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L. E. Cantrell (Vancouver, British Columbia Canada)
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Anna Bolena
Anna Bolena

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Famous live performance from La Scala, 11 Sep 2010
This review is from: Anna Bolena (Audio CD)
SOURCE:
Live performance from the opening night of the new Visconti production of "Anna Bolena" at La Scala in Milan, April 14,1957.

SOUND:
By current standards, the mono sound is boxy and limited. By the standards of Callas' recorded live performances, it is well above average. (Please refer to Mr. Moore's excellent earlier review for more details and a comparison with the competing EMI version.)

Voices are generally well-caught in a sort of AM radio-ish way, the orchestra slightly less so. The audience at La Scala that opening night was unusually quiet for an Italian crowd. Perhaps they were a little awed by the occasion. Certainly, they were unfamiliar with the opera. Their recorded responses are positive, generous and at more or less the appropriate spots. All that aside, anyone who listens to this "Anna Bolena" should do so for the performance, not the sound reproduction.

CAST:
Anna Bolena, Queen of England - Maria Callas (soprano)
Enrico VIII, King of England - Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (bass-baritone)
Giovanna Seymour, lady-in-waiting to Queen Anna, king's mistress and next Queen of England - Giulietta Simionato (mezzo-soprano)
Percy, a nobleman dangerously in love with Anna - Gianni Raimondi (tenor)
Smeton, a young page and musician idiotically in love with Anna - Gabriella Carturan (soprano)
Lord Rochefort, Anna's brother who has a talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time - Plinio Clabassi (baritone)
Lord Hervey, a courtier who is acutely aware that his career will not be advanced by being Anna's friend - Luigi Rumbo (baritone)

CONDUCTOR:
Gianandrea Gavazzeni with the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala, Milano.

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

TEXT:
This was the second major production of "Anna Bolena" in the modern bel canto revival. There are substantial cuts, from which the role of Percy is the greatest sufferer. Many reviewers clearly suffer the vapors at the very thought of losing a single bar of the golden legacy. I am not among their number. Sometimes, less actually is more. I have seldom found note-complete performances, especially those with pseudo-bel canto ornamentations created on the spot, to offer a markedly improved artistic experience. Sometimes, as in the horrifying example of Wagner-length "complete" "Tales of Hoffmann," it can be a dismal downer. In this case, the shortened text of "Anna Bolena" works well enough.

COMMENTARY:
"Anna Bolena" premiered at La Scala on December 26, 1830. It was the big hit that catapulted the 32-year old composer into the great bel canto triad with Rossini and Bellini. For all its success, the opera shared in the general collapse of bel canto fortunes and lay dormant until the 1950s. The post-World War II era saw a revival of the bel canto repertory, largely driven by the presence of Maria Callas and the subsequent development of a group of divas who combined enormous power with extraordinary vocal agility.

(Here in the Twenty-first Century, we find ourselves amid a drought of such divas once again. Where is the next great Medea, Lucia, Norma or Anna Bolena to be found? Almost certainly not among the troops of Handel specialists who come pouring out of today's academies.)

The libretto of "Anna Bolena" rests only lightly on the dreary historical facts. Anne Boleyn is conceived as a fairly typical bel canto heroine, even to the extent of being granted a short mad scene. The reputation Henry VIII is completely slagged in Romani's telling of the tale. The king hasn't a single vestige of honor, generosity or loyalty. He lacks even the self-awareness that makes Shakespeare's monstrous Richard III so entertainingly charming.

It is a part of the received lore among opera fans that the role of Anna is a voice killer. Why this should be when Norma, say, and Turandot and Isolde are not, I can't say. Whatever the dangers, the voice of Callas in 1957 was more than a match for them. Fans of La Divina quite properly regard this as one of her great triumphs. Critics, on the other hand, profess to detect the earliest cracks in the noble vocal facade. Perhaps that is so, but I for one do not choose to ignore the virtues of a performance while searching for its faults.

