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Keris Nine

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Verdi: Il Trovatore [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
Verdi: Il Trovatore [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Misha Didyk
Price: £27.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Miss Marple Verdi!, 20 Oct. 2014
There's a case to be made for putting a little distance between the drama and the telling of it in Verdi's potboiler, Il Trovatore. The plot is a difficult one to carry-off convincingly, but as it happens, all the melodrama is already kept at a certain distance through how the characters relate their own stories. It's undoubtedly with this in mind that Dmitri Tcherniakov stages this production at La Monnaie in Brussels with the framing device of it being related, relived and re-enacted at some date in the future by the main protagonists. Considering the bloody fates of many of those characters, it is however a bit of a stretch to imagine them meeting up some years later, but if the concept is a somewhat dubious, the approach does refreshingly bring out new elements to an overly-familiar work.

Like figures from some Agatha Christie mystery where the main suspects have been assembled in a drawing room, the five main characters in Verdi's drama turn up in the silent prologue, Leonora in a dark wig and wearing sunglasses, Manrico in a snakeskin jacket. Warily, after years of separation, they edge around each other as Azucena locks the door to the room, keeping them captive there to work through the events that have occurred in order to "shed light on the tragic past that has united their destinies". Taking place entirely within the confines of a single room, one of Verdi's most bombastic operas is reduced almost to a chamber piece. It does abandon many of the tired stage conventions and mannerisms that have become associated with this old standard, but controversially, it goes further than this in musical terms. Most significantly, the cast are reduced down to only five people and the chorus, who have a large part in this opera, are kept off-stage throughout. Other roles such as Inez and Ruiz, are not actually suppressed, but sung through the doubling up of roles as the drama is re-enacted by the main players.

It's an interesting cast too, but not one that particularly impresses. Some might think that the singing lacks the necessary dynamic, power and expansiveness, but this is undoubtedly intentional. Scott Hendricks comes across the best here as the Conte di Luna, letting himself go with the flow of the concept, although he does also have perhaps the most expressive role in the opera. Misha Didyk is not my kind of Verdi singer, his choked back anguished delivery lacking any variety in vocal expression and there's no real acting ability here either. Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo is a smaller-scale Azucena than is usually required, but she suits the tone here, as does Marina Poplavskaya as Leonora. Her technique isn't always the smoothest when making the transition to the higher notes, but she has exactly that kind of expressive voice that is needed to bring depth to characterisation. Reportedly ill at the time, she looks a little uncomfortable here and seems restricted by the admittedly bizarre concept.

Overall however, Tcherniakov's direction feels a bit weak, cutting away much of the baggage of the work certainly, but also restricting the drama with a concept that doesn't really stand up to close scrutiny. One might be happy to make some allowances in credibility to see something fresh and new brought out of Il Trovatore, but other than one or two scenes - the closing bloodbath ending certainly registers the requisite shocks - this is rarely achieved dramatically here. Musically, Marc Minkowski's conducting of the La Monnaie orchestra - his first time conducting Verdi - is much more interesting, his treatment suiting Tcherniakov's idea of a chamber production, while at the same time finding the strengths in Verdi's score and successfully getting its underlying power across without unnecessary overemphasis. Plenty of heat generated in the pit then, but not enough fire on the stage.

Sciarrino: Luci Mie Traditrici 2010 (Euroarts: 2059038) [DVD] [2012]
Sciarrino: Luci Mie Traditrici 2010 (Euroarts: 2059038) [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Nina Tarandek
Price: £24.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Intense contemporary opera, 20 Oct. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
It's evident to anyone who has heard his work that contemporary composer Salvatore Sciarrino's music doesn't use instruments in any conventional fashion. Wind instruments whine and explode in whooshes of puffed air, strings are plucked, scraped, hammered and stretched. Voices stutter out rapid phrases, flowing and swirling the words, sometimes blending with other voices, other times locked in a repetitive cycle that struggles to break through the looming silence. That works powerfully for a certain kind of work that has a sinister edge to it, and that's the dominant mood in the chamber opera Luci Mei Traditrici ('My Betraying Eyes' but also known in English as 'The Killing Flower'), a work based on a 17th century text that describes the troubadour Gesualdo's jealous murder of his wife and her lover. The music and vocal delivery on their own make a tremendous impression, but just how effective Sciarrino's opera writing is can only really be felt when it is staged.

