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Paul L. McKaskle (Berkeley, California)

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Handel-Rinaldo [DVD] [2003]
Handel-Rinaldo [DVD] [2003]
Dvd ~ David Walker
Price: £29.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sensational production, 18 Nov 2011
This review is from: Handel-Rinaldo [DVD] [2003] (DVD)
I originally posted this review on the US Amazon site. The US reviewers of Rinaldo are decidedly mixed in their opinions but not nearly as negative as in the UK. This review is one of the top 3 in the US Amazon site with approximately 27 of 32 readers finding it helpful. I'm not a fan of Regietheater (of which this is an example) but this is one of the few productions which, I believe, benefits from such an approach. Here is my review:

Rinaldo is a warrior on a "crusade" to "liberate" Jerusalem. En route, Armida, the Saracen Queen of Damascus falls in love with him, and being a sorceress, she uses magic to capture him. Earlier, she had ensnared Rinaldo's beloved, Almerina, daughter of the General of the crusade. Eventually both are freed by some counter-magic and Rinaldo conquers Jerusalem, and, as a result, Armida is converted to Christianity. If you think it might be a story hard to stage, you are right. But, in Handel's time, the story didn't matter much, it was for the arias that the audience came-especially those sung by famous "castrati.". The opera abounds in this last commodity, with four castrati parts (usually sung by counter-tenors today), two soprano parts and a bass part. Its saving grace is some of the most ravishing music Handel ever wrote.

This performance is a throughly "camp" production-in modern dress, mostly. I am generally not a fan of updating operas (especially when the emphasis is changed to fit some political view which was not part of the original) let alone placing them in bizarre sets, but this is a rare exception. The story is almost impossible to stage "straight" and it has wonderful comedic possibilities which are developed here. The singing is superb as is the acting, especially by Noemi Nadelmann, the Armida, whose attempted seduction of Rinaldo is sensational though almost X rated!

In the dvd a full appreciation of what is going on is sometimes masked by an excessive amount of close-up camera work during arias. I had the advantage of seeing a revival of this production in Munich before watching (and buying) the dvd, and in the live performance the purpose of some of the "camp-iness" was clearer. I think the avant-garde staging of the second act where Rinaldo is entrapped by Armida's magic and she attempts to seduce him is especially imaginative and effective. However, the production's eccentricity is not all to the good-for example the giant "bobble-head"(commented on by another reviewer) made no sense whatsoever to me. But, all in all for me, even though I am a fairly strong traditionalist when it comes to opera, this was a worthy and mostly successful excursion into "experimental" theater. Add to it the fabulous singing by all seven members of the cast, it comes out to be a five star production. If you can't stand modernized productions of Handel operas ("modernized" Handel stagings are a fairly common occurrence these days) there are a couple of wonderful CDs of this glorious music-though usually with a mezzo-soprano singing the title role instead of the estimable David Daniels.

One final comment on the use of counter-tenors or mezzo-sopranos singing the role of a Handelian hero. Modern performances and recordings stick to the "original" intentions of Handel, but in the mid-20th century when Handel was revived, a bass or baritone often sang these parts-as can be heard in the Treigle-Sills CD of Julius Ceasar. While I enjoy the modern performances, I also think the transposed versions can work equally well.

Single-Handed [DVD]
Single-Handed [DVD]
Dvd ~ Owen McDonnell
Price: £14.02

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent series--but PAL version has no subtitles (but NTSC version does)., 23 Sep 2011
This review is from: Single-Handed [DVD] (DVD)
Overall an excellent series. The first episode is the best. It starts a little slowly but ends with a William Trevor-ish twist to it. I thought the second episode was the weakest, though the reason I bought the series is that episode 2 has Caroline Catz in it (as the local GP and live in girlfriend of the hero during the episode). However, her role was, for the most part, extraneous to the plot, especially since she was gone by the third episode (said to have gone back to England because of the nasty winters on the west coast of Ireland).

For those who need subtitles (as I do) the PAL version does not have them even though the NTSC version does. I am mystified as to why they are not included in the PAL version.

D'Albert: Tiefland [DVD] [1996]
D'Albert: Tiefland [DVD] [1996]
Dvd ~ László Polgár, Petra Maria Schnitzer / Chor und Orchester der Oper Zürich, Franz Welser-Möst Matthias Goerne
Price: £11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Terribly flawed but still moving, 14 July 2011
I give this DVD the same number of stars as the only other reviewer on, but for different reasons.

