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H. A. Weedon "Mouser" (North Somercotes, Lincolnshire, UK)
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Paisiello: Nina [DVD] [2003]
Paisiello: Nina [DVD] [2003]
Dvd ~ Cecilia Bartoli

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Performance of a Great Opera that Includes a Bagpiper., 25 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Paisiello: Nina [DVD] [2003] (DVD)
After viewing this excellent Opernhaus Zurich production of Nina one can only wonder why it is that its composer, Giovanni Paisiello, has for so long been 'out of fashion'. I loved every moment of this production in which Cecilia Bartoli plays the lead role of Nina who has, ostensibly, lost her memory. She was perfect for the part, which she performed in realistic fashion as, indeed, did all the other performers play their roles. If Pasisiello composed other operas of this calibre, it surprises me that he ever fell out of fashion. Maybe it was simply a case of his eventually being eclipsed by Mozart. Be that as it may, one can only hope that more of his operas will be revived. It's interesting to note that Mozart was, to begin with, accused of plagiarizing Paisiello's very popular version of 'The Barber of Seville'.

Once again Zurich wins out by not indulging in over-elaborate staging, a style that helps direct the attention of the viewer to the singing and inter-action of the performers. I found I could relate well to the characters, which are all well within the ambit of reality with myself often thinking: 'I know/knew someone just like that.' I liked it when first a bagpiper and then an oboist played solo on stage. I don't know of any other opera in which bagpipes are involved. The ones in use here are, of course, what is known as 'cold wind pipes': that is to say, bagpipes into which the wind is blown by an underarm bellows and not blown into by mouth wind. The Northumbrian pipes, the Irish bagpipes and the Old English bagpipes all fall into this 'cold wind' category as do several other varieties.

The bagpipes originated in the Middle East. Greece was one of the first European countries to have them and Scotland was the last country to get them. Anyway. I loved having them in this opera as, indeed, I also enjoyed the on stage playing of the oboe. Mostly when an actor is seen playing a musical instrument on stage in an opera, it's a dummy with the music coming from a real instrument played by a musician in the orchestra; but not so in this opera, in which Michael Reid played the cold wind pipes and Bernhard Heinrichs played the oboe, both on stage. I'm so pleased I decided to buy this DVD. I love it to bits and have already watched it three times. Even better, there's a 40 minute section about the life of Giovanni Paisiello and his works with special emphasis on how this particular opera came to be composed. All round, it's great stuff and I thoroughly recommend it.


Humperdinck: Konigskinder [Blu-ray] [2012]
Humperdinck: Konigskinder [Blu-ray] [2012]
Dvd ~ Kaufmann
Price: 19.91

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking Masterpiece, 24 Feb 2013
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Engelbert Humperdinck seems to have 'had it in' for witches: this is his second opera featuring a villainous witch. One can only assume that here we have yet another example of the hangover from the medieval persecution of witches, which, in itself, is related to an inborn religious prejudice against women who are blamed for the fall of mankind. Although it's easy to see why he would have based an opera on a well known fairy tale such as Hansel and Gretel, why did he decide to revisit the witch genre? Could his decision to do so be one of the various reasons why Konigskinder has never become as popular as Hansel and Gretel? People may be forgiven for supposing this opera to be no more than a rehash of the witch job and, to a certain extent, they would be right to think so.

Then again, we have the children, doing their bit in this work, if less prominently, than in Hansel and Gretel. Bearing all this in mind, this opera can be seen as a depiction of the conflict of the purity of childlike innocence against the sophistication of adult avarice. The natural meeting of minds between the lead characters, Konigssohn and Gansemagd, that fosters their love for each other is disparaged and cast aside by the unimaginative and insensitive attitude of the worldly-wise masses. Only the uncorrupted minds of the children are open to the truth and beauty involved in the relationship between these two leading characters. In this scenario the witch epitomises the latent viciousness present within the human psyche waiting to burst out upon anyone who is perceived as not fitting in with the status quo.

I wonder if Humperdinck is telling us: whereas Hansel and Gretel is a fairy tale with the traditional happy ending, Konigskinder is a fairy tale about how things actually are? The wonderful world of the imagination is kids' stuff and woe betide anyone who tries to carry this concept into adulthood. In its straightforward, simplistic staging, which does not detract from either action or singing, this brilliant Zurich Operahaus production concentrates the mind on the singing and performance of the actors, all of whom give first-rate performances. Although the opera suggests we are in yet another fairy tale world, it's nevertheless also a world of ultra-realism that encourages the feeling in the watcher-listener that it's very like something he/she might well have experienced or one day will experience.

It would be hard to fault the performance of either the orchestra or chorus of the Operhaus Zurich and the singer-actors were all well chosen for their roles. All told this is a very watch-able opera performed in a forthright style. As I see it, Humperdinck had the skill of being able to fit his music to every nuance of human behaviour. The viewer-listener is able to relate to each of the characters as if they were real people. 'I know/knew someone just like that,' we can say to ourselves as we watch and listen. Then again, the children remind us of both our own childhoods and those of children we know. Or, perhaps, I should re-phrase that as: 'remind us of childhood as it was before the advent of the cyber age.' This has to rank among the most inspiring and thought-provoking operatic performances ever staged anywhere. Well done!


A History of Opera: The Last Four Hundred Years
A History of Opera: The Last Four Hundred Years
by Carolyn Abbate
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 20.40

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Well Written Disappointment, 19 Feb 2013
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Although this is a very readable work pleasantly en-scripted by two renowned experts, it falls far short of being a reliable reference work for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the illustrations give all the appearance of having been thrown in as an afterthought and included just to add a smattering of colour to the text. Then again, the work is really about the history of around a dozen or so operatic composers with the rest either being mentioned in passing or left out altogether.

I've counted up to 19 operatic composers who are not even mentioned and a further thirteen who are mentioned only in passing and my lists are not exhaustive by any means. Here are some examples: Harrison Birtwhistle, George Gershwin and Francesco Cilea are not mentioned at all and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Michael Tippett and Henry Purcell are mentioned more or less as being in the nature of afterthoughts, and there are many others who fall into these two categories.

Unlike some other leading books about opera, this work does not include a glossary. A ramble through picturesque countryside can be be a most enjoyable experience, but even ramblers are careful to equip themselves with map and compass, both of which are sadly missing from this work. Whereas La Scala, Milan and the New York Metropolitan opera houses are mentioned frequently, many venues, including Glyndebourne, are not mentioned at all. Many great opera singers, past and present, are either mentioned in passing or left out altogether. However, these omissions are in some way compensated for by the inclusion of a colourful picture of Mickey Mouse conducting an orchestra.

Those looking for a good read through the subject may very well be more than happy with this book. However, those requiring an inclusive reference work will be disappointed. Personally, I find I can learn more about composers, their operas and the singers from such works as The Grove Book of Operas, which doesn't even set out to be a history of opera, but it does have a superb glossary. Perhaps I don't fully appreciate these matters and some learned person will be kind enough to explain what I haven't fathomed. All I know is that, when I buy a reference work I don't expect it to be composed after the style of a novel, any more than, when I buy a novel, I expect it to be composed after the fashion of a reference work.

To be fair, and in all kindness, my assessment is that, we have here a well written and readable text that has sadly fallen between two stools. In other words: it's a missed opportunity. It's five stars for the quality of writing style and readability and one star for its worth as a reference work. Hence, 5 + 1 = 6/2 = 3 stars.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 16, 2013 9:22 AM GMT


My Mother Wore a Yellow Dress
My Mother Wore a Yellow Dress
by Christina McKenna
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Truths Stranger than Fiction, 6 Feb 2013
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Christina McKenna's superb command of the English language has a poetic ring to it that makes what she has to tell the reader particularly enjoyable. When I was living in Ireland between 1956 and 1971 I mixed with people very like the ones she describes, which means that, for me, reading 'My Mother Wore a Yellow Dress' is an exercise in re-living the past. The characters emerge from the pages to pass before me in the shape of all those fascinating people I came to know so well over forty years ago. I made good friends in that part of Ireland and still visit them from time to time and they also visit with me.

This book is one of those very few works which it's hard to see why anyone would want to give it less than five stars unless, perhaps, someone bought it to read as if it were a fictional story with a plot or because someone disapproves of the author's sometimes irreverent attitude towards the RC Church, its clergy and holy places. Such attitudes miss the point because Ms McKenna is writing about real people as they actually were and many still are. Although she experienced hardship, misunderstanding and cruelty her uplifting sense of humour and indomitable spirit never cease to shine through it all.

Christina McKenna's love of poetry is emphasised throughout the book by quotations from poems by Philip Larkin, Louis McNeice, Oliver Goldsmith, Wilfred Wilson Gibson, Seamus Heaney and one poem by herself. The whole book reads like a beautifully constructed prose poem and what she has to tell us is far more enthralling than many novels. The old adage about truth being stranger than fiction is well borne out in this work. This inspiring book captures precisely what it was like living in a corner of Ireland in the 1960s and early 1970s. I can vouch for its accuracy because I was there. When I was in Draperstown I may even have seen Christina McKenna as a child. All I can say now is that 'My Mother Wore a Yellow Dress' is a masterpiece.


The Secret Keeper
The Secret Keeper
by Kate Morton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.45

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Snail Travels Faster than this Work, 20 Jan 2013
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This review is from: The Secret Keeper (Hardcover)
I was attracted to reading this novel for two main reasons: first, by the large number of five star reviews it has received and, second, because some of the action takes place in my native rural Suffolk. Now I'm in a quandary as to how to rate it. Should it be rated five star on account of its good prose style encompassing an intriguing plot, or be awarded just the one star reflecting its sheer tediousness coupled with the clichéd characteristics of its often boring characters?

In the first place, the title 'Secret Keeper' is ambiguous. It could refer to either someone who is keeping a secret or to someone in possession of some artefact, about which no one else knows anything at all. Silly me rather thought that it must refer to the second meaning. My second mistake was to suppose that I would enjoy being taken back into the rural Suffolk of yesteryear, which I loved and knew so well. Sadly, the rural settings are so lightly sketched in they could be just about anywhere. Worse still, the author betrays her unfamiliarity with the English countryside in a variety of ways. For instance, in one place she refers to a pair of rooks flying along. Such a pair is far more likely to have been two carrion crows. Having grown up in a small Suffolk village in which there were several rookeries my formative years were imbued with these most gregarious of birds addicted to scavenging in flocks.

Laurel, the lead character, is depicted as developing into a boringly clichéd person constantly tippling and lighting cigarettes, who is somewhat unconvincingly portrayed as a famous film star. Then again, police simply do not operate as described in relation to the murder Laurel witnesses, no, not even in the nineteen sixties.

I have to admit that I read very few novels; I prefer, amongst other things, history, natural history and real life experiences, and I have to say, if I come across many more novels like this one, I shall be reading even fewer of them. The old adage about 'truth being stranger than fiction' is well born out by this novel. It's all about a set of boring people doing all the boring things that boring people do and trying to read it is like wading through a slough of despond.

On the positive side I am indeed happy that the author is so successful and that so many readers love her work, but I have to speak as I find, not least in the knowledge that there are other people around who will react to the novel as I do. Perhaps someone out there can explain to me why this clichéd, snail paced style of writing is attractive to so many people. Am I missing something? Can anyone tell me why people prefer to wade through this heavy stuff when they can read about real life drama and real life crime in well written narratives, which are difficult to put down?

Although the author certainly deserves five stars for being such a successful writer and it's certainly pleasing to know that so many readers enjoyed this particular novel, I think I have no choice but to join the ranks of those who found it difficult to get into, which means that I'm going to align myself with those reviewers who gave it just two stars.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 5, 2014 12:37 PM GMT


Cromwell: An Honourable Enemy
Cromwell: An Honourable Enemy
by Tom Reilly
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Setting the Record Straight, 19 Jan 2013
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Whilst it would be unfair to say that this work is badly written, neither is it well written. Worse still, there are no illustrations apart from three maps, one of Drogheda on page 48, one of Wexford on page 168 and one of Clonmell on page 232.

Then, when it comes to reading the book, why didn't the author provide a plan of the battle/siege area after the fashion of most other works that describe battles? Then he could have listed all the pros and cons for and against Cromwell. Since I lived in Ireland for fifteen years and still visit friends of a varying number of persuasions there, I have first hand experience of how Cromwell is still capable of raising strong feelings among Irish people. Despite this, I also sense an increasing willingness, especially among younger people, to way up the pros and cons and see the good and bad on both sides.

Bearing all this in mind, we can be grateful to a native of Drogheda, Tom Reilly, for seeking to set the record straight. One of the good things about this book is that it certainly causes the reader to think deeply about the historical period in question. Who is right? Who is wrong? Does the truth lie somewhere between the two opposing assessments? One important fact it evidences very well indeed is that it's too simplistic to see the conflict as one between Catholics and Protestants. There were Royalist Protestants belonging to what was then the established Church of England and Ireland who fought against Cromwell as did, many Irish Catholics known as 'Old English' because they were descended from the first English settlers following on from the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland beginning in 1169. Most of these early settlers 'went native' with their descendants developing into Irish speakers, Irish being the lingua franca of the land beyond the pale surrounding the Dublin area.

What is often forgotten is that the vandalism in English parish churches blamed on the Reformation did not, in actual fact, occur then, but nearly 100 years later during the time of the Civil War. William Dowsing, 1596-1668, a Puritan born in Laxfield in Suffolk, was responsible for the desecration of a large number of Churches in his native county during 1642/43. The Puritans hated the Anglicans just as much as they hated the Roman Catholics, which is probably why Cromwell's soldiers had no compunction about bombarding Saint Peter's Church in Drogheda.

I've never quite understood why Cromwell is held in such high regard by so many people including parliamentarians. Hopefully some learned persons will be able to enlighten me on this matter. My problem is that, since he eventually dissolved parliament and ruled England for several years without reference to it, why is he regarded as such a champion of parliamentary government? Not only that, he is also on record as having put down the Levellers who wanted to bring in universal suffrage, although, in keeping with the times, for men only. My reading of history is that Cromwell ended up very close to being a dictator who had succeeded in getting rid of Parliament, which is something Charles I had failed to do.

The churches in Drogheda bombarded by Cromwell's gunners were Church of Ireland buildings (Protestant) and many of the defenders were Protestants. The Puritanism believed in by Cromwell regarded Episcopalians as little better than Papists. Bearing all this in mind, I still think that Tom Reilly has a good deal of truth on his side when he seeks to rehabilitate Cromwell in Ireland. The Irish education system's hatred of Cromwell is so extreme as to invite disbelief. This is why I believe we should be grateful to Tom Reilly for seeking to present a more balanced and realistic picture of Cromwell as he actually was and how he behaved in Ireland, and I say this as one who is anything but an admirer of the man. It's just a shame that this work has not been better compiled and presented. Happily, we can nevertheless be grateful to Tom Reilly from Drogheda for being courageous and forthright and I give him five stars for his good Irish self, but just three stars for his book: one star removed for lack of maps and illustrations and one removed for lack of focus.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 8, 2014 4:55 PM GMT


Verdi: Un Ballo In Maschera (Recorded Live At The Teatro Real Madrid September 2008) [DVD] [2010]
Verdi: Un Ballo In Maschera (Recorded Live At The Teatro Real Madrid September 2008) [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Mario Martone
Price: 24.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Lacklustre except for Vivacious Oscar, 6 Jan 2013
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I was disappointed by this performance, which was spoiled by poor staging and lack lustre acting. The ball scene, which was especially inept, gives the impression that the participants didn't really want to be there and had the attitude: 'Oh well, let's get this boring business over as quickly as possible.'

Happily, none of this applies to Alessandra Marianelli in the role of Oscar, Riccardo's page, who sang well and gave an upliftingly vivacious performance. Whilst Violeta Urmana as Amelia sang well, I nevertheless couldn't help feeling that something was lacking and that she wasn't quite right for the part. Sadly, Marco Vratogna was abysmal as Amelia's husband Renato.

Although, generally speaking, there's plenty of good singing, I could not rid myself of the feeling that it could all have been done much better. All told, it's a sad let down for Verdi as we prepare to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of his birth.


La Clemenza Di Tito: Wiener Philharmoniker (Levine) [DVD] [2006]
La Clemenza Di Tito: Wiener Philharmoniker (Levine) [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Eric Tappy
Price: 12.19

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstandingly Very Special Performance, 29 Dec 2012
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What can one say about this superb performance filmed well over thirty years ago in ruins of ancient Rome? Breathtaking? Glorious? Out of this world? It certainly held me spellbound from beginning to end. This Jean-Pierre Ponnelle directed presentation has to be an all time great with all the performers giving of their very best.

The tactful modifications made to this opera seria work well with the result that the listener-viewer cannot help but be swept up into an ultra-real world of superbly blended and choreographed sound and movement. It's all very much a case of how it's all presented rather than what was actually composed, and here the brilliant presentation and staging have worked wonders. All the viewer need do is to sit back, relax and allow it all to envelop him/her. I'll add no more except to one hundred percent endorse everything that the other five star reviewers have said about this great performance.


Mouton: Dictes Moy Toutes Pensees (The Tallis Scholars/ Peter Phillips) (Gimell: CDGIM047)
Mouton: Dictes Moy Toutes Pensees (The Tallis Scholars/ Peter Phillips) (Gimell: CDGIM047)
Price: 13.25

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jean Mouton is the Greatest!, 23 Dec 2012
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In the booklet accompanying this CD Peter Phillips states that Jean Mouton has 'a musical language quite distinct from everyone else.' And what a language it is! The music in this recording has to rank with the greatest music ever written. What else can one say? Listening to it is sheer joy and I'm delighted that I decided to buy this disc.

I liked the picture of the ewe and lamb on the cover. Presumably these are meant to represent a play on Mouton's name: John Sheep. Anyway, it adds an attractive touch. This recording by the Tallis Scholars directed by Peter Phillips is superb. I thoroughly recommend it.


The Celtic Saints: An illustrated and authoritative guide to these extraordinary men and women
The Celtic Saints: An illustrated and authoritative guide to these extraordinary men and women
by Nigel Pennick
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Jewel of a Book, 22 Dec 2012
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This is a well researched, beautifully illustrated and very readable work packed full of all kinds of fascinating information about no fewer than 58 Celtic saints from various parts of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Since my copy of the work has been in my possession for a good number of years I was surprised to find that it had not been reviewed here on AMAZON.

This year I bought three more copies to give as Christmas presents and. I'm happy to say, all three Irish recipients have been delighted with this book, crammed full, as it it is, with so much wonder and delight. Although the penultimate chapter deals with the fall of the Celtic Church, the final chapter brings hope as it visualises a better world in signs of a a renewal of Celtic spirituality. Whether or not this hope is misplaced remains to be seen.

At the very least, when we read this book, we can sigh deeply and say: 'If only Christianity were really like that!' What I can say is, as far as I'm concerned, this is the delightfulest saint book you'll find anywhere. Oh yes, and it's very good on the Goddess Brigid and the Saint Brigid who derived from her. And did you know that there was more than one Saint Patrick? See page 83: Other Saint Patricks. I love this book.


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