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H. A. Weedon "Mouser" (North Somercotes, Lincolnshire, UK)
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Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk And Other Stories (Penguin Classics)
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk And Other Stories (Penguin Classics)
by Nikolai Leskov
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, Thought Provoking Read., 22 Feb. 2016
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This publication contains five short stories by the Russian author, Nikolai Leskov (1831-95). Probably, the best known of these is 'Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk' (q.v.), which is the basis for a well known opera by Shostakovich. It is certainly less rambling and more to the point than any of the other accompanying four tales: Musk-Ox, The Sealed Angel, Pamphalon the Entertainer and A Winter's Day.

Leskov has the knack of being able to take right us inside the minds of a variety of believable characters enabling us to empathise with them as we enter into the way they are functioning. They are highlighted, ultimate examples of everyday folk such as we might find anywhere and their interactions with each other reminds us of our own experiences leading us to exclaim: 'I know someone like that!' Even though the characters may, at times, appear exaggerated, this is all part of Leskov's genius in being able to bring out what we are really like, such as how we are controlled by our emotions and prejudices more than we mostly care to admit.

Leskov also brings out how religion, class, corruption, commerce and circumstances affect the way people develop and interact with each other. All told, this collection is a very worthwhile, thought provoking read, especially for British and Irish readers because they appear in a Penguin edition before this publisher was taken over by the Americans who have since inflicted their spellings upon us such as draining the colour out of 'colour' by removing the 'u', a degenerative step which also removes the glamour from 'glamour'. However, it's not quite all doom and gloom. Did you know that 'the fall' meaning 'autumn' is actually the original English word for that season of the year and was taken to the Americas by by the early English settlers such as the those who founded Jamestown and the Pilgrim Fathers? It wasn't until the end of the Seventeenth Century that 'autumn' replaced 'fall' for that season of the year in Britain and Ireland.

Fortunately, reading these five tales is an uplifting and a not a fall down experiences. At times they do need some perseverance, but it's all worth it, if only because it gives us a fascinating insight into what humans are really like when the veneer is stripped away. They also show us how religion can often cause us to act in a variety of irrational ways.


Bellini: Beatrice Di Tenda [DVD] [2006]
Bellini: Beatrice Di Tenda [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Gruberova
Price: £24.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking, Enjoyable Watch. Top Grade Performance., 21 Feb. 2016
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This 2001 recording from the Opernhaus Zurich of Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda has to be one of the very best ever. Singing, orchestration and staging are all attention holding to the highest degree. Above all, Edita Gruberova is outstanding in the title role of Beatrice. 'You may torture me. You may kill me. But I'm Beatrice; so you'd better watch out!' Based on real life events from the early Fifteenth Century, this is a sorry tale of how desire leads a powerful man to fathom the depths of depravity, including ridding himself of his wife on a trumped up charge, in order to get what he wants.

Although the costuming has been updated somewhat from the Fifteenth Century, this does not intrude because it has been tastefully done with Edith Gruberova wearing a long, attractively patterned red dress throughout the performance. There's a great deal of singing for her to do, much of it in the bel canto style, which makes for inspiring listening. I never cease to be amazed at how so many people miss out on great singing of this kind just because it takes place in less well know works and performances, although I can't see why Beatrice di Tenda should fall into this category when it's obviously such an all time great.

We have here very good 16:9 picture quality matched by excellent sound quality even though it isn't Blu-ray. We have here a top grade, multi-watchable performance with everyone involved obviously giving of their best. Michael Volle sings the Duke of Milan, Stefania Kaluza is Agnese del Maino, his mistress; Raul Hermandez plays Orombello, the young nobleman who is in love with Beatrice- much to her consternation; Miroslave Christoff plays Anichino, friend of Orembello and Boguslaw Birdzinski plays Rizzardo, the brother of Agnese. The chorus is top grade throughout. I'm so pleased I bought this recording. It's such a rewardingly thought provoking, enjoyable watch.


Puccini: Gianni Schicci [Blu-ray] [2010] [NTSC] [DVD]
Puccini: Gianni Schicci [Blu-ray] [2010] [NTSC] [DVD]
Dvd ~ London Philharmonic Orchestra
Price: £25.65

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Performances, but I prefer Gianni Schicchi to be in Il Trittico., 21 Feb. 2016
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Why did Glyndebourne decide to perform Puccini's Gianni Schicchi apart from its usual 'Il Trittico' setting along with his 'Il Tabarro' and 'Suor Angelica'? Since, for me, these three short operas compliment each other in especially rewarding fashion, one on its own seems lost without the other two no matter how well it's staged and performed. Then again, if they are split up and one of them performed alongside the all male cast of Rachmaninov's 'The Miserly Knight', why wasn't this great work juxtapositioned with the all female cast of 'Suor Angelica'? Maybe it's because such a pairing would not have provided the entertaining, thought provoking contrast between comedy and tragedy as we have here.

