Operavox (1994) (NTSC)

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Released 15-Mar-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio
Notes-Wild Releasing Catalogue
Web Links
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 180
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Various
Studio
Distributor

Wild Releasing
Starring Various
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $39.95 Music Various


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Screen, not known whether Pan & Scan or Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/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

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

Plot Synopsis

    I admit it. I'm a peasant and I wouldn't know good opera from bad opera. As a matter of fact I couldn't tell you if someone is singing baritone, bass baritone or tenor which shows you how little I know about one of the classical arts. Having given my (non)-credentials I must say that it didn't really matter reviewing Operavox.

    This is now officially my first offering into the Hall of Shame. Audio-wise it is quite tolerable, but video-wise, this caused me headaches (I kid you not). The number of problems with the transfer is the stuff of nightmares (more on this later). The general idea is a good one, mind you. Condensed, thirty minute operas with video thrown in to give it more punch and you could have had the makings of a decent introduction to an esoteric part of our culture that is rapidly being lost to the MTV generation. There are six different operas on offer (text courtesy of snippets taken from each featurette):

    Barber of Saville (Giachino Rossini) - Figaro the barber and the rich Count Almaviva both attempt to woo the closely guarded Rosina. But first there's Rosina's lecherous guardian Dr Barolo and his slander-loving friend, Don Basilio, to contend with.

    Das Rheingold (Richard Wagner) - in a time before time began, the giants have built a monumental palace in the sky for mighty Wotan, King of the Gods. The giants' payment is due. Beneath the clear waters of the Rhine lies a rock of purest gold, guarded by beautiful mermaids. They are about to reveal its dark secret to Alberich, leader of the dwarves.

    Carmen (George Bizet) - Seville, Spain 1820, siesta. The relief platoon is due at the guardhouse just as the girls are returning to work at the Tobacco Factory.

    Turandot (Giacomo Puccini) - The Chinese princess Turandot sets riddles for her suitors, executing all those who fail to answer correctly. Exiled Prince Calef sets his own riddle: Turandot must discover his name before dawn.

    Rigoletto (Guiseppe Verdi) - Italy, 400 years ago. Rigoletto, the hunchback, is Court Jester to the depraved Duke of Mantua. Rigoletto's obsession is to save his daughter, Gilda, from the debauchery which surrounds them and the Duke's insatiable lust for all womankind

    The Magic Flute (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) - On a lonely summit a king lies dying. His final act must be to bequeath the 'seven-fold circle of the sun' - source of wisdom and power. Gathered about him are his wife, the Queen of Night, his daughter, Pamina, and Sarastro, leader of the Brotherhood

    Each selection is approximately 30 minutes in length. The disc has no time encoding, so everything is approximated only.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Rather than do a slapdash job, I've broken down the video by featurette. That way, I'm able to give a more accurate summary. I've tried to list all the flaws I've discovered, with details where possible. I've generalized many things because of the sheer volume of their occurrence. I wasn't able to give accurate times due to the lack of time encoding on this DVD. I've also added a rating for each featurette because some of them aren't as bad as others (in a relative way).

    All the featurettes are shown Full Frame (1.33:1) and are not 16x9 enhanced.

Barber of Saville
    This is done using animated puppetry. I've never seen anything as bad as this in my life before, and I hope I never do again!

    Telecine errors are troublesome throughout. The picture simply moves constantly. There are also a lot of interlacing artefacts. The picture almost seems to jerk from frame to frame with many noticeable pauses. You may begin to believe there are missing frames but this is almost certainly caused by the fact that this was originally done in NTSC format and translated to PAL. The original was most probably on analogue tape because further evidence of conversion errors comes to light later into the featurette.

    At one stage, about 18 minutes in, you'll see the most amazing film-to-video artefact I've ever seen. The puppets are being drawn across the screen (singing of course) by a winch when they all 'wobble'. It's the only way I can describe it. The edges of each puppet has all their outlines replaced by wobbly lines. The only analogy I can offer is for those of you who have ever seen Blake's 7. If you are familiar with this show remember how the 'teleporters' worked and that's the effect! By the time you've finished watching this, don't be surprised to have a headache - it's that hard on the eyes.

    Grain is omnipresent, although this is such a minor glitch compared to the others you may not even notice it. Low level noise is also endemic. Blacks break up showing many splotches of grey. Sharpness is poor and fine detail suffers as a result. The picture is often blurry. The colour is mostly okay, but the lighting becomes overpowering about 22 minutes in and blurs everything excessively. Shadow detail is poor for the most part. I could go on for another two pages with the problems in this transfer but I won't. It is sufficient to say that I have seen hell and it contains this featurette in an endless loop!

