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H. A. Weedon "Mouser" (North Somercotes, Lincolnshire, UK)

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Cilea - Adriana Lecouvreur [Blu-ray] [2012] [Region Free]
Cilea - Adriana Lecouvreur [Blu-ray] [2012] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Angela Gheorghiu
Price: £21.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Grade Performance., 30 Dec. 2014
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Although Francesco Cilea (1866-1950) composed several operas in his twenties and thirties and was highly regarded as a composer, he is now mostly remembered for what is now regarded as his masterpiece: Adriana Lecouvreur, and he gave up composing operas altogether after 1907. This work follows the Verdi-Puccini style in which a hero or heroine or both dies or die in the saddest possible circumstances at the end of the performance. Here Cilea's genius lies in the way he relates his music to precisely express the emotions of the characters at any given time during the performance. Even Verdi could not have done it better than we have here. Sometimes, in opera, emotions can be either underdone or overdone, but not here.

This Royal Opera House production is of the best with helpful staging and appropriate style costumes and the orchestration with Mark Elder conducting is top grade. Angela Gheorghiu is convincing in the lead role of Adriana Lecouvreur, which she sings and acts to a tee, and the same can be said for her lover in the shape of Jonas Kaufmann in the role of Maurizio, Count of Saxony. Olga Borodina gives us a formidably realistic portrayal of Princess de Bouillon and it seemed to me that Alessandro Corbelli is especially good as the stage manager at the Comedie-Francaise. Everything about this performance poignantly brings out the way in which people can be influenced in a variety of ways by deeply seated emotions.

Right through this performance one gets the impression that everyone involved is giving of their very best and there's a wonderful 'working together' feeling about it all that isn't always present even in the best of productions. It's certainly worth watching many times over and there's good mixture with lighter touches here and there, notably in the ballet in Act 3 based on the Judgement of Paris. Both sound and picture quality are of the best in this Blu-Ray recording and I could find no problems with them. I'm not going to say any more because, if you like this opera, you will like this great performance of it and I think it safe to say that the gentle-natured Cilea himself would have been 'thrilled to bits' with it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 4, 2015 3:08 AM BST

Strangers and Brothers: The Complete Series [DVD]
Strangers and Brothers: The Complete Series [DVD]
Dvd ~ Shaughan Seymour
Offered by The Happy Zombie
Price: £19.07

8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pomposity Personified., 29 Dec. 2014
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Oh dear! Were people really like this in the nineteen thirties, forties and fifties? Or is this how a certain type or class (or should that be caste?) used to be in those days? Worse still, was it then such a male dominated world as this series portrays it to be? Were most women either nervous, half-mad wrecks or devoted dollies supporting their superior menfolk at all costs? There are enough pompous asses here to fill a sanctuary for senile donkeys. For these reasons it's good to have a series such as this to remind us that pomposity, as depicted here, is the enemy of good government.

When watching plays we are often able to empathise with some of the characters, some of whom we wouldn't mind being like and some we would not want to be like and so on. Well, I have to say, I would not wish to be in any way like any of the 'I say, old chap' characters depicted here. What a bunch! Margaret (Cherie Lunghi) has to give in to self-opinionated, 'our hero', Lewis Eliot (Shaughan Seymour) and agree to his terms if she is to become his second wife, his first wife having had a nervous breakdown and finally died by committing suicide via an overdose. One is tempted to ask: who wouldn't want to commit suicide when wed to a such a perfect, can't- do-anything-wrong man?

There's not much outside action with most of it of a refined kind taking place indoors either in a posh sitting room or in some government office or university hall or that kind of thing, don't you know? It's all highly refined stuff with common people being kept well out of it. How close is it to how the upper echelons truly behaved? I would guess, quite close and, for that reason, is worth watching. But is it more caricaturistic than characteristic? It's hard to tell. What I do know is that's it's more of an interesting watch than an enjoyable watch. And it helps in that the viewer is able to keep on saying: 'Thank heavens I'm not like any of those stuck up prigs!' and also feel sorry for the poor woman, Sheila, who was driven mad by it all and committed suicide: (excellently portrayed by Sheila Ruskin).

