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

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Jacqus Offenbach - La vie parisienne / Sébastien Rouland, Laurent Pelly [Opéra de Lyon 2007] [DVD] [2008]
Jacqus Offenbach - La vie parisienne / Sébastien Rouland, Laurent Pelly [Opéra de Lyon 2007] [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Marie Devellereau
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly Enjoyable, Thought Provoking Performance., 2 April 2013
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La Vie Parisienne is an opera comique readily adaptable to fit in with a modern day scenario. This production begins by cleverly capturing the atmosphere at a train station along with the multitudinous interactions of the many sounds including voices heard in such a venue. Offenbach has taken a segment of life and turned it into music. This is everyday life; this is us, this is the accentuation of what we actually are. We may not like his style; we may not like any of what we see and hear; but maybe that's because we don't like looking at ourselves in the mirror. We may very well think this is a load of trash not worthy of operatic genre; but let us not deceive ourselves: disguised as a feel-good inducing romp, this work shows us what we are truly like. It may well cause us to ask the questions: am I really like that and are we truly like that? At first we may be shocked, but then we learn to laugh at ourselves, which is a sure way of embracing reality.

There used to be an old saying: we should cry at a wedding and laugh at a funeral. All right, this is a fun romp, but the tears are never very far away. This work gives us the picture of an aristocrat out for a good time in Paris, but who will he hurt in the process of attaining this? The message of this work is: fun comes at a price and this is the theme that runs right through the performance, which is much more of a masterpiece than many might suppose. In it the genius of Offenbach demonstrates how, no matter how much we try and how much we spend to escape the realities of life, they always catch up with us in the end. In this romp of an opera-bouffe Offenbach brings us face to face with the truth about ourselves.

This might not sound much like a proper revue, but this opera has already been handsomely reviewed by other satisfied viewers. What I can say is that it's a great, well directed production easily worth a five star rating, which I'm happy to see it has already received from several people and which I'm certainly going to award it. Opera is wonderful because there are so many different ways of doing it. I just love the way this thought-provoking version of La Vie Parisienne has been staged and directed at L'Opera de Lyon. Thoroughly recommended.

North & South [DVD]
North & South [DVD]
Dvd ~ Daniela Denby-Ashe
Price: £5.37

5.0 out of 5 stars An All Time Great in Every Way., 1 April 2013
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This review is from: North & South [DVD] (DVD)
I've read the book and watched this production when it was first staged on BBC TV and I've had my DVD copy for sometime. This is an all time great, superbly acted production, the like of which is not much seen these days. Better still, it's so visully realistic, causing the viewer to feel that she/he is actually there with the people in that day and age. I'm not going to pick out any actor for special mention because they are all equally good in this superbly directed production, which one can well imagine Elizabeth Gaskill would have approved of. If you saw this on BBC TV and liked it, why not buy your vey own copy and enjoy it over again as many times as you would like? In this work Elizabeth Gaskill has given us, not only a vivid picture of what it was like in the mid Nineteenth Century industrial North of England, but has also composed one of the greatest love stories of all time.

Verdi: Un Giorno Di Regno (Pizzi 2010) (Loconsolo/ Porta/ Antonacci/ Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma/ Donato Renzetti/ Luigi Pizzi) (C Major: 720208) [DVD] [NTSC] [2012]
Verdi: Un Giorno Di Regno (Pizzi 2010) (Loconsolo/ Porta/ Antonacci/ Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma/ Donato Renzetti/ Luigi Pizzi) (C Major: 720208) [DVD] [NTSC] [2012]
Dvd ~ Loconsolo
Price: £22.16

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Brilliant Side to Verdi's Genius., 1 April 2013
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What a shame Verdi was diverted from composing more comic operas by the initially poor reception given to his adoption of this genre in the shape of Un Giorno di Regno because, as his other comic opera, Falstaff, later confirmed in his old age, he was actually as good with comedy as he was with tragedy. This cleverly staged and directed version of this his second opera at the Teatro Regio di Parma with the Orchestra e Coro is a real gem, with which, one can well imagine, Verdi would have been well pleased and even more so with the warm reception it received.

If you're the kind of person who enjoys a great romp of a musical production, you'll thoroughly enjoy this one directed by Pier Luigi Pizzi with Donato Renzetti conducting the orchestra. Too many people often fail to realise how diverse the opera genre can be. The styles and nuances of styles in which it can be presented are virtually limitless in a way that cannot be realistically said of any other genre. No one would have appreciated this more than Verdi who we can imagine would have enjoyed composing other kinds of opera besides tragedies; but he needed to make a living and the tragedies were doing that for him.

