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Top Five Classical DVDs of 2011 (So Far)

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Before heading out to the beach or the country for some R&R this summer, we’re putting together a list of movies to watch just in case a rainy day or two keeps us indoors. Luckily, there are a number of new videos that have recently hit the market. Here are our top five DVD (and Blu-Ray) releases from 2011 that have us wishing for bad weather as an excuse to sit in front of the TV.

1. Rameau Operas (11-DVD Collection); Les Arts Florissants

Rather than choose just one DVD, we’re cheating a bit by selecting 11-DVD collection of William Christie’s period ensemble Les Arts Florissants performing Rameau Operas. The troupe, which was recently in Manhattan playing Rameau ballet music to packed houses, is captured in recordings of five baroque operas, as well as Rameau’s Grand Motet. It may take a rainy weekend to get through all the footage.

2. Keeping Score - Mahler: Origins And Legacy / Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony’s Keeping Score program has been a hit on PBS and local station KQED. For the latest DVD, Gustav Mahler: Origins and Legacy, Thomas traveled to Austria to explore how Mahler’s background influenced his music his music. A second DVD included in the set features Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and baritone Thomas Hampson.

3. Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould won raves at the Toronto International Film Festival for delving into the life and career of one of classical music’s most fascinating and enigmatic characters. Extensive interviews with Cornelia Foss, who left her husband, the composer Lukas Foss, to live with Gould, give the film an extremely intimate understanding of the pianist.

4. Jascha Heifetz: God's Fiddler

Less enigmatic than Gould but still fascinating, Jascha Heifetz is profiled in the new documentary, Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler. Though he became a household name through his virtuosic violin playing, director Peter Rosen looks at the sacrifices Heifetz made to pursue his career, using family footage and interviews from Itzhak Perlman and former students.

5. Madama Butterfly: Live in HD / Metropolitan Opera

The stunning Anthony Minghella production of Madame Butterfly for the Metropolitan Opera (as well as the English National Opera), brought the late film director’s eye for cinema to the stage. It’s finally on DVD with a starry cast of Patricia Racette, Maria Zifchak, Marcello Giordani
and Dwayne Croft. Disclaimer: make sure to have a box of tissues nearby when watching this tearjerker.

Photo credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera