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H. A. Weedon "Mouser" (North Somercotes, Lincolnshire, UK)
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Donizetti: Anna Bolena [Blu-ray] [2011] [Region Free]
Donizetti: Anna Bolena [Blu-ray] [2011] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Anna Netrebko
Price: £15.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstandingly Great Performance., 11 May 2014
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Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I, fell out of favour with Henry because she was failing to provide him with a male heir. Having given birth to a girl, she was then plagued with a series of miscarriages. Having taken a fancy to Jane Seymour, Anne's lady in waiting, Henry contrived to rid himself of Anne so that he could wed Jane, who eventually gave birth to a son who grew into the sickly Prince Edward who became king at the age of nine in 1547 only to die six years later at the age of 15. His sister Mary, daughter of Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, then became Queen (1553-1558). On her death, her younger sister Elisabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn, became queen for the next 45 years. From his opera it would seem that Donizetti was very sympathetic towards Anne Boleyn, portraying her as strong and brave in the role of the wronged woman. It was her child and not the child of either Jane Seymour or Catherine of Aragon who would be numbered among the greatest of the great, a fact that is clearly emphasised at the end of the opera when the child Elizabeth walks on stage.

It almost seems as if Donizetti was trying to emphasise that Elizabeth's greatness was due more to having inherited the courage and determination of her mother than from anything she may have inherited from her father. Be that as it may, the opera is composed in such a fashion so as to emphasise the courage and steadfastness of Anne: the glory is all hers whilst those around her behave shamefully in one way or another. Whilst Anne is strong, brave and determined, Jane Seymour is portrayed as a confused young woman in the clutches of a dictator. (After marrying Henry she sadly died within weeks of giving birth to the future Edward VI.) Brave to the last, Anne Boleyn, who had spent some years at the French court, opted to be beheaded after the French fashion. Not for her the head on the block and the fall of the axe. She knelt upright to meet the force of the swinging sword on her neck. Through his music Donizetti brings out the true greatness of this brave woman.

Anna Nebreko is superb in the role of Anna Bolena. It would be hard indeed to better her interpretation of this character. It was as if Anne Boleyn was reincarnated there before me expressing. through the genius of Donizetti's music, what it all must have been like for her when it was actually happening nearly 500 years ago. Elina Garanca is equally good as Giovanna Seymour. In fact, it would be hard to fault any of the singer-actors. Il Debrando D'Arcangelo is perfect in the role of Enrico VIII. (I love the way the Italians translate English names into their language, although the librettist, Felice Romani, seems to have been stumped when it came to coining Italian versions of Seymour and Percy) Elisabeth Kulman is perfect as the page-musician Smeton and I enjoyed Francesco Meli's singing and interpretation of the role of Lord Riccardo Percy. Maybe Dan Paul Dumitresco as Lord Rochefort, Anne's brother isn't quite so 'up to it' as the rest of the cast, but then this is maybe because I've always pictured him somewhat differently when studying history. I can't help feeling sorry that Peter Jelosits as Sir Hervey hasn't more to sing because I like his voice.

All told, this is another great performance by the Vienna State Opera. You could watch it over and over again and never get tired of it. This is bel canto at its best and I'm sure Donizetti would have been thrilled to bits with this production. The staging has been kept simple, which is a good thing really because the music and singing are so riveting that anything too elaborate would be superfluous. I also like the costumes, which I feel reflect the period in question very well. What more can one say except that this is truly an all time great performance of one of Donizetti's greatest works. I'm thrilled to bits with it.


Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through the English Ritual Year
Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through the English Ritual Year
by Sara Hannant
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.56

5.0 out of 5 stars A Joyful, Gem of a Book, 10 May 2014
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All over the world humans have been dancing for a very long time and no land has a richer, more varied dance tradition than England, a fact delightfully depicted in inspiring fashion by this gem of a superbly illustrated book. The English love to skip, jump and caper around which is why they adapt so readily to all kinds of dancing from all over the world even when they have a wealth of dancing and ritual traditions of their own, all of which are intertwined with their love of dressing up and rhythmic play acting.

Whereas in Ireland and Scotland they seem to say: 'Dancing is done this way,' in England they say: 'Dancing is done all ways and any way.' Even better, this book shows how ritual and dancing intertwine with each other to form a coherent whole. In olden times dancing used to be very much part of religious practice. Maybe there would be less religious disagreement and strife if it still was and was given precedence over dogma. This is why this book is so helpful to have. It shows how people bring out their true selves through dressing up, ritual and dancing and even those who just watch are inspired and therapeuticised by what is going on.

