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Alice and the Fly
Alice and the Fly
by James Rice
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Social inclinations and violent implications, 30 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Alice and the Fly (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The altered perspective novel from the view of a disaffected teenager, often with a mental disability, is practically a genre in itself by now. Alice and the Fly is one of those books - written journal-style from the perspective of a kid who is a bit 'special', who thinks and sees the world differently. Seen in that light, James Rice's Alice and the Fly doesn't have anything particularly new to add to the genre, but the novel is never less than deeply involving, the writing often impressive, with a good eye for character and dialogue.

Greg comes from a line that includes JD Salinger's Holden Caulfield and Matthew Quick's Leonard Peacock. He doesn't fit in well at school, is withdrawn and has a pronounced lisp. He's bullied by his classmates at school and ignored at home by a family that is rather wrapped up in their own petty middle-class social concerns and ambitions. A loner with a fondness for classic romantic Hollywood movies, Greg has a crush on a girl at school who seems to have her own problems. Greg keeps his journal as a form of therapy, to keep 'Them' at bay, but the implications are that he is on the point of, or may already have, been involved in a violent episode during one of his fits.

I was expecting Greg's observations to perhaps point out some of the contradictions and absurdities about the way we live, and to be fair, Alice and the Fly does that to some extent. Most of the observations made however are familiar stereotypical ones of social class distinctions between the affluent social climbing ambitions of Greg's Skipdale family and those of abuse and alcoholism in families in the rough neighbourhood of the Pitt. As familiar as these observations are, they serve successfully to create a very dysfunctional environment that only makes Greg's problems even worse. It's all very unsettling, which is clearly the desired sensation and James Rice achieves this well, even if it doesn't really illuminate social conditions with any real nuance or insight.

Greg's perspective isn't entirely new either, nor is the inevitable downward trajectory that his illness and his failure to relate to others takes him on. The writing however is clever and engaging, the work well-constructed, the characterisation and the situations credible, with authenticity particularly in Greg's voice. Framed as a journal written by a character with a lack of conventional emotional response, that undoubtedly makes reader engagement and involvement difficult to carry off, but Rice succeeds. It might not have any new observations to make about society or mental illness, but Alice and the Fly does meet the author's own personal ambition to craft an engaging story about love and hope.

Under the Rainbow [DVD]
Under the Rainbow [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jean-Pierre Bacri
Offered by The World Cinema Store
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The magic is waning slightly, but still good Jaoui-Bacri, 3 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Under the Rainbow [DVD] (DVD)
Life can be a bit like a fairytale in the films of Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri, but it seems like their collaborative filmmaking team is starting to lose some of its magic in Under the Rainbow. Perhaps the filmmakers are aware of this themselves, since there's a self-conscious effort in this film to inject a little bit of overt fairytale fantasy elements, as if they don't trust the material itself to have the charm to carry it off on its own. In reality, however, while the fairytale touches aren't strictly necessary, they tend to drop away as the film goes on, and the familiar Jaoui/Bacri touch does indeed find its own charm in the qualities and the weaknesses of the lives of its ordinary characters.

Without the fantasy trappings, there isn't anything particularly distinguishing about the story. Laura, a girl from a wealthy family, has a dream of falling in love with a Prince Charming, and confides her dreams and the words of a fortune teller to her free-living and open-minded aunt Marianne (Jaoui). Her prince magically appears in the form of Sandro, a young musician who is struggling to own his own place and gain recognition for his music. Sandro hopes his father might help him out with money from his grandfather's inheritance, but Pierre (a typically morbidly morose Bacri) is preoccupied with where his own life is going, not least because a fortune teller predicted the day of death 40 years ago, and that day is imminent. For various reasons each of them are stuck and uncertain at the choices available to them to progress in life.

