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M. Joyce (Cairo, Egypt)

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King Lear [DVD]
King Lear [DVD]
Dvd ~ Laurence Olivier
Price: 6.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable, 17 May 2013
This review is from: King Lear [DVD] (DVD)
I remember watching this when it was first shown on TV (on ITV, of all channels!) 30 years ago; at the time, I considered it to be a well nigh definitive version of what is, perhaps, my favourite Shakespeare play. Even then, however, I had some reservations about Laurence Olivier in the title role; he may have been "England's greatest living actor" at the time, but I hadn't always "got" him, finding him at times...dare I say it...a bit "hammy".

Watching it again all these years later, I have to say that I can happily cast most of my reservations aside, even if I find him a little frail (he was well into his seventies at the time) in the early scenes. He rises magnificently to the demands of the storm scenes and is almost unbearably moving in the final act (I have never seen a Lear quite so effective as Olivier is here).

The other players are very fine indeed. Dorothy Tutin and Diana Rigg are splendidly venal as Goneril and Regan, while Anna Calder-Marshall does well as Cordelia. David Threlfall and Robert Lindsay, caught early in their careers, are superb as Edgar and Edmund, while John Hurt makes one regret the Fool's departure from the action more than usual. Colin Blakely is as good a Kent as any I have seen, while Leo McKern is quite wonderful as Gloucester, by turns comic and tragic; this is a gift of a part and always seems to bring out the best of the actor playing it (the two finest exponents of the role I have ever seen...Michael Bryant and David Ross...both outshone their Lears, Anthony Hopkins and Tom Courtenay respectively!). Even the smaller parts are cast from strength; Robert Lang (great voice!) and Jeremy Kemp as Albany and Cornwall, Edward Petherbridge and Brian Cox as France and Burgundy, Geoffrey Bateman as a nasty, rather camp Oswald.

The play is well directed by Michael Elliott and although the Stonehenge-like sets are obviously studio-based, they are effective enough, as is the use of music throughout.

This is a very fine "Lear" and the performance of the 76 year old Olivier in the title role is quite astonishing.

Le Nozze Di Figaro
Le Nozze Di Figaro
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: 14.95

5.0 out of 5 stars A "live" Figaro, 4 May 2013
This review is from: Le Nozze Di Figaro (Audio CD)
I've got quite a few complete versions of "Le Nozze di Figaro" and a similar number of highlights discs, but I was nevertheless attracted to this bargain-priced highlights package, even though I was unfamiliar with the record label and it was a live recording (from the Holland Festival) from more than 50 years ago.

There were several reasons why I was tempted to buy this recording. Firstly, I am great fan of Carlo Maria Giulini, a conductor who, for me at any rate, rarely puts a foot (or should I say "baton"?) wrong. My other reason was the outstanding cast; Giuseppe Taddei, a bitingly comic and sarcastic Figaro and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, a peerless Countess, both appeared on Giulini's excellent studio recording of the work and they are both on top form here, as is Graziella Sciutti as good it is to have two Italians enunciating their native tongue with relish in the pivotal roles of Figaro and Susanna! I associate Hermann Prey with the role of Figaro, but here he is promoted "upstairs" and his performance of the Count's aria quite rightly brings the house down. Stefania Malagu, who I think of as a comprimario singer, is a fine, forthright Cherubino and all of the supporting singers make their mark too.

What sets this highlights disc apart from many of its rivals is the inclusion not only of the great Act III sextet, but also of some snatches of recitative and substantial excerpts from the Act II and III finales.

Considering that this is a "live" recording, the sound is fine and stage noises generally unobtrusive. This is a disc worth seeking out.

Schubert - Lieder fr Bass
Schubert - Lieder fr Bass
Price: 15.05

5.0 out of 5 stars Schubert songs for bass, 26 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Kurt Moll is probably my favourite bass of all time. Has there ever been a bass voice of such velvety richness and so even throughout its range? Has there ever been a major singer able to plumb the basso profundo depths with such consistency and sonority? Moll enjoyed a lengthy career and it is my great regret that I never got to see him "live".

He was, of course, chiefly famous for his performances on the operatic stage in such roles as Ochs, Osmin and the great Wagnerian bass parts, but he was also a noted oratorio and Lieder singer and it is this latter art that is explored on this excellent recital of Schubert's songs for the bass voice.
The recording was made in Hamburg in 1982, when Moll was at his considerable vocal best. The attentive accompanist is the excellent Cord Garben.