This performance recorded at the Cantiere Internazionale d'Arte di Montepulciano in Tuscany in 2010 is then a rare opportunity to see Sciarrino's strengths as a musical dramatist. The composer draws on two ancient references for the music and the libretto, but the musical idiom is distinctly modern, the spare arrangements scattered with sounds, noises and flurries of melodies that express the lyrical violence of the subject. Reflecting the music and the drama, Alexander Lintl's stage design is similarly spare but movements can be somewhat more elaborate, like a ritualistic dance, the holding of fans suggesting a Flamenco or even a tango that carries a presentiment of violence. Under Christian Pade's direction it becomes practically an abstract visual representation of the music itself, as intensely intricate a combination of words, music, drama and staging as you could imagine, where every single note counts, where every gesture and movement is precisely calculated.

The performance of this highly specialised and difficult language is similarly astonishing, the contemporary musicians of the Ensemble Algoritmo conducted with precision of detail by Marco Angius. Like the production team, most of the singers seem to be Frankfurt Opera regulars, with soprano Nina Tarandek and baritone Christian Miedl extraordinarily good as the Duke and Duchess, their spoken voice repetitive rhythms interweaving and clashing in a way that defines the relationship between them. If the music and noises behind them can be unsettling, the singing voices are hypnotically lyrical and Roland Schneider's countertenor soars as the 'guest' who comes between them. Simon Bode sings the role of the servant, who has a small but vital role in the drama.

The DVD recording isn't quite of the High Defintion standard that you would find in most large-budget recordings of opera on Blu-ray, but it effectively captures the mood and setting of the performance. The image is strongly contrasted and in NTSC format, it lacks fine detail, but the filming of the performance is superb. The audio track - PCM Stereo only - is outstanding. The DVD includes a half-hour feature on the production, with the composer himself giving a walk-though of the work, explaining its structure and use of sounds. The very specific intentions of how it should be performed and the attention to detail can be seen in the rehearsals for the performance. The DVD is region-free, with subtitles in Italian, English, German, French and Japanese.

Scholl Pedi Velvet Smooth Essential Pedicure Collection Gift Set
Scholl Pedi Velvet Smooth Essential Pedicure Collection Gift Set
Price: £34.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Quality foot care, 14 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a good quality pedicure set from Scholl that would make a nice gift for friends and family, but if you're buying it for yourself, there's really only one essential item in the package which you could buy separately, and that's the 'Velvet Smooth Express Pedi Electronic Foot File'. The rest is pretty much dispensable.

The Foot File is very easy to use, the operation smooth and gentle, but remarkably effective. Used for the recommended 3 or 4 seconds at a time, hard skin is rapidly sanded down with no discomfort. There is no preparation needed - it works directly on dry skin - so there's no need for a booklet of operating instructions. The back of the box tells you all you need to know. You just need to insert four AA batteries (included), and take heed of the guidance not to use on wet feet, or after bathing. Used correctly, this is a powerful little tool and gives highly effective results.

The other items give you everything else you might need for complete foot care and a little bit of extra pampering. With the exception of the Beauty Bag that is a lovely way to hold and store all your pedicure items, but they are all however all disposable consumables. There's a Glass Nail File, Moisture Cream, Cuticle Sticks and Toe Separators - good quality items, but they don't really add to the value to the package that you are paying for. As a gift set though, this would make a great present for anyone who likes to look after their grooming.

TimeBomb: The TimeBomb Trilogy: Book 1
TimeBomb: The TimeBomb Trilogy: Book 1
by Scott K. Andrews
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.78

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind-bomb, 10 Oct. 2014
The first of a trilogy, Scott Andrews' Timebomb has some good ideas, some strong characters and - operating as it does with time travel - it has lots of interesting places to go to in the subsequent books. The first book takes place mostly in the 17th century in the middle of the English Civil War, but the far future, the present and even some hints of events in the even more distant past, make this a highly potent mix.

The strength of the concept is bound up in its central team of three characters who come from the past, the present and the future. 17 year-old Jana is from New York in the year 2141, 18 year-old Polish-born Kaz is from the present-day and 14 year-old Dora is a maid in Sweetclover Hall in Cornwall in the year 1640. Having been brought together by some sudden and not yet entirely explained phenomenon, they are able to draw on their individual talents, local knowledge and futuristic body-implant enhancements to deal with... well, that remains to be seen...

For most of the first book, the three youths act more on intuition than with any sense of purpose and run around not really knowing how or why they've been propelled through time or what they're supposed to do. It seems fairly certain however that Lord Sweetclover and a woman named Quil, who has powers that would mark her out as a witch in the 17th century, know more about what is happening, and you can probably be sure that the intentions of guys who are attempting to do mind probes on you in a laboratory aren't benevolent. We've yet to find out who is the mysterious person called Steve is, who helps them escape with his transformation skills, but it's all highly exciting and imaginative stuff.

One interesting feature about the time travel element is that it doesn't appear (at the moment anyway) that multiple time-lines are a feature. The characters are able to go back and stop things happening but only because they already have gone back and altered them, if you see what I mean. But don't worry, Scott Andrews, to his credit handles all the interweaving periods with sometimes multiple versions of their character operating in the same timelines, in a way that is remarkably clear and easy to follow. It's going to get complicated though, and you don't need to be able to look into the future to see that. Thanks to the author's fine handling of the opening book and the unresolved situations that can go just about anywhere, I can however predict without the benefit of time-travel that if you read this book you'll be reading the next two as well...

An Untamed State
An Untamed State
by Roxane Gay
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult but rewarding, 10 Oct. 2014
This review is from: An Untamed State (Paperback)
Being kidnapped for a ransom can be a terrifying experience. You might think that's obvious, but you probably have no real idea of just how bad it can be...

Mireille, a lawyer and daughter of a wealthy Haitian businessman, is kidnapped in Port au Prince by a group of armed men, wrenched away from her American husband and their young child, and held captive until a ransom of $1 million is paid. As you can imagine, the experience is deeply traumatic for Mireille, but no... you can't really imagine just how traumatic. Roxane Gay can, but there's no way of making it easy for the reader.

An Untamed State is a book of two parts. The first part deals with the kidnapping, the second part with the aftermath. Without getting into boring structural analysis, the manner in which the author divides perspective is relevant to how the book achieves its impact so powerfully. At the beginning it feels like the author is going straight for the kill, taking the reader into the more thrilling kidnap drama action. Oh, if only. By the time you get past Mireille's first day in captivity, you're longing for release yourself in the backstory of her romance and relationship with Michael - but even that is not plain sailing. The divisions go deeper than this however, into male and female, husband and wife, rich and poor, person/non-person, life in USA and life in Haiti - two diametrically opposed views of life with differing values.

Mainly however, the division is within Mireille, who is unable to reconcile who she was before with the person she is now. It goes without saying then that Mireille's experience in captivity is deeply traumatic, and quite honestly, you're spared none of the details. It's not easy reading, but it's necessary to understand how deeply such an experience can strike to the core of a person's identity and to realise how fundamentally important that can be. It also shows, without becoming too much of a post-trauma case study, the strength of an untamed human spirit to endure, and the depths of compassion that can also be found in others.