People from all over the world come and watch all this English stuff and soon want to join in with it themselves and people begin to exchange information about their own particular dancing traditions. This brings people together in harmony and understanding and this is just what Sara Hannant's happy book achieves in scintillating fashion and why so many people like it so much.


Margaret of York: The Diabolical Duchess
Margaret of York: The Diabolical Duchess
by Christine Weightman
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched and Very Readable., 9 May 2014
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'Margaret of York' is a carefully researched, well written and very readable work by Christine Weightman. First published in 1989, this edition was published in 2009. There are seven chapters, namely: 1: The Marriage of the century. 2: Daughter of York. 3: The Duchess of Burgundy. 4: 1477. 5: Madame La Grande. 6: 'This Diabolical Duchess'. 7: Bibliophile and Reformer. There's also a prologue and an epilogue. Numerous illustrations, a map and genealogical tables are also included along with notes, list of abbreviations, bibliography, notes and index.

Margaret of York (1446-1503) was the sister of two kings of England: Edward IV and Richard III and the wife of Charles the Bold (1433-1477), Duke of Burgundy, whom she married in 1468 and was aged 31 when he was killed in battle in 1477. Committed to the Yorkist cause, Margaret conspired to undermine and bring about the downfall of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch of England. This work is all about how she both unsuccessfully contrived to do this and, at the same time, work towards preserving the integrity of the Duchy of Burgundy.

Although the book reads like a well written novel, it's much better than that because it's based on carefully researched facts, which makes it of interest to both to novel enthusiasts and historians. Those who like reading about strong women from the Middle Ages will find it particularly interesting. One cannot help feeling that Margaret would have made a good Queen Regnant of England. Her brothers Edward IV and Richard III were, in many ways, both more likeable than Henry VII and she had the potential of being an even better ruler than any of them. Read and enjoy.


Charles Dickens 200th Anniversary Collection [DVD]
Charles Dickens 200th Anniversary Collection [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ray Winstone
Price: £19.95

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstandingly Good Adaptations., 9 May 2014
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This box set comprises nine discs in all: Little Dorrit 4 discs, Bleak House 3 discs and Great Expectations and Oliver Twist one disc each. There are several additional features embracing interviews with actors, photo galleries and other background items such as staging, and the set also includes an introductory booklet.

If we've read the books it's often easy to say: 'That's not like it was in the book.' With these four adaptations I found Oliver Twist to be least like Dickens' original work, but I didn't mind because, for me, the adaptation was actually an improvement on the original. As some of us will have discovered, Dickens is not the easiest Victorian writer to read. Sometimes he does 'go on a bit' and his characters are often more in the nature of being caricatures. So much so, in fact, that some of them can get a bit silly at times.

I've always preferred reading George Elliot, Mrs Gaskill, the Bronte sisters, Anthony Trollope and Thacheray, which is why I absolutely love to have Dickens on disc. You don't have ever to have read any of Dickens' novels to enjoy watching all of these adaptations. We can always nit pick, but it's hard to see how any of them could have been adapted much better. Since Little Dorrit is one of the strongest characters ever created by Dickens, it's inspiring to see her so well portrayed as in this production.

I could go on to quote more examples of how well other characters are acted, but there's really no need because the BBC has made such a good job of adapting these four novels that all that is needed is for reviewers to encourage others to 'watch and enjoy'. The adaptations are of the kind that will bear watching over and over again. I'm old enough to remember the days when many Suffolk villages still had their blacksmiths' forges and farriers shoeing facilities or 'traverses' as we used to call them. The sound of hammer on anvil, the smell of burning hoof and the whinnying of horses were among my earliest memories. There was even an eccentric old wealthy lady and, I too, had to eventually leave my rural idyll to make my way in the world. Here we have an inspirational adaptation of 'Great Expectations', arguably the best of all Dickens' novels.

My father was born just a few months after Dickens died and I grew up among people who had started life as Victorians. Every day I continue to meet people who are so like the characters in these wonderful adaptations. I even know a lady who keeps birds in an aviary that fly all round you when you go inside it – just like it happens in Bleak House, which in this box set comes across as a truly all time great adaptation. I'll say no more other than to emphasise that, if you love well made films you can do no better than to invest in this box set, which so skilfully honours the genius of the one and only Charles Dickens.


