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L. E. Cantrell (Vancouver, British Columbia Canada)
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Angel in the House (Roy Angel)
Angel in the House (Roy Angel)
by Mike Ripley
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Lovejoy-lite: perfectly acceptable and competent English lout-lit detective series, 10 Sept. 2010
Author Mike Ripley seems to be a well-established in Britain. His publisher provides us with the following information: "Mike Ripley is the author of a dozen previous novels in the 'Angel' series, which have twice won the Crime Writers' Last Laugh Award [whatever THAT may be] for comedy. He was also a scriptwriter for the BBC's Lovejoy series and served as the Daily Telegraph's crime fiction critic to ten years."

The [London] Times calls him "England's funniest crime writer", a dubious distinction. Of rather more significance is the fact that such well-known figures as Minette Walters and Colin Dexter are willing to appear in print praising him.

If Ripley is big-time in England, judging by the reviews he has accumulated on Amazon US--none as far as my not-at-all diligent search has disclosed in 2007 when this review was originally written--he has had no discernible impact on in the North American market. That's too bad, because this book, which I take to be representative of the series, is pretty good. Certainly, it's more worth a few hours of a reader's time than some more famous British exports.

The lead character of the "Angel" series is a man who possesses but does not rejoice in the name Fitzroy McLean Angel. Ripley's stint on the TV Lovejoy writing team is plainly evident because Angel is offered to us as a perpetually broke, unreliable, self-centered, unambitious, lazy, greedy lout--as Lovejoy-lite, in point of fact. Angel is also the son of a British life-peer (who would be paid the sum of £64 for each day he turns up at the House of Lords, not that he ever does), but Angel makes up for it by driving a "delicensed" taxicab around London--although in this book he is forced to switch to a Peugeot 64, "voted the Gay Car of the Year" by a French automobile association. (Angel is the kind of guy who is concerned about such things.) That is not even the worst that happens to Angel in the book, for he suffers the ultimate indignity: his wealthy, pregnant girlfriend insists that as a father-to-be, he ought to be employed. Reluctantly, oh, most reluctantly he accepts a job as a detective at an agency his woman has bought for that very purpose.

Angel the Lout is the series character. Fortunately for his readers, from time to time Ripley forgets that and Angel is allowed to surprise us with flashes of intrepidity, worldliness, even honor.

This particular adventure endured by the ever-reluctant Angel involves hijacked Botox, salsa dancing, peculiar economics in the international used car business, odd goings-on at unsold houses and the unusual uses to which sex shop underwear can be put.

All-in-all, this is an entertaining book in what I strongly suspect is an entertaining series. Give it a try.


I Know Where I'm Going [DVD] [1945]
I Know Where I'm Going [DVD] [1945]
Dvd ~ Roger Livesey
Price: £4.00

9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Primo chick-flick ... that a guy can enjoy, too, 10 Sept. 2010
This review was orginally written in 2007. At that time, there were already 44 reviews published on Amazon US. Except to one or two outright dismissals, the Amazon US reviews consisted pretty much of raves.

Let me be a contrarian and point out a few things that are less than stellar about this film.

--The opening credits are cutesy enough to send some people into sugar shock.

--The soundtrack is a disgrace. Enrico Caruso warbling into large metal cones in 1905 was captured in higher fidelity than anything on this Criterion edition. If the problem was in the original, Powell and Pressburger were using disgracefully sub-standard technology even for wartime Britain. If the problem is with Criterion, then that outfit should have lived up to its prestigious reputation by either seeking out a better source or using the sort of technology that is routinely used to reveal remarkable fidelity in opera recordings made more than 80 years ago.

--The musical score has been flattened to match the blandest of English taste. This is particularly apparent in the folk song that gives the movie its title. The piece is sung at a dirge-like pace by a young girl of little talent who has obviously been told to make it as sweet sounding as possible. The effect is something like Guy Lombardo playing "Satisfaction." An actual Scottish choral group appears briefly in the big party scene. For about five bars they are given a chance to let us know what decently trained voices singing at tempo can do with the music of the islands. It is a pleasing but too brief respite.

--There is a sub-plot, or rather a diversion involving a country twit of the huntin' and shootin' type and his hunting eagle. This is so pointless that I suspect that Powell and Pressburger simply stumbled over a man at the shooting location who happened to have an eagle, so they wrote a part for the bird to display the landscape.

--The central drama of a woman torn between two courses and two men is never established because the man Hiller's character has come to marry never appears. He is heard only as a pompous voice on a radio receiver. Hiller's dramatic conflict must simply be taken on faith.

--The acting style is pure London West End stage stand-and-deliver. Roger Livesey's acting technique consists of standing up very straight, remembering all his lines and delivering them in a relentless, affectless monotone. (How much better the film would have been with an actor such as Robert Donat, who could actually act and offer a convincing Scottish accent, too!) Wendy Hiller, more often than not demonstrates exactly how it was that she could be heard in the most distant seat in any theater.

--The Hebridean scenery and weather are offered as things of romance and grandeur. And I suppose they are, if you live in London or Nebraska. I, on the other hand, live in a part of the world where the scenery is quite similar, except that the coasts of British Columbia and Alaska have mountains that are a LOT taller, the weather can be much worse, and we have trees. I happen to agree with Dr. Johnson and Boswell who famously visited the very sites shown in the movie during the 18th Century. They regarded them as cold, wet and gloomy.

That said, I must now declare my nitpicking to be beside the point. For all its many faults "I Know Where I'm Going" works. I don't for a moment believe in Wendy Hiller's character but I still care for her. Livesey is an absolute stick, but he's a curiously likeable stick. I want to see them form a bond. The gloomy scenery is more than the sum of its parts. There is magic here, that inexpressible but unmistakable something that makes watching a film two hours well spent. Down at the level of basic truth and underlying quality, all those uncritical rave reviews were perfectly right.

This is a film well worth watching.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 18, 2013 9:49 PM BST


What Mad Universe?
What Mad Universe?
by Frederic Brown
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What mad delight!, 6 Sept. 2010
This review is from: What Mad Universe? (Paperback)
This is the finest novel that ever slummed on the pulpy pages of the old Startling Stories magazine. It was written by a consummate professional, a master wordsmith whose avowed artistic goal was making a more-or-less honest living

It's the story of a very strange couple of days in the life of Keith Winton, an underpaid editor of a hack science fiction magazine rather remarkably like Startling Stories. As the book begins, Winton is engaged in the drudgiest of drudge work, editing the letters to the editor column, all of which come from youthful, pimply, passionate fans such as Joe Doppelburg, whose latest letter he is trying to fit into the monthly paste-up.

It's about 1950, a time when both a pulp science fiction magazine and a good cheeseburger cost about $0.25. In Winton's retro-precocious world, the first unmanned lunar probe has recently been launched. Laying aside Joe's letter aside for the moment, he goes outside to see if he can spot the anticipated landing. It will be marked by a humongous flash, you see, from a new kind of on-board generator that is supposed to be visible to the naked earthside eye. The flash, it turns out is not all the difficult to see, for the probe has been a colossal failure and is falling back to earth even as Winton peers upwards. It so happens that the impact point is the top of his head....

After which, he finds himself in a strangely altered New York, a New York in which pulp SF magazines cost 2.5cr and in which the nighttime streets are actually a little bit more dangerous than ours today. Women go into space in revealingly transparent spacesuits. Moonies trace their origins to the moon, not to Korea. Interstellar ships are powered by wholly unexpected developments in sewing machine technology. And the mysterious hero guarding all mankind against the space armadas of the dreaded alien invaders is brave, dashing, glamorous Doppelle.

I first read this story more than fifty years ago and still own a battered, second-hand first edition (sans dust jacket, alas, 10¢ at Miss Eilis' Book Emporium on 16th Street, San Francisco). One of the earlier Amazon reviewers wrote, "This book is one of the best SF books I ever read." Yes, I'll agree with that. I'll go even further, it is one of the finest pulp novels ever written, better than 99% of the genre novels being written today, better than 99.9% of the literary novels.


