Strauss, R-Arabella (Metropolitan Opera) (1994) (NTSC)

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Released 4-Jun-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Booklet
Rating ?
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 167:30 (Case: 178)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Brian Large
Studio
Distributor
Metropolitan Opera
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Donald McIntyre
Helga Dernesch
Kiri Te Kanawa
Marie McLaughlin
Wolfgang Brendel
David Kuebler
Charles Workman
Kim Josephson
Julien Robbins
Natalie Dessay
Jane Shaulis
Roger Crouthamel
Barry Brandes
Case Flexbox
RPI $36.95 Music Richard Strauss


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

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

Plot Synopsis

    My limited experience with opera has led me to the belief that they are often based on high tragedy and often have very unhappy endings. This opera was a pleasant surprise: while it still has elements of tragedy, there is a happy ending. Presented on this disc is the German opera Arabella, written by Richard Strauss in 1933. The venue is the Metropolitan Opera House in New York and the recording was produced for television. Thus, we are presented with a 1.33:1 transfer. This is an all-regions release and is in NTSC.

    The orchestra and cast, including the wonderful Kiri Te Kanawa, bring this opera to life with very good performances and some powerful music.

    The basic story revolves around a family trying to 'keep up with the Jones' in the context of the period in which it is set. They are somewhat short of money and in a effort to save on the upkeep of two daughters, one is disguised as a boy, Zdenka (Marie McLaughlin). The remaining daughter, Arabella (Kiri Te Kanawa), is very beautiful and has many suitors for her hand. One of these suitors, Matteo (David Kuebler) is madly in love with Arabella, who actually wants nothing to do with him. Matteo is also friends with Zdenka, totally unaware that he is a she. The twist is that Zdenka has fallen heavily for Matteo, and in an effort to keep him around has secretly written love letters to Matteo and signed them as if from Arabella, leading him to believe that Arabella is interested in him.

    In an effort to stave off financial disaster, the Father (Donald McIntyre) has sent a picture of Arabella to an old and very rich friend in the hope of an advantageous marriage. The old friend is actually deceased and the letter reaches his young heir, Mandryka (Wolfgang Brendel), who instantly falls in love with the lovely Arabella at first sight of the picture. Mandryka rushes to the hotel where the family is staying and after some discussion is introduced to Arabella at a ball. The two fall instantly in love and agree to be married. Arabella wishes to say farewell to her 'girlhood' and asks for the rest of the ball to say goodbye. Mandryka agrees to this.

    Meanwhile, Matteo is about to leave town, having lost all hope. Zdenka panics, and tells Matteo that Arabella wants to meet him at their hotel, in her room, and here is the key to prove it. Of course, Matteo rushes off to keep this appointment. Unfortunately, Mandryka has overhead the entire conversation and is a little upset, mistakenly believing his betrothed has made a midnight appointment that is less than acceptable. To compound the problem, Arabella has innocently left the ball early to retire for the evening.

    Mandryka expresses his anger to Arabella'a parents, who convince him to come with them back to the hotel as there must be some misunderstanding. Thus all the players are drawn to the hotel for the climax of this opera. I will say no more in case this is your first viewing of Arabella.

    This is a long opera, with a running time of 167 minutes (11 minutes shorter than the stated running time). I enjoyed the time taken to watch Arabella: the production is excellent, the audio is very well recorded, but unfortunately the video transfer is one of the worst I have seen.

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

Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer has been subjected to massive overcompression. There is not a single frame that does not show some artefacts from this treatment.

    The transfer is presented in a ratio of 1.33 and I believe that this is the original format. As previously mentioned, this disc is presented in NTSC, so your playback equipment will need to be NTSC-compatible in order to view this DVD.

    A very few foreground shots have reasonable levels of sharpness, but the rest, and especially the background, are very soft. Shadow detail is acceptable but not great. It is hard to tell amongst the MPEG artefacts, but there appears to be some degree of low level noise, an example being at 2:44.

    The colours are muted throughout with no great levels of saturation. There appears to be no colour bleed or noise in the colour portion of the transfer.

    Almost every frame of this transfer exhibits compression artefacts. Single stepping through any portion of the transfer will show that even frames with little movement seem to lose sync completely every 10 to 15 frames resulting in a very pixelated image. This can be seen throughout with a particularly bad example at 22:28. So severe is this problem that sometimes objects in the background completely disappear. There are some pillars in the scene at 76:12 that have vertical indentations carved into them, creating sharp vertical lines. These disappear completely when the camera is panned across them, along with strobing and blocking in the background. Another example can be found at 20:38 where the background dissolves into a series of blocks, and at any scene transition, the last frame of the previous scene and the first of the next are extremely pixelated with macro-blocking clearly visible (for example, at 40:07). A single close-up of Kiri Te Kanawa at 85:16 shows the effect on the actors within the scene with clear posterization and further bursts of pixelization.

    There is a small amount of aliasing visible on sharp lines, such as the dress worn by Kiri Te Kanawa at 19:44. The original recording seems to have been on NTSC video.

    As this opera is sung in German, I watched it with the English subtitles turned on. The disc goes straight in to the opera without going to the menu, meaning you either have to use the direct access to turn on the subtitles or return to the menu to activate them. They are presented on top of the image in white with a black shadow. They were easy to read.

    This is an RSDL-formatted disc with a layer change that I could not pin down exactly, but is definitely not disruptive.

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

Audio

    In contrast to the video transfer, this is a heavenly audio presentation. My audio system presents a reasonable audio image with the correct material - the speakers are a little too far apart as they are set up for movies and not pure audio. I suspect that this disc contains a positively holographic audio image across the sound stage. My system resolved the sections of the orchestra to their correct locations along with the voices of the performers. On a better system, you could probably resolve each separate instrument. The voices are relative to the stage. This leads to the occasional problem where there is a tight shot on the performer placing them in the centre of the video image, but where they are actually on the left of the stage leading to a slight offset between the audio and video, though this is not greatly distracting. It was a real treat to have the voices range over the front soundstage from left to right with incredible precision, as opposed to being nailed to the centre channel.

    The German Linear PCM 48/16 stereo track is the only audio track.

    The dialogue quality is excellent and there are no audio sync problems.

    This is German opera. You will either like or dislike it according to your own tastes. I found it enjoyable, but without the depth of the Italian operas.

    This is a stereo presentation and thus there is no surround presence.

    The subwoofer was sent some redirected bass from the mains, but there was little real activity.



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

Extras

    The only extra is a small booklet.

Menu

    The menus are a simple series of static pages giving access to the subtitles and the three acts.

Booklet

    The small booklet contains production information, a detailed chapter list listing the song sung in that chapter, and a short synopsis of the opera.

R4 vs R1

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

  As this is an all-region release, this is the R1 version. Note well that the video is in NTSC.

Summary

    Arabella is a lovely opera. It was a joy to close my eyes and allow the music to wash over me. The problems arose when I opened them again to watch the image and read the subtitles. It would have been enough of a problem to have a 1.33:1, non-anamorphic NTSC transfer, but the MPEG problems go far beyond what is tolerable.

    The video offers up one of the worst transfers I have seen.

    The audio offers up one of the best audio transfers I have heard.

    There are no real extras to speak of.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Tuesday, August 28, 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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