Exemplary Stories (Oxford World's Classics)
Exemplary Stories (Oxford World's Classics)
by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.66

5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Enjoyable Read of Timeless Tales., 7 May 2014
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Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) writes tellingly about 'every day folk'. When reading these short stories it's difficult not to get the impression that he was fascinated by the foibles of his fellow humans. His characters emerge from the pages causing the reader to exclaim:' I know someone just like that!' Human nature hasn't changed much, if at all, since these tales were first composed. Although his tales certainly ramble round a bit, it's the kind of rambling that endears itself to the reader. Cervantes stole a march on the learned scholars who write about the evolution of the short story or the novel: he had already developed them to perfection. I think one can also safely say that his experience of the ups and downs of life had served to develop his sense of humour.

The book contains eight of Cervantes' short stories: The Little Gipsy Girl; Rinconnete and Cortadillo; The Glass Graduate; The Power of Blood; The Jealous Old Man from Extremadura; The Illustrious Kitchen Maid; The Deceitful Marriage and The Dialogue of the Dogs. Cervantes prefaces these eight yarns with a short prologue. The stories have been translated by
Lesley Lipson who also provides a helpful introduction and notes on both text and translation. This edition also includes a bibliography and a chronology of Cervantes life. I'll be surprised if other readers will not exclaim as I do when reading these yarns by Cervantes: 'I know someone just like that!' Did someone say that Cervantes is 'the father of the modern style short story'? I wouldn't disagree with that, although it all depends on what is meant by 'modern'. However, I think it even better to say that his tales are timeless. I'm so pleased I decided to buy this copy of Cervantes' short stories, which I thoroughly enjoyed and will never tire of reading.


Mozart: Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) -- Ludwigsburg/Gonnenwein [DVD] [2001]
Mozart: Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) -- Ludwigsburg/Gonnenwein [DVD] [2001]
Dvd ~ Deon Van Der Walt
Price: £21.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulates the Imagination., 7 May 2014
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This outstanding production illustrates admirably how a well sung, acted and unassumingly costumed opera, performed on a small stage with minimalist staging, can so often outshine more sophisticated productions with substantial staging and elaborate costumes. For me, opera is really all about how things are being done rather than what is being done. If the music and singing are not up to standard, neither plot nor acting nor costumes will save the day. When we read a book we imagine the scenes described in it. Just as a good writer will set a scene in one or two carefully chosen sentences, good staging will suggest, rather than define a scenario, and this is what happens here with the result that the viewer's imagination is stimulated instead of being dumbed down by elaborate staging that seems to have the intention of telling the viewer how he/she should imagine what is occurring.

This version of Die Zauberflote was filmed in 1992 at the Ludwigsburger Featspiele and is sung in German. It gives the impression that all involved are giving of their best and enjoying themselves into the bargain. No one is being 'too clever' or overdoing things and the production exudes high quality singing and acting devoid of sensationalism. Although it is always possible to single out individual performers for praise or criticism this production is such an enjoyable team effort that I feel it would be churlish to attempt anything of that kind here. Good art stimulates the imagination, which is precisely what this production does. I don't want to go to the theatre and be deluged in someone else's imagination; I prefer to be stimulated to develop my own imagination. The same principle applies as that involved in reading a well written novel. In opera it's the music and singing that stimulate the imagination and in a very special way. That's why it's the Queen of the Arts. Although this recording is now 22 years old and not Blu-Ray, it's nevertheless a queen of a performance and I thoroughly recommend it.


Medieval Woman: Village Life in the Middle Ages
Medieval Woman: Village Life in the Middle Ages
by Ann Baer
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Readable Gem of a Book.., 9 Feb. 2014
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Medieval Woman by Ann Baer is one of the most fascinating, carefully researched, well written and readable historical works ever written. That said, it needs to be understood that this is a work of fiction based on fact. Ann Baer doesn't claim to be an historian: she's simply writing about medieval everyday folk for modern everyday folk to read. The book takes the reader through the experiences of medieval village life over the period of one year, beginning in March and ending in February.

I bought my copy of this work soon after it was first published and I've cherished it ever since. I'm only sorry that Ann Baer has not written more books because she's a first-rate story teller. Here we have a supreme example of how to write history for non-historians. It's good to know that this gem of a work is still available from several sellers and also on Kindle. I've read my copy of it several times over the years and I never tire of it. It makes you feel that you're truly there living out life as it was then with the variety of fascinating characters.


Down the Common: A Year in the Life of a Medieval Woman
Down the Common: A Year in the Life of a Medieval Woman
by Ann Baer
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Very Readable, Gem of a Book., 9 Feb. 2014
Medieval Woman by Ann Baer is one of the most fascinating, carefully researched, well written and readable historical works ever written. That said, it needs to be understood that this is a work of fiction based on fact. Ann Baer doesn't claim to be an historian: she's simply writing about medieval everyday folk for modern everyday folk to read. The book takes the reader through the experiences of medieval village life over the period of one year, beginning in March and ending in February.