His Girl Friday [1940] [DVD]
His Girl Friday [1940] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Cary Grant
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.61

5.0 out of 5 stars Breathless take on old-style Chicago news hounds with Grant, 6 Sept. 2010
This review is from: His Girl Friday [1940] [DVD] (DVD)
When this review was originally written in 2007, it was the 95th review to appear at Amazon US on this movie. As always, it proved enlightening to read what the preceding writers had to say. Most of them loved the film, as was wholly predictable. A goodly number issued dire warnings about the appalling quality of one issue or another, so there is very much a buyer beware factor involved here. A handful didn't care for the film at all, almost always because thedialogueissofasttheycan'tkeepupwithit. That ... is ... a ... real ... shame, especially in this era of the fidgety edit, the sound bite and the five-second commercial.

Many, altogether too many, praised director Howard Hawks to the skies for his brilliant story, his brilliant dialogue, his brilliant re-visioning, his brilliant this, his brilliant that. Now that requires a comment or two.

In the Roaring Twenties, Chicago was the most raffish newspaper town in the world. Reporters who had seen it all--many, many times--covered Prohibition-era beer wars, gangsters several times bigger than life, crooked politicians, lurid scandals of every conceivable stripe, Red scares, repeated labor strife, mesmerizing mouthpieces who reduced juries to tears in order to save thrill killers from their justly deserved dates with public executioners, and any other mad things that turned up by land, sea or air. The pop culture of the day was fascinated by it all and two contemporary plays survive into our time to remind us of those hard-charging times: "Chicago" and "The Front Page." "Chicago," of course, was a hit play, that became a hit movie (and advanced the career of Ginger Rogers), that became a hit Broadway musical, that became a hit retro-movie musical.

"The Front Page" was an even bigger hit on stage in its first go-around. It was written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur who had served time in the news bullpen at the Chicago City Hall and had finally escaped to write for other venues that were no more respectable but paid a whole lot more money. Their subject was Hildy Johnson, a reporter on his last day in the bullpen before escaping into the real world and his boss Walter Burns, an amalgamation of every editor who'd ever run a beady eye over Hecht and MacArthur's deathless prose. I should point out that Hildy Johnson in the play is a man. The reason for that is ... well, because there actually was a Hildy (short for Hilding, not Hildebrand) Johnson who happened also to be a bullpen reporter at the Chicago City Hall. Whatever inclination (if such a thing ever entered their minds at all) that Hecht and MacArthur had to make Hildy Johnson a woman would have promptly fallen by the wayside because the two authors were aware that the real Hildy Johnson would be in the theater on opening night to observe the antics of the fictional Hildy on stage. By all accounts, the real Hildy was a large and formidable Swede, not at all someone H&Mac wished to annoy.

In very short order, the play was faithfully transferred to the movie screen with Pat O'Brien as Hildy and dapper Adolph Menjou as Walter Burns. That film is largely forgotten today, but is well worth watching. It was the first major film of the talkie era in which the old fluid movement of the silent film camera was re-attained. Menjou and O'Brien are both terrific.

More than a decade later, a geologic era of Hollywood time, Howard Hawks set himself to the task of doing a remake. He hired Charles Lederer, yet another raffish writer, to make a 1940-ish screenplay out of the 1928 play. He, or Lederer, or both simultaneously succumbed to the psycho-magnetic pull of that name, Hildy. They subjected Johnson to a gender transformation ... which changed the relationship between Burns and Johnson from Mephistopheles and Faust to lovers-separated ... which allowed for the importation of a new character as the temporary impediment to the course of true love ... which yielded a magnificent screenplay that maintained all the cynical energy of the original, but in the context of a romantic comedy.