The reason that this book is quite so compelling despite the horror of its contents, is undoubtedly a testament to the ability of the author and the quality of her writing. Her descriptions of what happens might be almost unendurable, but they feel authentic. As such you can trust her not to hold back from all the other implications that the situation has for Mireille and her family. In a book of sharp contrasts, you would hope that there is some compensation for what you are put through, and - without betraying the work with any suggestion that there could be any happy ending - there is a corresponding pay-off in just how affecting An Untamed Spirit is. As difficult as it is to read, it's hard to imagine any reader not being able to see this through and not being deeply moved by the content.

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue
The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue
by Piu Marie Eatwell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Digging up the duke, 8 Oct. 2014
The Dead Duke is another fascinating entry into the growing genre of real-life late-Victorian and Edwardian historical murder-mystery investigations, but there are a few unusual features that distinguish Piu Marie Eatwell's study of the strange case of William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the 5th Duke of Portland. It all begins when a woman appears before the court with the absurd claim that the duke lived a double life as a furniture salesman Thomas Charles Druce, running a successful department store in the Baker Street Baazar. And not only that, but he also fathered three illegitimate children and a further three after he was married to a woman called Annie May. The woman claims that one of these children - her husband - consequently has claim to the Portland millions.

This however proves to be only the starting point for a complex investigation that has huge repercussions and a number of startling twists and turns over the decades. The main contention however rests on the fact that TC Druce did not die in 1864, but reverted back to his persona as the Duke of Portland, living in Welbeck Abbey for another 15 years. Witness statements testifying to the likeness of the two men are supported by the eccentric behaviour of the "burrowing duke", who led a secretive assistance and had a network of underground tunnels built to allow him to remain permanently hidden from view even from his servants. The only way to prove or disprove the contention that the duke and the furniture salesman are one and the same is to exhume a coffin in Highgate Cemetery that is claimed to contain nothing but lead.

The Dead Duke isn't exactly a companion piece to Kate Colquhoun's Mr Briggs' Hat or Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, but Piu Eatwell is similarly able through this story to touch on many other aspects of a changing Victorian society that now had advanced detective techniques as well as an investigative press to put pressure on the authorities and keep the public supplied with a regular diet of sensationalist stories. And there was clearly an abundance of material to work with, as well as plenty of scoundrels willing to go to extreme lengths to lie, twist and fabricate details towards their own ends when there is money to be made. What is particularly interesting about this case is that it opens up the whole question not just of dual identities that were clearly common in the repressive late-Victorian times, but how it highlights the divides between rich and poor, the rights of women and the question of class distinctions. Ultimately, its such distinctions that have most influence over what the courts, the government and history allow us to know about the truth of the Druce affair.

What is also brought out by the case is the wealth of documentary evidence and witness statements that its long investigative process through the courts left behind. As corrupt and dysfunctional as the society appears, it was nonetheless amazingly meticulous and organised in its application of legal processes as well as in the thoroughness with which it attempted to erase the case from the records. I can't imagine how much research the author had to undertake just to cover the complexities of the case, not to mention all the associated literary references, social and political reading required for context setting, but it's beautifully laid out and voraciously readable. The author sticks mostly to relating the facts in a manner that is clear and easy to follow, but some good novelistic touches (all sourced) have an authentic feel for the period and give an additional thriller element. I don't know if Piu Marie Eatwell actually practices law, but if I were ever to be involved in a body swap/identity scandal, I'd feel a lot more confident if she were on my team of researchers and investigators. As long as it doesn't take 150 years to bring the truth to light...

Verdi: Aida (La Fura de Baus) [Blu-ray] [2014] [Region A & B]
Verdi: Aida (La Fura de Baus) [Blu-ray] [2014] [Region A & B]
Dvd ~ Hui He
Price: £30.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Successful Fura dels Baus reworking of Aida at Verona, 7 Oct. 2014
You don't often see a minimally dressed stage for a production of Aida, and you certainly won't be accustomed to see it at a production in the open air Arena di Verona, where Franco Zeffirelli's vast, flamboyant and extravagant staging is normally the house production. Minimalism isn't something you associate either with La Fura dels Baus, but when the camera sweeps over the walls of the ancient Roman arena, there's literally nothing on the stage but two narrow crane scaffolds. There may be something to be said for taking the focus away from the spectacle and giving more attention to the actual human dilemma in Aida, but Verdi's grand conception and the music he writes for Aida does indeed demand big gestures, and an audience expects to be treated to a spectacle for Aida in Verona.