The bass voice is, of course, especially suited to weighty matters, melancholia and resignation (just listen to how Moll plumbs down to a sonorous bottom D at the end of "Der Tod und das Mädchen"!), but Moll is wonderfully adept at lightening his capacious instrument in some of the more playful numbers.

I love Kurt Moll's voice and it is all too easy just to wallow in its beauty and marvel at its splendour and at times I felt that there was a slight lack of imagination and interpretive nuance in some of the songs; rather this, however, than the hectoring over-emphasis of some Lieder singers!

This is a wonderful recital by a great singer; a shame, therefore, that there are no sleeve notes, just song texts and translations. Try to search out Moll's recording of Brahms' songs.

Madame Bovary [1991] [DVD] [1993]
Madame Bovary [1991] [DVD] [1993]
Dvd ~ Isabelle Huppert

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best so far, 24 April 2013
Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" is one of the great novels of world literature and although there have been a number of film and television versions, none have quite resolved the thorny problem of the narrative voice. In the novel, Flaubert does not comment directly on his heroine's adultery, but his ironic detachment is crucial to the style of the work.

In this 1991 film version, directed by the great Claude Chabrol, there is actually a "voiceover" and this is most effective in its ironic presentation of the action.

The film is sumptuous in its depiction of French country life, but it never sacrifices realism for romanticism. It is a long film (over two hours), but it never has its longueurs. Isabelle Huppert is somehow not quite my idea of Emma Bovary, but she is, of course, a magnificent actress and the supporting actors are all superb.

This is as good a film version of "Madame Bovary" as you are likely to find.

Rossini: Italian Girl
Rossini: Italian Girl
Price: 9.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rossini in English, 9 April 2013
This review is from: Rossini: Italian Girl (Audio CD)
As well as their complete operas in English, Chandos produced a handful of highlights packages and this recording of Rossini's "The Italian Girl in Algiers" is one of their most successful. Splendidly conducted by Brad Cohen, it boasts an excellent cast, headed by Jennifer Larmore in the title role; she copes magnificently with Rossini's coloratura, as does Alastair Miles in the comic bass role of good it is to hear the part really sung and not merely blustered by some wheezy old buffo! Barry Banks' Lindoro may not be to everyone's taste (the sound is a bit wiry), but it is to mine and his singing is certainly very accomplished; his diction, like that of the rest of the cast, is excellent. That splendidly versatile singer, Alan Opie, is a superb Taddeo, while Sarah Tynan, David Soar and Anne Marie Gibbons do well in supporting roles.

Italian opera sung in English always sounds to me a bit like G&S, but there is nothing wrong with David Parry's translation and, as I say, the singers enunciate it impeccably.

The recording is excellent and, as ever with Chandos, the presentation and sleeve notes are faultless.

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin
Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin
Price: 6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent highlights disc, 9 April 2013
The lack of libretto and minimal sleeve notes notwithstanding, this is an excellent highlights package, featuring all the "big numbers". James Levine, for once not at the helm of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, coaxes lovely sounds from the Staatskapelle Dresden and the names of the singers in the leading roles (Freni, Allen, Shicoff, von Otter, Burchuladze) speak for themselves. The supporting cast is a bit ordinary, but this is not too important in a disc of highlights. The recording, made in 1988, is excellent.

Mozart: Cos fan tutte
Mozart: Cos fan tutte
Offered by FlorenciumBear
Price: 24.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Cosi on early instruments, 9 April 2013
This review is from: Mozart: Cos fan tutte (Audio CD)
There are two things that need to be said about this "Cosi fan Tutte"; firstly, that it was recorded live (in Birmingham's Symphony Hall in 1995) and secondly, that the orchestra involved, the estimable Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, is primarily an early music ensemble, playing original instruments. The orchestra plays splendidly under the baton of Simon Rattle and their sound is, to my ears at any rate, anything but scrawny, while the recording has all the advantages of being caught "live" and none of the drawbacks.