In the apportioning of credit, so far, I would put writer Lederer far ahead of director Hawks. Hawks racks up points for casting Cary Grant in the unaccustomed role of an authority figure, for casting Roz Russell who was perfectly capable of going toe-to-toe with Grant and always giving as good as she got, and for tossing in the wonderful, but still under-appreciated Ralph Bellamy as hilarious ballast to keep everything on course.

Hawks did one more thing. He rehearsed each scene in long takes, again and again, until the rapid, overlapping rhythm of the words was ingrained in the performers. Then, and only then, did he shoot it.

This film is a masterpiece for its screenplay, for its performers down to the smallest parts (a perfect, Big Studio-era repertory company of players), for Hawks' masterful direction. Sheesh, what more could you want?

Of course it's worth five stars!


Front Page [DVD] [1931] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Front Page [DVD] [1931] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £19.95

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Buyer beware! Fine performance of an old warhorse, but a poor DVD edition, 6 Sept. 2010
In the Roaring Twenties, Chicago was the most raffish newspaper town in the world. Reporters who had seen it all--and seen it many, many times--covered Prohibition-era beer wars, pin-striped gangsters several times larger than life, crooked politicians of every conceivable stripe, Red scares, labor strife, mesmerizing mouthpieces who reduced juries to tears in order to save thrill killers from their justly deserved dates with public executioners and any other mad thing that turned up by land, sea or air. Pop culture of the day was fascinated by it all, and two contemporary plays have survived into our time to remind us of those hard-charging times: "Chicago" and "The Front Page." "Chicago," of course, was a hit play, that became a hit movie as "Roxie Hart," that became a hit Broadway musical, that became a hit retro-movie musical.

"The Front Page" was an even bigger hit on stage in its first go-around. It was written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, who had served time in the news bullpen at the Chicago City Hall and had finally escaped to write for other venues that were not a bit more respectable but paid a whole lot better. Their protagonists were Hildy Johnson, a reporter working his last day in the bullpen before escaping into the real world and his boss Walter Burns, the amalgamation of every cynical editor who'd ever run a beady eye over Hecht and MacArthur's deathless prose.

I should point out that Hildy Johnson in the play and in this movie is a man (for he would undergo a sex change in the great remake of this film and be played by Roz Russell.) There actually was a Hildy (short for Hilding, not Hildebrand as in the screenplay) Johnson who happened to be a bullpen reporter at the Chicago City Hall. Hecht and MacArthur were acutely aware that Johnson would be in the theater on opening night to observe the antics of the fictional Hildy on stage. They must have hoped that he could take a joke. By all accounts, the real Hildy was a large and formidable Swede.

In very short order, the play was faithfully transferred to the movie screen with young Pat O'Brien as Hildy Johnson and dapper Adolph Menjou as Walter Burns. Because of the fame of the remake, "His Girl Friday," the original film is largely forgotten today, but it remains well worth watching. It was the first major film of the talkie era in which the old fluid movement of the silent film camera was re-attained. Just look at the continuous take in which Menjou argues O'Brien all the way around the press table. How in the world did the director pull that off with the technology available to him at the time?

Menjou and O'Brien are both terrific, as one would expect.

To my knowledge, there have been four filmed versions of the old play and at least one made for television. Walter Burns, the most memorable character in the piece, has been portrayed by Adolph Menjou, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, Burt Reynolds and Robert Ryan. Grant's performance is the best remembered but Menjou is formidable and much, much closer to the intent of the original authors.

This is a good and completely authentic version of a great old warhorse and gem of the American theater. Alas, however, the quality of the print underlying the DVD can only be described as deplorable. Overall, I can only give three stars to this DVD version.


Verdi: Aida
Verdi: Aida
Offered by marxwax
Price: £19.98

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Corelli and Nilsson barge down the Nile (in triumph), 6 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Verdi: Aida (Audio CD)
SOURCE:
EMI studio recording made during June, July and August 1967 at the Opera House in Rome. Producer: Ronald Kinloch Anderson.

SOUND:
Good mid-1960s analogue stereo satisfactorily remastered into digital form.

