Blu-rays of the Week
The Barber of Seville (Opus Arte)
In the 2016 Glyndebourne Festival production of Rossini’s great comic opera, beguiling American soprano Danielle De Niese unsurprisingly steals the show as Rosina, the feisty love interest of Count Almaviva, who enlists the help of the barber Figaro to woo and win her. Enrique Mazzola nimbly conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which keeps the comedy and romance brisk. Hi-def audio and video are top-notch; extras are Mazzola and De Niese’s commentary and making-of featurette.
Lohengrin (Deutsche Grammophon)
In this 2016 Dresden staging of Richard Wagner’s opera, Russian soprano Anna Netrebko—whose early career comprised lighter-voiced roles by Mozart, Puccini and Prokofiev—shows herself as a Wagnerian singer par excellence: every scene she’s in, her Elsa rivets attention from an already formidable cast. Angela Brandt’s production shrewdly mixes traditional and contemporary (as in the climactic appearance of the swan), and the music is performed with vigor and strength by the orchestra and chorus under Christian Thielemann’s baton. Hi-def audio and video are exemplary.
Parsifal (Deutsche Grammophon) / Parsifal (Challenge Classics)
Richard Wagner’s final opera—a long, slow, quasi-religious processional composed for his own theater at Bayreuth in Germany—is presented today by opera houses around the world. Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s 2016 Bayreuth production flouts the composer’s own stage directions, dragging in pointless directorial “improvements” that obscure an accomplished cast including Klaus Florian Vogt’s Parsifal and Elena Pankratova’s temptress Kundry. Pierre Audi’s 2012 Netherlands Opera staging features similar questionable visuals, but again the cast—led by Petra Lang’s powerhouse presence as Kundry—overcomes those obstacles with reverent singing. Forceful orchestral playing comes from conductors Hartmut Haenchen (Bayreuth) and Iván Fischer (Netherlands); there’s impressive hi-def video and audio on both discs.
Stormy Monday (Arrow Academy)
Mike Figgis’ 1988 feature debut is a fairly standard and unexciting neo-noir thriller drenched in the director’s own jazz score. Unfortunately, his solid cast can do little amid the worn-down Newcastle locations, the setting for 90 minutes of small-time hood shenanigans. Sean Bean, Tommy Lee Jones and Sting snarl aggressively, while poor Melanie Griffith is simply out of her element. Roger Deakins’ photography looks particularly noteworthy in hi-def; extras are a Figgis commentary and video appreciation by critic Neil Young.
The Story of China with Michael Wood (PBS)
Historian Michael Wood—veteran of such classic British TV series as Art of the Western World and In Search of Shakespeare—embarks on a journey through the epic and convoluted history of China, packing much fascinating information and insight into six hours’ worth of the country’s sights, sounds, people and culture. Wood’s expertise, intelligence and compassion are on vivid display throughout this don’t-miss series, which could use more contextualizing in the extras: despite the magnificent hi-def images, there are only a handful of very short featurettes.
DVDs of the Week
The Country Doctor (Icarus)
In writer/director Thomas Lilti’s intimate character study, Francois Cluzet plays the veteran doctor who knows everyone in his little corner of the French countryside, but who initially overreacts when a newcomer arrives from the city, ostensibly to help him out with his workload. Cluzet and Marianne Denicourt (as adversary, rival and ally) connect emotionally, providing an authentically “real” relationship that never turns treacly—even when it easily could have. Lilti’s movie brims with small but not unimportant moments that display its characters in all their humanity.
Pretty Little Liars—Complete 7th Season (Warner Bros)
The final season of the popular series about the quintet of “liars”—Aria, Emily, Hanna, Spencer and Mona—comprises a breakneck progression of 20 episodes culminating with one of the most bizarre TV twists since “Who Shot J.R.”: a twin of one of the gals appears as the infamous D.A., improbably controlling what’s going on. Yet despite such silliness, the wrap-up is dramatically satisfying. Bonus features comprise several featurettes, wrap party “episode” and deleted scenes.