There have been five reviews on (including mine) and two reviewers quite correctly characterized this as a eurotrash production. The setting of the prologue is a complete travesty as is the setting for the last minute of the opera. The opera proper is set in a "flour mill" which has a patently absurd 21st century office look to it. The costumes and acting of the three officious servants who serve as sort of a chorus to move things along are simply silly. On top of that the story is also fairly silly--Sebastiano, an evil landowner has financial problems which he can solve by marrying a rich heiress. But he has a mistress, Marta, and to make sure gossip about her doesn't derail the marriage he has Pedro, a simple very naive shepherd from the high Pyrenees, marry her--intending all along to keep Marta as a mistress. Pedro doesn't know about the plan and Marta, initially, loathes Pedro. Even so she bends to the will of Sebastiano and marries Pedro anyway. The emotional consequences of the situation begin to be developed about half way through the first act and, despite the rather silly premise of the opera, some genuinely impressive emotions develop, aided by some gorgeous music. Pedro sings a very long and moving aria "Das Fest ist vorbei" at the close of the first act and Marta's feelings toward him begin shifting to love. This is developed further in the second act when Marta recounts to Tommaso (some sort of advisor to Sebastiano) her horrific upbringing and her eventual virtual enslavement by Sebastiano. Tommaso, as a result, tells the heiress of Sebastiano's perfidy, thus foiling that marriage. Eventually Pedro and Marta proclaim their love for one another. When Sebastiano tries to interfere (to take Marta back as his mistress) Pedro fights and kills him. Then Pedro and Marta flee from the flatlands (Tiefland) for the purity of the high meadows of the Pyrenees.

Matthias Goerne's portrayal of Sebastiano's brings out the essence of evilness. Peter Seifert and Petra Schnitzer--husband and wife in real life--as Pedro and Marta are simply splendid in their roles, both in their singing and their acting. Laszlo Polgar is excellent as Tommaso

Why four stars. It is extremely well sung and for the critical parts the characters come "alive" in that their motivations and feelings are movingly expressed. I almost turned it off after the prologue but kept watching because I have long loved the music. About half way throgh the first act I began to appreciate the emotions of Pedro and Marta (and also Sebastiano and Tommaso--and Eva Liebau in the small part of Nuri was very appealing). I would have been far, far happier if it had all taken place in a less bizarre set. But I am happy that even this flawed product does exist and only hope that someday a more conventional production--but sung and acted as well as this one--will make it onto a DVD.

I don't know what the odds are for that--it is produced with some frequency in Germany (and I saw it once there with a "proper" set). But it is rarely performed elsewhere so the market may not exist. It also has the freight of being a favorite of Hitler (though I'm not sure why--possibly because d'Albert's music is influenced by Wagner--but nothing in the plot would seem to appeal to the Nazi psyche). So, if one can ignore the absurd eurotrash scenery, I recommend this DVD. If the eurotrash is too much, there are several recordings of it on CDs.

Guilty [DVD] [1991] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Guilty [DVD] [1991] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Michael Kitchen
Offered by supermart_usa
Price: £15.43

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing that this superb DVD hasn't been released in Britain, 14 July 2011
Following is a review adapted from the one I wrote for "The Guilty" at Since there are no reviews on I decided to post this here. I am amazed that it didn't get a DVD version anywhere until very recently and then only in a Region 1 release in the US. (There appears to be a VHS version in Britain). Why there is so little interest in Britain is unfathomable to me.

Here is my review from Two actors who have become well known in the US (at least by watchers of British TV on PBS stations) are Michael Kitchen in Foyle's War and Caroline Catz in Doc Martin. Impressed by both, I looked to see what other movies each had made and discovered both were in this film, "The Guilty" a 201 minute mini-series shown on British TV almost 20 years ago. Kitchen was well established in Britain by then but, except for a small role as a receptionist in a single episode of a long running sitcom, it was Catz's first film-she was 22 years old.

The movie is simply terrific-gripping until the very end and though there are some spoilers in reviews and commentary on, very suspensful throughout. I can't remember when my wife and I were last so engrossed in a movie and I am amazed that it hasn't been a smash hit. (It did get some awards in Britain when it was shown there on TV back in 1992.) The acting throughout is excellent. Kitchen has the same mannerisms and low key acting that make him such a compelling Foyle-though of course he is playing a role which is almost the polar opposite in terms of character. Catz is equally accomplished, and one has a foretaste of her excellent acting as Louisa Glasson in Doc Martin. Her career after this movie and until Doc Martin consisted mainly of being a police officer in a series of detective serials, a few episodes of "The Bill" and "The Vice" and being the co-star police detective in a three season program "Murder in Suburbia" all well known in Britain but not familiar to most American audiences. I'm surprised that her performance in "The Guilty" didn't turn her into an international star overnight.

