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Keris Nine

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Kotoko [Blu-ray]
Kotoko [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Cocco
Price: £8.26

5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbingly brilliant, 14 Nov 2013
This review is from: Kotoko [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
What happens when you combine a distinctively unnerving filming technique with a character who is more than a little mentally off-balance? Well, obviously you have a Shinya Tsukamoto film and everything that that entails, which means a deeply unsettling film that becomes even more unnerving as the horror deepens, but that can also include a deep, dark vein of black humour in that and perhaps less predictably in the case of Kotoko, even a surprisingly almost uplifting ending.

For most of the film however, the viewer shares a very disturbing view of the world through the eyes of Kotoko, a mentally disturbed and self-harming woman, a mother who is probably paranoid-schizophrenic and consequently a danger to herself and her baby. She sees people as doubles, one of whom she considers a potential threat to the baby, but she isn't able to separate the reality from the threat, and this leads to some considerable problems with sociability. Eventually, much to the relief of the viewer, her baby is taken away from her, but this inevitably only leads to a rise in violence and self-harm against herself. For a brief while, a man (played by Tsukamoto himself) helps her out of her dark place, a writer who seems inured to the extreme violence Kotoko inflicts on both of them. And Kotoko wields a pretty mean fork. It seems fairly certain however that all this is not going to end well.

Kotoko is pretty gruelling stuff then, and it makes for a deeply uncomfortable 90 minutes viewing, but a lot of the reason why this is so horrific is because Tsukamoto makes it so disturbingly realistic. The technique is brilliant, achieving an immediacy through the use of hand-held digital cameras, with jumpy edits and a familiar unsettling use of lighting and sound. The low-fi use of technical effects is also just as effective as it is characteristic of the director of Tetsuo, particularly in the bizarre transformation of Kotoko's apartment close to the end of the film.

Principally however it's the compelling and utterly involving performance of singer-songwriter Cocco in her first amazing acting performance that ensures that you aren't just plunged into a deeply terrifying nightmare, but that you can still see the humanity of Kotoko buried within it. It's an outstanding performance. Despite the bleakness of the situation and a still uncertain longterm outlook, that small remnant of humanity and hope remains at the very end of the film, and it is most affecting.

Wagner: Die Walküre [Simon O'Neill, John Tomlinson, Daniel Barenboim] [Arthaus: 108091] [Blu-ray] [2013] [Region Free] [NTSC]
Wagner: Die Walküre [Simon O'Neill, John Tomlinson, Daniel Barenboim] [Arthaus: 108091] [Blu-ray] [2013] [Region Free] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Guy Cassiers
Price: £29.77

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Die Walküre of beautiful light and shade, 14 Nov 2013
The degree to which Guy Cassiers' direction for Das Rheingold successfully set the tone for the rather more epic scale of the works to follow in La Scala's Ring cycle is immediately clear from the outset of Die Walküre. The darkness, the menace and the threatening tone carries over perfectly into the epic storms of creation and the flight of Wehwalt/Siegmund and draw us compelling into Die Walküre. Almost every Ring cycle however involves compromise of one sort or another and here it relates to choices made in the casting and in the singing. Neither however are so great that they detract in any significant way from the overall success of this critical juncture in La Scala's Ring cycle.

Most notably - although it's by no means critical - there's no consistency here in the casting of Wotan and Fricke. René Pape and Doris Soffel give way here to Vitalij Kowaljow and Ekaterina Gubanova, both of whom however perform very well even if they don't have the same degree of stature or personality as their predecessors. There is perhaps some degree of compromise in the casting of Waltraud Meier and John Tomlinson. Neither is at their peak now and it shows in places. Tomlinson's ability and presence however, his deep understanding of Wagner's music and how it informs the characters even in a relatively minor role like Hunding, stand him in good stead here. The same could be said about Waltraud Meier, but her lighter touch works perfectly with Barenboim's dynamic approach to the score here. In terms of experience, expression and sheer professionalism, not to mention a voice of quite lyrical beauty and true force where required, Meier however really comes through.