Callas is better supported by the rest of the cast than is often the case with her live recordings. Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, with his somewhat wooly voice, was not one of the great singers of the Twentieth Century, but he was a good one, nevertheless. I saw him in San Francisco a couple of times toward the end of his career. He was a solid performer who could carry an audience with him. Simionato was very much an A-list singer and sounds like it here, despite the oddly offhand dismissal to be found in the review published by the Good Grey Gramophone Magazine. (Years later she would describe this "Anna Bolena" as the highlight of her career.) Gianni Raimondi sounds fine to me in what remains of the part of Percy, although some would doubtless argue that his is not the proper type of voice for the role. (The very same argument could be made about Callas herself, despite the too-confident insistence of fans that the remarks of the critic Stendahl about the first Anna, Giudita Pasta, show her to have been something of a Nineteenth Century pre-iteration of Callas.) The singers in the smaller roles, the orchestra, the chorus and the conducting all uphold the reputation of La Scala.

A famous live performance in decent sound with Callas in full La Divina-mode--five stars, of course!


Donizetti: Anna Bolena
Donizetti: Anna Bolena
Offered by BookFozz
Price: £49.95

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Famous live performance from La Scala, 11 Sep 2010
This review is from: Donizetti: Anna Bolena (Audio CD)
SOURCE:
Live performance from the opening night of the new Visconti production of "Anna Bolena" at La Scala in Milan, April 14,1957.

SOUND:
By current standards, the mono sound is boxy and limited. By the standards of Callas' recorded live performances, it is well above average. Voices are generally well-caught in a sort of AM radio-ish way, the orchestra slightly less so. The audience at La Scala that opening night was unusually quiet for an Italian crowd. Perhaps they were a little awed by the occasion. Certainly, they were unfamiliar with the opera. Their recorded responses are positive, generous and at more or less the appropriate spots. All that aside, anyone who listens to this "Anna Bolena" should do so for the performance, not the sound reproduction.

CAST:
ANNA BOLENA, Queen of England - Maria Callas (soprano)
ENRICO VIII, King of England - Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (bass-baritone)
GIOVANNA SEYMOUR, lady-in-waiting to Queen Anna, king's mistress and next Queen of England - Giulietta Simionato (mezzo-soprano)
PERCY, a nobleman dangerously in love with Anna - Gianni Raimondi (tenor)
SMETON, a young page and musician idiotically in love with Anna - Gabriella Carturan (soprano)
LORD ROCHEFORT, Anna's brother who has a talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time - Plinio Clabassi (baritone)
LORD HERVEY, a courtier who is acutely aware that his career will not be advanced by being Anna's friend - Luigi Rumbo (baritone)

CONDUCTOR:
Gianandrea Gavazzeni with the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala, Milano.

DOCUMENTATION:
Libretto with English translation. Short history of the opera and brief summary of the plot.

TEXT:
This was the second major production of "Anna Bolena" in the modern bel canto revival. There are substantial cuts, from which the role of Percy is the greatest sufferer. Many reviewers clearly suffer the vapors at the very thought of losing a single bar of the golden legacy. I am not among their number. Sometimes, less actually is more. I have seldom found note-complete performances, especially those with pseudo-bel canto ornamentations created on the spot, to offer a markedly improved artistic experience. Sometimes, as in the horrifying example of Wagner-length "complete" "Tales of Hoffmann," it can be a dismal downer. In this case, the shortened text of "Anna Bolena" works well enough.

"Anna Bolena" premiered at La Scala on December 26, 1830. It was the big hit that catapulted the 32-year old composer into the great bel canto triad with Rossini and Bellini. For all its success, the opera shared in the general collapse of bel canto fortunes and lay dormant until the 1950s. The post-World War II era saw a revival of the bel canto repertory, largely driven by the presence of Maria Callas and the subsequent development of a group of divas who combined enormous power with extraordinary vocal agility.

(Here in the Twenty-first Century, we find ourselves amid a drought of such divas once again. Where is the next great Medea, Lucia, Norma or Anna Bolena to be found? Almost certainly not among the troops of Handel specialists who come pouring out of today's academies.)

The libretto of "Anna Bolena" rests only lightly on the dreary historical facts. Anne Boleyn is conceived as a fairly typical bel canto heroine, even to the extent of being granted a short mad scene. The reputation Henry VIII is completely slagged in librettist Romani's telling of the tale. The king hasn't a single vestige of honor, generosity or loyalty. He lacks even the self-awareness that makes Shakespeare's monstrous Richard III so entertainingly charming.

It is a part of the received lore among opera fans that the role of Anna is a voice killer. Why this should be when Norma, say, and Turandot and Isolde are not, I can't say. Whatever the dangers, the voice of Callas in 1957 was more than a match for them. Fans of La Divina quite properly regard this as one of her great triumphs. Critics, on the other hand, profess to detect the earliest cracks in the noble vocal facade. Perhaps that is so, but I for one do not choose to ignore the virtues of a performance while searching for its faults.

Callas is better supported by the rest of the cast than is often the case with her live recordings. Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, with his somewhat wooly voice, was not one of the great singers of the Twentieth Century, but he was a good one, nevertheless. I saw him in San Francisco a couple of times toward the end of his career. He was a solid performer who could carry an audience with him. Simionato was very much an A-list singer and sounds like it here, despite the oddly offhand dismissal to be found in the review published by the Good Grey Gramophone Magazine. (Years later she described this "Anna Bolena" as the highlight of her career.) Gianni Raimondi sounds fine to me in what remains of the part of Percy, although some would doubtless argue that his is not the proper type of voice for the role. (The very same argument could be made about Callas herself, despite the too-confident insistence of fans that the remarks of the critic Stendahl about the first Anna, Giudita Pasta, show her to have been something of a Nineteenth Century pre-iteration of Callas.) The singers in the smaller roles, the orchestra, the chorus and the conducting all uphold the reputation of La Scala.

A famous live performance in decent sound with Callas in full La Divina-mode--five stars, of course!


Laughing Policeman [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Laughing Policeman [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Walter Matthau
Offered by RAREWAVES USA
Price: £3.77

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A solid San Francisco police procedural in the "Bullitt"-mode, 11 Sep 2010
In the 1960s the writing team of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo wrote police procedural mysteries based on the cops of the Stockholm PD--a sort of Swedish 87th Precinct series without a vestige of wit or humor, hence the ironic title. Oh, very gloomily Scandinavian! The books were immensely successful in Europe and even managed the almost unprecedented feat of jumping the Atlantic to become best sellers in America. "The Laughing Policeman" was probably the best-known book of the lot. It is still very much in print and well worth reading today.

Inevitably the series was picked up on option by an American film studio. In 1973, "The Laughing Policeman" was filmed ... with a few changes.

Ingmar Bergman may have been widely admired but he was not box office. No US studio was going to risk big bucks on unknown Swedish actors, nossiree. Walter Matthau was hired to play the lead detective and a young Bruce Dern to play his sidekick. (It should be remembered that in those days Matthau was still an all-around actor, and a good one; his talent had not yet disappeared beneath his comic persona.) If no Swedish actors, than certainly not Stockholm, a town that was presumably gloomy and dull. (Who knew? Who cared?) San Francisco was neither. That was the place!

The movie starts out with a wordless sequence which begins at what was then called the Eastbay Terminal located at about First and Mission Streets. A miscellaneous lot of people board a small diesel bus decked out in the Municipal Railway's old green and cream color scheme that clearly bears the route designation "14 MISSION." The bus wends its way through the streets of San Francisco until one passenger uses an automatic assault rifle, called a "grease gun" in the script, to murder everybody else on the bus. The bus, no longer controlled by the now-dead driver, careens slowly through Chinatown, coming at last to a stop in a gentle crash. The mass murderer, face unshown, steps off and, so far as the puzzled detectives who soon arrive on the scene are concerned, vanishes into thin air.

(Now, to any San Franciscan, a major mystery immediately appears: what in tarnation was a 14 MISSION bus doing so far off course--in Chinatown, of all unlikely places?)

"The Laughing Policeman" was made in the era of the hugely successful Steve McQueen vehicle, "Bullitt," a police procedural set in San Francisco and almost dialogue-free. "The Laughing Policeman" is chattier, but not by much. I wouldn't be surprised to find that all the dialogue in the shooting script could be contained in under ten typewritten pages.

Like "Bullitt" and another famous San Francisco mystery movie, "Vertigo," "The Laughing Policeman" is both an homage to the City and a travelogue. In "Bullitt," San Francisco is an action-oriented theme park suitable for chases up and down the hilly streets. In "Vertigo," San Francisco is a place of picturesque monuments that mask old sins. But in "The Laughing Policeman" the cameras dote on the sleazy underbelly of the City, familiar places in the daily slog of the natives but effectively invisible to the tourists.

I lived in San Francisco for 32 years. I left it in 1974. This movie exactly captures the City as I remember it. (I visited San Francisco a couple of months ago. With the single exception of the Embarcadero Freeway, torn down after the big 1989 earthquake, hardly a brick or a hair has changed in any of the locations that appear on the screen.)

All in all, this is a pretty good, terse, well-acted film that offers a respectable story and is at once a travelogue and time capsule.

Give it a try. Five stars.


Let's Misbehave! A Cole Porter Collection, 1927-1940
Let's Misbehave! A Cole Porter Collection, 1927-1940
Price: £5.99

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr. Porter has nothing to regret, 11 Sep 2010
If you want authenticity, here it is.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Cole Porter was a composer who was not driven to perform his own works. I wouldn't be surprised if this CD contains just about his whole personal output. His singing voice was certainly nothing to give Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra or even Fred Astaire pause, but time has given it an unexpected glow of rightness. Just listen to his quavering vocals and you'll know what the song was about, what Porter was about, and to some extent, what the whole era was about.

The other numbers on this collection were all recorded by the big names of the day, some still fondly remembered, some fading, but all of them true professionals.

Five stars for the real thing!


R Strauss: Die Schweigsame Frau
R Strauss: Die Schweigsame Frau

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Strauss (but second-rate "Don Pasquale"), 11 Sep 2010
SOURCE:
Live performance broadcast by Oesterreichischen Rundfunks (Austrian Radio) from the Festspeilhaus, Salzburg Festival, August 6, 1959, an officially designated "Festspiel Dokumente."

SOUND:
Fairly decent, AM broadcast-quality mono, better than most Salzburg Festival recordings from the 1950s--which isn't saying much. There is a considerable amount of stage noise, much of it specifically intended by the librettist and composer. The audience is well-disciplined, interrupting the natural flow of the opera only once with a little flurry of applause for the first entrance of Gueden and keeping its inevitable coughs well muffled. From time to time, a performer turns away or finds a dead spot on stage an his or her voice fades slightly. As for the orchestra, the narrowed sonic range of this recording is not as much of a problem for this relatively lightly-scored opera as it would be for more lushly-written Strauss works.

CAST:
Sir Morosus, a wealthy gentleman with an aversion to noise - Han Hotter (bass-baritone)
Henry Morosus, a long-lost nephew in a noisy profession - Fritz Wunderlich (tenor)
The Barber, an absolutely untrustworthy confidant - Hermann Prey (baritone)
The Housekeeper, a woman who bangs around Sir Morosus' home but a truer friend than he shall ever realize - Georgine von Milinkovic (mezzo-soprano)
Vanuzzi, an operatic impresario - Karl Doench (bass-baritone)
Aminta, an opera singer - Hilde Gueden (soprano)
Isotta, an opera singer - Pierette Alairie (soprano)
Carlotta, an opera singer - Hetty Pluemacher (soprano)
Morbio, an opera singer - Josef Knapp (baritone)
Farfallo, an opera singer - Alois Pernerstorfer (tenor)

CONDUCTOR:
Karl Boehm with the Wiener Philharmoniker und Chor der Wiener Staatsoper.