One [US] reviewer disliked it because Michael Kitchen's moral character was so different than in Foyle's War. Yes, it is, but to me it only shows what a versatile actor he is. I don't think that should be held against the movie. A couple of others have commented on the unusual number of coincidences necessary to drive the plot forward. I agree, and more than once I muttered that only if one of the characters had spoken up about what they knew, the situation might have turned out for the better. But, I don't think of this as a defect-it simply allowed the complexity of thoughts and motives of the leading characters to be fully developed.

I'd give "The Guilty" twenty stars if possible. It is a superb film.

Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier [DVD] [2007] [2008] [NTSC]
Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier [DVD] [2007] [2008] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Sabine Brohm
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £18.06

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well sung--but a disasterous 20th century setting, 15 Feb 2010
I agree with the Mr. Morrison, the only other reviewer to date, that the singing and the orchestra are excellent. Musically this is a five star performance. My problem is the wholesale transfer of the production into the 20th century. It was simply unsuccessful (necessarily so) in my opinion. I give it only one star for that and hence my "average" is three stars.

It is hard to pinpoint the precise period that the production is trying to evoke. Mr. Morrison suggests 1911 (the date of the first performance) but admits that the use of modern cameras in a couple of scenes suggests a later date. It clearly is set at a later date. My best guess is it is set no earlier than the 1950s. In addition to the 35mm cameras (invented in the mid-1930s, but surely the opera wasn't intended to be in the time of Hitler), the servant girls in the first act (including "Mirandel") are wearing black dresses with white aprons and hemlines at or above the knee-reminiscent of waitresses in tea shops in 1950s. Certainly Baron Ochs' servants dressed in lederhosen (looking like escapees from a yodeling school) would not have been imaginable in 1911.

The opera makes absolutely no sense set in the mid-20th century. After 1918 there was no Empress of Austria. Girls weren't banished to convents for disobeying their fathers (Faninal's threat to Sophie). Arranged marriages where neither the bride nor groom had ever seen each other no longer occurred (at least not in upper-class western society). The rigid hierarchy and perks of nobility had been severely degraded after World War I. Secret lovers of women of rank didn't show up for assignations in the 1950s carrying their swords. A Marschallin of the 1950s wouldn't go riding in the Prater in a horse drawn carriage let alone ask her lover to ride alongside on his horse. The concept of a "rosenkavalier" (if it ever existed) had certainly been abandoned in the post-World War II world. This is only a partial list of the incongruities attendant on setting the opera in near-modern times.

Aside from the severe mistake (in my view) of trying to update the time of the opera, I had problems with some other aspects of the production. Having Octavian disguise himself as Mirandel by wearing the aforementioned form-fitting knee-length waitress outfit made no sense. Did "he" shave his legs? "He" was in high heels and for the first few seconds "stumbled" in them but shortly thereafter "he" was walking around like he had worn them all "his" life! (In Act 3 "he" did wear a longer peasant outfit as Mirandel).

Act 3 I thought was the most problematic. It opened in almost complete darkness and one could not see very much at all of the preparations to trap Baron Ochs. Much of the stage was in the dark for most of the act with spotlighting on where only some of the action was. The entrance of the Marschallin (surely one of the most dramatic moments in all opera) was awkward--she came down a poorly lit stairway wearing a wide-brimmed hat which, part of the time, obscured her face and, but for the music, it could have been some stranger arriving in the room.

As noted at the outset the singing (and even the acting, within the limitations of the setting) was excellent. Anke Vondung--new to me--was wonderfully boyish looking, perhaps the most so of any Octavian I have seen (though his uniform was ridiculous-a left-over from some obscure operetta production?).

Dresden Semperoper recently produced an extraordinarily successful Ariadne auf Naxos set at the end of the 20th century. I gave it a five star review (at the U.S. Amazon site) in part because nothing central to the plot depends on the period in which it is set (also, in part, because Sophie Koch is the best "Composer" I've ever seen). But, Semperoper's effort to "update" Der Rosenkavalier (where, alas, Rosenkavalier was first performed) is not of the same quality.