CAST:
Aida, an Ethiopian slave to Amneris - Birgit Nilsson (soprano)
Radames, a captain of the royal guard destined for higher things - Franco Corelli (tenor)
Amneris, the daughter of Pharaoh - Grace Bumbry (mezzo-soprano)
Amonasro, the warrior King of Ethiopia - Mario Sereni (baritone)
Ramfis, the High Priest - Bonaldo Giaiotti (bass)
King of Egypt - Ferruccio Mazzoli (bass)
A messenger - Piero De Palma (tenor)
A priestess - Mirella Fiorentini (soprano)

CONDUCTOR:
Zubin Mehta with the Rome Opera House Orchestra and Chorus.

COMMENTARY:
"Aida," like "Il trovatore," but unlike "La Traviata" or "Die Meistersinger," has been fortunate in generating many first-rate recorded performances which can recommended without qualm or caveat. This is one of them.

However, opera fans, by their very nature, delight in endless debate about the relative merits of this conductor or that, of one Radames over another, about the importance of bite in the voice of Amonasro A compared to the mellifluence of Amonasro B, and most of all disputing the merits of the grand lady portraying the slave Aida. Ante up with a Callas and somebody will raise you with a Tebaldi (or two.) Toss out a Price or an Arroyo and get trumped with a Milanov. And on and on. I do not propose to get into pointless and unseemly debate about who is the greatest. (Besides, as anyone with any sense knows, it's Milanov.)

I prefer a simpler measure of whether an "Aida" can be recommended without reservation. If I had seen this performance in an opera house, would someone have had forcibly to restrain me from standing on my chair to yell bravos and whistle? If so, it can be recommended with a light heart. This "Aida" can be recommended with the lightest of hearts.

I think the greatest strength of this recording is to be found in two men. Franco Corelli simply shines in this outing. For once, and for all I know, for the only time in his career, he displays strength and delicacy in proper proportions. Take that galumphing old warhorse aria, "Celeste Aida." He strikes the final B-flat with the anticipated forte blast but most unexpectedly he drops down to piano, at once transforming the aria from the usual out-of-place warcry to the intended reverie. In the tomb scene at the end of the opera, he is simply faultless; there is no other way to describe him. The other man is Bonaldo Giaiotti who makes Ramfis into a true star part. Ferruccio Mazzoli, too, is impressive as the King of Egypt, but his role is too brief to have full effect. Mario Sereni's Amonasro is well-conceived and effectively offered, but by 1967 Sereni no longer had the sheer strength of the others--if he ever did.

As Aida, Birgit Nilsson didn't have Milanov's sheer beauty of tone or Callas' insightful intensity, or Tebaldi's inborn italianata--but she was NILSSON and that was plenty impressive all by itself! In an opera house, she'd have blown me right out of my seat. Amneris isn't a role that I'd spontaneously associate with Grace Bumbry. In a perfect universe I'd prefer Barbieri, Simionato or the young Stignani, but in this mundane world, Bumbry will do just fine for me, thank you very much.

As an opera, "Aida" can be approached as an intimate drama, as a large-scale spectacle or as something in-between. Mehta, I think, felt the pull of the spectacle, as did Solti in his outing with Price and Vickers. There is a largeness about the conceptions of the two conductors that is easily distinguishable from the intrinsically intimate approach taken by Serafin with Callas. Many people admire Solti for bringing out all the opera's orchestral detail in a thoroughly symphonic reading of the score. I, on the other hand, think Solti's "Aida" a dreadful case of bang, boom and bombast, as well as a deplorable waste of John Vickers' fine performance. I'll happily take Mehta on this one. If your ideal "Aida" is a spectacle, Mehta is the man for you.

(Regarding Mehta and this recording, that good, grey English magazine, The Gramophone, has made an interesting U-turn. In 1990, the reliable and perceptive Alan Blythe said, "The most laming aspect of the performance is Mehta's stodgy and wayward conducting, which is only partially compensated for by the idiomatic performances of his Roman forces." In 1999, the same critic said, "They don't make them like this any more--in every sense. In the 1950s and 1960s EMI made a series of what have become truly classics with Rome Opera forces that have Verdi in their blood.... The young Mehta conducts with a deal of dramatic verve." Oh, yes.)

Five stars reflected on the silent-flowing waters of the Nile.


ZUBIN MEHTA-G. PUCCINI: TURANDOT
ZUBIN MEHTA-G. PUCCINI: TURANDOT
Offered by RAREWAVES USA
Price: £13.41

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars B-list cast in stunt production, 6 Sept. 2010
More than a decade down the road, this production strikes me as neither particularly good nor particularly bad.

In performance quality, it is typical of the sort of thing one sees from second-string companies, such as--alas!--my own local company, the Vancouver opera. The cast--satisfactory enough for that level--is resolutely, steadfastly B-list, with Frittoli perhaps aspiring to B+/A- status.

Considering that this is as much a circus as it is an opera, concerns about the quality of conducting are largely irrelevant.

In production values, this "Turandot" holds some interest, but primarily as a stunt and little more. It is a production transplanted from the Florence May Festival, a well-regard and respectable source. That being said, I, for one, would bet that everything about it had worked better in Florence than any of it did amid all the foofraw in Peking.

Except for the sheer spectacle of it all, this should not be anyone's first choice for "Turandot" on DVD.


Hamish Macbeth: Series 1 [DVD] [1995]
Hamish Macbeth: Series 1 [DVD] [1995]
Dvd ~ Robert Carlyle

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You can admire the books or the TV series, but not both, 6 Sept. 2010
When I originally wrote this review in 2007, there appeared to be two sub-sets of reactions from Amazon US reviewers with regard to this mystery series:

1. If a reviewer had never read any of the books on which it is supposedly based, he or she would probably find it lightly amusing, idiosyncratic and full of local color.

2. If a reviewer had actually read one, some or all of M. C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth novels, he or she would wonder how on earth the bone-headed producers and half-witted scriptwriters managed to get EVERYTHING SO TOTALLY WRONG.

So, five stars for the non-readers and zero stars for the readers. Call it three stars overall.

----

As a matter of fact, there is a third possible reaction. Shortly after the run of this series, Beaton wrote a book in which the producer/writer of a TV series was fiendishly slaughtered.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 19, 2014 9:52 PM GMT


Verdi: La Forza del Destino [Recorded 1941]
Verdi: La Forza del Destino [Recorded 1941]
Price: £12.36

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous 1941 performance---a true winner from the past, 5 Sept. 2010
SOURCE:
This is the first more-or-less complete professional recording of "La forza del destino." It is a studio recording made for broadcast by the Italian Broadcasting Authority (EIAR). It was probably recorded in late May 1941, and most likely at Teatro di Torino in Turin. The opera was recorded in roughly four-minute takes for subsequent issuance on thirty-five 78-rpm sides (18 disks) by CETRA.

SOUND:
The soundscape here is an artifact of its time. The bad news is that it is noticeably dry, boxy and short of orchestral detail. I am sure that narrowly-focused audiophiles, the ones who care about such things, will be able to detect the joins of the short takes without much difficulty. As for myself, I haven't yet looked for them and do not intend to so in the future. There is undoubtedly some distortion from time to time. The good news is that none of that matters in the light of the first-rate performance. On the whole the sound is considerably more than just bearable. Live with it and wallow in the music.