I like to think of this production as a brilliant example of what might have been. All right, I know the experts say that this work is not up to Verdi's eventual greatness, but it's great stuff as far as I'm concerned. So just buy it and enjoy it just like I do. I don't know what other folks think, but for me, Verdi comes across as one of those lamentably very few great, creative personalities as being truly likeable and nice to know. Having himself faced family tragedy, it seems as if he was always conscious of how difficult life can be for creative musical people. Now, 200 years after his birth, it's inspiring to have this delightful, excellently produced example of yet another side of his genius. It's the kind of production you can watch over and over again and not tire of it. I love it and thoroughly recommend it. Apart from anything else, you're going to just love Anna Caterina Antonacci as La Marchesa del Poggio.

Belonging [DVD]
Belonging [DVD]
Dvd ~ Brenda Blethlyn
Price: £7.99

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brenda Blethyn at Her Best., 1 April 2013
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This review is from: Belonging [DVD] (DVD)
This play is really all about the main character, Jess, brilliantly played by Brenda Blethyn who, in the end, wins through to realise her true self, leaving the viewer to love her for her latently realised strength of character. Kevin Whately gives a convincing portrayal of playing her weak willed, dithering husband. Peter Sellis, Anna Massey and Rosemary Harris all give convincing performances as three more 'hangers on' to Jess's good nature. In the end she's well rid of the lot of them and we see her come shining through as she realises her true self. It's all close to how people truly behave in real life and shows us how women often need to learn how to be strong and not allow themselves to be put on by selfish relations.

Donizetti - L'Elisir d'Amore (Wiener Staatsoper, April 2005) [DVD]  [2006]
Donizetti - L'Elisir d'Amore (Wiener Staatsoper, April 2005) [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Anna Netrebko
Price: £9.76

5.0 out of 5 stars An All Time Great Performance of this Work., 1 April 2013
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I never tire of watching this brilliant production of L'Elisir d'Amore, which the audience at the time of the recording obviously enjoyed immensely if the encore is anything to go by. The acting is every bit as good as the singing, which is top quality. Just to give one example: Anna Nebtrebko allowed the character of Adina to take her over completely and Rolando Villazon was equally convincing as Nemorino. The rest of the players were all equally good. Where, for instance could you find a better Dulcamara? Or a better Dulcamara's donkey pulling his cart? The sets and costumes by Jurgen Rose could not have been done better.

I read somewhere that someone thinks this production is 'dated'. I would be grateful if someone would explain to me what such terms as 'dated' and 'old fashioned' mean, especially as they always seemed to be used in a derogatory sense. Since logic tells us that everything becomes dated, are we being told that everything in the past is somehow not quite up to standard and that everything we do now is somehow better than anything done in the past? For example, isn't calling something 'dated' tantamount to saying that anything Jane Austin wrote is no good because it's 'dated' or 'old fashioned'?

The plain truth is that 'dated' and 'old fashioned' are clichés used as euphemisms for something such as e.g. 'this is a production made and acted by a set of old fogies who lived in some silly old past age.' Such an attitude is both utterly ridiculous and meaningless. Productions can be well done, indifferently done or badly done irrespective of their their performance dates. All the truly wonderful and enjoyable things about this great production have all been well, and indeed better, said by other reviewers and I wholeheartedly agree with all the five star reviews. This is a timeless staging that fits into any day and age. I love every bit of this production and wholeheartedly recommend it. Buy and enjoy.

Bizet: Carmen [DVD]
Bizet: Carmen [DVD]
Dvd ~ David McVicar
Price: £29.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Another Great Glyndebourne Production but Where's the Gypsy?, 31 Mar. 2013
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This review is from: Bizet: Carmen [DVD] (DVD)
As great as this production is it fails in one important respect: it's gypsy-less. Carmen, the dark haired Spanish gypsy, is absent from the performance. I recall how, when in class in the village school in my native Suffolk we would be let out to watch the gypsies go by in their colourful caravans drawn by piebald ponies. They were dressed in bright colours, wore large ear rings and they all had the darkest of dark hair and brown eyes. Foals trotted behind and dogs looked out of the back of the caravans, which seemed to go on forever and I never saw a fair-haired gypsy. It was the same years later when I attended a gypsy funeral with its masses of floral designs depicting what the deceased would have used in her lift-time. I can recall a huge kettle made of flowers. Every woman at the funeral had black hair and they wore black trilby-style hats and large ear-rings.

We can overdo things and there's such a thing as over-playing a role. We can over-gypsy a gypsy character in a play and a character can be over-played when subtlety is required. It's rather as if we were to stage an otter to play Badger in a stage production of 'The Wind in the Willows.' Sophie Van Otter gives a bravura performance. She's great, but where's the gypsy Carmen? This is another great Glyndebourne performance and I'm going to give it five stars, but I sure missed the gypsy girl. I think we should always judge the quality of a performance and never down mark it just because we don't agree with this or that casting or the staging or some of the costumes and so on. At the same time good revues always point out discrepancies and revues themselves get marked down because those reading them don't agree with them and not because they are bad reviews.

All the fine things about this production have been skilfully voiced by other reviewers and I'm not going to duplicate them. I simply air a point of view worthy of consideration and, hopefully, I shall soon be posting a revue of another production of Carmen, which is a work that lends itself to a fascinating variety of interpretations. This production is just one of them. Buy, watch and enjoy.

Ermione: Glyndebourne Festival Opera (Davis) [DVD] [2011] [NTSC]
Ermione: Glyndebourne Festival Opera (Davis) [DVD] [2011] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Anna Caterina Antonacci

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Performance Despite Ermione's Awful Dress., 31 Mar. 2013
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I have one gripe with regard to this production and that is the choice of early Victorian style costumes for the performers. Those designed for the two principle female roles, which had all the appearances of the style of dress that might be worn by a prima donna asked to sing at a BBC promenade concert, were especially inappropriate. I'm not a purist who might suggest that the actors be clad after the fashions of ancient Greece. What I am saying is that, given the time in which the opera was composed, empire line style attire would have been much more appropriate for all of the female performers. Sadly, this golden opportunity was missed and we now have to suffer seeing Ermione herself attired one of the most appallingly designed dresses it has been my misfortune to behold.

Fortunately, the direction, staging, acting and singing of this Glyndebourne production are so brilliantly good that it would be churlish to deduct any stars for inappropriate costume design. The quality of the singing is matched by equally good acting. Both Anna Caterina Antonacci as Ermione and Diana Montague as Andromache could not have performed better. Young Oliver Bridge in the role of Astyanax, son of Andromache, will surely cherish for the rest of his life the times when he was hugged and kissed by the beautiful opera star in the form of his stage mother. It was all so realistically and beautifully performed. Sometimes with operas we have the problem of them being well sung but not so well acted, but there was none of that kind of thing here. What we have here is a dramatically enhanced picture of the kind of day to day emotions witnessed and experienced in the real world and this kind of stage craft is what enables the viewer-listener to empathise so well with what is going on on stage. This is, purely and simply, just another Glyndebourne masterpiece.

You couldn't fault any of the singer-actors. For me they were all equally good. I just got the impression that they all enjoyed working together. One part of the performance that especially delighted me was the bows and arrows chorus of the women hunters singing to try and persuade Ermione to forget her sorrows and go hunting with them. I sometimes think that Rossini refused to accept that music needed to be miserable even when it was depicting misery. All right, here's a great tragedy, but life goes on. There are some great operas that are only just above being doom and gloom disasters ending in death and whose reputation is saved solely by the greatness of the music and singing. Rossini seems not have seen it that way. Even his tragedies end with a strong dose of hope for a better future. This is just a point of view and it would be interesting to learn what other viewers think. Some people might say that this kind of thing is not really reviewing the opera, but I think that how a performance effects people is important.

I found this a good sound recording with clear visuals. However, I'm an easily pleased person who is not in the way of being pernickety concerning these matters. I'm reviewing the operatic performance and not the electronics or whatever you call them. I thoroughly recommend this recording of an all time great performance. Buy, watch and enjoy. Viva Rossini!

Zdenek Benaclova - Smetana - Bartered Bride [2006] [DVD]
Zdenek Benaclova - Smetana - Bartered Bride [2006] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Smetana
Price: £12.88

5.0 out of 5 stars An All Time Great Production., 30 Mar. 2013
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This production is an all Czech film version recorded in 1981, which could not have been better produced, acted and sung if they had tried. It's staged in a realistic reproduction of a Czech village centre and everyone is dressed in period costumes applicable to the time when the the action is set. Overall the viewer is presented with a glimmering kaleidoscope of colour that mirrors the vivacity of the folk dancing that takes place on various occasions throughout the work. Smetana (1824-1884), who was a champion of Czech independence from Austrian domination, superbly evokes and enhances the originality of the Bohemian way of life.

This is a work about everyday country folk, causing the viewer to think: I know/knew somebody just like him/her. Smetana gives us an enhanced vision of what country life was actually like. Arranged marriages were once a common feature of life all over Europe, including Ireland and the UK. Here we have a depiction of how one arranged marriage went badly wrong but with a happy ending helped by the arrival of a circus with a performing bear, which is actually a man in a bear skin, which eventually plays an important part in the action when worn by Vasek, the simpleton son of wealthy farmers who is being matched up with the beautiful Marenka (the Bartered Bride) much against her will because she is in love with the handsome Jenik, the son of Vasek's father by a former marriage.

In the end everything turns out well with Marenka and Jenek being re-united and Kecal, the marriage broker, being catastrophically humiliated. This whole production is a superb example of how to act, sing, direct and produce an opera for home watching on DVD. In a way, it's rather like a glorified musical, but that would not do it justice, simply because it's more wonderfully musically and dramatically inspiring than any musical Hollywood has managed to turn out, as good as some of them are, including my favourite, The Sound of Music. Well done and thank you so much Smetana and the Czech (Bohemian and Moravian) people! At long last, the Czech Republic is free and independent. Smetana would be overjoyed. This, his masterpiece, is a tribute to the free spirit of the independently minded Czech people and I thoroughly recommend it.

Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) [DVD] [2001] [NTSC]
Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) [DVD] [2001] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Glyndebourne Festival Opera
Price: £5.07

5.0 out of 5 stars Glyndebourne Does it Again. Brilliant!, 29 Mar. 2013
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This is my favourite 'Barber'. Has it ever been better performed? Not only does John Rawnsley sing the part of the barber to perfection, he also acts the part to perfection. Better still, this is how it is with the whole production, which is sung to perfection, acted to perfection and staged to perfection. One part of the staging I particularly liked was the view from Dr Bartolo's window. Dave Heather made an excellent job of directing this production for video.

You couldn't fault any of the singer-actors and the 'chemistry' between them could not have been better. The rapport between the actors is tangible. For instance, Max-Rene Cosotti as Count Almaviva and John Rawnsley's Figaro were obviously very much at home with each other. Claudio Dederi is just perfect as Dr Bartolo and Maria Ewing must surely go down as one of the all time greats as Rosina and I've never seen a better Basilo than that performed for us by Ferruccio Furlanetto. One of the pieces I always watch out for in this work is the solo sung by Berta the Maid and Catherine McCord, who is perfect for the part, didn't disappoint me.

What else can one say? You just can't fault it. In simple terms its just a case of: Glyndebourne does it again! As for the quality of the recording I can't really comment. As with all my DVDs and Blu-ray DVDs, it works perfectly on the equipment I have. Inevitably, there always something that can be picked out as not as good as it should be - picture quality and so on or sound - but I'm not aware of any that kind of thing here. But then, I have to say that I'm generally a happy, easy to please person not given to being driven up the walls by minor annoyances. The character of the Barber of Seville is a great role model. Beset as he is on all sides, he never lets anything get him down. And, believe me, his attitude works. This is great stuff. Buy and enjoy.

The Earliest Songbook In England  (Hyperion: CDH55297)
The Earliest Songbook In England (Hyperion: CDH55297)
Price: £7.27

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating Directness Redolent of Refreshing Simplicity., 29 Mar. 2013
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This CD comprises a collection of music discovered on decaying ancient parchment dating to circa 1200. In all there are 23 tracks including several solo pieces, five of which are sung alto by Catherine King. All except Rogers Covey-Crump the voices have changed since the earlier Gothic Voices recordings. This one is dated 2000 and Christopher Page is still directing. Here again we have the same high standard of both singing and recording as one has come to expect of Gothic Voices.

I love listening to this kind of music, which I find thought provokingly inspiring. It's actually quite complicated, causing one to wonder how long ago was it that humans began to sing actual songs. Did singing take place in the caves when the cave painters were painting? Are some forms of modern music closer to the primitive forms? Maybe it all started with drums and chanting, but there's none of that here where we've already reached the stage of high dramatisation albeit with a stimulating directness redolent of refreshing simplicity. It's as if it were some kind of upliftingly paradoxical kind of art. It would take too long to comment individually on each of the 23 tracks. All I can say is that it provides the listener with one of those extra-special experiences of life as its inspiring sounds answer more questions than words can ever do. Thoroughly recommended.

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