To dismiss Under the Rainbow as light and inconsequential however is to miss the point. Jaoui and Bacri do the everyday exceptionally well, finding a magic in love, romance and friendships that overcomes the drudgery of life. There's perhaps no need to state it so explicitly with references to wicked witches, little red riding hood taking a path through the woods, and even a big bad Wolff when there's enough magic kingdom in the Paris street scenes alone, but these aspects slip away as you become more interested in the characters themselves.

And it does come together. Under the Rainbow is all about the trials of young love (Sandro and Laura) and the difficulty of choosing the right path that will get us safely through the woods of life It's also about those who are trying to break the curse of getting older and hold life together (Pierre and Marianne). The magic signs don't get any easier to read, but for Jaoui and Bacri, the charm is still holding.

Le Désert des Tartares [Blu-ray]
Le Désert des Tartares [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Giuliano Gemma

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Restored French version of a masterpiece in stunning HD, 3 Dec. 2014
Valerio Zurlini captures the sense of vast, mystical forces at work and the place of humanity within it in the extraordinary 1976 film Desert of the Tartars. It's like the abstraction of Antonioni applied to the bewildering rules and impossible logic of some cruel authority in a Kafka novel and it's just as compelling and just as unfathomable.

Lieutenant Drogo (Jacques Perrin) is sent to Bastiano, a remote fortress outpost in the rocky, barren and frozen northern region of some unidentified Prussian-like nation. Among the military officers there, giving it an additional edge of surrealism - are an international cast of some of the greatest actors of the age including Vittorio Gassman, Fernando Rey, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Max von Sydow and Philippe Noiret. It seems to be a place that people want to leave but seem to be unable to pull themselves away from, arriving and staying almost stumbling their own way there voluntarily, and relocated likewise subject to some obscure rules or the whim of the powers that be. Orders are orders however, and if that means shooting on your own soldiers or taking suicidal excursions up to the frozen mountains in order to establish where exactly the frontier is.

Quite what the troops are protecting and who they are protecting from is also vague and uncertain. Partly because the command are unwilling to recognise the nature of the threat, treating sightings of the enemy with suspicion or as a trick of the mind, which is entirely possible in this place. There's a mystical quality to the wide open spaces of the desert that emphasises a fear and unwillingness to confront a fate that will eventually arrive. The stunning cinematography and the location contribute to this quality, as does a score by Ennio Morricone. Filmed at the citadel of Bam in Iraq, an abandoned mud city in ruins, parts of the fortress itself are eerily uninhabited, with even the inhabited part seeming to exist in another dimension far from the real world. The eventual fate of Bam itself, destroyed entirely by an earthquake in 2003, only enhances that impression.

Presenting the French version of the film, the quality of this French Blu-ray edition is quite frankly stunning, the image restored to near perfection. The BD also includes an extra feature on the creation and restoration of the, Jacques Perrin principally involved in supplying a near-pristine print. The film is subtitled in English, but the extra feature is not.

Spuren Der Verirrten - The Lost - Dir. Dennis Russell Davies [DVD]
Spuren Der Verirrten - The Lost - Dir. Dennis Russell Davies [DVD]
Dvd ~ Glass
Price: £14.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not great opera, but still impressive, 3 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The commission of a new opera by Philip Glass to open the new Landestheater at Linz in 2013 was a bold statement of intent. Whether the expectations were met or not, I doubt the sprawling and largely incomprehensible Spuren Der Verirrten was what anyone had in mind, but it has to be said that the work fulfils its remit perfectly and often impressively.

As you're dealing with a Peter Handke script as the origin for the libretto of Spuren Der Verirrten (literally 'Footprints of the Lost'), I guess the question 'what is it about?' doesn't really apply. Or perhaps you don't need to look far beyond the title itself to grasp the essential theme of the work. It is indeed about the lost, and the opera takes a kaleidoscopic and somewhat abstract view of where we are as a society today, a lost society that has indeed just blindly followed in the footsteps of those lost before us. There are a few characters and motifs around this theme that weave through the three acts in a variety of short scenes to the extent that by the end of the opera the chorus are in the orchestra pit and the orchestra are on the stage. Everyone is lost and we don't know what's going on, but look, isn't it still wonderful?, Spuren Der Verirrten seems to say.