All the roles in Die Walküre are important to the overall fabric of the work, but the ones that can make all the difference are Siegmund and Brünnhilde. Simon O'Neill sets his own pace it seems, not always following the tempo set by Barenboim, but he sings well and gets across the necessary sympathy and nobility of his character. Nina Stemme however is just phenomenal as Brünnhilde, and that's really what raises the overall high standard of this Die Walküre. Her's is a voice of immense richness of timbre, but Brünnhilde is by no means a role that can carry the work in isolation. It needs to work alongside the other characters and that's where the strength of the casting really shows. To use one example, the critical scene of Siegmund, Sieglinde and Brünnhilde in the woods during Act II, Scene IV is telling in this respect. It's just stunning, the singing and expression of sentiments coming together, working in perfect accordance with the staging (light shading trees turning into shards of ice) and with Barenboim's orchestration to haunting effect.

It's Daniel Barenboim of course who is instrumental in bringing all this together quite so successfully. He adjusts somewhat to the strengths and weaknesses of the singers in a way that gets the very best out of them, but he also responds to the full dynamic of Wagner's score, allowing the lyrical romanticism of the work to be expressed in the simple beauty, tone and melody of the music itself as much as in the measured force of the delivery. Act I in particular benefits from a more sensitive and lyrical approach to Siegmund and Sieglinde's encounter, but Barenboim is just as expressive when the underlying menace erupts, in the passages of shimmering ecstatic rapture and in the whole range of emotions that the grand scale of the work encompasses. It's a sheer tour-de-force that allows the score space to breathe and assert it own power without ever overplaying its hand or over-emphasis.

That all works in perfect accord then with Guy Cassiers' understated direction for the stage, which is more about mood than strict representation. In this respect it's not dissimilar to the Met's recent Ring cycle, only with a set here that achieves the necessary impact much better and in a far less complicated manner than Robert Lepage's Machine. Following on from Das Rheingold, Hunding's lodge is a cube of light in what looks like a dark cave of glistening light projections. Act II, with a spinning globe connecting Valhalla to Earth, remains abstract but attractive to watch and feel without there ever being any sense of a "concept" being forced on the work and without distracting from the performances. The circle of fire conclusion is less of a spectacle, but that's in tune also with the simplicity and beauty of the line established by Barenboim's conducting of the work. It's not exactly traditional, but it all looks gorgeous and works well.

The Blu-ray from Arthaus looks and sounds fabulous, the full-HD image and the PCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio sound mixes perfectly representing the essential tone of the production and the performances. Other than a couple of trailers, there are no extra features on the disc. The BD50 Blu-ray is region-free and subtitles are in German, English, French, Spanish, Italian and Korean.

Debussy: Pelleas Et Melisande [Jacques Imbrailo, Michaela Selinger, Vincent Le Texier] [Arthaus: 108086] [Blu-ray] [2013] [NTSC]
Debussy: Pelleas Et Melisande [Jacques Imbrailo, Michaela Selinger, Vincent Le Texier] [Arthaus: 108086] [Blu-ray] [2013] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Nikolaus Lehnhoff
Price: £29.46

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heart of Darkness, 11 Nov 2013
You don't want too much to be concrete and literal in the strange indefinable world of Allemonde that Debussy and Maeterlinck evoke so enigmatically in Pelléas et Mélisande. You can't have the characters float around aimlessly like ciphers (even if Robert Wilson has successfully proved otherwise), but you need to recognise that there are passions here as deep as the wells in Allemonde that the characters keep dropping precious objects into. Nikolaus Lehnhoff is particularly successful in this 2012 Essen production Pelléas et Mélisande not only in how he connects the semi-abstract altered-states to an underpinning realism, but in how he gives due attention to Golaud, a the figure whose nature and actions arguably have a more significant impact on the tone and the direction events take than the main characters.

The establishment of a suitable environment for Allemonde is critical also, and that's central to Lehnhoff's concept. The castle where one never sees the skies, the caverns and the wells all evoke a specific atmosphere of oppressiveness and Raimund Bauer's sets bring all this together into a boxed structure that is classical and symmetrical in a way that imposes a sense of order and consistency. There's considerable attention paid however to thee subtle changes and the emotional undercurrents that are expressed in the score. I don't think I've never seen a production of Pelléas et Mélisande that adheres to and matches the moods and rhythms so well. Much of the personalities of the characters in the work however is also conveyed in the very timbre of voice and the expression and weight given to the parlando expression of the singing.

Jacques Imbrailo's Pelléas is therefore lyrical but conflicted, driven by strange urges and entranced by Mélisande's hair, passions that the world of Allemonde is unused to. As Mélisande Michaela Selinger personifies this complicated bearer of dangerous beauty, delicate and sensitive, yet confused and exasperated with her condition - the victim (or catalyst) of an unknown trauma in the past doomed to perhaps repeat it. It's Golaud however and the tormented state of his mind filled with suspicion and fearful of betrayal, who arguably asserts the most influence over events, the direct agent at least of the tragedy that ensues. He is however also the injured party, tormented and to be pitied. I've seen Vincent Le Texier sing this role before, but never so soulfully and never so sensitive to the rhythms of the music that seem to be opening up his soul every time he speaks. He's the dark heart of this Pelléas et Mélisande, the personification of the Allemonde whose sense of order and solidity is broken down by the presence of Mélisande.

There is undoubtedly an element of haunting detachment to Pelléas et Mélisande, but this production still comes across as a little bit cold. There should perhaps be a better balance between the warmth of the score and the singing and the coolness of the production, but that perhaps doesn't work as well on the screen as it might have in the theatre. A gauze screen at the front of the stage softens and diffuses the light, so the clarity you might expect to see in a High-Definition recording is reduced to indistinct softness and haziness. The musical performance under Stefan Soltesz is as beautiful as you would expect, but it doesn't have a fullness of presence in the audio mixes either.

The Blu-ray has optional subtitles in French, German, English, Spanish, Italian and Korean. These can only be selected during play through the remote or the pop-up menu. There are however fixed titles on the screen in English in the musical interludes between scenes that give a synopsis of the next scene like a strange foretelling of events. Other than a couple of trailers there are no extra features on the production, but the director provides some thoughts in the enclosed booklet, and Debussy's own description of how he came to write Pelléas et Mélisande is also included. The disc is all-region.

The Last Kings of Sark
The Last Kings of Sark
by Rosa Rankin-Gee
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn't have fallen in love with?, 11 Nov 2013
This review is from: The Last Kings of Sark (Hardcover)
Rosa Rankin-Gee's debut takes a curious approach to structure and content that makes it feel like something less than a conventional novel, but something more than a series of connected short stories. This however is less in the spirit of experimentation with the format as much as meeting and matching the rhythms of the lives of the three young people who meet on summer in Sark and fall in love. Three people is an odd number for any love affair, and yes, inevitably, it leads to deep complications for all concerned.

The novel is divided into two distinct sections. The first half is novella-like, related from the perspective of Jude, a young 21-year old girl who is engaged for the summer as a tutor for Pip on the island of Sark. Her time there seems fairly uneventful and even commonplace, Jude seemingly never fitting in or feeling entirely comfortable with Pip or sharing a room with Sofi, a young Polish girl from Ealing who is engaged there as a cook. They go for walks, cycle, go swimming and meet some Czech boys staying on the island, but nothing apparently out of the ordinary. There's little sense even of a narrative direction, just a series of impressions that somehow manage to get it across that Jude is nonetheless experiencing a summer of love that is going to have an important impact on her life.