This is especially true of the wonderfully vivid, witty and communicative performances of Thomas Allen and Ann Murray as Don Alfonso and Despina; her high mezzo makes an interesting change from the chirpy soubrette soprano usually heard in the role. Fiordiligi and Dorabella are for once both taken by sopranos; while Hillevi Martinpelto offers no special insights in the former role (but sings well enough, of course), Alison Hagley's bright soprano makes Dorabella seem appropriately youthful, especially after hearing so many fruity mezzos essaying the role. The male lovers are sung by Kurt Streit and Gerald Finley, both appropriately youthful vocally and suitably headstrong histrionically.

The recording is complete, with alternative arias given as an appendix.

This is not my favourite "Cosi", but make no mistake; it is a very fine version indeed.

Handel: Solomon - Love in Bath
Handel: Solomon - Love in Bath
Price: 9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beecham's Handel, 28 Mar 2013
Thomas Beecham was undoubtedly a great conductor, but sometimes his recordings are for me something of a "guilty pleasure", as his adaptations, especially of Handel, are wonderfully overblown and fly in the face of what we today consider to be "authentic" early music performing tradition. His 50s recording of "Messiah" is really something else and I urge you to sample it and although this 1955 recording of the oratorio "Solomon" could hardly be described as "authentic", to quote Lindsay Kemp's excellent sleeve-notes, it nevertheless has the "unquestionable ring of Handelian truth" and Beecham's love for the music is evident throughout the recording.

Not only did Beecham edit, revise and reorchestrate the work, he reassigned the title role to a baritone, John Cameron, one of my favourite singers, perhaps because there were so few counter-tenors at that time. Cameron's impeccable diction and nutty brown timbre give constant pleasure, as does the singing of the other three soloists, the sopranos Elsie Morison and Lois Marshall and the outstanding tenor Alexander Young. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Beecham Choral Society play and sing superbly, even if the recording is just a little bit fuzzy.
Beecham's cuts are really quite grievous (the work is shortened from three acts to two) and he reorders musical sequences; the dispute between the two harlots is cut, for example, but some of the choruses are retained. Such cuts would be unthinkable today and have the effect of making the work more civic than religious, but, as I say, Beecham somehow remains true to the spirit of the work.

A substantial "filler" is the orchestral suite (with a late, brief interlude for soprano) "Love in Bath". This was compiled in 1945 from pieces from Handel's works (some very familiar, others less so) for a now forgotten ballet and is absolutely charming.

This cannot be anyone's first choice as a recording of "Solomon", but it is jolly good, nevertheless...

No Title Available

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent value, 28 Mar 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
My wife preferred this to the earlier purchase we made from this company. The black truffle oil did not have such a strong smell, but had a nice, clean taste. She really liked the smell of the white oil and found its taste subtle and nice and peppery. Once again, it was very competitively priced and both delivery and packaging were exemplary.

Offenbach: Vert-Vert
Offenbach: Vert-Vert
Price: 23.10

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Offenbach rarity, 23 Mar 2013
This review is from: Offenbach: Vert-Vert (Audio CD)
Having loved Gilbert and Sullivan since my introduction to the Savoy Operas when I was a schoolboy, I've recently become devoted to the operettas of Jacques Offenbach. He was much more prolific than Sullivan, but from what I have heard, even his "lesser" (or less well known) works, have tremendous appeal and, from a purely musical point of view at any rate, are absolutely superb.

"Vert-Vert" is one of these lesser known works, but this recording, made in 2008, contains a series of charming vocal numbers, including some especially interesting ensembles.
The operetta was first performed in 1869, at a time when the composer was well established as the master of opera-bouffe. It was inspired by a famous poem written in 1734 by one Jean-Baptiste-Louis Gresset, concerning a parrot (!) who, having been brought up in a convent, goes badly off the rails before being weaned back to the paths of righteousness.

Although the titular parrot passes away before the start of Offenbach's work, it is his replacement in the hearts and minds of the young ladies of the educational establishment in which the operetta is set who takes on his name and who represents the theme of sheltered innocence.

In this recording, the role is taken by the tenor Toby Spence and very fine he is too. Indeed, all the cast do well; Jennifer Larmore offers a star cameo as the diva La Corilla, while Mark Le Brocq is an amusing Binet. The spoken dialogue is dispatched with style and relish, although just occasionally the native French speakers rather show up the non-francophone members of the cast.

David Parry conducts lovingly and, as ever with Opera Rara recordings, the accompanying booklet is as lavish as it is informative.

This is a recording (and a work) well worth discovering.

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