    Rating: Zero/Zip/None/Nothing/Nada/Bugger all!

Rheingold
    This opens with a Star Wars type text scroll.

    The sharpness is mediocre to say the least. Many of the animation lines are blocky and fuzzy at times with a total lack of any fine detail. There is grain and low level noise abundant in this one. Every scene is rife with noise and blacks often look grey. Shadow detail is again poor. There is very little depth to the animation.

    There are noticeable focus problems during this featurette. To say it is fuzzy is an understatement as it simply phases in and out of focus constantly during one scene with the dwarf king climbing up an underwater mountain towards a golden rock. The animation reminds me a little of Dr Katz (shown on SBS) using shaky lines to portray movement. Naturally you might miss the telecine wobble that pokes its head up time and time again because of the shakiness. At one stage the picture jags up like you used to see in the old movie theatres when the film jumped in the projector because of the damaged sprocket holes.

    The colour is another problem. Initially it is quite reasonable and full, but as time passes it becomes washed out and dull until by the end it consists mainly of drab browns and yellows with some slightly brighter colour thrown in now and again. There are lots of black and white specks noticeable throughout.

Rating: 

Carmen
    This is done using 'live action' coloured in and made to appear like animation. Ralph Bakshi was the most notable animator to use this method (Wizards and the original Lord of the Rings animated version used this method. He often used an action scene, turned it into a negative and added it in as backgrounds). This isn't a bad transfer although artistically, to my mind, it is the most questionable way to 'animate' something.

    Sharpness doesn't exist in this featurette. Why? Because when you paint solid colours over a piece of film you end up with very few fine lines, as is the case here. Fine detail doesn't exist, even the 'backgrounds' are coarse and look very childish. There is no problem with low level noise - the blacks are solid as a rock. Grain is almost non-existent. There was a strange pattern-type effect you might notice on the faces and clothes of the 'actors'. It looked deliberate, sort of like the rice paper effect in Turandot (see below). It may look like grain to those without the advantage of high quality TVs.

    The colour is solid as you'd expect, being painted on, although there wasn't much vibrancy to the colours. The palette was obviously chosen deliberately. Bright colours may well have shown up more defects.

    Aliasing is prominent throughout, and edge enhancement is definitely used (since when have you seen an drawing that didn't have a solid black line around it?) There are some places where some of the paint seems to have flecked away, but these are minor and there is a faint line visible at one stage for about 3 seconds.

    Rating: 

Turandot
    This began well with what seemed like excellently-drawn animation and I was hopeful that things were on the up. My hopes were quickly dashed!

    Again telecine wobble is evident throughout. The biggest problem with this featurette is aliasing. It starts out okay but by the time you are half-way through every straight line is beginning to break up. The supreme example is right at the end: the palace steps stretch the length of the screen and shimmer gloriously (sic)!

    Grain is not an issue but that is due to the background. They use a papyrus or rice paper type background with faint black lines which certainly masks any grain. Sharpness is average, with low level noise being mostly a non-issue. Blacks are certainly solid enough, but there is a lack of fine detail. Shadow detail is minimal once again.

    The colour is bright for the most part, and solid, but there is evidence of colour bleed during a lot of scenes. The one that sticks out is the prisoner about to be executed at the beginning. As he is being bent over for beheading the colours bleed out from him.

    Interlacing is again a problem with many scenes. You may pick up on some random jumps within the picture which can only be attributable to poor animation. This tends to compound the problems. There aren't many film artefacts to be seen, but this could be because of the background. The ones you tend to notice are the really big ones and they can clearly be seen as solid white marks in most cases.

    The RSDL changeover occurs in this featurette. It is well-placed and considering the rest of the problems is probably the best feature of the whole disc!

Rating: 

Rigoletto
    Once again this is puppet animation, the same as Barber of Seville. In this case though, the transfer problems aren't as common or as bad, although they are of a similar type. There are many obvious animation flaws to add to the mix this time.

    The sharpness is decent in this one, although the opening few seconds are slightly fuzzy. Fine detail is quite good in a lot of the scenes but there is a fair amount of grain and low level noise. Blacks again exhibit some greying. Shadow detail is actually quite reasonable in this.

    The colour is probably the best on offer on this disc. It maintains a richness throughout.