Well yes actually, it is. While this kind of narrative can prove puzzling to an audience, it's perfect for the abstraction of music, and perfect for how Philip Glass traditionally approaches such material. Spuren Der Verirrten is really no more abstract a piece than Einstein on the Beach, Glass unconstrained by narrative demands and writing music purely for the beauty of the theatrical experience alone. As such he's at his most lyrical, rhythmic and melodic here. It's almost like a 'Best of Philip Glass', with the flow of Einstein, the choral surges of Satyagraha, the swirling musical melodies of his Dance pieces and the pulsing narrative drive of Powaqqatsi (more so than Koyaanisqatsi). There's also something of The Voyage in the approach to a similar concept, and even some of the film soundtrack Glass of 'The Hours'. It's certainly a much more musically rich piece than the recent The Perfect American, but by the same token, it's not exactly anything new from this composer either.

The reason for the richness of melody and tempo is clearly a response to the variety of Spuren Der Verirrten as a theatrical piece and Glass gives this expression the perfect musical accompaniment. Finding a coherent narrative line in it all is partly down to the individual in the audience, but it's also a challenge for the director David Pountney to give a visual representation to abstract fragments of text, keep it flowing and make it all fit under one roof. The artistic, logistical and technical challenges are evident (and alluded to in the Making of feature on the DVD), but even though it inevitably looks a little cluttered in places, it does all come together remarkably well and provides Linz with a suitably grand, epic and ambitious work to open their new theatre. It might not be great, but it's an impressive achievement nonetheless.

Not Forgetting The Whale
Not Forgetting The Whale
by John Ironmonger
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not the End of the World, 3 Dec. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
John Ironmonger takes an unusually quirky and optimistic outlook on the traditional apocalypse genre in Not Forgetting the Whale. It's an approach that is radically different from any number of recent novels (The Road, California, The Dog Stars, The Passage) that anticipate the possibility/likelihood of a complete breakdown of society and a return to barbarism after an epidemic/disaster in the near future. Were it not for JG Ballard's bleak exploration of various disaster scenarios, I'd say that Ironmonger takes a more British attitude of calmly just getting on with things. Here, it might be the apocalypse, but that doesn't mean it's the end of the world.

Though it might well be. It's an economic crisis that brings investment banker Joe Haak out of the City and washed up naked on a beach in Cornwall on the back of a whale, but Joe has seen the signs, or at least a computer programme he has developed has predicted an even bigger collapse that will have a much wider and deeper impact on the world economy and society as a whole. Not Forgetting the Whale however is not exactly your typical disaster novel and John Ironmonger's view of it doesn't extend much beyond the impact on a small Cornish village. How they react to Joe, to the news he brings, and to the romantic complications he brings to St Piran, is not what you might expect.

And that's what's great about John Ironmonger's writing. It might seem like he writes whimsical stories filled with quirky characters, but he also manages to confront basic questions about life, society and human nature at the same time. Not Forgetting the Whale gathers the probabilities of mathematical modelling and social observation then and contrasts that with the rising of the sun, the flow of the tides, (not forgetting) the behaviour of a whale, as well as the unpredictable and unknowable nature of human beings when faced with a crisis. He compares and contrasts networks with communities and comes to some surprising conclusions.

Unlike other writers, Ironmonger comes down on the side of humanity, having faith in their basic nature, delighting in the wonderful puzzles, mysteries, variables and delights that can be found in the unremarked and the unremarkable. Not forgetting the Whale consequently has an indefinable quality that lies somewhere between the mythical and the mundane, with warm engaging characters. Not Forgetting the Whale is not quirky, it's just wonderfully human, which makes it charming, entertaining and surprisingly life-affirming.

