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Reviews » HD DVD Reviews » Swan Lake (HD DVD)
Swan Lake (HD DVD)
Opus Arte // Unrated // May 29, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $45.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 12, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Swan Lake is among the most enduring and instantly recognizable ballets to have ever been produced, and in much the same way as Shakespeare has continually been reinterpreted and reimagined over the centuries, so too has this ballet been resculpted and reshaped time and again. This HD DVD from Opus Arte captures a performance by the Paris Opera Ballet, choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev some fifty years after he himself first danced in the role of Prince Siegfried.

Plagued by the inescapable pressure to be wed, Prince Siegfried (José Martinez) dreams of a beautiful woman who's carried off into the night by a monstrous creature. This image continues to linger in his mind even as he prepares for his birthday celebration and goes for a stroll along the shores of a nearby lake. It's there that Siegfried encounters Odette (Agnès Letestu), the entrancingly beautiful creature from his dreams. Odette has been cursed into the form of a swan by the sorcerous Rothbart (Karl Paquette). A pledge of eternal love can break the spell, a key Rothbart seeks to exploit by transforming his daughter into a doppelganger of Odette at the prince's birthday ball.

This is a dazzling interpretation of Swan Lake. The familiar premise has been resculpted, and Nureyev's minimalist vision emphasizes the tragedy and ethereal beauty of this ballet rather than the sweeping grandeur of other productions. Its sets and costumes are spare but beautifully crafted, and the dancers' artistry and technical skill -- their speed, precision, physical expressiveness, and effortless grace -- are immediately arresting. The same can be said for this high definition presentation of a 2005 performance of the ballet at Paris' Opéra Bastille. Originally released in mid-2007, Swan Lake marked the first classical release on either high definition format, and this HD DVD includes a somewhat flawed but frequently gorgeous visual presentation, 24-bit audio, and a detailed set of liner notes further exploring Nureyev's take on one of the most enduring works of ballet.

Video: I'm curious how this performance of Swan Lake had originally been photographed. Encoded in VC-1, the 1.78:1 high definition image is often striking, but it suffers from some eccentricities I'm not used to seeing on either of these next-generation formats. I'm assuming Swan Lake was shot at 25fps, and the flaws I'm seeing are a result of converting this production to one of the more traditional frame rates used on these shores. Light ghosting is often visible when the dancers are in motion, and particularly jarring pans and abrupt movements sometimes result in a heavily aliased blur.

While this is rarely overly distracting, it comes as a disappointment because the high-definition image is otherwise so remarkable. The photography is frequently dazzling, immediately capturing my attention with that first glimpse of Odette bathed in blue. The image boasts a strong sense of depth and dimensionality, occasionally even approaching that rare feeling that I'm peering through a window rather than staring at several thousand dollars of glass and wires. The presence of fine detail wavers in the most distant shots, but clarity is generally impressive and is particularly outstanding when the camera closes in on the performers.

The only other flaw I was able to spot is that there is a persistent veil of video noise throughout, and while the VC-1 compression is generally adept at accomodating it, the darker backgrounds can sometimes take on an overly blocky appearance.

Audio: Swan Lake features a pair of 24-bit, 48 kHz DTS soundtracks -- one in stereo and the other in 5.0. I was impressed with the audio, which is, of course, anchored around Tchaikovsky's instantly recognizable compositions roaring from every speaker. The orchestral music is rendered flawlessly, boasting crystalline highs and a robust low-end, despite the lack of a dedicated LFE channel. Applause from the audience is also immersive and convincingly spread across the soundscape. The recording is so clear and detailed that even the movements of the dancers' feet brushing against the stage are faintly audible.

Subtitle streams are offered in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian.

Extras: Swan Lake includes a gallery with three high-resolution shots of the cast as well as a synopsis of the ballet. The narration in this summary is provided over a series of high-res photos, running four minutes in total and encoded in VC-1. An extensive and handsomely designed set of liner notes -- provided in English, French, and German -- is tucked inside the traditional red keepcase.

Other Quality Control Concerns: My first-generation HD DVD player locked up around 67 minutes into the production, and after ejecting Swan Lake and restarting my player a couple of times, all of the audio had entirely disappeared. I had to physically unplug and reconnect the power cord for the soundtrack to return again. I would've shrugged this off as a problem specific to my player, which has been unreliable for quite some time now, but I've seen similar comments on other forums. The opening menu takes an unusually long time to appear as well, lagging behind almost a full minute after the Opus Arte logo first displays.

Conclusion: This HD DVD documents a marvelous production of Swan Lake, but the flaws in its high definition presentation and other quality concerns make this disc difficult to recommend, especially at its daunting list price of $45.98. Rent It.
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