DOCUMENTATION:
Libretto in German and English. Track list showing timings and identifying singers. Portraits of Richard Strauss, Karl Boehm, and production shots from the 1959 Festival.

TEXT:
This is a heavily cut performing text. Purists who regard every written note as pure gold and every preliminary thought as expressed genius, turn away right now. This is not for you. However, it might be noted that Karl Boehm was Richard Strauss' go-to man whenever he wanted someone to conduct the premiere of one of his operas. He conducted the two performances of the piece allowed under the Nazi regime and he was a lifelong friend of the composer. I regard him, of all people in the world, as the one most likely to know Strauss' intentions with regard to "Die Schweigsame Frau." This was a festival performance; there was no commercial need to shorten it. I think, therefore, that this is the version of the opera that Strauss himself would have decreed to be the authentic final text.

THE STORY:
Old Morosus, rich from capturing ships in the recurring wars with Spain, has profitably retired. He hates noise. With his barber, Mr. Cutbeard, he discusses finding a wife--provided that she can maintain blessed silence. With the arrival of his long-lost nephew Henry Morosus, the old man puts such thoughts aside--until Henry reveals that he has become an opera singer and that he has brought his whole opera company to stay in his uncle's house until the London season begins. Morosus threatens to disinherit Henry on the spot. He orders the whole opera company out of his house. The noisy invaders repelled, Morosus orders the barber to find a suitable bride. The barber goes straight to Henry. They hatch a plot. Vanuzzi and the men will pretends to be priests and notaries. The women will be marriage candidates. Old Morosus is enchanted with the demure and silent Aminta. A false marriage ceremony is performed on the spot. Immediately after that, Aminta displays both a voice and a shrewish disposition. Quickly the new Mistress makes the old man's life a noisy hell. He wants nothing so much as a divorce and he seeks Henry's help to procure one. In the end, Aminta admits that she was never married to old Morosus because she was already married to Henry. The old man is so relieved to be free of the shrew that he takes it all in good humor and everything ends happily.

COMMENTARY:
The story of "Die Schweigsame Frau" is ostensibly based on "Ipicoene, or The Silent Woman" by Ben Jonson. There are certainly similarities. Jonson's Morose hates noise. He has a scapegrace nephew, Dauphine Morose whom he threatens to disinherit. At the conniving of his barber, he marries Ipicoene who instantly turns into a noisy shrew. Morose seeks for ways to obtain a divorce. In the end, Ipicoene turns out to be in disguise and it is revealed that there never was a marriage, much to the relief of old Morose. But consider this, Don Pasquale considers taking a young bride. He threatens to disinherit his scapegrace nephew. With the conniving of Dr. Malatesta, he marries Norina who instantly turns into a noisy shrew. Don Pasquale seeks for ways to end the marriage. In the end, Norina turns out to be in disguise and it is revealed that there never was a marriage, much to the relief of old Don Pasquale.

Now, it is remotely possible that librettist Stefan Zweig did not know any better, but Strauss must have been perfectly aware that he was re-writing Donizetti--just as he must have known that he was re-visiting "The Marriage of Figaro" with "Der Rosenkavalier." Aminta's form of disguise is essentially the same as Norina's but entirely different from Ipicoene's (whose disguise was uniquely suited to the Elizabethan theater.)

"Die Schweigsame Frau" is a very decent Strauss opera. It's talky but basically sound. I like it. But it is not as good as "Don Pasquale." It is not even half as good as "Don Pasquale." Line the two up together and you find the work of an earnest plodder beside that of a casual genius. Strauss once described himself as "a first-class second-class composer." He was perfectly correct.