La Fura dels Baus ' Aida isn't actually minimalist then, but just takes advantage of the natural environment. Nor, despite initial appearances, is the stage entirely bare for the whole performance, but accumulates props as the opera progresses. The ballets and processions all involve large numbers of supernumeraries walking through the audience with lighted football-sized globes and lining up in the upper tiers at the back of the amphitheatre. The Triumphal March involves an acrobat hanging on a cable, with mechanical elephants and camels marched across the stage, as well as troops in scarab buggies and a forklift truck carrying reflective silver cubes. The set designers are even able to cleverly recreate a stylised Nile riverbank for Act III. By the time we reach the conclusion there's a fully-fledged technologically-elaborate La Fura dels Baus set that hits the dramatic finale with all the force that an audience expects of this work.

As such, the production design doesn't overwhelm the human characters at the heart of Aida, nor does it overwhelm the performers. Thankfully, the singing is also strong enough for there never be any danger of that happening. I've heard Hui He sing the role of Aida well before, but she is even stronger here. Her voice is fuller (at the cost perhaps of a little clarity of diction), with a soft legato that reaches those high-notes much more smoothly. I didn't see much of an emotional connection to the character in her performance, but it's sung well and clearly gets out there to the arena audience. Fabio Sartori's voice is also big enough if not terribly lyrical and his notes stray a little, but he's just about good enough for Radamès. I most enjoyed Giovanna Casolla's Amneris. She has a firm, commanding voice for the most part and manages to be suitably formidable while demonstrating a human side.

The open-air nature of the Arena di Verona doesn't give the best acoustics to judge the performance of the orchestra, but Omer Meir Wellber conducts the work well through all its dramatic points and show pieces. The visual and audio qualities of the video recording are also restricted somewhat by the venue, which means that the Blu-ray isn't always as clear as it might be as it tries to cope with the changing light conditions. An attempt to capture the full impact of a large-scale La Fura dels Baus production like this is also difficult, but the filming does reasonably well. The Blu-ray is BD25, region-freee, with subtitles in Italian, German, French, English and Spanish.

H2D iR Ionic and Infrared Professional Hair Dryer
H2D iR Ionic and Infrared Professional Hair Dryer
Price: £81.10

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good product, but a bit dressed up, 7 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Putting aside the fancy packaging and the scientific claims of the manufacturer, the H2D Ionic hairdryer is simply a good hairdryer. It's not a great one, at least not as good as its dressed up to be and probably not one that warrants the high price tag, but it's certainly a good quality product.

On the plus side, the cable is a good length and it gets the basics right. There are three heat settings for drying (one of which is no heat), and two power levels (three if you include 'off'), which like a lot of the promises made here in the product description is accurate but a little bit overstretching the facts. The salon-style 'cold shot' function I did find genuinely useful however, allowing you to not only very quickly drop the heat, but actually blow cool air for styling. Accessories include a concentration nozzle, a diffuser and a really good disentangling brush. The sleek, black design of the dryer and the accessories is good and along with the packaging, the H2R looks quite classy.

Personally, when the heating element glows red, that's usually a sign that it's time to get a new hairdryer, but here the infrared glow is one of the features of the H2R. It's a bit of a distraction and it gets in your eyes. I don't know whether its claims can be proved, but they can't be disproved easily either. The fact is that the dryer works well, with an ease of use and good settings that allow you to achieve the style you're used to with a smooth and silky finish. As good as this is, I'm not sure however that the Ionic and Infrared technology of the H2R really offers anything that you can't get with the use of some good hair products and a hairdryer costing half the price.