Sony MHC-ECL99BT 700W Bluetooth High Power Home Audio System
Sony MHC-ECL99BT 700W Bluetooth High Power Home Audio System

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Modern high-tech solution for the way we listen to music today, 26 Nov. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Physical media for music is just so old-hat, but the technology of music-players has been a long time catching up with streaming and downloading music in an electronic format. This new Sony range of Home Audio Systems is just terrific, this model in particular being just brilliantly designed to handle all the ways we use and listen to music nowadays. It also has the benefit of providing terrific quality and ease of use. In almost every respect, this is an impressive and versatile piece of kit.

First impressions are that it's big! Subsequent impressions are that it not only looks great but, like most of the other features, the display and the button layout are well-designed, easy to use and operate well. The remote control, for example, is small but comes with enough features to control everything you need on the system. It also plays just about every current media you would want. There's a built-in CD and FM Tuner. It connects through Bluetooth, has a line in for connecting from another devices headphone socket, and plays music from an inserted USB drive. It would though be nice to spread the speakers out around the room, but unfortunately the cables are a little short and cannot be changed for longer cables. That's about the only drawback.

Testing the 'old-fashioned' media first, the CD player demonstrates just how "High Power" this Home Audio System is. Bass is heavy even without the Megabass option turned on, but clarity and definition are great even with increased volume. And this has a lot of volume! The sound quality however is superb playing from all inputs. The ability to add a USB drive to the system is also very useful. The LED display will provide track information and you can play, pause, skip tracks and fast forward tracks. The system also provides a "record to USB feature". This allows you to record from your various inputs (other than USB obviously) to an mp3 file.

You can connect the system to an Android phone and tablet using Bluetooth. This literally takes seconds to connect and the quality of tracks played through the Poweramp app on my phone is impressive. This is a great method of input as you can effortlessly connect and play without using any cables. With the app, you can also use the various different media players Android provides to play music and tweak EQ settings. On top of the Megabass option, the system comes with a range of the normal EQ settings (Pop, R&B etc) but you can also use your phone / tablet to change some settings on the source giving you more options. The bass really makes the floor shake! Better hope you have understanding neighbours before giving this a go. Personally I prefer to leave the EQ on "Flat" and then use the EQ settings on my Android device and Poweramp app to get the best sound. The Tuner works as the tuner in any other system. Scanning channels and storing presets is simple and works perfectly.

The Songpal app available from the Google Play Store (and probably Amazon app store!?) allows you to use your Phone / Tablet as a remote control for the Speaker System to control your music, change EQ settings etc. Connecting the app to the system is very easy if using a device with NFC, which most modern phones and tablets have. You simply open the app, hold the device against the speaker system, and its connected immediately. Brilliant! Like everything else, this is a well-thought out, modern and high-tech solution for the way we listen to music today.

Tested with Google Nexus 5 Mobile Phone, Google Nexus 7 Tablet and an ordinary 32Gb USB Flash Drive.

Philips CitiScape SHL5705BKP/00 On Ear Headphone with Microphone
Philips CitiScape SHL5705BKP/00 On Ear Headphone with Microphone

5.0 out of 5 stars Good design, quality headphones, 24 Nov. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Philips CitiScape headphones are designed to be a bit like a fashion accessory, modelled on a folding pair of cool sunglasses. I'm not sure it would be the main reason for choosing to 'wear' these rather than 'use' them, but they are attractively designed, fit comfortably and fold away very neatly indeed to a size barely much larger than a pair of sunglasses. Top marks for construction, design, comfort and fashionability.

The more important question is how do the headphones sound, and as it happens they're pretty good. Personally, I've found Philips models of their in-ear headphones to be a good alternative for more expensive models, comparable in quality and certainly longer lasting, for example, than some Sennheiser X400 sets that I would have regularly used in the past. The Philips CitiScape on-ear headphones are likewise competitive and comparable in quality and price with others in this range, although the actual sound quality might not suitable for everyone's taste. The sound is bright with terrific clarity. High end percussion and cymbals ring out beautifully. The placement and separation of instruments across the stereo range is good. What it lacks is a fullness of bass. If you don't want a boosted bass boom, these provide a nice clean natural sound.

The headphones are very comfortable to wear. The cable is thin and cord-covered, giving no vibration noise. The headpieces fit on-ear rather than covering it, but they block outside noise out really well and there is very little sound leakage, so you won't be bothering anyone else if you wear these outside. Particularly as you aren't likely to be listening to any booming bass tracks on these. The microphone allows you to pick up and take calls on most phones, but it doesn't have track-skipping options. Other than a cloth pouch there are no other extras either, not even an adaptor plug. Nicely packaged, beautifully designed, light and neat to wear, these are however also a good quality set of headphones that provide very good sound.

Update: Having used this set for a few months now, it's become my go-to set of headphones. Great natural sound, very comfortable to wear, no problems at all with the design and build. Still going strong and sounding better than ever. Review upgraded from 4 stars to 5.

Cupertino Story
Cupertino Story

5.0 out of 5 stars Generation now, 18 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Cupertino Story (Kindle Edition)
From Bret Easton Ellis to Donna Tartt's Goldfinch, is there a movement in recent literature that is warning us of a new "lost generation"? Is this something we should be worried about, or is it something that has always been there, and part of the generational divide? From Salinger's Holden Caulfield, but probably even before then, the change to the modern world has undoubtedly caused emotional problems for lost youths looking for love, security and stability in their lives. If seen in that respect, Matt Szymanowski's Cupertino Story is probably nothing new, but there is a growing sense from this latest account that the modern lifestyle is indeed generating an increasingly dysfunctional society.

In Cupertino Story we are introduced to another young man who isn't exactly an orphan, but might as well be. Stevo and his friends are all about good times, enjoying life to the max - parties, girls, drink, drugs, porn and sometimes running into trouble with the authorities and rival youths. Something however just isn't right. Stevo is fully plugged into the world, but is unable to grasp hold of it or make sense of it all. At 16, the simplicity of childhood is gone and life still hasn't taken on a new meaning. Stevo seems to be unable to control his destiny, or has perhaps abdicated any responsibility for it, but what's to control when every freedom is there for the taking?

Or perhaps Stevo's lifestyle is just taking its toll. The narrative and writing of Cupertino Story corresponds to this disintegration of any kind of semblance of form or passage of time. Like The Goldfinch, it captures the same sense of inability to find meaning in a modern society where relationships are not valued or are impossible to form in any meaningful sense. Stylistically however, it's about as far away from Donna Tartt as you can get, feeling more authentically of the generation the author is writing about. Instead of an old Dutch Master painting, there's a blank advertisement with the words 'YOU ARE HERE' that haunts Stevo's imagination, but where is here, and how did he get there?

There are a few clues scattered around in Stevo's relationship with his parents, a few stories about his missing brother Roman, but Stevo's psychiatrist isn't going to make anything of it, and it's left open to the reader to determine their significance. As the story takes an increasingly sinister turn however - with some very graphic sex scenes and considerable drug consumption - all of it clearly points to a life going off the rails, or one that has perhaps already gone off them and is grasping around for something to hold onto to find a way back. The conclusion offers the possibility for some redemption in this respect, but if the final scene is a little more conventional than what comes before, not quite having the nihilistic edge of Bret Easton Ellis, it does feel authentic and still leaves options open.

The freeflowing style of the narrative and the matter-of-factness of Matt Szymanowski's writing elsewhere give Cupertino Story something of a surreal edge at times, showing us a world that comes close to JG Ballard's premonitions of a terminally corrupt and morally uninhibited society where everyone can indulge their most perverse desires. Some references are made in passing to American society, to Bush politics and international perspectives, but it's background noise and there's nothing here that helps ground Stevo in the 'real world'. There's no moralising however in Szymanowski story, no premonitory outlook, no guarantee of redemption. This is how it is, this is now, YOU ARE HERE.

Parsifal: Royal Opera House (Pappano) [Blu-ray] [2014]
Parsifal: Royal Opera House (Pappano) [Blu-ray] [2014]
Dvd ~ Stephen Langridge
Price: £34.47

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slightly clinical production contrasts with warm musical performance, 10 Nov. 2014
Richard Wagner's Parsifal is a work of supreme brilliance, the final work of a musical genius, the summation of his thoughts on what it means to be a human and to suffer. The challenges in how to present a work that is far from conventional and difficult to stage as a traditional opera makes it difficult however to pin it down to any one meaning. It's perhaps unreasonable then to expect anyone to have anything new to add to what is inherently great in itself, just that the work be allowed to weave its magic. As such, it's hard to find any fault with the Royal Opera House's 2013 production of Parsifal, but inevitably some parts fare better than others.

Knights of the Grail are there in name only in Stephen Landridge's abstract-modern production, all of them wearing immaculate grey suits rather than suits of armour. The staging is a little bit cold and clinical in this respect, Alison Chitty's symmetrical geometric stage design dominated by a large cube that serves principally as a hospital room for the bed where Amfortas was being looked after by concerned doctors. The use of lights and sometimes projections however also use the cube to reveal backstory elements in flash-frames and live-action slow motion. Nothing should overwhelm the senses more than the music or the expression in the singing in Parsifal, and every element here seemed well-judged to suggest and engage the audience rather than over-emphasise or impose a false reading.

Landridge's production continually engages with imagery that relates very closely to the original stage directions, but with a distinct twist that makes you re-examine what it all means. Most striking (and controversial) of all is the image of the Grail itself. There might be an inward rolling of the eyes when the cube opens up at the behest of the knights to reveal that the Grail is actually a child wearing nothing but a loin cloth, but the sense of a sacrificial act and the question of blood - both so vital to the underlying message of Parsifal - as well as the sheer pain of Amfortas's role as the keeper of the Grail, is unquestionably intensified when the ritual involves the actual cutting of the child and spilling his blood for the faithful. Such touches don't perhaps reveal any new vision for the work, but they certainly find a thought-provoking way to touch on the philosophical mysteries and the religious significance of the work without having to rely on over-used Christian imagery that has become detached from its original significance and meaning.

In terms of singing, Angela Denoke is extraordinary as Kundry. Kundry is evidently no ordinary woman but something mythical and superhuman, so it's a bit much to expect anyone to really embody this character to the extent that Wagner developed her but... well, there you go, Denoke is something of a phenomenon here. Pitch-perfect maybe not, but it's such a strong and committed performance, from a vital central role, that it anchors all the others - not that they aren't spectacular in their own right. Simon O'Neill might not quite have the character or the acting ability to lift Parsifal up to a similar level, but you can't really find any serious fault his singing or his unstinting commitment here. He holds firm and steady throughout, but finds near-impossible reserves to keep up a consistent level of performance across the almost four hours that the role of Parsifal calls for.

You know that you can rely on that level of professionalism and consistency from René Pape as Gurnemanz. he's particularly good in the third act as a shuffling near-broken knight who finds his long suffering and his faith have been rewarded. It's all there in those finely sung lines and Pape delivers them with self-contained dignity. Gerald Finley feels the pain as Amfortas, director Stephen Landridge working with this aspect of the work as the driving force for the stage conceptualisation. Finley's singing is as smooth, precise and as measured as his Hans Sachs for Glyndebourne, but perhaps just a little too calculated. The Royal Opera House's production is led from the pit by Antonio Pappano with attention to detail and with genuine feeling for the work's Good Friday message, ensuring that it touches upon and brings together every aspect of the transcendent beauty of Wagner's great masterpiece.

On Blu-ray, the clinical qualities of the production design are perhaps over-emphasised. The image quality in the High Definition transfer is however impressive, and it benefits considerably from the DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 mix that warmly expresses the detail and the beauty of the orchestral playing. The BD is a two-disc set, with Act I and II on disc one, and Act III on disc two. There are only a few short features on the discs - a 6-minute Introduction to Parsifal that takes into account the production and the characters, and a five-minute piano run through of a scene from Act II between Simon O'Neill and Antonio Pappano. The booklet explains the significance and the intent of Alison Chitty and Stephen Landridge's production design, and there's a fascinating essay by Lucy Beckett on the writing of Parsifal, with reference to Wolfram von Eschenbach's 13th century text that serves as a basis of the libretto.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 18, 2014 12:27 PM GMT

Prince Igor: Metropolitan Opera (Noseda) [Blu-ray] [2014]
Prince Igor: Metropolitan Opera (Noseda) [Blu-ray] [2014]
Dvd ~ Dmitri Tcherniakov
Price: £21.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece revised, 6 Nov. 2014
What is it with these Russian composers and their unfinished epic masterworks? It's only due to the work of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov, that Borodin's only opera Prince Igor exists in any kind of a performing edition. And if you've ever heard Prince Igor you would realise what a tremendous loss that would have been. Even then however, the work still remained a series of bold scenes, with very little dramatic structure or meaning. Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov is a bit of a controversial fugure (to put it mildly), who fearlessly takes chances with bold modernised reinterpretations of works, but he's been instrumental in bringing working stage productions of rare Russian repertoire to the west. His Prince Igor for the Met caused plenty of controversy too, butu sing only Borodin's compositions, including music from the composer's other works, Tcherniakov has created a radical new dramatic context for an important work that allows it to be seen in a new light.

Like Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, it's important to get past all the musical set-pieces, the heavy choral arrangements and the strident delivery and make Prince Igor a credible character, a real person whose actions in the 12th century can be understood by people today and not just appear as some iconic Russian historical figure. What the opera gains under Tcherniakov's version of Prince Igor is that it manages to place Igor himself at the centre of the work, while retaining all of the exotic colour of the Polovtsian scenes and choruses, and contrast it with the dramatic developments and the tragedy of the Putivl sections. Using Alexander Sokurov-like film interludes, Tcherniakov makes all of seemingly unconnected scenes (including the famous Polovtsian folk dances) part of Igor's fevered dreams, having been wounded in battle. It through these dreams that Igor finds a personal route to happiness and fulfilment and realises where his responsibility to his people lies.

In addition to the dramatic and musical reworking, the other essential element for a successful Prince Igor is the singing. Russian singers are absolutely essential here, not just to handle the difficulties of language, but for the very specific tone and the stamina required. Each of the main roles have long passages of Wagnerian-like demands that require enormous control and stamina. Ildar Abdrazakov is well-known at the Met for popular roles in Italian opera but has not had much experience of the Russian repertoire. He proves he's more than capable of it here and is simply extraordinary in the role of Igor, totally convincing as a character and as a singer in this important role, commanding in the Prologue, visionary in Act I and inspirational in Act III.

There are no weaknesses anywhere else in the cast. Mikhail Petrenko exudes charm and menace as Galistsky and effortlessly carries much of Act II. Oksana Dyka has considerable challenges but impresses as Yaroslavna, her mezzo-soprano not as rich and smooth as we are accustomed to, but it's so right in the Russian repertoire. There aren't many tenors to be found among all the deeper bass-baritone range of most of the male roles in Prince Igor, which only makes the qualities of Sergey Semishkur's Vladimir all the more apparent. Anita Rachvelishvili has been a little bit shrill and inconsistent in some other roles I've seen her in, but here singing in the Russian style as Konchakovna, she is marvellous. The chorus of course have an important part to play throughout Prince Igor. Chorus Master, Donald Palumbo, describes those as the tenors needing to be brighter and more metallic, sopranos being "a little fruitier", and mezzos really singing contralto.

The way these elements are brought together is important in order to achieve that necessary sound world that is so distinctive in Borodin's Prince Igor, and that impact is clearly felt. On every level, with important contributions from all involved, this is a stunning production of a major work.

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