As for the performance, look at the cast, Hotter, Wunderlich, Prey, Gueden, and the conductor, and the orchestra--gold, pure gold. Of course it's worth five stars.

But it's not as good as "Don Pasquale"!


Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore
Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore
Offered by FlorenciumBear
Price: £19.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine studio-made "L'elisir" with a Grand Old Man conducting, 11 Sep 2010
SOURCE:
Studio production recorded in August 1958 at La Scala in Milan.

SOUND:
Perfectly acceptable early analogue stereo. The digital remastering of 1993 is generally satisfactory, making this one of the more successful offerings from the EMI of that era.

CAST:
Adina, a prosperous country landowner who is flirtatious, flighty and a bit pig-headed - Rosanna Carteri (soprano)
Nemorino, a country bumpkin and prize chump who is hopelessly in love with Adina - Luigi Alva (tenor)
Belcore, a sergeant in a regiment encamped near Adina's farm who is hopelessly in love with ... Belcore but also determined to marry Adina - Rolando Panerai (baritone)
Doctor Dulcamara, a traveling quack, a purveyor of bogus nostrums and fake love potions who is in love with money ... and his next meal - Giuseppe Taddei (baritone)
Gianetta, a country girl who is not entirely averse to snagging a wealthy husband - Angela Vercelli (mezzo-soprano)

CONDUCTOR:
Tullio Serafin with the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Milano.

DOCUMENTATION:
Libretto in Italian and English. Brief history of the opera and summary of the plot that ties into the CD tracks. Track list with timings.

TEXT:
This recording offers the standard, stage-proven version of "L'elisir" that was in use when it was recorded. In the Nineteenth Century, before Verdi came close to eliminating the practice in Italy, operas were expanded, cut and reshaped at the whim of impresarios, based on what their ticket-buying audiences wanted or were accustomed to. This led to variant editions and alternative versions, sometimes arising from the egos of local singers and more often from their technical limitations. My test for a performance is not whether it is "complete" but whether it works. This performance works.

COMMENTARY:
"L'elisir d'amore" is one of the many operas that can be traced back to that ubiquitous hack of all seasons, Eugene Scribe. Scribe's original libretto, "Le philtre," had been set to music by Auber in 1831, to no particular effect. In 1832, Donizetti needed a libretto on short notice. His librettist, Felice Romani, knew a good thing when he could steal it. He quickly paraphrased "Le philtre" into Italian doggerel as "L'elisir d'amore." Donizetti devoted a long time--a whole month!--to setting the words to music. "L'elisir d'amore" opened at La Scala in May 1832. It enjoyed a triumph.

Unlike most bel canto operas, "L'elisir d'amore" never faded away. It has held its position in the standard operatic repertory from the night it opened.

Tullio Serafin (1878-1968) was one of the Grand Old Men among Italian conductors. Arturo Toscanini hired him to be an assistant conductor at La Scala in 1898. He became principal conductor there in 1909. In the 1920s and 30s he was an important conductor at the Metropolitan in New York. He was particularly skilled at developing the careers of great singers. Before World War II he guided Rosa Ponselle on her path to superstardom. After the war he oversaw the transformation of Maria Callas from Wagnerian to bel canto soprano and was her collaborator in her ascent to the status of "La Divina." (The date when Callas threw him aside in a dispute over a recording of "La Traviata" is as good as any to mark the beginning of her fall.) He was also important to the early career of Joan Sutherland.

Serafin was one of the great expanders of the operatic repertory, both in premiering new works and in reviving faded ones. He is the central figure in the mid-Twentieth Century revival of bel canto and the successful re-entry of many bel canto operas into the standard repertory.

With regard to this recording, some have complained that the eighty year-old Serafin had slowed down, but no-one could possibly deny his deep feeling for and understanding of the opera. For my own part, while I have heard some parts of "L'elisir" go faster, I am not entirely convinced that I have heard them sound better for it.