This series can be much more enjoyable if you watch it with s sense of humour. I think it depends on one's outlook and background. From the dramatisation and acting angles it is well done and some people will certainly like it, even those who wonder if people are really like that. Well, some are, and that makes it just that little bit creepy. Oh dear!. I don't think it's right to deduct stars just because it 'gets up my nose'. Taking the broad picture and assessing it in unbiased, objective fashion with quality in mind, it is certainly worth five stars if only because it reveals for us the worst side of those in charge of government. Some will disagree with me and ask whatever is that old fool talking about? Others will cry:'Yippee! He has those sanctimonious old twits summed up just perfect.' I can recall watching this when it was first broadcast on BBC TV. Watching it again now has renewed the feelings I had about it when I first saw it.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 26, 2015 11:52 PM GMT

Elena - Francesco Cavalli (2 DVD + Book set)
Elena - Francesco Cavalli (2 DVD + Book set)
Dvd ~ Leonardo García Alarcón
Price: £24.03

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Music; Very Enjoyable., 29 Dec. 2014
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Elena is presented here in a recording on two discs carried inside the front and rear hard covers of an attractively illustrated, sixty page book in English, French and German that includes, amongst other helpful information, conversations with Leonardo Garcia Alarcon, conductor, harpsichordist and musical director of this work and Jean-Yves Ruf, the stage director. During the interviews we learn how 'Elena' came to be rediscovered 350 years after it was last performed. It was composed by Pietro Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676) during the period when opera was in its earliest stages of development.

I must say I'm very pleased that this work has been rediscovered and presented here in such enjoyably attractive fashion as well as illustrating how music has evolved from the medieval to the present day. Some of the musical instruments we are familiar with today had not been invented when this work was composed. The singing is also of a more even or 'sameness' quality with the absence of arias and choruses associated with the operas of later times. However, it is none the worse for that. Good music of every day and age has it's own particular charms and attractions and this excellent presentation of the work does not disappoint.

Overall, this presentation is helped by the authentic musical accompaniment, well designed costumes and appropriately simple staging. I find both sound and picture quality to be very good when played on my 'apparatus'. I can't help thinking how wonderful it would be if all DVDS including Blu-Ray were presented in hard cover books like we have here. They would stack into my shelves even neater than they do now. What a shame Cavalli is not still around to see what has been done with his great work. I'm sure he would be jumping up and down with joy. It's certainly a treasured buy as far as I'm concerned.

In these early operas there were many more roles than we are accustomed to in later works and here we have thirteen. as well as three chorus performances involving more singers: Chorus of Hunters, Chorus of Argonauts and Slaves and Chorus of Gods and Goddesses. Although the three goddesses, Juno, Pallas Athene and Venus all agree that Helen, the daughter of Leda and Zeus, must marry Menelaus, the Goddess Discord comes along disguised as the Goddess of Peace and stirs up a lot of trouble. When the real Goddess of Peace arrives and drives the usurper away she is too late to undo the trouble and Menelaus is condemned to lose Helen several times.

After this the opera proceeds into three acts. depicting the ups and downs of the lead characters as they struggle to get things sorted out satisfactorily. It''s all very well presented, enjoyable to listen to and fascinating to watch. The melodies are all very attractive and evocative of a rural, well wooded environment like as if one is being imbued with all that is both fascinating and inspiring about being alive with the gods and goddesses being personifications of our own human characteristics and emotions. 'In the beginning, man/woman created gods/goddesses.' Although we have a happy ending here, I couldn't help thinking about Paris and his problems with 'the face that launched a thousand ships.'

In all, Cavalli composed eleven operas during the 1640s and 1650s and he was influenced by Monteverdi (1567-1643) who had composed some operas earlier on. Since the accompanying booklet lists all the performers and everyone else involved in this production, I won't list them all again here. In any case, it's an all round great performance and I loved every moment of it. It's all so very like us showing us at our best when we face up to life with a sense of humour just like all the characters are doing here with all their cross dressing, capering around and other romping antics. It would be wonderful to know what Cavalli was really thinking when he was composing the music for this delightful romp. Although we will never know for certain, his genius has given us a good idea of how he was really thinking. It's great stuff.

Gaetano Donizetti - Don Gregorio [DVD] [2007] [NTSC] [2005]
Gaetano Donizetti - Don Gregorio [DVD] [2007] [NTSC] [2005]
Dvd ~ Valerio
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £16.96

5.0 out of 5 stars Well Staged and Very Enjoyable., 27 Dec. 2014
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Both staging and costumes work well in this adaptation of Don Gregorio, one of Donizetti's lesser known operas. Members of the cast, acting as servants, move the furniture around in the most convincing fashion and the 1920s costumes fit in excellently with both characters and plot. This work was first staged in Naples in 1826 when it was a great success. and a harbinger of what was yet to come in the shape of such works as Elisir d'Amore.

Watching top grade productions of lesser known works such as this one can often be more enjoyable and rewarding than watching 'over-played' productions of very well known operas. I have to say I enjoyed every minute of this multi-watchable production. Elisaveta Martirosyan is outstanding in the lead role of Madama Gilda Tallemani. Her role of caring mother cum attractive, fun loving woman could not have been better acted and the work is worth watching just to hear her singing. Most of the time she wears a delightful red dress, which she removes for part of the performance to reveal an equally attractive, but much shorter red petticoat or slip. Then we see her as a loving mother nursing her baby. Her dark hair style frames her face in the most fetching fashion and her role depicts the strongest character in the whole cast. It's so inspiring to have mother-woman-girl all woven together in such thought-provoking fashion.

Paolo Bardogna is equally good in his portrayal of the tutor Gregorio, after whom the work is named and who gets caught in the cross fire between all the other characters. Georgio Valerio is convincing as the morally correct marquess, Don Giulio. In fact all the performers are top quality with every one of them seeming to enjoy themselves immensely. Small statured Livio Scarpellini gives a convincing performance as the younger son of the marquis and Alessandra Fratelli is good as the housekeeper Leonarda as is also Giorgio Trucco in the role of Don Giulio's elder son and who has secretly married Gilda and is the father of her child.

This is an excellent production all round backed up by top quality orchestration. Presented in this way lesser known works can be elevated to stand proudly among the better known and even greater works. The adage that 'it won't be as good, otherwise it would be better known' is not always the case. In the same way that simple food can often be more tasty and enjoyable than all kinds of exotic dishes, well orchestrated, well directed, well staged and well acted and sung lesser known works can be every bit as good as any in the top ten over-played, over-sung, over-presented and over-acted operas when they are not performed up to standard.

Even though this is not Blu-Ray, the sound and picture quality are really very good Viewing performances in this format with ultra critical eyes and ears is the top grade enjoyment spoiler. No performance is ever 100% perfect any more than living a life can ever be. In any case, this is a work that dramatises the hilarious side of human foibles. Tragedy has its place in art, but we also need art that teaches us to laugh at ourselves and, as we have here. Donizetti was a past master at dramatising the funny side of life with this work being a more than worthy herald of what was yet to come..

The Thirteenth Tale - As Seen on the BBC [DVD]
The Thirteenth Tale - As Seen on the BBC [DVD]
Dvd ~ Olivia Colman
Price: £12.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good but Flawed., 21 Dec. 2014
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When ever I read the words 'Oscar winning' I become suspicious because it can so often mean something such as 'crowd pleasing twaddle'. Here we are told that we have 'an adaptation by Oscar winning screenwriter Christopher Hampton of Diane Setterfield's award winning novel.' Well, in my estimation, he certainly does not deserve any award for this TV adaptation which tends to muddle up what is a truly great novel. Although the acting is of the highest standard, the storyline becomes muddled, leaving several annoying 'loose ends'.

Whenever I discuss these kind of 'Gothic' productions with other watchers they sometimes tell me that they don't mind the muddling so much because it's all part of the Gothic style. Is it? Well, as to that, loose ends are dangerous; they lead to breakdowns in machinery and the crumbling of buildings and well written tales and properly constructed plays simply do not have them. Stories might well 'end in the air', like as if we are taken to the edge of a cliff and left there, but the good story will always plot out an understandable path as to how and why we have reached such an impasse. Since stories that reflect real life will also reflect the obstacles that occur in real life, the last thing the reader or viewer needs is dramatisation obstacles to the understanding of the work, which is what we have here.

Having said all this, it's important to bear in mind that many viewers will find this production an enjoyable watch and why not? It would be a boring old world if we all liked the same things. Even though this is far from being a favourite production of mine, I'm not going to mark it down because it does have its merits and it's good to know that many people like it a lot. So I'm deducting just the one star for the 'loose ends'.

Half Broken Things [DVD]
Half Broken Things [DVD]
Dvd ~ Penelope Wilton
Offered by Home Entertainment Online
Price: £5.85

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Ten Quality Production of a Great Novel., 21 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: Half Broken Things [DVD] (DVD)
This recording is a supreme example of how to adapt an award winning novel into a coherent, very watchable play. Nothing is difficult to follow here and there are no 'loose ends'. Both characterisation and acting are realistic and attention holding. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this has to be easily in the top ten dramatisations ever staged for television, always remembering that dramatisations are dramatisations and will never be able to precisely include every detail found in the originating novel. This can be a good thing because dramatisations can often 'iron out' the bouts of tediousness found in some novels, although I hasten to add, not here, because both novel and adaptation are masterpieces.

