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Return of the Native - Hallmark Hall of Fame [DVD] [1995] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Return of the Native - Hallmark Hall of Fame [DVD] [1995] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Catherine Zeta-Jones
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £35.95

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Egdon on Exmoor, 30 May 2007
Thomas Hardy took a considerable risk with the first chapter of his second major novel, 'The Return of the Native.' It consists entirely of description of scenery and only in chapter 2 does 'Humanity appear upon the scene, hand in hand with trouble' (a characteristically Hardyesque heading). The setting is the darkly brooding Egdon Heath which exerts such an influence, mostly malign, on the lives and destinies of the major characters. It was probably always just as much a landscape of the imagination as a real place and certainly little of it now remains in Hardy's native Dorset. Exmoor makes a reasonable, though not quite wild and desolate enough substitute in this neglected film version made originally for television, in which the young Catherine Zeta Jones is an outstanding and winningly attractive heroine. She creates great sympathy for her portrayal of the tragic Eustacia Vye. The other leading characters are also well depicted and just enough is offered of the surrounding chorus of rustics.

A nice touch at the end is to see the reddleman (an itinerant seller of dye for marking sheep) Diggory Venn washed clean of his red hue after trying to save the drowning Eustacia and her lover Damon. Diggory is able to marry his sweetheart Thomasin, whose brother Clym is changed irrevocably by his encounter and marriage with Eustacia, while his mother, Damon and Eustacia herself lie dead - destroyed by her impossible longings for a kind of life and love they are all helpless to give her. As she says, 'I was capable of much, but I have been injured and blighted and crushed by things beyond my control!'

This is a faithful and most worthy film of one of Hardy's greatest novels to set alongside Polanski's 'Tess,' 'Jude,' 'The Woodlanders' and the older 'Far from the Madding Crowd.' Film-makers have done well by Hardy.


The Daphne Du Maurier Companion
The Daphne Du Maurier Companion
by Daphne Du Maurier
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.76

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A companion too far, 23 May 2007
The back cover proclaims this to be 'the essential companion to Daphne du Maurier's life and work,' appearing as it does in her centenary year. To me it looks like a classic case of "book-making," manufacturing an unnecessary book out of minimal content. Nearly half of it is taken up with reprinting introductions from the recent Virago reissue of du Maurier's works. There are interviews with family and friends, essays on adaptations in other media of some of the stories (these include a prize specimen of pseudo-academic bluff exploring the different genres that the film versions may or may not belong to, as well as an analysis of contributions to internet websites for du Maurier fans - trivia on trivia) and a rediscovered early short story in letter form that I had already seen online. The companion also includes several pieces on 'Rebecca,' which seems to be still the most popular and most read of all du Maurier's books. Here as elsewhere there is a lot of special pleading to show that du Maurier was not just a writer of romances, adventure stories or women's fiction (though nearly all the contributors to this companion, like the editor, are female).
The du Maurier novel I enjoy most is 'Jamaica Inn,' which I like because it is a good story well told, with a large element of exciting hokum (wreckers and the albino vicar who despises his flock), that holds the reader and makes him or her want to keep on reading. It is also set on the wild and mysterious Bodmin Moor, one of my favourite parts of Cornwall. In fact it is Daphne du Maurier's association with and evocations of her beloved Cornwall, a love I share, that I most read her for. And why not? Do we need to apologise for such enthusiasms or justify them by trying to demonstrate that 'Rebecca' is another 'Jane Eyre' and that Daphne du Maurier has the literary stature of George Eliot or D. H. Lawrence? Dare I suggest that the vacuity of the new book shows that once you have said you enjoy du Maurier's writings there is not much more to say? A better companion might be Margaret Forster's fine biography.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 30, 2010 7:06 PM BST


Gluck - I Cinesi
Gluck - I Cinesi
Price: £12.82

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Get on with it, Gardelli!, 22 May 2007
This review is from: Gluck - I Cinesi (Audio CD)
This charming one-act opera was previously recorded by the period-instrument Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in a vivacious performance conducted by Rene Jacobs with outstanding singers. Lamberto Gardelli uses an overlarge modern orchestra and sets consistently slower tempi, dirge-like in the one tenor aria. Thomas Moser has a finer voice than his rival, but at this speed he has to struggle to make any kind of musical sense. The three female soloists are all excellent and the dialogue in recitative is certainly lively enough. If you cannot find the Jacobs recording this will serve and the opera itself is an unqualified delight.


