Classical Revolution Operas, Symphonies Join Rush to DVD
Gowen, Bill, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Bill Gowen Daily Herald Classical Music Critic
The latest home entertainment revolution has arrived, and devotees of classical music have an opportunity to join the parade.
That revolution is the DVD, which is in the process of pushing the venerable videocassette into also-ran status.
As Daily Herald home video columnist Jeff Tuckman notes, "The DVD is the fastest-growing home entertainment format in history."
Tuckman backs that up with an amazing number: In slightly more than 5 1/2 years, the DVD format has grown from virtually nothing to more than 50 million DVD players now in American homes.
"That's an amazing figure, it really is," Tuckman said. "And I think it really caught the home entertainment industry by surprise."
And now, the world of opera and the symphony orchestra is hoping to join the rush to DVD.
Hundreds of classical music and opera performances are on DVDs available in stores and on the Internet. The new format's ability to include "extras" such as documentaries, interviews and subtitles in various languages, along with the emergence of relatively inexpensive home surround-sound systems, could give a huge boost to the popularity of classical music.
"I see it as a natural progression, but I think we're going to have to wait and see what the market really is," said Henry Fogel, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who also reviews recordings for the classical music magazine Fanfare. "The DVD medium has potential, if it is done properly. We're just going to have to wait and see."
Fogel is a longtime record collector, dating back to the 1960s when he was the manager and program director of classical music radio station WONO-FM in Syracuse, N.Y. He has seen peaks and valleys in the classical music recording industry over the years. Right now, because of the sluggish economy and the high costs of making audio recordings in the United States, the record industry could use a shot in the arm. Will the DVD provide it?
"I'm usually more ahead of the curve and it took me awhile in this case, but I finally bought a DVD player, and I told Fanfare that I can now review DVDs," Fogel said. "The first one they sent me was a recent concert with (bass-baritone) Bryn Terfel, recorded at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam under conductor Edo de Waart. In addition to the performance itself, there is a lot of interesting side material - you can play the concert straight through, or go to each individual piece and select portions of an interview with Terfel commenting on that particular music.
"He's a magnetic enough personality, that even though the program was just one singer and an orchestra, it worked well as a video," Fogel said.
It is the "extras" that really have made the DVD a hot ticket with movie buffs. Directors' commentaries, "making of the film" documentaries and interviews with actors are common.
The other thing DVD offers is its adaptability to the emerging home-theater phenomenon. A movie can be an overwhelming experience when viewed on a 55-inch widescreen TV, equipped with a surround- sound system.
A so-called "home theater in a box" can be purchased for under $400. The package includes (depending on price), a main center speaker, surround speakers, a subwoofer to boost the bass sound, along with a receiver and DVD player.
Of course, custom-installed home theater systems can cost $10,000 and up, but the compact "in a box" systems are an excellent place to start.
Many opera and orchestral DVDs now available are reissues of programs previously available on VHS tape.
"My guess, although I can't speak to each individual contract, is that a company can reissue a concert or opera in a new format without any additional payment to anybody, which makes it an inexpensive reissue," Fogel said. "They're not paying the orchestras again, they're not paying the artists again. …