There's little that is made explicit about these feelings until close to the end of this section, but in the playfulness of the dialogue and the imaginative and original use of language (particularly from Sofi), you sense the deeper undercurrents at work. The second half of the book feels less satisfactory, revisiting Pip, Jude and Sofi at different times in the subsequent ten years or so through a series of fragmentary short-stories where you have to gradually work out from the dialogue who we are dealing with, what the time period is and in what circumstances the characters are living ...or, well, maybe coping is a better word. It feels like the author is playing with you, withholding information until the last moment, but on the other hand, this sense of being lost in the middle of something unknown does create exactly the right kind of sense of dissatisfaction that is vital here.

This then, more than anything, is what the novel best achieves, communicating those feelings to the viewer outside of a conventional narrative plot. "A tugging at the base of your stomach" is one phrase that is used in the book to describe the sensation of being in love with the wrong person, of love being unrequited, of opportunities being missed, of regretful longing for the past, and it's a feeling that will be painfully recognisable to most readers. Rosa Rankin-Gee manages to hit the reader right in that delicate place through her writing across the whole of The Last Kings of Sark, and gut reaction is really what counts in this lovely little novel.

Mozart: Cosi Fan Tutte [A. Fritsch, P. Gardina, K. Avemo, J.F. Gatell, A. Wolf] [C Major: 714604] [Blu-ray] [2013]
Mozart: Cosi Fan Tutte [A. Fritsch, P. Gardina, K. Avemo, J.F. Gatell, A. Wolf] [C Major: 714604] [Blu-ray] [2013]
Dvd ~ William Shimell
Price: £29.99

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny Games Mozart style, 19 Oct 2013
Despite coming up with a brilliant and brutal depiction of Don Giovanni for the Paris Opera a few years ago, it's hard to imagine what the Austrian film director Michael Haneke could find of interest in what is perhaps the least substantial of Mozart's mature operas, or at least the lesser of the composer's collaborations with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. A light amusement at the School for Lovers by the director of Cachè/Hidden? It doesn't take too long however to recognise a distinctive twist on the discord between the two couples in the work. Two couples? There would appear to be three couples in Haneke's version, the other one being made up of Don Alfonso and Despina. This unconventional couple don't so much dispense a lesson in love here as exhibit a cruel streak towards the gender politics in the work and attacks middle-class complacency. Some 'Funny Games' here perhaps?

Or perhaps 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses'? Haneke sets the production in what looks at first glance like a soirée at a French chateau, where some of the guests wear modern-day formal dinner-party dresses while others wear 18th century costumes. Is it a fancy dress party where costumes are optional, or is the director attempting to make a distinction between modern and rather older-fashioned attitudes towards love and affairs? Whatever the reason for the disparity, the dress, the corrupting behaviour and the attitudes expressed by this Don Alfonso in his assessment that women are not capable of being faithful is far from playful. There's a suggestion rather that he has rather more sinister motives for setting the couples of Dorabella and Ferrando and Flordiligi and Gugliemo against each other. His partner in crime Despina likewise seems to have a point to prove through her complicity in the events that ensue.

The allusions to near contemporary 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' might be coincidental (or just in my own mind), but they are certainly in the spirit of the method that Haneke employs here. We might believe that our attitudes are more modern, sophisticated and enlightened than those expressed in the period of Mozart, Da Ponte and Choderlos de Laclos, but are we really all that different? As in his film Hidden, Haneke typically suggests that there are deeper, darker, less acceptable impulses involved that we'd rather not openly acknowledge. It's significant perhaps in this respect that there is no real effort made to put Ferrando and Gugliemo into convincing disguises that would fool their partners. Their real feelings and baser impulses in the nature of their seduction of each other's partner is undisguised, and perhaps even the women know it and are complicit on some level too. It's a rather mean-spirited view of the characters in Così Fan Tutte and of humanity in general, but what else would you expect from Michael Haneke?

If there's a characteristic cruelty in Haneke's reading of the work, there is however no violence expressed at all in the musical performance. Sylvain Cambrelling's conducting of the Madrid orchestra is soft, delicate and as beautiful as the score is capable of being. Rather than work against Haneke's intentions, the director uses the gentility of the performance here to complement or enhance the cool cynicism of his Don Alfonso. The delicate musical arrangement and lightheartedness of the libretto create an unsettling and somewhat sinister contrast then with the Master's actual expressions, his gestures and the viciousness of his behaviour. There's a similar dichotomy present in all of the characters and it's in the expression of this - as opposed to a concept that is somewhat questionable - that Haneke makes his own particular outlook on Così Fan Tutte work to some extent.