Le Cinesi
Le Cinesi

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comic bliss, 22 May 2007
This review is from: Le Cinesi (Audio CD)
Those who know the serious operas of Gluck will be delighted by the deft comic touch he displays in this little one-act opera 'The Chinese Ladies.' The libretto by Metastasio was originally written for Antonio Caldara in 1735 and revised about twenty years later on the occasion of a festival to celebrate the Austrian imperial family's visit to the luxurious residence of Gluck's then employer, Prince Joseph Friedrich of Sachsen-Hildburghausen.

The story reflects the 18th century fashion for chinoiserie. Three bored ladies entertain themselves by acting dramatic scenes in a contest of genres: Lisinga presents a tragic scene of Andromache lamenting the death of her husband Hector; Sivene offers a pastoral playlet in which a shepherdess plays hard to get with her swain; and Tangia gives a comic song. For the revision Metastasio introduced a male character, Silango, to flirt with the ladies. He is the brother of Lisinga and has just returned from a trip to exotic far-away Europe. The introduction of this character gives Gluck the opportunity for an exceptionally beautiful tenor aria. The other three arias, all on a large scale, are also very fine. They are set in acres of 'dry' recitative, which may be problematic for those who do not know Italian as the booklet offers only a German translation.

The recording made in 1985 is excellent in every way, with lively orchestral playing, alert, involved conducting from Rene Jacobs and gorgeous singing from the three well-contrasted female artists, Anne Sofie von Otter outstanding as the tragic Andromache. Guy de Mey is a lively though very light-weight tenor. All four soloists join in the concluding danced quartet, the characters having decided that ballet is the best form of entertainment. Listeners too are sent off with a spring in their step, having been given here a real treat. Do buy this disc while you can.


Gluck: Armide
Gluck: Armide
Price: £24.30

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Armide without the heroine, 17 May 2007
This review is from: Gluck: Armide (Audio CD)
I could not disagree more with previous reviewers of this recording. 'Armide' is a marvellous opera with a wealth of varied and attractive music that deserves to be far better known than it is. Maybe the production at the 2006 Buxton Festival will have helped to advance its cause, but the present recording, the only one now available, does it few favours. So much depends on the portrayal of the long and demanding title role. It requires a true dramatic soprano, which Mireille Delunsch is not. She has a small, rather undistinctive voice and can make little of the many big moments in the score such as Armide's scene at the end of Act 2, much of Act 3 and especially the cataclysmic conclusion of Act 5. In such places her shallow and unvaried tone quality becomes wearing. Some of the other singing is pleasing enough, but the set suffers from another big liability.

Marc Minkowski belongs to the let's-see-how-fast-we-can-take-this school of period band conductors in 18th century music. At every opportunity he whips up the tempo, reducing the players and singers all too often to a gabble. Far from making the opera dramatically exciting, the fast speeds, combined with Minkowski's habitual rhythmical slackness, rob the music of its true vitality and impetus. Whether for this reason or for some other few of the singers make much of the words: both they and the conductor seem to be unaware of Gluck's important precept in the preface to his opera 'Paride ed Elena' that 'singing in opera is nothing more than declamation set to music.' (The character of Aronte in Act 1 is allowed to ignore music and words and, supposedly for dramatic "effect," delivers a crucial announcement in an incomprehensible Schoenbergian speech-song). To set against the over-fast tempi slow pieces are perversely sometimes too slow, too self-consciously "artistic." Potential buyers should also be warned that there are several cuts in the 'divertissement' sections of this very French score, thus depriving us of some delectable songs and dances in what is not an overly long opera.

The movement for authenticity in the performance of Baroque and early Classical music has done wonders for our appreciation of such music, but too often now verges towards the arty and artificial. Gluck's intentions in his famous reform of opera were above all to return to truthfulness to nature: artiness does not help him at all. Those who wish to hear this opera would do better to search out the recording made from the 1982 Christ Church Spitalfields festival. In every department it is superior to the present set and a worthy representation of this wonderful score.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 15, 2014 10:43 PM BST


Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice
Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice
Offered by sellerfellauk
Price: £39.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Star quality makes such a difference, 6 April 2007
This elderly recording of Gluck's best-known opera in its French version with a tenor hero may be difficult to find, but is well worth seeking out. It has three great advantages, the beautiful lyrical voice of Leopold Simoneau as a most poetic Orpheus, excellent support from the two sopranos (Pierette Alarie is Simoneau's wife) and the finely poised classical conducting of Hans Rosbaud - on the slow side sometimes maybe, according to modern taste, but always strong and rhythmically propulsive. Gluck's music thrives on these qualities, so that all in all this is one of the most satisfying versions of this much recorded opera.