A technical comment (and I didn't consider this in assigning the number of stars) I had to turn my TV volume to the max in order to enjoy the music--even then it was barely enough sound--I would have liked it louder. I don't know if it was my particular DVD or whether all of them have this defect. (With most DVDs, my TV is usually extremely loud even at half volume.)
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 28, 2011 6:21 AM BST

Eight Men in a Crate: The Ordeal of the Advance Party of the Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1955-1957
Eight Men in a Crate: The Ordeal of the Advance Party of the Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1955-1957
by Anthea Arnold
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.71

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing story, 20 Jan 2010
Rainer Goldsmith was the doctor for the advance team of the Hillary-Fuchs expedition in the 1950s to cross, for the first time, the entire Antarctic Continent--from the Weddell Sea to McMurdo Sound. Shortly after being dropped off by the supply ship with their supplies to winter over and prepare for the main expedition coming the next summer, a horrific storm carried away 90% of their supplies. There was no way to get replenishments until the following summer. They spent the rest of the Antarctic Winter in an overturned tractor crate--and with no way to wash clothes, they wore the same clothes for about nine months. While travelling with him on a subsequent Antarctic visit (fortunately much more civilized) he described his year in the "crate" (now recounted in this book) illustrated with many pictures. (Surprisingly, the worst times were the few days the temperature outside was a couple of degrees above freezing--the accumulated ice on the ceiling and walls of the "crate" began melting drenching them with near freezing water.)

It is an amazing account and well worth reading.

Beat The Devil [1953] [DVD]
Beat The Devil [1953] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Humphrey Bogart

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful parody of film-noir, 1 Sep 2009
This review is from: Beat The Devil [1953] [DVD] (DVD)
Beat the Devil has become somewhat of a cult film. It is a parody of the film-noir genre. Approached as a parody, its humor is marvellous (in my view, absloutely sensational) and the casting is stupendous. the four villians are wonderfully led by Robert Morley who is at his best. The villians are are appropriately oily and incompetent. Peter Lorre is wonderful as "O'Hara" allegedly from "Chile where O'Hara is a tip-top name." Ivor Bernard is the "galloping major" (a serial murderer in fact) who mourns the loss of Mussolini and Hitler. (It was his last role before his death.) Jennifer Jones steals the show as a woman who fantasizes about her status in the world though she is only the wife of a plodding Englishman. The drunken ship captain is played by the actor who many years later was in The Godfather as the Sicilian father. Even the car used by Bogart (which, alas, crashes into the ocean) is a worthy "character." In my book, an A+ movie--one of a handful worth multiple viewings.

Contrary to an earlier review, it wasn't filmed on the Adriatic--but on the Amalfi Coast--Amalfi itself and the countryside near Ravello; its script writer was Truman Capote; and there is no scene in Algiers. Despite what the earlier reviewer suggests, I don't think Capote and Huston intended anything but humour (and on this basis I think it succeeds marvellously).

The original movie was 100 minutes long. The version on (most, probably all) DVDs is an 89 minute reduction and according to a couple of reviewers on the original includes some very good scenes. (I first saw it when it was released in 1953--and have loved it ever since--but I cannot recall enough from 1953 to know what is missing. Bogart, who financed the film and lost money on it, later complained that the film wasn't very good--but likely because it wasn't profitable. He (or his heirs) let the copyright lapse. a mistake because in the long run it would likely have been profitable.

by Guido Beltramini
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review on the substance, 29 May 2009
This review is from: Palladio (Hardcover)
I think it is unfortunate when the review of a book (or any other item) goes solely to whether Amazon handled the order properly rather than to thw quality of the item. I sympathize with frustration over bad service (though I have never had anything but five star service from shipping to me in the U.S.--including this book) but it is unfair to those who look at the number of stars and then pass over the item because of a "low" ranking.

As to the substance, I think the book is a wonderful catalog summary of the Palladio show at the Royal Academy last Spring (which I was fortunate enough to have attended). Palladio was a towering figure in architecture and the show, and consequently the book, give the public a much better understanding of his life and work. Clearly five stars on the substance.

The Almanac of British Politics: 8th Edition
The Almanac of British Politics: 8th Edition
by Robert Waller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £56.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb analysis of electoral politics of the UK, 29 May 2009
One cannot wish for a more thorough review of electoral politics in the UK, with detailed analysis of every parliamentary constituency and every parliamentary candidate at the last election. An absolutely superb work.

Lewis - Series Three [DVD] [2009]
Lewis - Series Three [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Kevin Whately
Price: £16.42

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspectore Morse redux, 29 May 2009
Lewis is a pretty strong "continuation" of the Inspector Morse series of programs. The plots are a somewhat overly complicated (and somewhat improbable) but overall the writers have managed to keep the production near the level of the Morse programs. I think Foyle is an even better "successor" to the Morse genre (though obviously with no physical connection to Morse itself) but I am delighted with Lewis and I hope for further seasons.

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