CAST:
Donna Leonora, a young lady trapped in a run of really bad luck - Maria Caniglia (soprano)
Don Alvaro, a young man whose love for Leonora leads to truly operatic consequences - Galliano Masini (tenor)
Don Carlo di Vargas, Leonora's brother, a young man of unforgiving nature - Carlo Tagliabue (baritone)
Preziosilla, a Gypsy girl who likes to keeps things stirred up - Ebe Stignani (mezzo-soprano)
Padre Guardiano, the Father Guardian of the monastery adjacent to the Church of Our Lady of the Angels - Tancredi Pasero (bass)
Fra Melitone, a lazy monk - Saturno Meletti (bass-baritone)
Il marchese di Calatrava, father of Carlo and Leonora/a Mayor/a surgeon - Ernesto Domenici (bass)
Curra, Leonora's lady in waiting - Liana Avogadro (mezzo-soprano)
Maestro Trabbuco - Giuseppe Nessi (tenor)

CONDUCTOR:
Gino Marinuzzi with the Symphony Orchestra of the Italian Broadcasting Authority and the Turin Chorus (apparently supplemented with members of the Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala, Milan.)

TEXT:
"La forza del destino" premiered in St Petersburg on November 10, 1862. It met with initial success but Verdi was not satisfied. After substantial revision, it re-opened at La Scala on February 27, 1869. The most important changes were the addition of the now-familiar overture and the redesign of the final scene. Originally, Alvaro, Carlo and Leonora all died at the end of the fourth act--too much of a downer in Verdi's opinion. Now, the dying Carlo stabs his sister so that she can die gracefully in the arms of the devastated Alvaro--as you can see, much jollier all around.

This recorded performance contains the standard cuts of its time and also eliminates the scene for tenor and baritone in the third act that includes the duet "Sleale! Il segreto fu dunque violato?"

Considering the political situation of 1941, the producers discreetly changed one line in a rousing second act chorus from "Morte ai Tedeschi!" (Death to Germans!) to "Morte ai nemici!" (Death to enemies!).

DOCUMENTATION:
No libretto. Short history of the opera and a brief summary of the plot. Track list.

COMMENTARY:
Maria Caniglia (1905-1979) was a prima donna assoluta of the old school--a bit rough in technique compared to the current standard of bland soprano precision, but filled with passion, fire and iron nowhere to be heard today. She was the great Italian predecessor of Tebaldi and a some very famous subsequent sopranos have done her the honor of imitation. La Caniglia thought this to be her best recording.

Galliano Masini (1896-1986), now largely forgotten, was an enormously popular tenor in the years before the Second World War. Hear him on this recording and you will understand why.

Carlo Tagliabue (1898-1978) was at his very considerable peak when this recording was made. He would re-record the role of Don Carlo di Vargas years later with Callas but with diminished vocal resources.

Ebe Stignani (1903-1974) is a charter member on any rational list of the greatest Italian mezzos of the Twentieth Century. She almost overwhelms the small part of Preziosilla, but it's a star turn nevertheless.

Tancredi Pasero (1893-1983) was one of the three great Italian basses in the years between the wars. During a career that stretched from 1926 to 1951, he was such a heavy smoker that he almost always had an assistant waiting in the wings with a lighted cigarette so that he could take a puff immediately after coming off stage.

Caniglia, Stignani, Masini, Tagliabue and Pasero may be regarded as the 1941 Italian dream cast for "La forza."

This is the only complete opera recording by Gino Marinucci (1882-1945), composer of three operas of his own as well as a symphony. He had a fine reputation as a conductor for Strauss, Wagner and Puccini. He led the premiere of "La Rondine" in 1917. He was the artistic director of the Rome Opera 1928-1934 before moving on to La Scala, where he became the manager in 1944. His handling of "La forza" is sufficient to make me regret that he never had a chance to do more operas.

If this recording from wartime Italy had been recorded in the analog stereo of 1961 or even in the high fidelity of 1954 rather than the compressed mono of 1941, I would have no hesitation about recommending it as the recording of choice for "La forza del destino." Since the sound quality is what it is, and the recording contains cuts in the text, I can only say that if you care for Verdi, or for great singing, or for truly idiomatic and incisive performances, you should rush to buy this very fine performance as your second "Forza"--the one you listen to for yourself, not the one you use to impress your audiophile friends.


