The new year’s first Digital Week roundup includes worthwhile Blu-ray releases like the new “Sopranos” prequel, “The Many Saints of Newark,” and the 1971 horror flick, “The Vampire Lovers,” as well as a couple of opera recordings made in that seemingly distant year of 2020.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
The Many Saints of Newark (Warner Bros)
Lambasted by reviewers and ignored by theater audiences—although it was by all accounts a streaming success on HBO Max—Alan Taylor’s “Sopranos” prequel chronicles the origins of Tony Soprano in a convoluted plot that tries too hard to be social commentary (it’s set partly during the 1967 riots in Newark) as well as a straightforward story of how Tony Soprano became Tony Soprano. It’s certainly arresting to look at—and excessively violent, of course—and well-acted by Alessandro Nivola, Ray Liotta, Vera Farmiga and Michela De Rossi, although Michael Gandolfini, who plays young Tony, is a bit stiff in the role his father made famous. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras comprise two featurettes and deleted scenes.
The Vampire Lovers (Shout/Scream Factory)
Based on the oft-adapted novel “Camilla” by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, this 1971 flick is in many ways the quintessential Hammer Horror film, with no less than Peter Cushing starring alongside Ingrid Pitt, who plays a lesbian vampire who seduces willing young women (played by Madeline Smith, Kate O’Mara and Pippa Steel). Director Roy Ward Baker conjures an eerie atmosphere in this fine, even distinguished “undead” entry. The film looks great on Blu-ray, while extras include three audio commentaries; audio essay on “Carmilla” read by Smith; Smith introduction and interview; interviews with film historians Kim Newman and Jonathan Rigby; featurette “Feminine Fantastique–Resurrecting ‘The Vampire Lovers’”; Pitt reads “Carmilla”; deleted opening segment; and featurette “New Blood: Hammer Enters The ’70s.”
These early 20th century operas were big hits after their premieres, but only one has remained in the repertory in the 100-plus years since. Italian Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Zaza” has pretty much disappeared, but as this beautifully sung 2020 Vienna production shows, it has enough romance, drama and memorable melodies to score; Svetlana Askenova is wonderful in the title role. Czech composer Antonin Dvorak’s greatest stage work, “Rusalka,” is adored for its lustrous music, especially the “Song of the Moon,” sung luminously by soprano Asmik Grigorian, who, along with a superb supporting cast and orchestra, nearly makes one forget the silly staging by director Christof Loy. Both operas have superior hi-def video and audio.
DVD Release of the Week
Dvořák’s Prophecy—A New Narrative for American Classical Music (Naxos)
This fascinating series of films by music scholar Joseph Horowitz uses Czech composer Antonin Dvořák (see above review of his opera “Rusalka”) as a jumping-off point for an exploration of several avenues of American music, beginning with Dvořák’s own wondrous Ninth Symphony, which was built on themes from various American musical strains. The other films delve into music as varied as iconoclast Charles Ives, film composer Bernard Herrmann, and mainstream master Aaron Copland. Alternating his own analysis with commentary from other eminent music figures like writer Alex Ross and Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conductor JoAnn Falletta, Horowitz’ series is often illuminating and always entertaining.