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Reviews Written by
Iain C. Davidson "iain1825" (Scotland)
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Offenbach: Christopher Columbus
Offenbach: Christopher Columbus
Price: £27.54

5.0 out of 5 stars A Jewel Of A Recording, 8 May 2017
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I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of terrific numbers from obscure operettas by Offenbach, expertly moulded into a new(ish) opera in English about a fictional version of a bigamist Columbus and his accidental discovery of the New World. The text is clever and funny and the music unfailingly delightful. Offenbach always makes me smile. Among many enjoyable performances here, Maurice Arthur has a lovely tenor as the philandering Columbus, soprano Lissa Gray gets a splendid exotic sounding chanson for her tale of woe whilst the rich and plummy Johanna Peters' sings her own catchy tale making the most of every phrase. Joy Roberts displays a fresh, innocent soprano for her comparatively innocent role and Marilyn Hill Smith is in coloratura heaven in Gretel's yodeling song. Alan Opie as the Chief of Police gets a very witty little song - he gets his prisoners to knit, design women's clothes and set their hair! Then there is Anna Dawson as Queen Isabella! Dawson is primarily an actress and so her voice is more musical theatre than operatic BUT she is extremely funny and her Jewel Song is probably my favourite number in the piece. The London Mozart Players under Alun Francis perform the score with fizz and verve and the whole thing is great fun. Recorded in 1977, I don't suppose its been performed since but it would be well worth some enterprising company digging it out and staging it!


Antonio Salieri: Les Danaïdes
Antonio Salieri: Les Danaïdes
Price: £27.07

5.0 out of 5 stars This is the version to own!, 1 April 2017
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I already own one recording of Salieri's 'Les Danaides' and I did dither quite a bit before buying this second one but I'm glad I did. Much as I enjoy the earlier recording by Michael Hofstetter, this new version by Christophe Rousset and his Talens Lyriques is a definite improvement. The orchestral playing and the overall sound are just so much more vibrant and - as appropriate - dramatic. This female chorus sound less like placid bridesmaids and more like bloodthirsty maenads in their Act 4 revels. Rousset also scores with a much more attractive Lyncee, the tenor Philippe Talbot and the excellent Tassis Christoyannis as the double crossing Danaus. Judith van Wanroij does really well in the tough role of Hypermnestre although Sophie Marin-Degor is also excellent in the earlier recording. The piece itself gets better every time I listen to it. There is some terrific music here and the finale with taunting demons chuckling over the anguished screams of the tormented Danaides (they deserve it) is great fun - foreshadowing the last act of Mozart's Don Giovanni.


Antonio Sacchini: Renaud
Antonio Sacchini: Renaud
Price: £24.10

5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly enjoyable, 1 April 2017
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I think I have heard a total of one aria by Sacchini but I was interested in this link between the likes of Gluck and Spontini and 'Renaud' turned out to be a very enjoyable discovery. The music is light and tuneful. Some of the arias demand an agile voice capable of handling coloratura. The story is interesting, taking place after the end of the 'usual' Armida tale as set by Lully and Gluck. This is what happens after Renaud abandons her and she flies off on her chariot. Christophe Rousset and his Talens Lyrique are (as always) wonderful and he assembles a great cast with strong voices in the principal roles; Julian Dran as Renaud, Marie Kalinine as Armide and Jean-Sebastian Boss as Hidraot. I like the presentation (like an old book) although of course, it does not display well with my other CD boxes. Still, I have two of this series now - the other being the equally fantastic Les Danaides.