I'm a great believer in Glyndebourne whose productions are nearly always among the very best in the world. However as good as this five star production of Gianni Schicchi certainly is, it still isn't my favourite one. As I see it, the role of Gianni Schichi is among the most difficult to perform convincingly and, as good as he certainly is, Alessandro Corbelli is not my favourite in this role, who is Alberto Mastromarino in the 2007 Teatro Comumale di Modena production available in Arthaus Musik from AMAZON along with the other two operas, Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica, in Il Trittico.

Largely due to later period staging and costumes it's often forgotten that the original intended setting for Gianni Schicchi is in the Middle Ages circa maybe 1300. Fortunately, it depicts the kind of situation relevant to any day and age. I think it has to be said that no composer understood the human condition better than Puccini, whose music uncannily expresses every human emotion in realistic fashion. This is the reason why I feel it's important for this work to be performed as the third work in Il Trittico. Otherwise we don't have the rewarding 'leading up to it' scenario and we are left with the feeling that a beheading has taken place no matter how well the work is staged, sung and performed.

Both picture and sound quality are top grade in this recording, which I'm sure many people will enjoy watching, in addition to which it may well lead them to watch all of Il Trittico if they have not already done so. Some people will very much enjoy the staging of Rachmaninov's 'The Miserly Knight' alongside the Puccini. Although it is certainly well staged and performed in five star style, it will not appeal to everyone, if only because it suffers from the all male cast giving themselves over to 'spoilt boy tantrums' syndrome with them shouting at each other in the most disturbing fashion. I found it was best appreciated and enjoyed through concentrating on the music rather than bothering about what the characters are doing. Fortunately, Matilda Leyser in the silent role of the aerialist adds some much needed variation to the whole process. She also convincingly trouser roles as the deceased Buose Donati in Gianni Schicchi, such as when he fell out of the cupboard.

The various performers have all been well chosen for their roles giving the viewer the feeling that everyone is giving of their best in the midst of realistic staging plus sympathetic orchestration by the London Philharmonic under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski. Although I feel many opera lovers will enjoy these recordings just as I do, my preference will remain strongly with having Gianni Schicchi performed as part of Il Trittico along with Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica. By the way, Sally Matthews is excellent in the famous 'O My Darling Daddy' episode.


King Alfred's Daughter: The Lady of the Mercians
King Alfred's Daughter: The Lady of the Mercians
by Marjory A. Grieser
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.96

3.0 out of 5 stars Not Bad, but too Sentimentalised and Lacking Focus., 18 Feb. 2016
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This work by the late Marjory A Grieser is obviously a labour of love based on careful research during several trips to England from her home in the United States. Unfortunately her commendable effort is spoiled by a thick larding of sentimentality that imbues the main historic characters with modern day 'romantic attitudes' towards each another. Some of this might not be so bad if it didn't have the effect of diminishing reality, not to mention wasting time. There's too much dithering around with imagined emotions and not enough concentration on the militaristic and political achievements of Aethelflaed, the Lady of the Mercians. Would the real Aethelflaed have been distressed by the horrors of battle as suggested in this work? Although we simply don't know, the balance of probabilities is that, since she was obviously a skilled strategist and military commander, she would not have been any more distressed by such things than are modern day female doctors and nurses by the sight of blood and horrific wounds.

Ecgwin (also known as Egwina), the mother of Athelstan destined to become one of England's greatest kings, is sentimentally depicted as the bona fide first wife of Edward (Aethelflaed's brother) who followed his father Alfred as King of England. The truth is, she was Edward's mistress and Athelstan was illegitimate. The nearer fiction is to truth, the better it is, which means there was no need to distort the facts in this way. Fortunately Althestan's illegitimacy did not prevent him from becoming a great king and the first of all England within boundaries much the same as those of today.

This work has the potential of being a great one. Unfortunately, it has been spoiled by too much waffle coupled with unrealistic romanticism. Since both Aethelflaed and Athelstan are two of the most inspiringly interesting characters of English history, it saddens me to have them sentimentalised in this twee-dimentional fashion in a work of great promise which hasn't quite managed to deliver to the best possible advantage. If you want to find out about the real Aethelflaed (also spelled 'Ethelfleda') read 'The Age of Athelstan' by Paul Hill, available from AMAZON. It includes an inspiring photograph of her statue at Tamworth, which depicts her holding a sword in her left hand with her right arm around her nephew, the child Athelstan.

It's great that Marjory A Grieser thought so much of Aethelfled that she was inspired to write a book about her. It has its good points, but is too twee-ised to do this great Lady of the Mercians real justice. The three maps included are not very well drawn.


The Ch'i-Lin Purse: A Collection of Ancient Chinese Stories (Sunburst Book)
The Ch'i-Lin Purse: A Collection of Ancient Chinese Stories (Sunburst Book)
by Linda Fang
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.17

5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, Inspiring, Satisfying, Beautifully Illustrated, Enjoyable Read., 18 Feb. 2016
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This collection of nine ancient Chinese stories retold by Linda Fang is both fascinating and enjoyable to read; but why only nine? There must be more of them around and, since they make such satisfying and inspiring reading, I'm sure I'm not the only one who would like to read many more of them. What makes them even better are the imaginative illustrations by Jeanne M Lee.

Fortunately, we have here the kind of tales that attract the reader back to read them over and over again. They are also an antidote against the Grimm Fairy Tale style which relies too heavily on 'the youngest of three coming out on top' syndrome. Mercifully, there's none of that kind of thing here, but just well told, first class, attention holding tales for all ages. Thoroughly recommened.


The Turnip Princess: And Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales (Penguin Classics)
The Turnip Princess: And Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales (Penguin Classics)
by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.55

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Read., 11 Feb. 2016
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These Bavarian folk/fairy tales, collected by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth during the mid Nineteenth Century, are similar in style and content to the earlier collection made by the Brothers Grimm. For instance, the oft recurring theme of three brothers/sisters with the downtrodden youngest sister or brother coming out 'on top' through marrying the prince or princess is well represented, although some of the tales are more original with none of that kind of thing. However, there's a lack of the humour as found in so many Irish and English folk tales.

If you are interested in and fascinated by folk tales, this collection is a good buy to add to your collection if only because it's fascinating to get to know what tales different cultures have created in one way and another. We learn how they differ as well as discerning threads that connect them to each other. All told, this is handy, pick up to read any time collection that relaxes readers into an other-worldly, creative state of mind as they realise how the daily grind they live with isn't, perhaps, the real world after all.

Tired of wading through novels only to get disappointed? Try reading folk tales. This collection is a very good one with which to begin. It's an interesting read.


Orkney Folk Tales (Folk Tales: United Kingdom)
Orkney Folk Tales (Folk Tales: United Kingdom)
by Tony Muir
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Tales from Fascinating Islands., 3 Feb. 2016
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Tom Muir, the compiler of Orkney Folk Tales, adopts a flowing, readily assimilated style in the telling of them that makes this collection a pleasure to read even when, with some of them, one gets a deja vu feeling of having heard them somewhere else. However, this may be because certain themes are common to many cultures. For instance, there are a few stories involving witches, which causes one to wonder if these came about as a consequence of the witch hunts, instigated by the Church, that began in the Middle Ages.

Many of the stories involve the sea, which is hardly surprising in an island community. There are shipwrecks, mermaids and selkies, all rather similar to tales from other island and seashore communities. Some of the most interesting tales are those peculiar to the Orkney Isles, most of them based on actual events. These tales give the impression that Orkadians have never thought of themselves as Scots and that the Viking tradition is strong in the islands. In an interesting preface the author explains how Orkney was ruled as part of Norway until 1468 and how its inhabitants suffered for centuries under subsequent Scottish rule.

The map of the islands at the beginning of the book is poorly drawn and labelled. Although humour is lacking in these dour tales, they nevertheless form an informative and interesting read, not least because they provide a fascinating insight into the lives and traditions of everyday folk in a very special part of the world. This collection is a good buy.


The Scandalous Lady W
The Scandalous Lady W
by Hallie Rubenhold
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched, Well Written, Interesting, Helpful Read., 1 Feb. 2016
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This review is from: The Scandalous Lady W (Paperback)
Here we have a well researched, well written and very readable account of how am Eighteenth Century lady was caused unnecessary suffering as a consequence of unfair marriage laws weighted heavily in favour of the male sex, not least in that, on marriage, a woman's wealth became the property of her husband. Had this not been the case in Eighteenth Century England and Lady Worsley, nee Seymour Dorothy Fleming, had been allowed to retain both her wealth and her children on separation from her husband, much of the suffering that followed would have been avoided.