The two best known names in this strong cast are the baritones, Rolando Panerai and Giuseppe Taddei. Panerai is excellent as that preening military man, Sergeant Belcore. Taddei is even better as that quick-witted quack, Doctor Dulcamara. Nine years later he would sing Belcore in a fabulous live performance with Scotto and Bergonzi at the Florence May Festival (available from Opera d'Oro), but here Taddei clearly demonstrates that he was born to be an unmitigated purveyor of phoney love potions.

Rosanna Carteri is very good, a little heftier in voice than other famous Adinas but still very sound, very earthy.

Luigi Alva is lighter in voice than Pavarotti and Bergonzi, two famous recorded Nemorinos, although heavier than the typical ultra-light bel canto, so-called "specialists" of today. If he is less exciting than Pavarotti and Bergonzi he is almost certainly closer to the kind of tenor that Donizetti had in mind when he wrote the piece. All things considered, Alva is very satisfying as that love-sick goof Nemorino.

Angela Vercelli is competent in the small part of Gianetta.

This is not the best-known "L'elisir" but it is a well-considered and authentic, very Italianate performance from beginning to end.

I give five stars for the grand old geezer's final go at a great operatic comedy.


Gil's All Fright Diner
Gil's All Fright Diner
by A. Lee Martinez
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £4.09

4.0 out of 5 stars A book with absolutely nothing to recommend in it ... except talent, 10 Sep 2010
If ever a book distilled true comic book (aka graphic novel) sensibility into 268 paperback pages, this is it. In fact, I am astonished that this story is written out in prose. It would fit so much more happily as captions for garishly drawn and hyper-violent illustrations.

Quite clearly the author sat down one day and asked himself (herself?), "How can I put a wiseass spin on all the conventions of the horror novel and make a good, sneering joke of it all?" The result was a book with all the humanity, warmth and depth of a typical made-for-video movie. Martinez opens up with a down-market pair of monsters, a nerdy little vampire and a big, oafish werewolf--think Ben Stiller and John Goodman in his "Roseanne" days. Toss into the mix a cup of dried H. P. Lovecraft-style "essential salts" and a few chopped up scenes from a high school girl-rivalry movie and out comes "Gil's All Fright Diner."

Martinez clearly has no love for his (her?) characters. They have no inner lives. Their function is impurely and simply to be moved about like checkers (nothing so high-toned as chess pieces) on a board of the author's imagining. It's all the braying of a youthful author who is a jackass.

But ... this young jackass of an author is also a deucedly clever young jackass. In some ways, he (she?) is an American Terry Pratchett--heaven help us all. Somehow, you just have to grin at someone who can swallow Lovecraft's larynx-stretching incantations and regurgitate them as Pig Latin. Or create Crazy Ctharl's Hard-To-Find Sorcerous Emporium, the mail-order horror supply company that is always having a sale because the world is always about to be destroyed by the Dark Powers. Or present the abridged but up-to-date "Necronomicon" that includes three spells for guaranteeing success in Hollywood. Or a writer who can offer this passages with a perfectly straight face:

"Duke ..." He struggled with the words. "I just want you to know that I, uh, well ..."

Duke stopped cleaning the gunk off his shoes. They stared at each other amid the quiet splashing of Loretta mopping up extradimensional brain spider goo."

Now, THAT is truly awful writing--but you have to admit that it's the very best kind of truly awful writing!

When I wrote this review in 2007. I had come late to this feast. Thirty-four Amazon US reviewers had preceded me. All I could do to justify a thirty-fifth kick at this particular dog was point out that if A. Lee Martinez ever developed even a slight vestige of empathy, sympathy or humanity, he (she?) would become a dangerously good writer.

Four stars and high hopes for the future.


Young Sherlock Holmes [DVD] [1986]
Young Sherlock Holmes [DVD] [1986]
Dvd ~ Nicholas Rowe
Price: £3.25

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Three-quarters of a terrific picture, 10 Sep 2010
I agree with Mr. DeRiemer's comment: "A wonderful film for the most part, until it moves into young Indiana Jones territory", although I am inclined to put it this way: A wonderful film until it goes straight into the toilet in the last half hour.