Rumpole and the Reign of Terror
Rumpole and the Reign of Terror
by John Mortimer
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Time for retirement?, 16 Mar 2007
For thirty years and over seventy tales John Mortimer has kept readers entertained and enlightened with his stories of the crusty old barrister, Horace Rumpole, and his dedication to the finest principles of British law. In doing so he has maintained for so long an astonishingly high level of imagination and invention, but to judge from the latest offering it may at last be time to put the warhorse out to grass.

'Rumpole and the Reign of Terror' tells an unlikely story drawn out to book length of a Pakistani doctor framed on terrorist charges, a victim of the government's abolition of normal procedures of justice in its fight against the forces of terror. In fact the book seems little more than a pretext for Mortimer to sound off against current abuses of law.

Few of Rumpole's familiar and endearing character traits emerge here, the plot creaks and improbabilities abound: Rumpole's formidable wife is even made to write her own memoirs on a laptop in the boxroom of their Gloucester Road mansion flat and conduct a half-clandestine romance with Rumpole's arch-foe, the 'Mad Bull' Judge Bullingham.

Rumpole fans will still want to read this and enjoy it, but maybe, Sir John, it is time for you and Rumpole to rest on your laurels? You have given us much delight and we cannot reasonably expect more.


Il Parnaso Confuso
Il Parnaso Confuso
Price: £14.31

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A treat for opera-lovers, 7 Feb 2007
This review is from: Il Parnaso Confuso (Audio CD)
Gluck is known to history as the great operatic reformer who reacted against the artificiality and formality of the early 18th century opera seria style to produce the first operas in a recognisably modern dramatic mode, beginning with 'Orfeo ed Euridice,' still his best known and most frequently performed work, in 1762. This was at the court opera theatre in Vienna, where Gluck enjoyed the elevated position of 'Hofcompositeur' to the Habsburgs. For the royal command performances for which he was called upon to provide music he seems to have felt it appropriate on occasion to revert to his earlier style (for which backsliding he has been berated by high-minded critics and historians). It was in 1765, three years after 'Orfeo,' that he collaborated for the first time in a new work with the great Pietro Metastasio, principal librettist and symbolic representative of the old opera as well as poet laureate in Vienna (Gluck had of course set texts of Metastasio many times already). This was 'Il Parnaso confuso,' written to celebrate the marriage of archduke Joseph, the future emperor Joseph II, to the "star of Bavaria," Princess Maria Josepha. It has a slight and rather silly plot in which the god Apollo comes to mount Parnassus, home of the Muses, to invite three of the nine to contribute their arts to the wedding festivities. This throws them into a state of some indecision (hence the title, 'Parnassus in confusion') before it turns out that they are too late. Apollo returns to tell them he had got the date wrong and the wedding has already taken place! But they are invited anyway and all join in a jolly quartet to end the opera.

Afterwards at the first performance in Schoenbrunn palace the nine-year-old archduchess Maria Antonia danced a minuet: as the future queen of France, Marie Antoinette, she was to prove a most useful ally and patron of Gluck when he came to conquer the Parisian operatic scene. The vocal parts were designed for four of her older sisters and the extreme virtuosity of the arias he wrote for them shows their own exceptional musical ability and the quality of Gluck's teaching of them. It is these varied and beautifully crafted arias that are the heart of the work and its principal attraction. A point of particular interest is that Melpomene's 'In un mar che non ha sponde' is an early version of the controversial piece, 'L'espoir renait dans mon coeur,' that Gluck inserted at the end of Act 1 of the French version of 'Orfeo' in 1774 for the tenor Legros and in which he was accused of plagiarising the Italian composer Bertoni. Readers who have the wonderful Gluck disc by Cecilia Bartoli will already know one of the other arias, the delectable and dreamlike 'Di questa cetra.' On the new disc, unfortunately and unaccountably, the role of the muse Erato who sings this piece is given to a male soprano falsettist, or high counter-tenor, despite its being a female part and written for a female singer! His screechy and hooty tones in this beautiful piece, as elsewhere, are frankly ludicrous. (Another recording of this rare opera by the Gruppo Barocco Musincanto had the role of Apollo, admittedly a male character but the highest of the four soprano parts, also sung by a "male sopranist": is this not taking the fetishistic cult of the counter-tenor to a ridiculous extreme? That version was only briefly available, so perhaps mercifully I have not been able to hear it).

This barbarous anti-musical aberration is the only blot on an otherwise highly recommendable disc. The three female sopranos and the American period-instrument Queen's Chamber Band are all excellent. Since you are unlikely to come across this work anywhere else do buy this disc while you can. If 18th century opera appeals to you, you will undoubtedly find 'Il Parnaso confuso' a real treat.


