Live concerts featuring Ennio Morricone conducting his film music have been happening in Europe for several years now, with recent concerts in Seville, Spain (1988); Santa Cecilia, in Rome, Italy (2000); at London's Barbican Center (2001); Verona, Italy (2002); again in Verona, Italy (2004), in memory of the victims of 9/11; and in Munich, Germany (2004), as a straight concert.
For each event, the composer used a mix of suites and themes - themselves arranged to suit the concert length and orchestra/chorus makeup - and a few have managed to find further life on CD, and DVD.
Morricone's 2004 Munich concert - Morricone conducts Morricone [MCM] - exists exclusively on a Region 0 NTSC DVD, while the Seville, Santa Cecilia, and 2004 Verona memorial concert exist exclusively on CD.
Arena Concerto differs from the others in that it received DVD and CD releases with some alternate material: the DVD covers the full Verona concert, while the CD actually includes a mix of material from Verona, Naples, Rome, and Seville concerts.
Like MCM, the 2002 Arena video was directed by Giovanni Morricone, the composer's son, but differs in two main aspects: 1) the recording is a true Dolby and DTS 5.1 mix, with discreet placement of key orchestra and chorus sections; 2) because of the vast and jam-packed outdoor arena, the size and scope of the venue is complimented with a more colourful use of editing and intricate dissolve montages during musical performances. It's a different stylistic approach which sometimes goes a bit overboard with layered dissolves - such as multiple piano keys during Gilda Butta's performances - which heavily diminish an intimate relationship between the musician, the music, and appreciative & intrigued viewers.
The lighting of the venue has harsher contrasts (with Butta sporting sunglasses to diminish the potent glare from surrounding lights), and lacks the more soothing tones in the MCM video. The audience size, coupled with the impressive stage placed 2/3's into the arena's central oval does blow the mind, and hammers home the supreme adulation and respect Morricone enjoys in Italy, boosted by applause during short pauses.
Giovanni Morricone also recognized that Arena marked the first time one of his father's concerts would be captured in full for a commercial home video release, and the DVD's structure offers an excellent transition between the short segments of the concert's two halves. Key performers such as vocalists Susanna Rigacci and Dulce Pontes (who collaborated with Morricone on the 2003 album, Focus) & other key soloists are also seen arriving and taking their bows, while the intermission has short behind-the-scenes clips, with Morricone waving to the camera.
The performances are top-notch, and the 5.1 mix will definitely give your surround sound system a good workout, as music from Morricone's past and modern classics are performed by an extraordinary group of musicians. (For a more detailed theme & suite breakdown, and comparison between the Euphonia DVD and the Italian WEA CD, readers should check out the CD review link, near the bottom of this page.)
Morricone's premiere concert DVD also gives reason to add some important extras for fans, like the short documentary, "Microsolco" ("Microgrooves"), which contains rare archival stills and film footage of Morricone at work, plus chunks of the composer talking more aesthetically about his craft, his no-nonsense relationship with directors, and his philosophy on "applied music" (music written for films, with more strictly defined requirements and structure), and "absolute music" (basically concert work created through the unbridled freedom of composer, paper, and pen).
Morricone's appeared in a number of DVD featurettes - notably in a series of releases from Anchor Bay and Blue Underground - but in those cases, the questions were specific, and required tight responses with minimal philosophizing.
The language barrier between English DVD producers, magazines, and Italian composers have often reduced Morricone's comments to sometimes short exchanges, and it's clear from the Arena doc that Morricone enjoys discussing his craft; the DVD offers English, German, Spanish, and French subtitles for the Italian language doc, but viewers should note the DVD's main menus, text credits and Morricone Bio are only in English. (The actual concert requires no language subtitles, but there are no onscreen titles for the performed music - a feature present on the MCM DVD - so viewers may want to keep the Arena booklet handy, in order to follow the concert's carefully interwoven themes.)
The doc's final quarter also has Ennio the father paying tribute to son Andrea, who chose to become a composer in spite of his father's mighty shadow; Morricone's restrained but evidenced pride is intercut with stills and rare performance footage from Andrea's graduation composition.
Another excellent bonus is a 27-minute performance short called "Sala Prove," featuring seven intimate, beautifully performed theme interpretations similar to material in the massive Italian 4-CD set, Io, Ennio Morricone (which, in addition to film themes, contains rare solo, chamber, and symphonic works).
After the first two pieces in this mini-concert, pianist Gilda Butta and a flutist are joined by a cellist; the flutist then leaves after the third piece, leaving the amazing Butta to perform three gentle solo works (with the sixth tweaked to black & white). Visually, the style is multiple dissolves and Steadycam shots, but it's all tasteful rendered to evoke a soothing visual and aural experience.
Like the doc and concert video, there's no formal end credits, although the Verona concert's full credits scroll up in a separately indexed menu. (A timed scroll is also used for a lengthy Morricone biography/timeline, which ends with a fat list of international awards for one of Italy 's best-known, musical ambassadors.)
An excellent companion to the Morricone conducts Morricone [MCM] DVD, North American NTSC viewers should take note, however, that Arena Concerto is a Region 0 DVD PAL release - so you'll need a PAL-compatible or multi-region player to enjoy this gem. (NTSC viewers still have a bit of luck in that they can also see bonus material on the North American and Japanese CD/DVD flipper discs of the 2004 studio album, Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone.)
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan