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

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The Count Of Monte Cristo: The Complete Series [DVD]
The Count Of Monte Cristo: The Complete Series [DVD]
Dvd ~ Alan Badel
Price: 18.72

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Watchable All Time Great Production., 29 Jun 2014
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All too often when old recordings become available in DVD someone or other always comments that they are 'dated' as if this, in some way, diminishes their watch-ability. All I have to say to that is that I don't give a fig for dates. It's like saying that a famous person of yesteryear can never be as famous as a living famous person because he/she is dated. With regard to this dramatisation of 'The Count of Monte Cristo' it would be difficult indeed to improve upon it. The fact that it is in black and white and of uneven sound quality at times pales into insignificance within the high quality of both the acting and dramatisation. For me, top grade acting always overcomes any drawbacks that filming in black and white may present, whereas the best natural colour production can never compensate for poor quality dramatisation, filming and acting.

The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the first classic novels that I read. and it has always been a favourite of mine, which I have always regarded it as a reliable antidote to too much Dickens. Alan Badel is just perfect in the title role and the same can be said for all the other actors as they interpret a whole host of believable characters. I like to think that Alexandre Dumas would have approved of this excellent dramatisation of his great work, which is very 'morish' to the extent that I'm sure many viewers will enjoy watching it many times.. Anyway, I love it, and I thoroughly recommend it. It truly is an all time great.

Strauss - Die Frau Ohne Schatten [DVD] [2011]
Strauss - Die Frau Ohne Schatten [DVD] [2011]
Dvd ~ Strauss
Price: 29.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Quality in Every Way., 28 Jun 2014
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This great work, Die Frau ohne Schatten, by Richard Strauss was first staged in Vienna in October 1919. Here we have a top ranking production of it by the Bavarian State Opera staged with Japanese period costumes and settings in the Aichi Prefectural Art Theatre, Nagoya, Japan in 1992. Broadly speaking it's all about two married couples: emperor and empress and Barak the dyer and his wife and about how the affairs of the two families become intertwined, during the process of which the two women involved both lose their shadows for a while. Everything nearly goes badly wrong for both couples largely due to the machinations of the sinister nurse-guardian to the empress.

Whilst the emperor is away on his daily hunt, nurse and empress inveigle themselves into the hut-home of Barak the dyer and his wife where they cause a deal of trouble of one kind and another. Barak and spouse eventually find themselves in an underground vault divided by a wall soon after he has nearly struck her to death with sword after she has confessed to having deceived him in a number of ways. Barak's three disabled brothers remonstrate with him, Barak sinks into the earth and nurse and empress flee. Barak and wife find themselves in a subterranean vault, from which they are eventually released when a voice calls to them.

The scene moves to a rocky landscape outside a temple into which sails a boat bearing the empress and nurse. Abandoning the nurse, the empress enters a great door, behind which she hopes to find the emperor and throw herself on his mercy. When Barak and then his wife turn up separately, looking for each other, the nurse cruelly misdirects them. A messenger arrives telling the nurse that she has been cast out by the emperor and must wander among humankind indefinitely. The empress rediscovers her shadow within the temple and is reunited with the emperor. Barak and his wife are also reunited and his wife also again casts a shadow. It all ends up with emperor and empress, Barak and wife all singing individually and together with Barak singing a truly inspiring piece in C major: 'Now I will rejoice like nobody before.'

I loved every minute of it. As always, Strauss expresses the emotions so perfectly in the music and all the singer-actors give the impression that they are truly enjoying it all. There isn't a below par performance in the whole production. Although the recording was made 22 years ago and is not blu-ray, both sound and picture quality are remarkably good.. The staging is just right – neither too elaborate nor too sparse and I love the costumes, all of which seem so appropriate. Director, conductor and everyone involved deserve the highest praise for putting on such a high quality production, which also involves the voice of a falcon, the apparition of youth, a spirit messenger, the guardian of the threshold, a voice from above and the voices of unborn children.

It really is the most wonderful fairy tale one could ever wish for and it could not have been staged or performed better. The work is spread over two discs, which are accompanied by a helpful booklet in three languages: German, French and English. Alan Titus appears as Barak and Janis Martin as his wife, Peter Seiffert is the emperor and Luana DeVol the empress with Marjana Lipovsek in the role of the wicked nurse. This is the kind of production one can enjoy watching over and over again. It's one of the best.

Catalani: La Wally [Susanna Von Der Burg, Paulo Ferreira, Bernd Valentin] [DVD] [2014] [NTSC]
Catalani: La Wally [Susanna Von Der Burg, Paulo Ferreira, Bernd Valentin] [DVD] [2014] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Susanna Von Der Burg
Price: 21.19

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly Lacklustre Performance., 28 Jun 2014
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From the beginning to the end of this production I kept saying to myself: 'This could have been done better.' The staging didn't help. Sometimes it was so confusing that I didn't know where we were supposed to be. The cosy hotel room bed above the snowline in a mountain shack looked out of place. The famous aria at the end of Act One is spoiled by confusing staging. Worse still, most of the actors don't seem to have their hearts in their performances. Susanne Langbein in the role of the boy Walter performs the best. I just couldn't relate to Susanna Von Der Burg in the role of La Wally. She seems to be trying too hard to depict the strong woman and fails miserably to do so. Besides all this, the tragic deaths were all unconvincingly staged.

I love opera and it takes a lot to get me bored, but, sad to say, it happened with this production. Since Catalani lived until he was 39 he had plenty of time to compose many great operas. Quite a number of of composers died young. Mozart and Bellini both died when they were around 36 and Pergolesi had composed a half dozen operas before he died aged 26. Janacek is the famous case of a composer who wrote all his operas when he was growing old, but he seems to have been the exception rather than the rule. The sad fact is that Catalini is let down by this lacklustre performance for which even the applause at the end seemed muted. Since this is the one opera for which he is remembered, he deserves better than this contrived travesty of his great work.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 30, 2014 2:44 PM BST

Mammoths: Ice Age Giants
Mammoths: Ice Age Giants
by Adrian Lister
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Well Illustrated, Well Mapped, Enjoyable Read, 27 Jun 2014
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This is a well researched, well written work packed with all kinds of both interesting and fascinating information, besides which it is packed with helpful illustrations, diagrams and maps. There's also a 'further information' section and a comprehensive index. Although only mammoths are mentioned in the title, it actually contains a great deal of information about the evolution of elephants and their relations with all kinds of details about fossil finds and their relationships to modern elephants. However, although it mentions the relationship between dugongs, manatees and elephants, it fails to mention hyraxes, which are also known, through their anatomy, to have stemmed from the same evolutionary source as elephants, besides which the reader could have been told that, although the various species of hyrax are all small mammals, they all have long gestation periods of around six months suggesting relationship to larger mammals such as elephants, but this relative information is not included.

The book has five chapters: 1: Mammoths and Elephants. 2. Tusks and Trunks. 3. The World of the Ice Age. 4. Frozen and Living. 5 Endangered and Extinct. The reader is shown how there is an uncanny resemblance between the way in which mammoths eventually reached extinction and the way in which the current world elephant population is in decline. Worse still, although humans were much less responsible than climate change for the mammoth's extinction, they are the main cause for the decline in modern elephant numbers.

The reader is shown how tusks and trunks evolved and reasons are given for why they did so. There are also lots of interesting facts concerning elephant teeth. Elephants are among the top five most intelligent animals along with dolphins, the great apes and humans. Mammoth intelligence was probably on a par with modern elephant intelligence. There's detailed illustrated information about an almost perfectly preserved body of a month old female baby mammoth, known as Lyuba, who was quite recently discovered in the Siberian ice. The reader is also well informed about other now extinct mammals that shared the Ice Age world with the woolly mammoth. There's also a great deal about mastodons who are not as closely related to existing elephants as are mammoths.

This is a very useful and readable work aimed at the general reader and which older children will enjoy. It's also reasonably priced. The author, Adrian Lister, is to be congratulated for turning out such a helpful and enjoyable read.

Janacek: Katia Kabanova (Karita Mattila/Madrid 2008/Belohlavek) [Blu-ray] [2010]
Janacek: Katia Kabanova (Karita Mattila/Madrid 2008/Belohlavek) [Blu-ray] [2010]
Dvd ~ Janacek
Offered by Idstock
Price: 21.94

5.0 out of 5 stars Love is Everything, but Perfection is a Fatal Curse., 21 Jun 2014
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Four of Janacek's greatest operas were composed after he reached the age of 65 and Katia Kabanova was the first of these four. To a large extent it reflects his well known passion for Kamila Stosslova revealed in the character of Katia, although not in her sad end. The work was first performed in Brno in Janacek's native Moravia in 1921. The action for the work is set, circa 1860, in a small Russian village situated near the river Volga, epitomised by the generous presence of water in this production, in which the cast move around on a series of duck boards laid out in the shape of paths through the water. Even when the action takes place indoors the dwelling is depicted as a roofless platform surrounded by water. Scene changes are performed by a team of young ladies who manage to get themselves very wet in the process.

I can recall having first watched this performance when it was broadcast on the BBC a good many years ago now. Finnish opera star Karita Matttila, here in the role of Katia, was the first winner of the BBC biennial Cardiff Singer of the World competition, which began around 25 years ago. She's perfect for the role – in fact absolutely brilliant, and supported by a superb cast. Janacek's style is to fit his music to both the emotions and the environment, blending it all in with the singing to create a coherent and satisfying whole. Nowhere does he do this better than in this work, which some might well think is his greatest. Not only has Karita Mattila a voice perfect for her role, she also acts it brilliantly, which is something that can also be said for the whole cast.

Although it's often easy to get the impression that opera characters have been designed to fit the music, this is never the case with Janacek whose characters sing just as we might very well expect them to talk. The music precisely follows Katya's conflicting emotions as it also accurately illustrates the emotions of the other characters with whom she's involved. Janacek does not say: here is a lead character; I will give him/her a great aria to sing. Instead he says: here is how people act and speak; I will enhance it all with music. Although this approach doesn't always work, it certainly does in Katia Kabanova. Better still, in this adaptation, there's not an actor who gives a below par performance. I would single every one of them out for special praise.

The character of Katia shows how an above average, strong, sensitive character can have their life ruined by a bunch of average, run of the mill, prejudiced everyday folk. Her businessman husband, Tichon, well portrayed by Guy de May, is a weak, alcohol dependant character dominated by his mother, Kabanicha, realistically sung and acted by Dalia Schaechter and who bullies her daughter-in-law, demanding that she observes high moral standards, even though her own leave much to be desired. Foster daughter Vavara (Natascha Petrinsky), who relates well to Katia, shows her how to go out at night and enjoy herself whilst her husband is away on a business trip. This is when Katya meets Boris (Miroslav Dvorsky), who is already in love with her. After that, Katya becomes trapped in a love triangle, from which only death can free her as she ends up as a sacrifice to a double standards society.

Janacek has succeeded in turning the agony of his own unrequited love for Kamila Stosslova into a masterpiece that accurately depicts the agonies of the interaction of human emotions and especially Slavic emotion, and this production is worthy of the master. I find that the music comes across very well on the disc I have. As with most things, they continue to improve the recording on discs, what with Blu-ray and all that, and some listeners are more concerned with rating disc performance than they are operatic performance. That is their privilege. All I can say with regard to this disc is that I can find no fault with it. I also find that most of the discs I purchase perform well and, if any one of them doesn't, I simply return it and get a repalcement. Bad faults are bad faults and need to be exposed, but being pernickety about everything simply ruins happiness. The 'warts and all' Cromwellian approach is always the best. Nothing has ever been written or composed that doesn't have warts of some kind or another. Nothing is perfect. Conductors, opera singers etc. - none of them is perfect even when they're brilliant. Everyone wanted Katia to be perfect when not one of them was perfect. This is an all time great production of an all time great masterpiece.

Daughters of Copper Woman
Daughters of Copper Woman
by Anne Cameron
Edition: Paperback
Price: 13.45

5.0 out of 5 stars Copper Woman and her Daughters have the Best Philosophy of Life., 18 Jun 2014
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It looks as if I might be just about the only man who has read and reviewed this work on AMAZON, which is a pity because men can learn a great deal from reading these native American stories, which reveal that the native peoples, and especially the native women, of Vancouver off the coast of British Columbia were both more culture and civilised than the Europeans who invaded their land and all but destroyed their culture. Not only this, their spiritual beliefs were also superior to those of the European invaders.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Anne Cameron for retelling these stories with vivid readability and making them available to a much wider readership. All told, there are 19 tales in the work plus a short explanatory preface. There is, of course, great sadness in the fact that the early settlers failed to recognise anything much that was worth learning from the native peoples or, if they did learn anything, deliberately failed to acknowledge it. There's one telling story in the book that describes how some very smelly European trapper chappies arrive on the scene and how they are a complete contrast to the native peoples concerning their personal hygiene.

Nasty, male dominated, aggressive religious movements are causing untold suffering in several parts of the world as I write this. They would all do well if they were to throw down their weapons and listen to the wisdom from the Daughters of Copper Woman. .Men cannot be trusted with religion. Copper Woman and her descendants have a philosophy of life far superior to anything taught by male managed religious palaver. Copper Woman and her daughters know all about how to nurture security in a very insecure world. It's so encouraging that these teachings and ways of life are now preserved for generations in this interesting and very helpful book.

