David Pountney and Quinny Sacks' production of Henry Purcell's The Fairy Queen caused something of a sensation when it hit the ENO stage in 1995. It has the feel of a decadent 17th-century masque re-invented with late-20th-century energy: half the principals and chorus are in cross-dressing costumes, female characters are played by men (leading to some rather wonderful polymorphous perversity), and everything has an air of mad, hallucinogenic hipness about it. While Robert Israel's wild sets don't appear to their full advantage on the small screen, Dunya Ramicova's costumes look fantastic (the details are simply stunning). The very fine singing is recorded with excellent clarity: while this is obviously a live performance, there are remarkably few moments that go out of microphone range, and the balance with the orchestra is handled very sensitively. The ENO band, under the baton of Nicholas Kok, respond to Purcell's wiry lines and spiky harmonies with glee, and sound like they're having a ball, as do the singers. In particular Jonathan Best as The Drunken Poet is hilarious, and it is a wonderful testament to his acting skills that he is as funny close-up as he was from the auditorium stalls.--Warwick Thompson
A Box Set featuring 3 fabulous Comedy films from the Golden Age of British Cinema
Handel's 1724 opera Tamerlano followed the success of his previous year's Giulio Cesare with another colourful historical costume drama. This time the setting is the court of "Timur the Tartar", who has just defeated the Turkish Sultan Bajazet at the battle of Angora. There are, naturally enough, romantic complications when both Tamerlano and his ally, the Greek Prince Andronico, fall in love with Bajazet's daughter Asteria. She, however, has plans to revenge her father's defeat. This production was directed by Jonathan Miller and staged in the intimate surroundings of the Goethe Theatre of Bad Lauchstadt as part of the 2001 Halle Handel Festival. Miller's sparse gold-draped sets, as well as the video direction, always lead the eye towards the singers and their splendidly decorative costumes. Mezzo Monica Bacelli looks a little too pretty beneath her moustache to be convincingly threatening as Tamerlano; soprano Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz is a full-blooded, perhaps overripe Asteria; and Thomas Randle tackles the very demanding tenor role of Bajazet. None of the voices are necessarily "authentic", but thanks to the musical direction of Trevor Pinnock--an experienced and sensitive Handelian--the performance always feels completely natural. In the pit Pinnock's English Concert are, as always, a delight. Anyone who has not yet discovered the sometimes arcane delights of Baroque opera will find much to encourage them here; seasoned opera seria buffs should not hesitate. On the DVD: Tamerlano comes handsomely packaged in a two-disc set with a colourful and informative booklet. The extra features put most other ArtHaus releases to shame. To begin with the "Score Plus" facility, which superimposes the score over the picture, will provide hours of joy (all DVD operas should have this as standard). There are subtitles in English, German, French or Spanish. There's a lengthy (40-minute) "Making of" documentary, which takes us behind the scenes with Jonathan Miller, Trevor Pinnock and their team at Sadler's Wells then in Halle. More material about the Handel Festival can be found in the "Interviews" section, the selection of "Historical Film Footage" from previous Festivals, and the illustrated "Interactive Chronolgy". The 16:9 picture is perfectly adequate, and the sound options are good PCM Stereo and Dolby 5.1. --Mark Walker
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