video output
DisplaySony 1252Q CRT Projector, 254cm custom built 1.0 gain screen. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationSony STR GA-8ES
SpeakersB&W DM305 (mains); CC3 (centre); S100 (surrounds); custom Adire Audio Tempest with Redgum plate amp (subwoofer)

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