Verdi: I Due Foscari (Parma 2009) (Leo Nucci/ Roberto De Biasio/ Tatiana Serjan/ Roberto Tagliavini/ Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma/ Donato Renzetti) (C Major: 721104) [Blu-ray] [2012]
Verdi: I Due Foscari (Parma 2009) (Leo Nucci/ Roberto De Biasio/ Tatiana Serjan/ Roberto Tagliavini/ Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma/ Donato Renzetti) (C Major: 721104) [Blu-ray] [2012]
Dvd ~ Leo Nucci
Price: 29.43

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Balanced, All Round Great Production., 18 Jun 2014
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The libretto for this work was adapted by Francesco Maria Piave from Byron's play entitled 'The Two Foscari.' The opera was first performed in the Teatro Argentina on 3 November 1844, which means that it is one of Verdi's earlier works. He, himself, soon realised that it was too gloomy overall. However, the work is important in that it reveals another significant step in the development of Verdi's greatness in that it shows how he was always ready to explore new ways to better articulate his compositions.

This particular rendition of the work in the Teatro Regio de Parma is greatly helped by the excellence of the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma conducted by Donato Renzetti and by the sympathetic staging and the stage direction by Joseph Franconi Lee. There's careful blending without anything getting in the way of anything else as, sadly, does happen sometimes.

Whilst appreciating the point concerning the 'too-gloominess', I have to say that this in no way encumbered my own particular enjoyment of this rendering of the work. In any case, there's a very real bright spot, with dancing and capering around, on the waterfront at the beginning of Act 3, which was especially well staged and a real delight to watch.

The performance is well directed with all participants clearly giving of their best. They interpret Verdi's music in the best possible fashion, bringing out the nuances involved in coping with the cross-current of emotions involved in the turmoil of human machinations. Leo Nucci is just perfect in the role of Francesco Foscari, octogenarian Doge of Venice. The whole gambit of problems involved in the conflict between his role as a father and his duty as Doge of Venice could not have better brought out. Roberto De Biasio is equally convincing in the role of his wrongly condemned son Jacapo Foscari.

For me, Tatiana Sergan is perfect for the role of Jacapo's wife, Lucrezia Contarini, bringing so well, as she does, the anguish of a wife and mother about to be separated from a loyal and caring husband and father to their children, who appear on stage and go through the agonies of imminent separation in realistic fashion. It really could not have been better staged.

Then, of course, we have the villain in the shape of Jacopo Loredano, well played by Roberto Tagliavini, who blames Jacapo Loredamo for the death of both his father and uncle. Foscari the elder is torn between his duty as Doge and his love of his only surviving son. The outcome is bad all round. The truth that son Foscari is innocent comes too late, just after it's reported that he has died on the ship bearing him into exile in Crete. The Council of Ten, the top governing body of Venice force Doge Foscari to resign, soon after which he dies and the whole business ends in agonising tragedy in typical Verdi fashion.

I was very impressed with this production, which I shall enjoy watching many times. I was able to relax and allow all the beautiful music and singing to flow around me. Nothing is perfect and I dare say there are those who will discern faults where I was able to find none. All I can say is that it's perfect enough for me and I'm more than glad I bought this Blu-ray DVD. I have seen another production of this work, but for me, this one is the best. That's why I'm giving it five stars. It's a well balanced, all round great of a production.

Rameau: Platee [DVD] [2011] [NTSC]
Rameau: Platee [DVD] [2011] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Paul Agnew
Offered by MediaMondo
Price: 48.61

5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Enjoyable Romp., 12 Jun 2014
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Rameau's 'Platee' was first performed in Versailles on 31 March 1745. Although acting an opera in modern costumes quite often undermines the enjoyment of watching it, this is not so in the case of this Eighteenth Century opera. This may be because the gods are the gods and can please themselves what they wear at any given time. In any case, how do we know what the gods wore? Anyway, it works very well in this entertaining Grenoble adaptation directed by Laurent Pelly.

Paul Agnew is excellent as Platee the ugly marsh nymph who is fooled into believing that Jupiter has fallen in love with her. He is costumed just right to look convincingly ugly-nymph-like. and has the right haute-contre voice suitable for the part, and Mireille Delunsch is a delight as the Folly Thaile. There are frogs, lots of dancing and capering around, all of which is delightfully choreographed. There's one entertaining episode when one of the frogs wanders in among the orchestra, where it has a go at playing various instruments before taking over the baton to conduct the last few bars of that particular scene. The performance is full of choral singing and lots of dancing, all of which is very entertaining.

All told, this is an ingenious adaptation of this great work by Jean Philippe Rameau, in which singing, acting and choreography are cleverly blended to form an overall great production. This is an ideal work for blending old and new into a coherent whole and this production causes this to work perfectly into a very enjoyable romp, which lifts viewers, many of whom will enjoy watching it over and over again just as I do. What is the fate of of Platee the marsh nymph? Oh well, you'll have to watch the disc and find that out for yourself.

Massenet Cendrillon [DVD] [2012] [NTSC]
Massenet Cendrillon [DVD] [2012] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Various Artists
Price: 13.06

5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Production with Three Powerful Women., 11 Jun 2014
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This 2011 Royal Opera House production of Cendrillon is of the best. However, for several reasons, that doesn't mean than every viewer will like it and that's probably, in the main, due to Massenet's slant on this most popular of all fairy tales, of which there are several versions from different parts of Europe. One variant is the status and attitude of Cinderella's father, who is sometimes portrayed as her father wed a second time, sometimes as her step father who is sometimes also her uncle and sometimes not. In all these versions the step mother always has two not very good looking daughters who she favours above all else and relegates Cinderella to a household servant who spends a deal of time seeing to the fires and cleaning out the cinders amongst which she sleeps. Hence her name: Cinderella.

In this production the role of Cinderella (Cendrillon) is portrayed by larger than life dominant personality Joyce DiDonato. The other dominant personality in the show is Madame de la Haltiere brilliantly played and sung by Ewa Podles. The two ugly sisters don't much to do in this version of the story, except just to look silly. Pendolfe the hen-pecked father, played by Jean-Philippe Lafont, comes across as comes across as a truly henpecked, spineless character caught between the poerful charcters of his domineering wife and self-assertive daughter Cendrillon of whom one wonders how such a powerful personality could possibly have allowed herself to be dominated by the two ugly sisters for so long. Prince Charmant, a trouser role well played by Alice Coote, is yet another weak character waiting to be picked off by the powerful Cendrillon, if the equally powerful stepmother Madame de la Holtiere.

There are actually three powerful characters in this version of the Cinderella, all female: Cendrillon, Madame de la Haltiere and the Fairey Godmother played and sung by Eglise Gutierrez, who surely has to be the most tartish fairy godmother ever. There's an episode in Act 3 when she gets dangerously close to performing a striptease, something quite in keeping with this riotous version of the Cinderella story. I found that the best way to truly appreciate and enjoy this production is to concentrate on these three characters and allow everything else to revolve around them. Of course, we cannot know if Massenet intended it all to be seen like this, but it certainly makes for enjoyable viewing.

The orchestration is excellent as are the support cast such as those representing the four horses pulling the coach, who were dressed as humans with horse heads. They were prancing and tossing their heads just like real horses and they were an absolute delight. It's inspiring little touches such as this throughout the work that makes this production special. For instance there's a delightful episode right at the beginning in which the servants are bustling around warning of the severity of the step-mother and so on. Then, near the end, the queueing up to try on the shoe episode is delightfully choreographed.

All told this is a delightful romp led by three powerful female characters: domineering stepmother, sexy fairy godmother and powerful Cendrillon (Cinderella). The rest of the cast are all playing second fiddle to their tune. This is certainly Cinderella with a difference and a very worthwhile one at that.

White Palace [DVD] [1991]
White Palace [DVD] [1991]
Dvd ~ Susan Sarandon
Price: 4.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Older Women Marrying Younger Men Can Work Well., 10 Jun 2014
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This review is from: White Palace [DVD] [1991] (DVD)
White Palace is a convincingly acted, well directed film that accurately portrays the the more often than realised occurrence of a younger man falling in love with an older woman. A famous case of this kind of thing happening was the marriage of the famous Eighteenth Century Doctor Samuel Johnson when he was 25 to Elisabeth Porter who, at 46, was 21 years older than he was. It was a love match and they were very happy together. Johnson, who affectionately called her 'Tetty', was very sad when she died and never had any interest in marrying anyone else.

This film wins because it doesn't try to gloss over anything. The case of a younger man (James Spader) distressed had losing his wife is accurately portrayed as is the lead up to his meeting the older woman convincingly acted by Susan Sarandon. Not only is she at least 15 years older than him, she is also not up to the level of his social strata. Realising this, she tries to disappear, but he eventually finds her again and love triumphs.

We may well ask: all very well, but will it last? Well, of course, we don't need to know that. What we do know is that this kind of match certainly does last for some couples. If it lasted for Samuel Johnson, it can last for others. Anyway, it's a lovely, well made, well acted film. I've had my copy of it for some time now and I've watched it several times. It's the kind of film that inspires us to always strive to overcome problems and do better with our lives.

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