The Gondoliers: Gilbert and Sullivan [DVD] [1982]
The Gondoliers: Gilbert and Sullivan [DVD] [1982]
Dvd ~ Keith Michell
Offered by HalfpriceDVDS_FBA
Price: £17.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun..., 15 Feb. 2017
A fitting finale to this series of G&S operettas from the 1980s, originally filmed for television. The sets are a little clunky these days but, for the time, I think that Act 1 successfully conjures up an authentic corner of Venice. 'The Gondoliers' is actually rather a charming piece with delightful music - not as silly as some of the others but still with plenty of fun. The cast assembled here are really very good. Tom McDonnell and Francis Egerton are perhaps not 'peerless in their beauty' as Giuseppe and Marco but they sing and act very well. Their wives are utterly charming as portrayed by Nan Christie and Fiona Kimm. The nobility is represented by the Plaza-Toro ensemble, headed by Eric Shilling as the Duke. The role is always played for laughs but I like how Shilling nevertheless manages to infuse a little dignity into the character. The always excellent Anne Collins plays the Duchess as a handsome woman and not the usual battleaxe. Their daughter Casilda is played by Sandra Dugdale, an excellent comedienne in a surprisingly restrained role. Christopher Booth Jones is handsome both visually and vocally as her beloved Luis. The guest actor in this production is Keith Michell as Don Alhambra, the Grand Inquisitor and I think its his best role in this series. He captures the pomposity and self importance of the character perfectly. Musically its very good in both orchestra and chorus. It does look dated but its still good fun and I enjoyed it tremendously.


Rameau: Hippolyte Et Aricie [Blu-ray] [2014] [Region Free]
Rameau: Hippolyte Et Aricie [Blu-ray] [2014] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Ed Lyon
Price: £29.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Simply amazing, up to date but true interpretation..., 5 Feb. 2017
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Well, its quite a long time since I enjoyed an opera on DVD/BluRay as much as this one! What Glyndebourne and Jonathan Kent have done is breathe fresh new life into a French baroque opera whilst staying (pretty much) true to the spirit of the piece. As you will see from the BluRay cover, Kent sets some of the opera (the prologue in fact) in a giant refrigerator, the domain of the chaste and chilly goddess Diana. The whole piece is about the conflict between Diana and Cupid, who represents love in a wild, uncontrolled fashion. The king of the gods, Jupiter, allows Cupid one whole day to wreak havoc in Diana's domain and this opera shows us the effects of that concession! In my opinion, Kent's production is simply wonderful in almost every respect. Some of the ideas are bizarre but they work and, more importantly, they make sense. It was surely inspired to set Hell in the sludge and mess behind the fridge, Pluto's followers are bugs and germs, Tisiphone is crowned with snakes and retains her torch. Diana's priestesses are dressed in virginal white, yet are pretty bloodthirsty. Diana's hunting party are infiltrated with Cupid's corruption and I expect he is also to blame for the strange transformation of Theseus' house into a nightclub bathed in a rosy glow and populated with rather camp sailors!

Despite all of this, the story always makes sense and comes across clearly. The characters are brought to life by a cast remarkably handsome both vocally and visually. Poor Stephane Degout never gets to smile until his curtain call at the end but he brings Theseus to life admirably. Hippolytus is portrayed as a nice, trouble free teenage boy (see his typical bedroom) and his beloved Aricia is equally nice, both dressed in virginal white - Ed Lyon and Christiane Karg both sing beautifully. I especially like the noticeable 'cries' she brings to the voice at the end of some of the phrases. Sarah Connolly is something of a tour de force as the tragic Phaedra, the catalyst of the domestic drama and deserves her ovation at the end. Every one of the other, more minor roles are also beautifully sung and I appreciated the nod to baroque theatre every time a deity descended from the ceiling! Needless to say, William Christie is a fantastic conductor. I already have his CDs of the piece but being able to see it as well now is terrific.

If I have one negative, its that I don't entirely agree with Kent's staging of the final act. Without giving too much away, he makes it unnecessarily grim and dark, especially given what has gone before. I understand why this is - he has chosen to follow the tragedy of Racine's original source material and not the 'tacked on' happy operatic ending but it does jar with both the words and the music. Its not enough though to detract from my overall enjoyment, not to say admiration. If you want something bright, fresh and fun but still basically true to the work, then you need to get your hands on a copy of this.