Holmes faced many exotic foes who were represented in perfectly convincing ways--a Napoleon of Crime, some Scowrers, a Speckled Band, a Sign of Four, multiple Garridebs, a whole League of Red-Headed Men, even an American mezzo-soprano who turned out to be tougher and smarter than he was. There was really no need at all to mess up the ending of the picture with a gaudily witless journey into Indiana Jones-Land.

Some earlier Amazon US reviewers have commented on a resemblance between this story and the Harry Potter series. At least one reviewer has speculated that the idea (at least) of the books is derived from the film. The fact is that there is a long history of schooldays adventures in England, probably originating in "Tom Brown's Schooldays" and highlighted by Rudyard Kipling's "Stalky & Co." as well as a series of novels by P.G. Wodehouse set at a London school called Wryken.

There is also an undercurrent of disdain from "Sherlockian" (American) and "Holmesian" (British) purists who object to the distortion of the relationship and initial meeting of Holmes and Watson. Well, add me to the purists. Anyone who will take the time to read "A Study in Scarlet," the first published Holmes story--something that I heartily recommend to anyone who thinks THIS film is good!--will find a precise description of how, when, where and why the two men met for the very first time. There is no way on earth that the two could previously have met as boys.

However, for what it is worth, all could be salvaged if the boy in the film were not John H. Watson but a certain "Young Stamford," the mutual friend who brought the two strangers together and promptly evaporated entirely out of the series.

For those too young to have seen the theatrical release of this picture, I will point out that this was the first major film to use CGI effects.

When this review was originally published on Amazon US in 2007, I gave it three stars. Since then, I have mellowed slightly toward YSH, so now I think it just edges up to four stars--in spite of the ghastly final sequences.


Green For Danger [DVD]
Green For Danger [DVD]
Dvd ~ Alastair Sim
Price: £5.75

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the very best---snap it up!, 10 Sep 2010
This review is from: Green For Danger [DVD] (DVD)
The previous reviewers got it right. Sim does a brilliant star turn here. "Green for Danger" was a well-known novel and then a stage play before it was a film. For once, a sense of staginess sharpens the concentration and adds to the strength of the movie. Also note that Sim is by no means the only actor worth watching in a superb ensemble cast.

This film, disgracefully chopped up into tiny bits between endless commercials, used to be a staple of American broadcast TV in the 1950s, then it disappeared.

At about the age of ten I heard one particular spoken passage from the film that stayed with me for years:

TWO DREAMY LOVERS:
(Murmuring) In such a night / Troilus methinks mounted the Trojan walls / And sigh'd his soul toward the Grecian tents, / Where Cressid lay that night.

SIM:
(Interrupting) In such a night / Did young Lorenzo swear he lov'd her well, / Stealing her soul with many vows of faith, / And ne'er a true one.

It was a distinct disappointment when I finally discovered in high school that the lines were from Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" and not original to "Green for Danger."


Cyrano De Bergerac [DVD]
Cyrano De Bergerac [DVD]
Dvd ~ Gérard Depardieu
Offered by FilmloverUK
Price: £8.10

0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great play, miscast Cyrano and a dull, flat English translation, 10 Sep 2010
This review is from: Cyrano De Bergerac [DVD] (DVD)
"Cyrano" is one of the greatest verse plays ever written.

Unfortunately Gerard Depardieu is no Cyrano. He's a great, clumsy side of beef, not a shining flame encased in the middleweight body of Hercule Sevanien Cyrano de Bergerac. With the best will in the world, his performance seldom achieves adequacy and never brilliance.

The English translation was especially commissioned for this film. It is undistinguished, prosy and dull. It has little of the wit and less of the poetry of the old standard translation commissioned in the 1920s by the great American actor Walter Passmore.

Get the Jose Ferrer version. This one's a dog.


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