One of the facts of life that this tale so aptly illustrates is that the judgement between right and wrong is like the serpentine dance of a dragon weaving its way through a thorn thicket. It shows how easy it is to get cornered into acting irrationally and doing undesirable things. Even a murderer can be an essentially good person trapped into killing by a chain of circumstances. The dramatisation is so good that it enables us to empathise with all the characters, especially the lead three: house sitter Jean (Penelope Wilton), petty thief Michael (Daniel Mays) and escapee from abuse Steph (Sinead Matthews). All told we have here a thought provoking, all time great, very watchable production of the award winning novel .by Morag Joss.

Clare Folk Tales (Folk Tales: Ireland)
Clare Folk Tales (Folk Tales: Ireland)
by Ruth Marshall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Enjoyable Read., 19 Dec. 2014
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Having read some of the collections of English folk tales in this series I selected this collection at random to get an idea of what the Irish Folk tale collections were like. I was not disappointed. Although the various regions have their peculiarities the resemblances are even more striking. Even more interesting is that, whilst counties a long way away from each other can have quite similar type stories some, the stories from adjacent counties can be very different.

The stories concerning wise women, wild women, harridans and hags are especially interesting and fascinating to read in this collection. The character of Biddy Early is especially likeable. Wonder of wonders, she reminded me of Nan Barrett, a character in Suffolk Folk Tales in this same series. We also have in this collection some good tales involving blacksmiths and. although the saints involved in some of the tales come out of them very well, albeit incredulously, priests do not fare so well especially in relation to strong female characters such as Biddy Early.

This collection also includes several fascination tales concerning animals and there's fairies, mermaids and heroes. as well as lakes, waves and sunken lands, one of which comes with the dire warning never to disturb a woman when she's knitting. In two of the tales Englishmen are involved and, maybe surprisingly, not at all in a bad light. The, of course, there's a whole chapter devoted to fairies, but there's not as much about them as one might expect and nothing at all about that particular fairy fellow associated with Ireland. A short glossary and a pronunciation guide are included.

You can have fun buying folk tale collections from this series from far apart regions and then being fascinated at how much they can resemble each other. and be different at the same time. If we could all relate to each other mainly through folk tales and humour we would all come together and understand each other much better than allowing ourselves to be put at each other's throats through religious differences. Maybe this series will help us in this way. Anyway, Clare Folk Tales is a very enjoyable read and I thoroughly recommend it.

When the Invasion of Land Failed: The Legacy of the Devonian Extinctions (The Critical Moments and Perspectives in Earth History and Paleobiology)
When the Invasion of Land Failed: The Legacy of the Devonian Extinctions (The Critical Moments and Perspectives in Earth History and Paleobiology)
by Jr., George R. Mcghee
Edition: Paperback
Price: £27.26

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Readable. Fascinating, Enjoyable and Interesting.., 19 Dec. 2014
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George R McGhee, the author of this work, has a fluid, readily assimilated writing style that makes it a joy to read. The text is backed up with helpful line drawings plus a section of coloured illustrations. Before dealing with the Devonian extinctions the author takes us through a consideration of the origins of life on earth in fascinating fashion. Life on land in the Devonian period got started twice and then failed before a third attempt brought lasting success. It's a scintillating story every bit as exciting as a mystery thriller with all kinds of outlandish characters involved. If either of the two earlier attempts at land colonisation had succeeded, some animals might well have had more than five toes and five fingers. The way in which early plants established a beachhead on land is equally attention holding.

The work includes a preface, eight chapters, notes, references and index. The chapters are: 1: The Evolution of Life on Land. 2: The Plants Establish a Beachhead. 3: The First Animal Invasion. 4: The First Catastrophe and Retreat. 5: The Second Animal Invasion. 6: The Second Catastrophe and Retreat. 7: Victory at Last. 8: The Legacy of the Devonian Extinctions.

All told, we have here a top grade example of how to research, develop and compile a scientific work for general readership. There's never a boring moment as you get with quite a number of novels. Better still, the evidence for the existence of the prima face unbelievable is so well presented that it makes you want to jump around singing: 'I'm so pleased! I was so sure it must be like that! And now here's the evidence to show that it surely is. How exciting! What a read!' Yes folks, it really is as good as that.