Reading this work we may soon gather the impression that most of the men in Eighteenth Century England, and certainly those in the upper classes, were prancing around acting like a set of spoiled boys always wanting their own way and mostly getting it. The author, Hallie Rubenhold, has a readily absorbed writing style that carries the reader along in factual fashion devoid of any hint of waffle. The reader soon discovers that Lady Worsley was scandalous only by the standards of her own day and age. Fortunately, not all women in those days were submissive, and here we have an example of how some of them were beginning to fight back in an attempt to establish their just rights.

The work contains some helpful illustrations, many of them coloured, and is divided into 24 chapters plus an introduction, bibliography and extensive index. There's also a useful note concerning Eighteenth Century values and their modern counterparts. Besides reading like a well constructed novel, we have here an important piece of research lending itself to 'dipping into', as required, for valuable information. Besides the account of Lady Worsley's life, the reader has a window into how society conducted itself in those days. Sadly, it's not a pretty picture. Seymour was badly treated by a bunch of selfish, spoiled-boy males.


Rimsky-Korsakov: The Tsar's Bride (Staatskapelle Berlin/Barenboim) [Blu-ray]
Rimsky-Korsakov: The Tsar's Bride (Staatskapelle Berlin/Barenboim) [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Rimsky-Korsakov
Price: £27.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Singing; Atrocious Staging., 1 Feb. 2016
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Picture, sound quality and singing are all of the best in this recording. Sadly, all of this is utterly ruined by the appallingly bad staging. Words such as inappropriate, unimaginative, appalling, distracting, cramped, ruinous, ridiculous and suchlike all come to mind in relation to it. Although staging a work in a period different from that originally intended can work very well indeed, it needs to be done both creatively and sympathetically and not like it is here where it has plunged the performance into a scenario akin to listening to good singing whilst someone nearby is busy dismantling a tin shed.

If you like this kind of thing, it won't matter. However, if bad staging distracts you from the enjoyment of a work, this recording is not for you. All I can say is, although I rarely regret having purchased an operatic recording, I certainly wish I had never bought this one. It may be just a matter of taste and it would be helpful to learn of other viewers' opinions. However, I think it only fair to alert would be viewers to what to expect. What it does show is that staging is an important part of any performance. Keep it simple but suggestive and avoid cramping would seem to be the golden rules. Here is an example: would you like to have 'the barber' singing his piece from inside a box instead of outside in the street? Well, this is the kind of thing we have here.

Since there are so many top quality operatic recordings available we don't need to bother with this one unless we are not distressed by bad presentation that gives us the impression that someone is trying to be just that little bit 'too clever'. Great works will always stand on their own when well sung and performed and never need titillating in this obnoxious fashion, for which I am deducting two stars.


The Mistress of Paris: The 19th-Century Courtesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret
The Mistress of Paris: The 19th-Century Courtesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret
by Catherine Hewitt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly Researched and Written. Absorbingly Readable., 29 Jan. 2016
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For those of us who still value real, live, hard cover books adorning our bookshelves, this work is a real 'must have'. An added bonus is the larger style print and spacing, which makes for easier reading than is the case with all too many small print, cramped lines books we are plagued with these days. There's also a very helpful set of colour photographs along with a few paintings.

The reader is expertly guided through the life of the famous courtesan known as Comtesse Valtresse de la Bigne from her birth to her death. The work has obviously been well researched, besides which it reads like a labour of love. The author, Catherine Hewitt, has an attractive, very readable writing style that carries the reader along in readably absorbed fashion. It's a real treat to read a work by someone who knows how to use language to the best advantage. There's no 'round the houses' stuff here. Everything is relevant and to the point.

In all, there are 18 chapters plus a prologue, epilogue, acknowledgements, bibliography, notes and index. The attention holding writing style enables the reader to empathise with everything that is going on as the narrative progresses. It's like being there in the day and age in which these events took place. Yes, it really is as good as that. Catherine Hewitt is a biographer to watch. Her carefully researched, readily absorbed style is an encouragement to all of us who blame ourselves when we find it difficult 'getting into' some biography, novel or what have you. 'I'm not concentrating enough;' or: 'I'm not intelligent enough,' we say – and all that kind of thing. Well, this is the wonderful kind of writing that gives the lie to such sentiments. Here we have one of the greatest, best reads we are likely to find anywhere. Thoroughly recommended.


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