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H. A. Weedon "Mouser" (North Somercotes, Lincolnshire, UK)

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Cinderella [DVD] [2011] [NTSC]
Cinderella [DVD] [2011] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Elisha Willis
Price: £9.67

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An All Time Great., 26 Mar. 2013
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This performance is a brilliant example of how best to blend traditional expectations with modern inspirational qualities and I loved every minute of it, not least because it reinstates me within that magical world of childhood which, I have to confess, has never really left me. In the modern world it seems to me that children are deprived all too soon of their childhood sense of wonder. I simply loved the dancers dressed up as frogs, lizards, rats and mice. This kind of thing, along with the ugly sisters and much else besides was all so imaginative, and yet so realistic. The whole performance is a parody of how we all actually behave with our attitudinal machinations and social synchronising. Best of all, it causes us to laugh at ourselves and become truly happy.

Yes, that's what this scintillating dance performance of Cinderella is all about and I would not fault it in any way. If you're going to put on a performance, do it this way and create an all time great. That's why DVDs are such a wonderful invention. Now we can watch this inspiring performance over and over again whenever we feel like it. Here we have a strong, realistically, unsoppified portrayal of the relationship between Cinderella and Prince Charming, so admirably danced by Elisha Willis and Iain Mackay. In fact, all the dancers were first rate as they performed to the inspiring music of Sergei Prokofiev. The years pass and such great performances as this one recede further and further into the past. All I can say to that is: this one deserves to live forever.

Bournonville: La Sylphide [DVD] [2011]
Bournonville: La Sylphide [DVD] [2011]
Dvd ~ Royal Danish Ballet - Nvc Arts (9320)
Price: £12.52

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Slavish Imitation Devoid of Originality., 26 Mar. 2013
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This production of La Sylphide by the Royal Danish Ballet has all the appearances of being performed by well trained imitators going through the motions of how it should be done according to the laws of the Medes and the Persians, which must never be changed. There are missed opportunities all along the line. Just as the viewer is led to think that the action is about to revitalise, it achieves the obvious by falling flat again.

The story behind this ballet is about a fairy creature in the form of a beautiful maiden who tempts a human away from his earthiness into an ephemeral realm. But what would a beautiful sylph be wanting with a man whose chief occupation seems to be that of blundering around dressed in a kilt? It has been my privilege to see quite a number of performances of La Sylphide both on stage and on DVDs and I have to say that this is the most lacklustre, uninspiring, unimaginative performance of it that I've ever seen. All right, it's a faultless performance that goes through all the correct motions, but where is the chemistry between the dancers and the raison d'etre for what they are performing?

I'm so happy that so many people seem to have enjoyed this performance so much, but I have to speak as I find. Not far from where I live is a magical area of woodland where one might very well expect to see sprites if such beings actually existed. If they do I'm pretty sure they would run for cover if they were danced at after the fashion of this blundering disfigurement of a dance routine. La Sylphide needs imaginative interpretation, not slavish imitation of past glories.

Feckers: 50 People Who Fecked Up Ireland
Feckers: 50 People Who Fecked Up Ireland
by John Waters
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lacklustre Compilation of Soggy Wit., 26 Mar. 2013
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This work reminds one of an archer who, whilst contriving, in the main, to hit the target, never manages to strike the bull's eye. With such an apologetic approach from the author, the reader may be forgiven for wondering why he bothered to attempt to caricature his subjects in the first place. Since it's my privilege to know several witty Irish people, I was looking for more of the same kind of thing, but I was to be sadly disappointed. I'm happy to see that some reviewers seem to have liked this book better thsn I did; but I must speak as I find. With so much good Irish writing around I'm simply sorry I wasted money on this lack lustre compilation of missed bulls' eyes and soggy wit.

Les Pecheurs de Perles [DVD] [2005] [2010] [NTSC]
Les Pecheurs de Perles [DVD] [2005] [2010] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Annick Massis
Price: £19.99

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There's Something Inspiringly Special about this Performance., 26 Mar. 2013
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I think this opera, which is set in what was then called Ceylon and now known as Sri Lanka, must be staged in a the Tamil region of the country because the characters in it are portrayed as followers of Hinduism and not Buddhism, which is the religion of the majority Singhalese population of Sri Lanka. We also need to bear in mind that it wasn't necessary for Bizet to know an awful about either of these religions, or about the ethnic groups that embrace them, for his work to succeed, which it certainly has, although not nearly as much as his more famous work, Carmen.

In actual fact, this is an opera cum ballet with the dancing choreographed by Gheorghe Iancu. The prima ballerina is Leitizia Giuliani and lead male dancer Gheorghe Iancu with corps de ballet of four dancers. I would imagine that the choreography is designed to imitate the type of dancing that would have been performed by Sri Lanka Tamils, although I wouldn't imagine Bizet and his helpers would have been too bothered about cultural accuracy in this respect as neither need the viewer be in assessing the success of this work. As it stands, much of its perceptive elegance is rooted in the synchronisation of dancing and singing, which envelop the audience in a sea of inspirational choreographed and vocalised delight. There's a distinct relationship between voice and body movements.

Leila has been chosen by the pearl fishers as their virgin princess of the sea. Nourabad, the high priest, leads a ceremony during which Leila takes the veil, promises to remain chaste and to banish evil spirits. Nadir, a hunter, and Zurga, elected head of the pearl fishers, are firm friends who have mutually agreed not to have anything to do with a mysterious veiled women with whom they've both become infatuated. This mysterious woman turns out to be Leila and the rest of the opera is all about how she and Nadir fall in love with each other and are eventually rescued from certain death by Zurga. This work, of course, features the famous pearl fishers duet between Nadir and Zurga.

It's hard to see how this production at the Teatro La Fenice di Venezia could be improved upon. It's encouraging that this first-rate recording is there for opera lovers to enjoy in the comfort of their homes. Maybe, one day, someone will record another, more recent, performance of this great work by Bizet. In the meantime, don't hesitate to buy this excellent 16.9 recording. The staging, colour and dancing are all superb along with the music and singing and it's the kind of work that one can readily enjoy watching over and over again.

Berg / Beethoven: Violin Concertos
Berg / Beethoven: Violin Concertos
Price: £13.06

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Great Performance by Isabelle Faust., 26 Mar. 2013
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For me, whereas the music of Beethoven expresses the triumph of joy over adversity, that of Berg expresses wallowed-in-misery, a viewpoint stunningly enhanced by the juxtapositioning of these two great works on one CD. Beethoven's childhood wasn't a happy one, he wasn't good at making relationships, his love life was in turmoil and he went deaf at a relatively early age. He could have reflected all this in his music, but he didn't: he gives us only JOY coupled with the inspiration to overcome and win through in the face of every adversity. Berg, on the other hand, seems to be telling us: this is what suffering and misery is like: come and enter into my music and share the pain with me.

Maybe it all depends on whether or not we want someone to wallow in our own miseries with us or someone who lifts us right out of them into that joyous realm that's always there if only we would take the time to appreciate it. Is it possible for anyone to improve upon the recorded performance of all this by Isabelle Faust with the Orchestra Mozart conducted by Claudio Abbado? I don't think so. I'm so happy that I decided to buy this recording. For me, Isabelle Faust is obviously one of the greatest violinists of all time and, as I listen to her playing, I say to myself: 'This is the way to do it!'

I'm not a music expert; I just know what I like and can tell when something is well or poorly done. Some people are enamoured of pop stars. I prefer to confine that kind of admiration to the likes of Isabel Faust. I don't think I'm making a very good job of writing this review. All I can say is: this recording is great stuff. So just buy it and enjoy it just like I do.

Verdi: Don Carlos [DVD] [2001]
Verdi: Don Carlos [DVD] [2001]
Dvd ~ Verdi
Price: £8.76

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Opera Singing at its Best., 24 Mar. 2013
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I sometimes think that Don Carlos comes close to being Verdi's greatest opera and would have been so were it not for some structural faults within the plot. This production must certainly rank as one of the all time greats for this opera. Only Roberto Alagna as Don Carlos was slightly less convincing than the other lead characters, although this may be mainly due to his diminutive stature in relation to the other main characters. For instance, Karita Mattila as Elizabeth de Valois is taller than he is. This juxtaposition multiples throughout the opera giving the impression that all the other main characters are intimating that he's a silly little boy who should learn to do as he's told. His father, Philippe II of Spain, who expects him to behave like the Infante, the heir apparent to the Spanish throne, is not impressed by his compassion for the suffering Flemings, Elizabeth de Valois tells him that, although she loves him, he can't have her because, now she's wed to his father she has become his de facto mother. Princes Eboli loves him and would make him a fine wife, but he doesn't want her. Although his friend Rodrigue does his best to help him, he ends up getting on the wrong side of the Grand Inquisitor who contrives to ensure that he's eventually put to death. So it all rather gets to look like a well meaning, overgrown boy being overpowered and cast into the shadows of the four towering infernos: Elizabeth de Valois, Philippe II, Rodrigue and Princess Eboli, all four of whom are actually being operated by an arch-puppeteer in the shape of the Grand Inquisitor.

Verdi leaves us in little doubt as to whose side he's on and it's certainly not that of the Grand Inquisitor. Once again we see how he seeks to expose corrupt, people-persecuting, power seekers and champions the rights of the common people. It's a sad fact of history that Italy has never been quite able to live up to the beatified vision that Verdi had for his beloved country, a land of kind, friendly people speaking the most beautiful language in the world - the language of song. Although, of course, this production is sung in French. The one language I don't like operas to be sung in is English, unless they are provided with English subtitles. I don't know what other people think, but I find that, even with the best enunciation in the world, it's never possible to pick up every word sung by opera singers. In a way it doesn't much matter what they're singing; it's the inspiration invoked by the multifaceted sound patterns that are paramount. Opera is the supreme evocation of the greatest of all musical instruments: the human voice. Nowhere is this more evident than in this brilliant production of Verdi's masterpiece.

Thomas Hampson was a perfect choice to play Rodrigue and I was very impressed with Waltraud Meier in the role of Princess Eboli. And wow! What a performance Jose van Dam gives as Philippe II! And then, of course, Karita Mattila was superb as Elisabeth de Valois. I found the staging just right. Whatever the background to the action taking place, it always managed to give a real sense to the viewer of actually being there. It was all so well directed and produced that, as several experts have discerned, the fact that Verdi failed to centralise the eponymous character to the best effect, in the end it does really matter because of the greatness of the music.

It has been mentioned that some of the costumes, in particular those worn by Karita Mattila, were not true for the time and place settings of the work. This kind of anachronism can matter. For instance I don't think I would like to see an opera in which, say, Mary Queen of Scots was dressed throughout in a trouser suit. However, I didn't feel it mattered in this production. Here we have the great Finnish prima donna dressed in a fashion that was admirably right for her and may well have been preferred by the real Elizabeth de Valois had such fashions been available to wear in her day and age. Opera is a genre in which immaculate adherence to historically accurate dress codes is as often as not just as likely to spoil the effect as is a trousered Sixteenth Century queen.

Maybe we shall, in the not to distant future, be presented with another, hopefully Blu-ray, production of this masterpiece by Verdi. One thing is certain: it's not going to be easy to improve on this production of his great masterpiece. If he were able to resurrect himself among us 200 years after his birth I'm sure he would be overjoyed with this production of Don Carlos and pleased that so many more people are able to enjoy his operas by playing them on screens in the comfort of their homes. Although some might very well point out that picture and sound quality are not one hundred percent on this dvd, I have to say that none of this in anyway spoiled the enjoyment of this great work for me. It's simply brilliant and I thoroughly recommend it.

Rossini: La gazzetta [Blu-ray] [2010] [Region Free]
Rossini: La gazzetta [Blu-ray] [2010] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Cinzia Forte
Price: £18.40

5.0 out of 5 stars An Ageless and Outstanding Production, 21 Mar. 2013
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The full title of this work by Gioachino Rossini with a libretto by Giuseppe Palomba based on a novel by Carlo Goldoni is: La Gazetta, ossia Il Matrimonia per Concorso: The Newspaper, or the Marriage Contest, and it's really all about the effect of newspapers on people's lives. Rossini's choice of subject in 1816, when the opera was first performed, reflects the growing importance of newspapers in people's everyday lives. If Rossini were alive today he might well be famous for writing an opera involving social networking. In this production 1816 has been moved into a time in the Twentieth Century some twenty years or so before tights had begun to replace stockings and suspender belts as common daily attire for ladies. Director Dario Fo makes full use of this and other significant fashion trends in this brilliant production, which admirably illustrates how opera can often be successfully adapted to fit in with a variety of historical periods.

The excellent staging is conducive to the action of the players throughout the whole performance, a fact epitomised by the realistic presentation of Doralice, played by Marisa Martins, handling chickens at the hen house. Here we have a realistic choreographing of what it was really like to keep poultry, which a significant number of us used to do in the now rapidly receding past. It reminded me of a programme I once saw about the Duchess of Devonshire keeping chickens and how she had been brought up from childhood to do just that. The whole production is peppered with all kinds of these realistic reminiscences. Younger viewers may be assured that their grandparents really did behave as portrayed in this production, which is a supreme example of how many, but not all, operas lend themselves to be adapted to fit into any day and age. Indeed, I see it as a compliment to the genius of their composers that they are imbued with such advantageous flexibility.

Don Pomponio, so delightfully acted by Bruno Pratico, advertises in the newspapers for a husband for his daughter Lisetta brilliantly sung and acted by Cinzia Forte. As the work progresses one becomes aware of the fact that it's really the women who are in charge with the men behaving like a crowd of overgrown boys, as epitomised in the hilarious fencing scene, in which they begin with swords, progress to pistols and end up with grenades. Then again, there's the hilarious scene involving a set of bearded Quakers, in which Don Pomponio is attempting to get his daughter married off to a Quaker, who turns out to be her lover boy Filippo in disguise. Lisetta and Filippo are lovers and there's a scintillating episode in which Lisetta pretends to reject him after believing some erroneous information about him. He threatens to shoot himself with a pistol, but it all ends happily with them in each other's arms. The synchronisation of singing and choreography in this episode is nothing short of brilliant.

Whether it's true or not, Rossini is reputed to have said: 'Give me a laundry list and I will set it to music.' Well, my contention is that he certainly set the newspaper (La Gazzetta) to music to outstanding effect and, were he alive today, I feel sure he would be delighted with this production. I was brought up to believe the old adage, instilled into me by my father, never to believe what I read in the newspapers, this being a kind of euphemism for 'be wary about what you read in newspapers.' I think Rossini was a shrewd practitioner who was very well aware of all this kind of thing and was able to musically satirise life to such popular effect that he was able to retire early on the proceeds engineered by his genius. Happily, although La Gazzetta fell out of favour for a long time, it has now been resurrected to good effect in this imaginative production. By the way, it improves with practice and my contention is that you need to watch it at least three times to get to enjoy its full potential. It's great stuff and thoroughly recommended.

Verdi - Un Ballo In Maschera - Verdi [DVD] [2006]
Verdi - Un Ballo In Maschera - Verdi [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Placido Domingo

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Florence Quivar is Great as Ulrica., 19 Mar. 2013
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Although this is a very good production of Un Ballo in Maschera it's not without its faults, one of the main one's of which is the miscasting of Josephine Barstow in the lead role of Amelia. Although Ms Barstow is one of my favourite sopranos, her demeanour doesn't quite fit in with that of the character of Amelia in the opera. The passionate woman deeply in love with the dashingly emotional Gustavus III was simply not there, and she needs to be for this opera to be wholly successful, for the simply reason that their love affair is the raison d'etre for the plot.

This production also has another problem: I can't help having the impression that Sumi Jo has not been given ' a fair crack of the whip' as Oscar. Although she comes across very well she could have shone brilliantly if there hadn't been what might very well seem to some as a concerted effort to sideline her into oblivion. This is all most unfortunate because it means that we end up with a miscast for the lead female role and misdirection for the comic relief element.

Since Verdi never intended that the action for this work should take place in the New World, this production benefits greatly from being set in Sweden and, with more care concerning casting and musical synchronisation, it would have become an all time great. Excellent as she is as the loving mother with her little boy, Josephine Barstow is less convincing as the passionate lover overwhelmed by her desire for the scintillatingly attractive King Gustavo so brilliantly played and sung by Placido Domingo.

My contention has always been that Un Ballo in Maschera is worthy of resting within the top ten of Verdi's operas, but that it's also one of the hardest to get right. It does happen in real life that a woman who is a good mother and loyal wife falls inexplicably in love with another man. To get the balance of this triangle just right in any work of art such as a novel or an opera is no easy task. Verdi managed it very well in his music, but you need the casting to be perfect for it to work properly.

Fortunately this production is blessed by a superb Ulrica, the fortune teller, in the shape of Florence Quivar. The divination and fortune telling scene was well staged and brilliantly acted. After that, I felt that the opera did not quite maintain its momentum through to the end. Although Leo Nucci was a first-rate Renato, his fellow conspirators were a little less convincing.

Since I would give Josephine Barstow four stars for her performance as Amelia, that's also how many I will give for the whole performance.

Rimsky-Korsakov: Le Coq D'Or (The Golden Cockerel) (Arthaus: 108053) [Blu-ray] [2012]
Rimsky-Korsakov: Le Coq D'Or (The Golden Cockerel) (Arthaus: 108053) [Blu-ray] [2012]
Dvd ~ Albert Schagidullin
Price: £28.57

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstandingly Great Performance., 19 Mar. 2013
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Le Coq d''Or is in the way of being a folk opera parodying war in the context of governmental ineptitude. Following on from the fact that Rimsky-Korsakov was supremely successful in achieving this in this particular opera, this staging of his great work admirably succeeds in enhancing in spectacular fashion what he had set out to achieve. We have here a complex art work that synchronises music, painting, sculpture and ballet into a scintillating harmonisation of sound, colour, design and movement that epitomises the essence of the complexity of human relationships.

Yuri Maria Saenz as the cockerel interpreted the bird just as I've seen real cockerels behave. As she (as 'he') sang out the warnings I realised that Rimsky was obviously familiar with the way real cockerels sounded and behaved. This kind of thing is typical of the whole work, in which behavioural traits are theatrically enhanced into an ultra-reality epitomising the sheer silliness of human machinations masquerading as government. Here we have a timeless masterpiece parodying the pomposity of powerful people in every day and age. Good government needs to be more than the voice of a crowing cock seeking to impress a collective folly of herded hens.

The singers and dancers in this work are all outstanding in their roles. Olga Tritonova's coloratura performance as the Queen of Shemakha was impressive. It's just as if she's delighting in the role of making a fool of a besotted old man as he struggles to embellish his meagre talents in an hilarious attempt to impress her. I would imagine that Rimsky must have been a keen observer of the multitudinous follies of human behaviour. This opera, and especially this performance of it, is like observing ourselves through the multi-coloured glass of our own follies. In the end it's the weak-voiced wee astrologer (superbly acted and sung by Barry Banks) who makes fools of everyone except for Shemakha who is as wily as he is.

This work also shows how successful it often is when folk music is intertwined into operatic performances. It's also a vivid example of how futile it is to box art into different containers. Rimsky has managed to bring all the arts together in one scintillating performance. The sculptor's chisel, the painter's brush, the poet's inspiration, the story teller's imagination and the composer's noteworthiness are all here superbly acted, sung, designed, danced and performed. Conductor, orchestra, producer, director, designers, performers, dancers and stage hands - none of them could have done any better if they had tried. Although even in the best of performances one can mostly find a few weak points, I honestly can't find any in this one. If you have any kind of love for opera, or even for a good tale, just buy this one. It's the kind of performance that one can watch over and over again without becoming bored with it.. It's so true to life and brings us all down to earth causing us to realise we are never as good as we might think we are.

Rossini: La Gazza Ladra (Dynamic: 55567) [Blu-ray] [2006] [Region Free]
Rossini: La Gazza Ladra (Dynamic: 55567) [Blu-ray] [2006] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Paolo Bordogna
Price: £29.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An All Time Great, 18 Mar. 2013
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This is a great production; but, first of all, some considerations concerning magpies. The magpie, a large, long-tailed black and white bird, is a member of the crow family. During my formative years in rural Suffolk, living as I did in close contact with five members of the crow family: rook, carrion crow, jackdaw, jay and magpie, I grew to know them and their habits very well indeed and I could tell each species just by listening to its voice. The jays, who lived in a large wood near my home, were the most colourful of the five species, but had the harshest voices. Once, after we had had tea on the lawn on a sunny summer afternoon, a magpie carried away a teaspoon which had been dropped on the grass. Magpies, who sometimes feast on other birds eggs, always build their large stick nests with a roof on them, thus preventing their own nests from being robbed. Outside of the breeding season I once climbed up to have a close look at a magpie's nest and found that various bright and/or colourful objects had been woven into the stick-work.

Bearing all this in mind, I have to say that Rossini was spot on with his interpretation of the magpie and Sandhya Nagaraja could not have acted the part better had she been a real magpie. An example of this is when she is looking sometimes out of a large pipe and sometimes over the top of a pile of pipes. This is what birds do. I've seen birds perching in the open ends of large pipes and also on top of them and sometimes they will make their way right through the pipe just like Sandhya does in the opera. Since the whole play of the opera is centred on the magpie, understanding the bird and its place in the ecosystem considerably enhances one's appreciation of the work. Here we have an opera in which, probably uniquely, we have a silent role that's every bit as important as any of the singing parts.

When reviewing operas viewed on DVD and Blu-ray it's all too easy to carp and criticise about picture and sound quality and sometimes I become quite surprised when I read some expert (?) stating in a review that such and such a quality wasn't quite right. Although I didn't think that Mariola Cantarero as Ninetta got off to a perfect start with her singing, she certainly improved as the work progressed; but why niggle when she gave such an overall bravura performance with my ending up being absolutely delighted with her? Sometimes there are parts of opera recordings that are so bad one wonders how they were ever allowed to be published: but there's absolutely none of that in this recording and, although some critics have tended to fault Alex Esposisto as Fernando I would give him 90 percent and my contention is that any singer at 85 percent plus cannot spoil an overall five star operatic performance.

Michele Pertusi as Il Posesta was outstanding. One of the especially poignant parts of the opera is the duet between Mariola Canterero as Ninetta and Manuela Custer as Pippo outside Ninetta's pipe-built prison cell. Kleopatra Papatheologol played well as Lucia and gives a superb solo performance as she voices her doubts. In all, the actors, the chorus, the orchestre combined to render a thoroughly realistic and enjoyable performance with a real cracker of a judgement scene. And all this notwithstanding there was the annoyance of a 'burst water pipe' (!) that flooded the stage causing Ninetta to have to wade through it and get the hem of her long dress soaked. Maybe it was caused by that mischievous magpie having picked a hole in a water pipe. I absolutely loved it all.

My personal view is that this opera is not a comedy and is better described as a near tragedy. If Verdi had been dealing with this subject matter he would doubtless have had the heroine dying in the arms of her lover and Puccini would probably have had her shot before her lover could get near her. But this was not Rossini's way. He managed to compose, maybe without even realising it, an opera that is, by any standards, an indictment of capital punishment and a memorial to all those who, through the ages, have been either wrongly or unfairly put to death as a result of discriminatory and skewed laws and legal systems. This production is a masterfully directed, tellingly designed and brilliantly acted masterpiece, which I'm privileged to have in my collection to watch over and over again as I see fit. Nothing is perfect and it's possible to pick holes in the best of productions. However, the large hollow pipes in this production are a timely reminder that the more holes you pick in some things, the better they get. Look at the pipes again and you will see that they are like a honeycomb full of sustenance. They can also be seen as trumpets joyfully sounding in the face of prejudice and skewed laws.

When we saw magpies we used to recite: one for a girl and two for a boy, three for sorrow, four for joy. Thank you, S. Rossini, for writing your opera about a magpie. You got everything so right and I love your music.

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