    This featurette suffers from similar NTSC to PAL analogue conversion problems that plagued Barber. The tiles on one rooftop 'wobble' as the camera pans down over them. There are so many interlacing and motion glitches that again you may find yourself getting a headache. There are constant little jumps in the picture (telecine wobble), there is aliasing on many straight line surfaces and there even seems to be a couple of missing frames (noticeable jumps in the picture). There are many flecks of white (film artefacts) during the entire featurette. There was a reflected light off the camera during one scene (more a film error than a transfer glitch, but noted anyway).

Rating: 

The Magic Flute
    Simple animation is used here. Whilst definitely not on a par with more recent offerings, this is at least the best of a bad lot!

    The sharpness in this is very poor. The picture is quite often blurry. Fine detail obviously wasn't high on the animators' agenda in this one. Grain is visible throughout as is low level noise. The Queen of the Night often has blooms of grey in her otherwise black garments.

    Telecine wobble again looms large as does evidence of interlacing. The same motion problems that plague the other transfers are present here, albeit in a more modest form. This one, at least, won't have you reaching for the headache tablets.

    The colour is quite decent for the most part. It isn't overly rich or vibrant but at least a good palette is in evidence.

    There are some film artefacts in the form of white flecks, but they are at a very acceptable level. There is also some minor aliasing, but again more acceptable than in any previous featurette.

    Rating: 
 

    There are no subtitles available at all.

    The RSDL layer change is approximately at 100 minutes, during Turandot. It is well-placed during a picture of a full moon.

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

Audio

    The audio is far better than the video transfer, although it isn't even close to reference quality. It is very listenable with few major problems. The music is listed as being shortened/edited to fit the thirty minute format for each opera. I have made a standard evaluation of the soundtrack since I am not a huge opera fan and can't really offer an opinion on how good (or bad) the editing is.

    The audio is presented in Dolby Stereo 2.0 at a bitrate of 224 kilobits per second. There is only an English soundtrack so that's what I listened to.

    The front soundstage offers a solid feel to it but little more. The intermix of singing and orchestral work is well-handled. At no stage do you feel the singers are being drowned out. All the singing was in English rather than the more traditional (so I am reliably informed), Italian. This could be one of the reasons I never really took to Opera - I could never understand it. The singing, the words of which often lost me even sung in English, was reasonably enjoyable. If only the visual aspects had been less troublesome, this could have easily been a very decent effort, but for the most part it was hard to get past the glaring visual flaws and consequently my enjoyment was severely diminished.

    The dialogue is surprising clear and understandable, with distinctive English accents for the most part. There is quite a bit of spoken word in places that had some explanatory value. The audio sync on the other hand varies from good to just reasonable. It's hard to be more specific due to the poor video. Puppets don't tend to have a large range of verbal motion, nor does animation. A typical example is in Carmen where there are sections of the singing where the sync is out by a fraction of a second. In Der Rheingold on the other hand, the sync is spot on but the characters facial expressions match the singing only in the most basic form.

    The music is performed by the Welsh National Opera company and sounds reasonably accomplished. Good use of the full orchestral range, but without any real body due to the lack of surrounds or subwoofer.

    The surround channels and subwoofer are almost totally dead. The surrounds have some very low volume ambience bleeding through, but nothing noteworthy. The LFE is totally inactive throughout

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

Extras

Main Menu plus Audio

    Nothing exciting here. Static pictures from each opera with music from Carmen overlaid.

Notes - Wild Releasing Catalogue

    Nothing totally exciting.

Web Links

    An opening web page that displays the Wild Releasing web site address (www.wildreleasing.com.au).

R4 vs R1

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

    I can't find any mention of a R1 version of this title (R1 people can give thanks for small mercies).

Summary

    Opera isn't my cup of tea but I'm more than willing to give anything a go once in my life. Unfortunately, this effort leave me a little bewildered as to the thinking behind such a shabby piece of work. If this is merely to release what was obviously a made-for-TV series, then there is a misguided understanding at work. Any inherent flaws within the original film stock (or video source) are greatly exaggerated when placed onto a digital medium. The Vastly Hopeless System or television may not show up these flaws, but for those of us used to the clarity of both the sound and visuals that define the DVD experience, this is even more unpalatable.

    The video is a travesty. There are a number of unique problems encountered that will make ideal viewing for anyone to use as a reference source for video artefacts.

    The audio is reasonable all things considered.

    The extras are irrelevant because in my opinion there aren't any (sorry, a back catalogue doesn't count).

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Thursday, May 17, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5006DD, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Xelos (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-595a
SpeakersJBL TLX16s Front Speakers, Polk Audio 3MIIs Rear Speakers, Polk Audio CS245 Centre Speaker, M&KV-75 Subwoofer

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