La Corona
La Corona
Price: £28.55

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Do put your daughter on the stage!, 6 Feb 2007
This review is from: La Corona (Audio CD)
Those who have seen the film 'Amadeus' will know how 18th century composers were at the mercy of their aristocractic or ecclesiastical employers and expected to provide the music they required, but this does not necessarily mean any limitation to their creative powers. By the 1760s Gluck was firmly established as court composer for the Habsburg emperors in Vienna. His best known opera, 'Orfeo ed Euridice', was written to celebrate the marriage of Emperor Francis I and Maria Theresia. It was the first of his operas in the new reform style, but he had no compunction about reverting to his earlier opera seria manner if the occasion suggested it. In 1765, three years after 'Orfeo', Gluck wrote two little operas with Metastasio for court occasions to showcase the musical abilities of the daughters of the imperial couple - to the delight of the empress who loved seeing her offspring shine. Much the same team as here has already recorded the first of the two works, Il Parnaso confuso (also a treasurable disc), and now offers the second, intended for the emperor's birthday but never performed owing to his sudden death.

The slight plot will not detain anyone's attention long, but the finely crafted decorative music has great appeal and the extreme virtuosity of the diverse arias, the heart of the work, will make one marvel at the vocal ability of the royal archduchesses whom Gluck taught and for whom he wrote the work. (The youngest of them, Maria Antonia, was too young to sing, but did dance at the conclusion of the previous opera - she is better known to history as the ill-fated Marie Antoinette, Queen of France).

The Queen's Chamber Band ably supports the gifted singers, none of whom has a particularly distinctive voice, but who perform this taxing music with considerable accomplishment, though it has to be said that Julianne Baird is not quite in the same league as Cecilia Bartoli who included Atalanta's 'Quel chiaro rio' in her disc of Gluck arias and whose star quality shows what can be done with pieces like this. There was a serviceable previous recording of 'La corona' by Polish artists, but that left out repeats in da capo arias and cut the recitative. The new recording presents it complete on two discs and includes as a bonus two of Gluck's trio-sonatas. A greatly enjoyable release, much to be recommended.


Gluck - Orphée et Euridice (1774 Paris Version)
Gluck - Orphée et Euridice (1774 Paris Version)
Price: £11.03

5 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Modified rapture, 13 Oct 2006
The role of Orpheus in Gluck's seminal best-known opera is most familiar today as sung by a star female contralto or mezzo, such as Kathleen Ferrier or Janet Baker in this country. This, however, was an innovation of Berlioz, a great admirer of the composer, Gluck himself having made three different versions for male singers - the contralto castrato Gaudagni in 1762, the soprano Millico in 1769 and the tenor Joseph Legros at Paris in 1774. The latter version, extremely taxing for the singer on account of the high tessitura of the part, is rarely encountered today and some would claim that the tenor voice inappropriately "humanises" and makes more "operatic" a monumental sublime role for which the ideal vocal type remains the contralto. A practical 18th century musician like Gluck would clearly not have thought in such terms and one can at least say that the Paris version is authentic to Gluck in a way that Berlioz-based versions cannot be. If a tenor can sing it, why not do it this way once in a while?
In view of its rarety it is surprising that the new recording comes close on the heels of the version conducted by Marc Minkowski with the American tenor Richard Croft on DG. Opera Lafayette of Washington DC has an orchestra using original instruments and correspondingly light-voiced singers. They are accomplished, but make little impression in music that surely needs much more dramatic impetus - this after all was Gluck's whole intention in his famous reform of opera. The recording does not help, being curiously recessed and disembodied. Jean-Paul Fouchecourt, like Richard Croft before him, acquits himself well in the notorious bravura aria demanded at the end of Act 1 by the singer Legros. The booklet claims that, ironically, it was in fact left out in the first performances because Legros could not manage it! It also suggests that the edition presented here, omitting as well the trio in Act 3 and the ballet divertissement at the end, represents what was actually heard in 1774.
Those items are included by Minkowski, who tends to drive much of the music hard and whose singers are no more appealing than Opera Lafayette's. Both Croft and Fouchecourt sing the role of Orpheus at a lower pitch than written, as was probably the case in the 18th century. Maybe other tenors will now take up this version, even if it is unlikely to displace the familiar one with a female Orpheus. Those who wish to hear it would do better to seek out the available recording with Leopold Simoneau, finely conducted by Hans Rosbaud, from 1956 or, even better, from the previous year's Aix-en-Provence Festival Nicolai Gedda, who sings the whole part at the written pitch, right up to the high D, in full voice and magnificently.


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