William Shimell, a baritone who has worked as an actor for Haneke (in the Oscar winning 'Amour') and for Abbas Kiarostami in 'Certified Copy' (and as it happens also played Don Alfonso in a Così for Aix-en-Provence directed by Kiarostami) is really the key player here and his acting is strong enough to make this kind of twist in his persona credible. All of the cast however have clearly been well-directed and give strong performances with Anett Fritsch in particular standing out in the role of Flordiligi. Haneke however is careful that any 'modifications' should not be at the expense of Mozart's writing and is very respectful of the vocal line. He allows the cast to sing the roles faithfully, with full expression and in perfect accordance with the performance of the music and lets the stage direction alone carry the concept. It's not a perfect Così then, Haneke taking the characters rather far from Mozart's rather more generous view of human nature without being quite adventurous enough to really carry it off. It does at least lead you to consider the work anew and question whether there aren't flaws in both views.

Hide Me Among the Graves
Hide Me Among the Graves
by Tim Powers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars The Ghost-vampires of London, 19 Oct 2013
Hide Me Among the Graves sees Tim Powers revisits the world he created The Stress of Her Regard, moving it forward from the early 19th century where Lord Byron, Shelley, Polidori and his associates had come under the thrall of a vampiric entity that served as a muse for their poetry. In the earlier book, Powers dealt with vampire lore in a realistic fashion that not only makes the possession seem credible, but when you read the excerpts of the poetry it supposedly inspired, you could be easily convinced that it could only be written with these events in mind. What was great about the first book holds true of the belated sequel. Mostly.

Starting out in 1862, Hide Me Among the Graves sees members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their close associates similarly under the thrall of dangerous creatures. It's Christina Rossetti whose soul is most in danger having as a young child "quickened" a little black statue belonging to her father that contains the ghost-vampire spirit of her uncle John Polidori. Among those also affected in her family circle are her brother, the artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his wife Elizabeth Siddal. Algernon Swinburne, a friend of the family, is also drawn into the affair when he becomes the victim of another ghost-vampire - a certain Miss B. - that preys on an elderly Edward John Trewlany.

The wider impact of the curse on this circle of artists however also haunts veterinarian John Crawford and a lady of the streets he once briefly knew, Adelaide McKee. Unknown to Crawford, McKee had a child by him, Joanna, who has been taken into the service of these creatures. Following clues gathered from a secret London underworld network of mediums that keep the ghosts of the Thames at bay, they discover that the child is alive and located somewhere in Highgate Cemetery. Powers is at his best in this first section of the book, creating an inventive, creative and convincing mythology surrounding this alternate world of poets resisting strange forces in the dark underbelly of Victorian London.

There are however two other sections to the book that see the characters reuniting twice in the decades that follow these initial events The longer the book goes on however, the less convincing the motivations and methods of Polidori, "Miss B." and their undead creatures become. There's a certain repetitiveness that suggests that the material has been over extended, but sadly the credibility that the author has worked so hard to establish also becomes increasingly strained by a number of unlikely plot twists. Hide Me Among the Graves may not be the author's best work in this field, but fans of The Stress of her Regard, On Stranger Tides and perhaps even The Anubis Gates-period Powers, there's still much to enjoy here.

IronKey H80 500GB Encrypted External Hard Drive
IronKey H80 500GB Encrypted External Hard Drive
Price: £123.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid and secure, 19 Oct 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The IronKey H80 is a superb external hard drive, with 500Gb capacity and secure encryption. It's small, portable, solid construction, easy to set up and use. It requires no external power source of its own, powering up when connected to your PC, laptop or tablet though the USB 2.0 port. Setting up is simple, the software installing from plug-in, the on-screen instructions clear and easy to follow. Be prepared however to have at least 3 passwords of sufficient strength ready for administration and user purposes, both of which are essential for security and encryption that are the most important feature of the IronKey device.

The documentation included is straightforward and good, but as there is no booklet or hardcopy documentation it won't be of much use to you unless you get plugged in and operating, so you need to be sure you have the right operating requirements before purchasing (Windows 7, Vista SP2, XP SP3, MAC OS X 10.5 or 10.6) and evidently USB 2.0. The lights on the drive will also advise of the status. If your device can't supply enough power to the device, you'll see a flashing yellow light. The solid yellow indicates that all is fine. The red light just indicates that the device is securely locked until you log on using the ACCESS software and then the green light goes on. The blue light indicates when there is data being transferred. The drive is partitioned into operating system and private storage for the user logged-on.

Speed of access will evidently depend to a large degree on the host device you've got the IronKey external storage attached to. I didn't find it particularly fast when transferring large volumes of data, but speed isn't a major concern. Of rather more importance is the secure encryption, ease of use and reliability. The first two are clear enough, the reliability will prove itself with time, but nothing is guaranteed free from error and corruption. As with anything of importance, you should ensure there's more than one backup anyway, but the IronKey H80 500GB should provide plenty of capacity and all the security and reliability you need.

Les Troyens (ROH) [Anna Caterina Antonacci, Bryan Hymel, Eva-Maria Westbroek] [Opus Arte: OABD7113D] [Blu-ray] [NTSC] [Region Free]
Les Troyens (ROH) [Anna Caterina Antonacci, Bryan Hymel, Eva-Maria Westbroek] [Opus Arte: OABD7113D] [Blu-ray] [NTSC] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Anna Caterina Antonacci
Price: £34.99

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars David McVicar's imposing but imperfect version of an epic, 10 Oct 2013
Berlioz never saw his epic creation performed in full during his lifetime, but we now have Blu-ray releases of no less than three complete productions of Les Troyens to be able to judge the quality of the work. Previously we had the revelatory 2003 Châtelet production in Paris (in an impressive account conducted by John Eliot Gardiner) and the rather less successful attempt to modernise the opera by La Fura dels Baus in the 2009 Valencia production. A comparison between the two suggests that if it's not necessarily a case of less is more, it is nonetheless important to strike a balance that captures the extravagance and dynamic of the distinct styles of the two parts of the work while at the same time also living up to the epic grandeur that it represents. David McVicar therefore had quite a challenge in this new major production of the work for the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, and while it didn't exactly meet with universal critical acclaim at the time, the weaknesses in the production seem rather less pronounced when viewed at home.

The fact that David McVicar and set designer Es Devlin go for their familiar industrial Steampunk style in the first act with weapons and military uniforms that are clearly not related to Ancient Greek setting is neither here nor there. As ever with McVicar, the detail is less important than the overall impact, and both the Troy and Carthage scenes aim for a mood and grandeur of scale that is commensurate with the work itself. The tone of the first half starts dark and gets darker still, the short-lived celebrations of the Trojans giving way to ceremonial mourning, followed by dire premonitions of doom from an increasingly hysterical Cassandra and concluding with the mass suicide of the Trojan women as the warriors flee for Italy, the city having been breached by the Greek soldiers through the ruse of the horse. It's the huge mechanical construction of the Trojan Horse that is the imposing image of the first half and it's suitably impressive. The direction is fairly static in this section, but it gives room to appreciate the magnificent musical construction of the first two acts, and allows Anna Caterina Antonacci to dominate as Cassandra.

The warmth of tone and presentation of the Trojans in Carthage section is in marked contrast to the darkness of the first half, but Berlioz's arrangements are no less epic in his depiction of the utopian society of Carthage under the rule of their beloved Queen Dido. Even Bryan Hymel, who doesn't quite manage to rise above the dramatic power of the Troy section as Aeneas, seems to find the North African climate more to his liking. The challenges of the second half of Les Troyens however lie in the presentation of those sentiments, and that isn't quite so well achieved as the first half. While there's much that's beautiful about Berlioz's scoring for these scenes, all the ballets and the celebratory love-fests can however be a little bit too much. McVicar and designer Es Devlin's at least achieve all the epic grandeur and warmth for Carthage that is suggested in the score, but they can't find any way to make the longeurs in Act III sufficiently interesting. There is however still a lot to enjoy musically and in the singing during the final three acts and it's all superbly put across by the Royal Opera House Orchestra under Antonio Pappano's direction.

As Dido, Eva-Maria Westbroek sings beautifully and is excellent at conveying the dilemma of the Carthaginian Queen over her feelings for Aeneas and her promise to remain faithful to the memory of her dead husband. Westbroek has a fullness of tone and sufficient power in her soprano, but not quite the necessary colour that you would normally get from a mezzo-soprano in the role. This is particularly noticeable for the lack of sufficient and complementary contrast that ought to be there in her 'Nuit d'ivresse et d'extase infinie' duet with Hymel - a key moment in their relationship which never really comes across here as it should. There are also some beautiful sounds coming here from Brindley Sherratt's concerned Narbal and Hanna Hipp's devoted Anna, both providing the necessary counterweight to Dido's mental disintegration in the closing acts. Masterfully orchestrated in musical and dramatic terms by Berlioz, Hylas's song of longing for home at the beginning of Act Five is sweetly sung by Ed Lyon, combining well with the act of betrayal between Dido and Aeneas that is more convincing than their romance. It ensures that the conclusion at least is sufficiently tragic.

The Royal Opera House's Les Troyens is handsomely packaged for its 2-disc Blu-ray release. The two discs are contained in a digipak that is slipcased with a large booklet with several programme-length articles and a full detailed synopsis by David McVicar. The four and a half hour opera is evenly divided across the two discs, not according to the two distinct parts. Disc One has the first three Acts, which takes in Fall of Troy (Act I and II) the first act of The Trojans in Carthage (Act III). Disc Two has the final two Acts (IV and V). Antonio Pappano provides introductions at the start of the opera and during the 'interval' sections (Before Act III and before Act V). The opera can be played with these introductions included or without. There is also a featurette that looks at Es Devlin's set designs, an excerpt from Pappano's 'Insights' look at the opera and a Cast Gallery. The BD is all-region, subtitles are in English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese and Korean.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 13, 2013 10:10 AM BST

Here, Then (Ci Chu Yu Bi Chu) [DVD]
Here, Then (Ci Chu Yu Bi Chu) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Huang Tang Yijia
Price: £11.68

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Being, Bored, 4 Oct 2013
The style and the content of Mao Mao's 'Here, Then' is made very clear right from the first scene. It's made up of long slow static takes of scenes where very little happens, there's very little dialogue, characters are difficult to identify or tell apart, they stare out of windows and smoke cigarettes and one scene moves to the next with little sense of a narrative or continuity. It's very much in the Jia Zhang-ke meditative style of filmmaking which likewise often deals with rural boredom and urban alienation. That doesn't necessarily mean that the film itself has to be boring, but it has to be said that Here, Then often is.

On the other hand, the film does indeed seem to accurately reflect the nature and the circumstances of its characters in a way that ends up being quite compelling. If the film is to realistically represent their lives, there's no reason why they should be articulate and tell you how they feel. Through various methods, in brief moments of contact and reaching out to make a connection, in pop songs that are often their only means of expression and escape, and in one or two key "break out" scenes that go against the tide of the otherwise slow pace of the film, you do get a sense of the film touching on something deeper.

The film is also beautifully photographed, making tremendous use of light and with an unusual and enveloping sound design that does manage to frame the characters in their environment and capture a sense of them at a loss in in their hopeless situations. With very little dialogue, it can be difficult to gain any real insight into their condition, but Here, Then is an immersive experience that does gradually start to reveal its intentions in the connections it makes through images, locations and the characters.