Offenbach: Contes d'Hoffmann [DVD] [2002] [2011]
Offenbach: Contes d'Hoffmann [DVD] [2002] [2011]
Dvd ~ Robert Carsen
Price: £29.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cohesive and entertaining., 29 Jan. 2017
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I enjoyed this production of Offenbach's opera from the Paris Bastille. It makes much of the fact that the soprano Stella is performing in a production of 'Don Giovanni' within the narrative. Therefore, much of the chorus are dressed as the chorus from the opera, both in the modern looking theatre bar that houses the prologue and epilogue and as the guests in the Olympia act. Then we are in the orchestra pit for the Antonia act whilst her 'mother' acts on the stage set for the second act of the Mozart opera - one guesses that Antonia's father is the first violin! Finally, we are in the auditorium for the Giulietta act where the seats 'rock' like gondolas and the audience behave rather less decorously than the average opera audience! On the whole it works pretty well and ties the whole thing together. If the Giulietta act seemed the least successful, this is probably because I have a problem with this act in most productions. My main recording of the piece is the Oeser edition and while I know that much of this is inauthentic and makes the piece overly long, my goodness is it dramatically pleasing - and the music is good too! Under Choudens and most other versions, the Giulietta act always seems rushed and makes little sense.

Vocally, Neil Schicoff is getting on a bit but still sings well but he does sometimes look as if he's sleepwalking through the role. Bryn Terfel is subtly menacing in the 'villain' roles but seems a little light of voice to me. Desiree Rancatore is a delight as Olympia both vocally and dramatically although some may not like the overtly sexual overtones to her 'Doll Song'. Ruth Ann Swenson is a lovely though hardly fragile Antonia - her outfit is a fright however! Beatrice Uria-Monzon gets the best costume as a highly glamorous Giulietta and does her best with the little she gets to sing. Suzanne Mentzer is terrific as Nicklausse/Muse and benefits by getting the most added material including the splendid violin aria during the Antonia act. Smaller roles are well taken and its all very enjoyable. It loses a star because I was disappointed (as always) with the Giulietta act but otherwise, I would recommend it.


Gilbert & Sullivan - The Yeomen Of The Guard [1982]
Gilbert & Sullivan - The Yeomen Of The Guard [1982]
Dvd ~ Alfred Marks
Offered by ajdiscs
Price: £14.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Heavily cut but still good., 29 Jan. 2017
This is actually a very fine production of what is probably the most serious of the G&S operettas. Anthony Besch gives us a very traditional set complete with the White Tower, Tower Green and even live ravens literally thrown in from time to time for atmosphere and all set in the original period. The comedy element of the piece is played down even more than usual with only Phoebe and Wilfred retaining most of the funny 'business'. Joel Grey underplays Jack Point - even the 'patter' songs have an underlying gritty tone that shows the jester is a serious man behind the mask. I don't mind this. Its a valid route to take and fits with the bittersweet ending of the piece. The other guest actor is Alfred Marks who is really remarkably good as the semi-comic Wilfred, displaying an excellent bass-baritone voice to boot. Of the professional singers, Claire Powell finds the right balance of pathos and fun as Phoebe, a girl who is frankly more attractive than the vacillating 'merry' maid Elsie Maynard who weeps for her 'thirty minute' husband briefly before hitching herself rapidly to 'Leonard Meryll'. Elizabeth Gale sings the role beautifully however. As Colonel Fairfax, David Hillman comes off rather badly as both his solos have been cut. Unfortunately, this is the only real problem with this production as four or five numbers have been cut out. As well as Fairfax, the other main casualties are Dame Carruthers (otherwise strongly sung and acted by Elizabeth Bainbridge) and Sergeant Meryll whose dalliance usually provides the other laughs in the piece.

On the whole though, I enjoyed this DVD. Those unfamiliar with 'Yeoman' might be surprised at the relative lack of comedy and the ending is quite unexpected for a G&S operetta...and this production does not leave much doubt as to what that ending is! Definitely worth a look.


