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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – ballet (1826)
Pacific Northwest Ballet
Choreography: George Balanchine
Directors: Kent Stowell and Francia Russell
BBC Concert Orchestra/Stewart Kershaw 
rec. Sadlers Wells Theatre, February 1999
Format: All Formats; High Definition
Sound: Dolby Surround/LPCM stereo
Regions: All Regions
Picture Format: 1080i
Only playable using a Blu-ray player
OPUS ARTE OABD7003D [94:00]
Experience Classicsonline

This production from Opus Arte demands attention and if you are interested in the Blu-ray medium I counsel you to rush out to buy this disc forthwith before it sells out.
 
I first saw this extraordinary production some eight years ago and was both excited and impressed. As a BBC DVD, an extract from it was released as a freebie advertising the first BBC DVD series.
 
Pacific Northwest Ballet is one of the largest ballet companies in the United States and was founded in 1972. Under the direction of Peter Boal the PNB and the PNB School has more than 950 students. It is an internationally recognised academy producing some of the finest young dancers of today.  No! The Pacific Northwest Ballet is not the most important ballet company in the world and this is not the definitive production of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. There’s additional music padding out the original one act turning it into two. However, the magic, the spectacular and genius of Balanchine’s choreography explodes onto the stage with a blazing palette. For the first time - especially authorised by the Balanchine Trust - sensational new scenery and costumes designed by Martin Pakledinaz result in a spellbinding tapestry of vivid colour sprawling across the television screen. There’s virtuosic dancing and acting from their (then) star performer, the show stealing Seth Belliston as the seductive and alluring Puck. The prima ballerina (just retired) Patricia Barker as the enchanted and enchanting Queen of the Fairies (Tatiana) captures the stage in her then famous ‘pas de deux’.
 
The surprise however, was to see this production once again just a few nights ago on a 48” Sony Bravia LCD with 1080 pixels from the new fabulous Blu-ray BBC/Opus Arte production. This production has been reviewed many times previously and does not need me, an aging classical music producer, to critique a medium in which I am not experienced. But I can talk about the sheer impact of the visuals and of the sound.
 
Many years ago I was asked to desist from making some of the earliest digital audio productions for EMI. I disobeyed, only to see my very early digital productions selling as fast as we could make them. I was instructed that the digital medium was doomed to fail! The public as we now know thought differently! Now today, we have a new and remarkable technological advance alongside which conventional television simply pales: HD television.  Anyone who has seen HD cannot deny the sheer quality - being a quantum leap forward.
 
I have always been saddened by those who put down the SACD medium. I wonder if they have actually heard it? Properly recorded and authored the difference is extraordinary and Blu-ray is yet another massive improvement in visual and aural terms. (For technical information see below – it is interesting.)
 
As a producer I have worked in High Resolution audio for over 15 years and record everything today in 5.1 - 88.2 kHz. My interest therefore in this Blu-ray release was significant and I wrote to Len Mullenger asking to be allowed to review the production. I was not to be disappointed. For anyone that wants to experience a demonstration quality production with electrifying sound and visuals that simply astonish, I cannot recommend this Blu-ray disc from Opus Arte highly enough. However, it is important to emphasise a critical issue. To appreciate this astonishing medium, one must have quality supporting equipment. No single item in the chain can be sub-standard. We used the Sony STR DA5200ES to drive the B & W 802s, KEF 105s – and a Panasonic DMPBD10A Blu-ray player with a 48” Bravia LCD.
 
There is but one – small - negative which I feel bound to comment upon. During the final credits suddenly we lose all sound … it does not affect the performance but it does have you running to see what has happened to the sound. It’s a  minor gripe and Opus Arte have confirmed that the BBC mastered the original master tape - that is that and all there is to it. Professionally unforgivable but there we are!
 
Blu-ray players are available for considerably less than £200! It is a winning standard and it is here to stay. Get one and go and buy this disc! It is fabulous!
 
Jonathan Wearn 
 
Note
If you wish to know more about Blu-ray and how it differs from the DVD format, I can recommend the FAQ section of the Blu-Ray.com site.
 


 



 


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