I can well understand that this kind of cinema might not be for everyone, that it can often be difficult to follow when there seems to be little point or meaning to many of the scenes, and that it can indeed often be boring for long stretches, but even if you just feel relieved to make it to the end of the film, you could well find that the experience stays with you and can even be quite haunting. A word about the DVD - the quality of the image is just stunning and even in stereo, the audio track is powerful and enveloping. I couldn't imagine this looking or sounding much better in High Definition. There's a good interview with the director Mao Mao included and a good booklet essay, both of which are useful in gaining an appreciation of what the film is about.

Die Tote Stadt [Klaus Florian Vogt, Camilla Nylund, Markus Eiche ] [Opus Arte: OA1121D] [DVD] [2013] [NTSC]
Die Tote Stadt [Klaus Florian Vogt, Camilla Nylund, Markus Eiche ] [Opus Arte: OA1121D] [DVD] [2013] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Klaus Florian Vogt
Price: £18.85

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous production and a stunning performance from Camilla Nylund, 4 Oct 2013
Written when he was just 23 years of age and first performed in 1920, the high Romantic notions conflating love and death are particularly evident in Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Die Tote Stadt - The Dead City. The Liebestod-like sentiments are expressed in Wagnerian fashion with an underlying Straussian Salome-like discordance, but what is notable about Die Tote Stadt is how it takes these ideas to even greater levels in its consideration of the underlying psychology or even pathology of his main character through dreams fantasies and impressions. The formal challenges of representing this in a production of the work then are considerable, but so too is the technical virtuosity of the orchestra and the singers to express this often difficult work. Both elements however are handled exceptionally well in this 2010 production from the Finnish National Opera.

Die Tote Stadt is a psychological study that is connected very closely with the nature of a city, in this case Bruges, but this is just one element in a deeper conflict that Paul has to reconcile between the past and the present, between the living and the dead, between an ideal and the reality. Whether it needs additional emphasis or not, Es Devlin's designs for Kasper Holten's production emphatically puts both Paul's room and the city, as a reflection of his inner mindset, right up there on the stage. It looks terrific, the room expressionistically designed with oppressive angles, littered in an obsessively organised fashion with pictures, portraits, mementos and shrine-boxes dedicated to Marie. At the back, tilted, but almost at right-angle to the stage, a vertiginous section of the city is revealed, bearing down on Paul. Using an actor to play the ghost of Marie may not be strictly necessary either, but again having her present on the stage with her lookalike Marietta does make Paul's dilemma all the more real.

If there are any questions about Kasper Holten employing such techniques, they are at least borne out in how they fit with Korngold's musical arrangements for Die Tote Stadt. It's highly demanding of its performers, particularly the role of Marietta, which is pitched at the level of a Straussian soprano. Camilla Nylund has everything that is required here, the range, the stamina, and a necessary beauty in the colour of timbre and expression. She is simply phenomenal. This is a great performance. Klaus Florian Vogt's high sweet tenor might not seem like the ideal voice for the equally challenging role of Paul and he does struggle sometimes at the lower end of the tessitura. He brings a glorious soaring quality however to those ecstatic moments and a sense of vulnerability to his character that is not there, for example, in Torsten Kerl's strident singing of the role on the 2001 Opéra National du Rhin recording.

The Opus Arte release of the Finnish National Opera's 2010 production is released on DVD only, spread across a 2-disc set. The source is certainly not HD, but even in Standard Definition the image quality is somewhat disappointing, lacking real clarity and even appearing to be a little juddery in its NTSC transfer. It does however represent the light, colour and detail of the darkened stage production reasonably well. The LPCM stereo and DTS Surround 5.1 audio tracks don't have the depth of a high resolution recording either, the music not really lifting out or revealing the detail and colour of the orchestration, but that could also be down to the performance which doesn't seem to express the full quality of Korngold's lush score. The only extra feature on the disc is a Cast Gallery. Subtitles are in English, French, German, Japanese and Korean.

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