Gilbert & Sullivan - Ruddigore [1982]
Gilbert & Sullivan - Ruddigore [1982]
Dvd ~ Keith Michell
Offered by BlueStringMedia
Price: £12.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Both ham and cheese...but it works!, 29 Jan. 2017
It is generally agreed that 'Ruddigore' is one of the least performed of the G&S operettas but that doesn't mean that its no good! I like 'Ruddigore' very much and the main reason I think is that, like another of my favourites 'Patience', its just so incredibly silly. The tone is set from the very beginning with England's only troupe of professional bridesmaids and the silly, prim and rather pompous heroine Rose Maybud. This made-for-TV production from the early eighties ramps up the silliness with caricature sailors, upper-class twits on all manner of bicycles and none other than Vincent Price got up as Dracula to play the bad baronet, Sir Despard. In the second act, Keith Michell gets to don the Dracula garb and his trusty retainer is suddenly a bent and twisted 'Igor'. The ghosts are as ridiculous as everything else and Vincent Price gets to tinkle away on an organ a la 'Dr Phibes' at the end. I laughed throughout and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Vocally, its pretty good too. Sandra Dugdale is an excellent comedienne but also sings beautifully as Rose Maybud. Ann Howard is just wonderful as Mad Margaret both in picturesque distraction during the first act and buttoned up propriety (with occasional lapses) in the second act. Donald Adams sings sonorously as Sir Roderick and is a fitting foil to Johanna Peters' feisty Dame Hannah. John Treleaven is a rosy cheeked and vigorous Richard. The two guest actors acquit themselves well in such company. Vincent Price copes admirably with the vocals - only the very tricky 'patter trio' in Act 2 threatens to overwhelm him - and he is simply charming in the role. Keith Michell's rather tremulous tone suits the timid Robin (although he does look far too old) and he acts up a storm as the 'wicked' Sir Ruthven. The production shows its age - the special effects are rather embarrassing these days - and much of the acting is both hammy and cheesy but it suits the piece and I would highly recommend this DVD.


The Mikado [DVD]
The Mikado [DVD]
Dvd ~ Rodney Greenberg
Offered by wantitcheaper
Price: £7.28

5.0 out of 5 stars Worth watching..., 8 Jan. 2017
This review is from: The Mikado [DVD] (DVD)
Well, I watched this now rather elderly production of The Mikado for the first time today and I really enjoyed it. Its a very traditional production generally although a touch of Edwardian England is introduced here and there (the costume for Pish Tush, the flapper hairstyles for Yum Yum and her chums in Act 1 etc) and although all done in the studio, it works very well. My only real criticism is that (like most of these productions) the choreography is a tad over done. Sometimes I really did just want the chorus to stand still! The cast is really good and even the guest actors sing pretty well. Clive Revill is really a terrific KoKo and more than capable of singing a good patter song. William Conrad seems to be having fun as the Mikado and whilst a deeper voice would be preferable, he's really not bad at all. Kate Flowers is just lovely as Yum Yum and for once, there's a decent tenor in John Stewart's Nanki Poo who also looks the part! The wonderful Anne Collins is a fabulous Katisha - I love her entrance towards the end of Act 1! Stafford Dean and Gordon Sandison are also very good as Pooh Bah and Pish Tush respectively and there's a lovely turn from Cynthia Buchan as Pitti Sing who sings beautifully and also delivers the spoken lines really well. I had very little to complain about here and look forward to watching it again.


Gilbert & Sullivan - Iolanthe [1982] [DVD]
Gilbert & Sullivan - Iolanthe [1982] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Derek Hammond-Stroud

4.0 out of 5 stars A good, solid production., 8 Jan. 2017
This is a good, traditional production. Some of the 'special effects' look a bit creaky these days but were probably good for the time it was filmed. There are no weak links in the cast. Kate Flowers plays Phyllis with an air of knowing fun and if Alexander Oliver doesn't really look like a romantic lead, he brings a fittingly camp quality to the role of Strephon (even if he does look a bit like The Penguin as 'Strephon MP'! Derek Hammond-Stroud is an excellent Lord Chancellor and Anne Collins is (as always) terrific as the Fairy Queen. If Beverley Mills is a little dull as Iolanthe, that's hardly her fault - the title role does not really have very much to do. Sandra Dugdale steals the limelight here and there as Celia with her comic antics. The whole thing is very good but, to be honest, its not my favourite from these 1980s productions. Still worth a look though.


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