I bought my copy of this work soon after it was first published and I've cherished it ever since. I'm only sorry that Ann Baer has not written more books because she's a first-rate story teller. Here we have a supreme example of how to write history for non-historians. It's good to know that this gem of a work is still available from several sellers and also on Kindle. I've read my copy of it several times over the years and I never tire of it. It makes you feel that you're truly there living out life as it was then with the variety of fascinating characters.


Lully: Atys [Blu-ray] [2011]
Lully: Atys [Blu-ray] [2011]
Dvd ~ William Christie
Price: £29.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstandingly Good from every Angle., 8 Feb. 2014
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Jean-Baptiste Lully was born in Florence in 1632. In 1646, when he was 14, he moved to France where he became valet de chambre to Mlle de Montpensier who was seeking an Italian servant for her to improve her conversation in that language. Although he must clearly have studied music and composition, we know very little about his life over the next six years except that he took lessons from Francois Robertday, Nicolas Gigault and Nicolas Metru. In 1653 he danced in the Ballet de la Nuit alongside King Louis XIV who was very impressed with him and appointed him as court composer. In those days the conductor of an orchestra did so with the help of a long rod and, in 1687, Lully accidentally struck himself on top of his foot with the rod. The wound became infected and he died of blood poisoning, which killed many people in those days, which was well before the age of antibiotics.

Lully, a prolific composer of a variety of musical works including lots of ballet music, composed at least 13 operas and Atys was composed in 1676. In a way he sort of followed on in the Monteverdi (1567-1643) tradition, although he had a style all of his own, which is clearly envisaged in this outstanding production of Atys. As with all these early operas the staging is simple and there's a great deal of standing around with the characters singing to each other, signifying conversation. However, lots of dancing is mixed in with the singing in the most attractive and delightful fashion. The costumes, which are meticulously true to what would have been worn in court circles in the mid Seventeenth Century, are an important feature in enhancing the watch-ability of this well produced work in Blu-Ray, which comes across both picture-clear and with first-rate sound quality.

As seems to have been the custom with regard to most early operas, this work involves a large cast plus chorus and dancers. Bertnard Richter as Atys, Stephanie d'Oustrac as the Goddess Cybele and Emmanuelle de Negri as Sangarude are all superb in the three leading rolls with excellent backup from the rest of the performers. Maybe it's just my imagination, but I get the impression that all those involved are enjoying themselves immensely like as if they feel very much at home in what they are doing. This work is adapted from the ancient Greek legend about how Atys commits suicide after being induced by the hellish deity Alecton, under the orders of of Cybele, to kill his beloved Sangaride whom he mistakes for a monster, after which, when he regains normality, he is horrified and commits suicide. Devastated at having instigated this process, Cybele decrees that Atys will live on as a pine tree, which is emphasised by branches of Scots pine* being handed out to the whole cast who parade around with them singing the while. William Christie is the director of music. It would be hard to improve on this wonderful Opera Comique. production of this great mid Seventeenth Century opera.

*Scots pine. They look like Scots pine, which, incidentally, is one of only three species of conifer native to Great Britain, the other two being yew and juniper. All the other conifer species we see around have been introduced into the UK mostly over the past 300 years.


Minkus: La Bayadere [DVD] [2010] [NTSC]
Minkus: La Bayadere [DVD] [2010] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Carlos Acosta
Price: £24.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The Royal Ballet at its Very Best., 3 Feb. 2014
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Both picture and sound quality are very good in this high definition, surround sound Opus Arte recording of the 2009 Royal Opera House production of La Bayadere (the temple dancer) featuring Tamara Rojo as Nikiya (La Bayadere), Carlos Acosta as Solor and Marianela Nunez as Gamzatti, the rajah's daughter. This ballet is about how the warrior Solor is caught between his love for these two women, He starts off all right with Nikiya, but Gamzatti comes between them and he gravitates to her, which causes a tragic love triangle.

If you are a member of the general public who also happens to love ballet you will certainly very much enjoy watching this production. I'm no expert, but someone who just enjoys watching ballet and I think it's one of the best ballet productions ever. Some of the things that spoil a ballet for me are when I get the impression that the direction is too clever or when when a dancer in a lead role is playing to the audience rather than concentrating on interpreting the raison d'etre for the composition. But there's none of that kind of thing here.

The disc also includes, amongst other items, an interesting interview with two members of the corps de ballet. . One also senses a certain behind the scenes geniality among the performers and directors that is not always present in all ballet theatres. Here we have a supreme example of audience friendly presentation born of actor friendly direction. Highly recommended.


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