Village of the Folk'd
Village of the Folk'd
Price: £1.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Queer as folk'd, 26 Sept. 2014
This is a nice little bonus for anyone who has been waiting patiently/impatiently (depends if you've been reading it since its ebook original publication or not, but I guess it also depends on whether you're an impatient person or not) for the concluding book of Laurence Donaghy's Folk'd trilogy. If you haven't read any of the Folk'd books before, this small but substantial untold episode will also serve as a good standalone example of the author's work, although it's not the best place to start, revealing as it does the 'special' nature of the Morrigan family.

Otherwise it's business as usual, this time with Danny's father Tony Morrigan as the unlikely successor to Cú Chulainn in the on-going struggle between the mortals of modern-day Ireland and the world of ancient Irish legends, fairies, demons and spiders. Oh yes, giant spiders too - hundreds and thousands of the unthinkably oversized monsters. This is not a tale for arachnophobes, or for anyone lacking a sense of pitch-black humour with a colourful line in sarcastic banter for that matter. Donaghy's prose and dialogue remains as creative as ever in his inventive laugh-out-loud one-liners. They're as plentiful as giant spiders around here, although I'm not sure that's the best kind of recommendation.

Also recognisable is the author's ability to spin (ahem!) a good yarn based in ancient mythology and at the same time tie it in to a very real and recognisable human situation in a way that raises the personal and emotional stakes. Family matters, and all the good and the bad times that come with them, are to the fore again, but given a touching arachnid dimension (seriously) here and in the background of a gutsy new female character that is introduced. You'll never complain about having a bad day at work again when you hear what she has to put up with. That's the strength of Donaghy's writing, the recognition that the best in people can be brought out in the worst of times and that life can indeed be funny sometimes, in more ways than one.

Snow and Shadow
Snow and Shadow
by Dorothy Tse
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for everyone, 23 Sept. 2014
This review is from: Snow and Shadow (Paperback)
There's no doubt that Dorothy Tse's stories exhibit a wonderful degree of colourful ideas and imagery if they are viewed simply as poetic surrealism. The dream-like quality of the writing is reminiscent of Kafka and Murakami, but there's a specific Chinese perspective and sensibility in their content and their cultural references. If you scratch beneath the surface however and divest the stories of the self-consciously imposed imagery that they have been dressed up in, the technique doesn't really provide any great depth of insight into their situations.

Take 'The Love between Leaf and Knife' for example. That's an evocative title, but essentially all the author has done is dress up what in reality is a dull domestic tale of a couple attempting to gain the moral ground and the upper hand in their relationship by renaming the husband and wife Leaf and Knife, and pushing the lengths they take their animosity to extremes. It doesn't alter the fact the underlying sense of the story and the essential natures that lie behind the dressing are grounded in a recognisable and banal familiarity.

Some larger themes do emerge however as you read through the collection. Family disharmony is evident in many of the stories and dismemberment is the extreme representation of this state. 'Head' is another example of this, where a father called 'Wood' gives up his head for the sake of his careless and ungrateful son, called 'Tree'. It sharply marks out the nature of the divide between different generations (in China), but the surreal imagery doesn't really make a difference to the theme one way or the other.

At its best, some of Dorothy Tse's writing (and the translation of it from the Chinese) does spin some wonderful imagery in the mind; romantic ("The girl told him that before he came along, she often felt she was being bowled over and over in the sea, all alone" in 'Blessed Bodies'); and grotesque ("a frog that was not quite dead pulling out Grandma's false teeth" in 'The Traveling Family'). Other stories are less readily matched to a prosaic reality and seem to operate according to a dream-logic of their own. 'Black Cat City' for example wraps itself up in an Escher-like construction of inverted cause and effect that mirrors the amnesiacs whose memories are stolen by a plague of night-time cats. Some of this kind of imagery will stay with the reader, but whether it yields anything more rewarding will probably depend on the individual reader. Not for everyone.

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