Rock Me Amadeus: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Handel ...
Rock Me Amadeus: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Handel ...
by Seb Hunter
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A heavy metal dude reports back on his explorations in the classical music world, 5 Sept. 2010
In his first book, "Hell Bent for Leather: Confessions of a Heavy Metal Addict," Seb Hunter chronicled his experiences in the heavy metal musical world. In his new book, "Rock Me Amadeus ... or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Handel," Mr. Hunter has turned his hand to a different musical stratum Here is his explanation for the change in musical territory: "I love music, you see. And I've reached a stage in my life where it's time to try and love classical music, too, even if it doesn't particularly want to love me back." [Page 3 of the trade paperback edition]

From that beginning, Mr. Hunter narrates a personal journey of discovery from the 12th Century cloisters of Hildegard von Bingen, the lady whom he regards as the founder of western classical music, step by step, age by age, composer by composer, musical form by musical form, until he reaches such modern (and often British) luminaries as Sir John Taverner, Sir Peter Maxwell Davis, Harrison Birtwhistle, Joby Talbot, Philip Glass, John Adams and Ellen Zwilich. At the end of his journey lies this grand conclusion: "I know that I'll listen to much of this music now for the rest of my life; and I know there's still loads more fantastic stuff beneath the surface that I can explore and swim through for years to come." [Page 403]

Mr. Hunter has chosen to write his book in what might be described as Regular (English) Guy Talk. In direct communication with me, Mr. Hunter wrote of "the implicit self-mockery throughout this book; indeed that drives my writing, period. This is high art from a humorous, low-cultural (rock-steeped) perspective". He's a heavy metal dude talking to and for others of his background and persuasion, but he can take off on such flights as this one: "Chopin's piano music is sweeping, swoonsome, swish yet swampy. It's beautiful, lilting stuff, but it makes me feel a bit ill. It's so charming, deft, rich, autumn-tinged and achy that its like slightly over-ripe fruit." [Page 269]

This is not a book that holds appeal for me, so I cannot give it a high rating. In simple truth, I find passage after passage to be stultifying or aggravating, and sometimes both. It is obvious, however, that the book was never in any way addressed to me or anyone like me, but to an entirely different audience and constituency. Mr. Hunter's book, unlike more formal and perhaps more rigorous alternatives, does seem to have the considerable merit of getting through to metal dudes and chicks--to head-bangers of all stripes, in fact, who have at least some curiosity about a new and different musical world. That being the case, I cannot in good conscience give the book the abysmally low rating that was my first reaction.

Three stars, then, as a practical compromise.

---

ON CHANGING MY RATING FOR THIS BOOK:
Let me be quite clear on this. I personally despise this book. In 2007, I posted a review on Amazon US that eviscerated its style and contents, then stomped on the remains. That review ended with this summing up: "One star--but the book is not actually that good."

In short order, Mr. Hunter posted a reply in which he thoughtfully described me as a "pompous, elitist, humourless, point-missing Canadian moron"--accurate enough, all things considered, and a great stylistic advance over his published work. I, naturally, wrote back in a properly top-lofty and sneering tone--and a good time was had by all.

In reviewing this exchange, though, I was struck by something that I had not properly appreciated at the time. One of the sneers in my response had been, "As lout-lit, however, the book is first class." The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became: it was, indeed, first class lout-lit. If that were the case, I could no longer justify my one-star rating. After all, don't louts deserve reading material, too?

I returned to the branch of the public library in which I had first seen the book. "Rock Me Amadeus" was displayed there once again, on the shelves of recommended new arrivals. I spoke to the librarian who had placed the book there and, quite to my astonishment, I found an individual who admitted to reading it. The librarian said that she had seen the book catch the eyes of young people. The reader was a multi-pierced youth, as fine and upstanding example of young loutishness as one might hope to find, the hope of future loutdom, in fact. His ringing endorsement of the book: "OK, I guess."

After that, I had no honorable course but to delete my first review and replace it with the one posted above.

(For those who care about such matters, the vote at the time of deletion was one "useful" and five "not useful." One of the latter, however, was cast by my ever-loyal personal troll, to whom you need pay no attention; I don't.)
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