Drunk with Blood: God's Killings in the Bible
Drunk with Blood: God's Killings in the Bible
by Steve Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Enjoyable, Hilarious Read., 17 Dec. 2014
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When reading this work it's important to realise that it's about God's killings in the bible. It does not include all the other nasty things God is recording as having done and the bad behaviour of many of his followers. The plain truth is, the bible doesn't seem able to get anything right. Over and over again it has been proved to be historically inaccurate with a propensity for preferring myth and legend to truth. If the tales reviewed in this work had appeared any where else other than in the bible they would have been assigned to the realm of folk lore concocted by imaginative story tellers.

Fortunately, I am familiar with both the bible and the apocrypha, which means that I already knew the legends reviewed in this work. What I really enjoyed about Steve Wells' book is the humour. It's such an hilarious read. When we look back over the past two thousand years and reflect on all the pain and suffering religion and religious strife has brought upon the world and countless numbers of innocent people in it, we can only feel deep distress at the complete absence any any sense of humour when it comes to the assessment of so called 'sacred writings'. That's to say, the lack of it on the part of so called 'scholars'. There's plenty of evidence to show that 'common people', through the ages, have seen the funny side of it all.

Having known quite a number of clergy in my time I'm well aware that more of them than may be realised have serious doubts about the bible, which is why they are very selective when teaching from it. However, as this delightful work reveals throughout, this is not how the bible sees it. Whilst people may have to 'toe the line' God can do just as he likes, torturing and killing people according to his whimsical will. In fact, he is exposed here as vengeful, petty-minded, sub-human tyrant.

This work makes us think about pigs.* Why? Because pigs, which are condemned in the bible as unclean animals because they don't chew the cud, are actually cleaner and better behaved than the god who is supposed to have dictated the first five books of the Old Testament to Moses, which is a miracle in itself because, if true, it means that Moses describes his own death. Pigs build nests for their babies to be born in, they never foul their living quarters, always defecate well away from where they are feeding, are extra-careful about their body hygiene and they simply don't engage in the outrageous cruelty along the lines exposed in this very readable work.

When we read this book I've little doubt that quite a number of us will wish we had thought of researching and writing something similar. Best of all, as any honest historian will tell you, hardly any of it is true, which makes it all quite hilarious, if it wasn't so sad that so many people still believe in it all. Anyway, it's a great read filled with a delightfully infectious sense of humour.

* Did you know that the bible says we can eat hares because they 'they chew the cud', which, of course, they don't. If God had actually created all the animals you'd think he would know that hares don't chew the cud.

Adam: Giselle [Natalia Osipova, Carlos Acosta] [Blu-ray] [2014] [Region Free] [NTSC]
Adam: Giselle [Natalia Osipova, Carlos Acosta] [Blu-ray] [2014] [Region Free] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Natalia Osipova
Price: £29.88

5.0 out of 5 stars An All Time Great Performance of Giselle., 17 Dec. 2014
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Although, up till now, I wouldn't have said 'Giselle' was my favourite ballet, this performance choreographed by Marius Petipa is so outstanding that it is now a joint top favourite. Natalia Osipova gives an all time great performance as Giselle. with the appropriate emotion expressed in her every movement and Carlos Acosta is equally good as Count Albrecht. I was also much taken with Hikaru Kebayashi's performances as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. In fact, all the performers, including the Corps de Ballet, could not have danced better. There's perfect co-ordination between music and movement throughout the performance. This may seem an obvious statement to make, but it needs to be said because, surprise, surprise, it doesn't always happen. I particularly liked how every nuance of emotion and meaning was so tellingly expressed in the choreography.

All told, we have here a supreme example of how ballet should be staged and performed. No matter how brilliant a performance is it's always possible to something just a wee bit out of kilter here and there, but only most extreme of pernickityizers (is that a word?!) would want to find any fault here. I feel sure that it's safe to say that, if you are a ballet lover, you will love this. Yes, it's sad, but it's also thought provoking, uplifting and emotionally satisfying. The name 'Wilis' for the dancing spirits is interesting. It reminds one of the saying: 'It gives me the willies' meaning something is getting on our nerves., which is rather like what the Wilis are doing here to the distressed Albrecht.. I was impressed with both the picture and the sound quality of the Blu-Ray. disc. By the way, Giselle was first performed as a ballet on 28 June 1841.

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