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H. A. Weedon "Mouser" (North Somercotes, Lincolnshire, UK)
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Verdi: Il Trovatore (Live Recording From The Vienna State Opera 1978) [DVD] [2011]
Verdi: Il Trovatore (Live Recording From The Vienna State Opera 1978) [DVD] [2011]
Dvd ~ Herbert Von Karajan
Price: 24.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best Performances Ever of this Work, 2 Feb. 2014
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I would class this production of Il Trovatore, conducted and stage directed by Herbert von Karajan, at the Vienna State Opera theatre, as an all time great, which, in the first instance, benefits from clever staging that inspires the imagination rather than 'going over the top' in a mistaken effort to be realistic. The costumes are also well designed and evocative of the period in question. Opera is all about the dramatic manipulation of the human voice in an orchestral setting. Everything else about it needs to be in harmony with these basic essentials. If the action-singing is taking place in a forest glade, then, although no real trees or bushes are displayed, a forest glade is suggested and the actor will not be portrayed singing in front of a kitchen sink. Some operas lend themselves to being filmed on location, but we are not on location here and the staging is perfect for the 'job in hand'.

At the beginning of Act One Jose Van Dam sets the tone of what's to come with a rousing performance in the role of Fernando, Captain of the Guard telling the story of the kidnap of the Count of Luna's infant brother. Raina Kabalvanska is a convincing Lenora caught between her two lovers: Il Conte di Luna (Piero Cappuccilli) and the troubadour Manrico (Placido Domingo), both of whom give outstanding performances. In fact, the performances of all those involved are of the highest quality and Florenza Cossotto is outstanding in the role of the gipsy Azucena. The scene outside the convent, where Leonora is about to take the veil because she thinks Manrico is dead, is particularly well staged, not least in that it avoids the temptation to 'over-nun' the episode with a gratuitous procession outside the convent gates. As throughout the whole performance, the choir is superb.

It would be hard to improve upon the rendering of the prison scene in the final act, in which the four principals sing their hearts out. Of course, in this work, everyone is watching out for the two famous choruses: the Anvil and the Soldiers. Viewers will not be disappointed. There's a real anvil which you can see and hear being struck and the 'soldiers' sing like a platoon of real soldiers. Getting seemingly small things wrong can ruin a whole performance. Since the anvil striking sets the tone for the agony of what's to come, it's a case of 'no anvil, no opera.' Although Verdi has written operas as great as Il Trovatore, he has never composed a greater one. My personal choice is to place it in the top three all time great operas and, in my opinion, this performance of it is an all time great. Nothing is perfect and it's possible to pick holes in even the best fabrics; but the fact remains: this performance is outstanding..


The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization
The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization
by Marija Gimbutas
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Reference Work of the Highest Order., 26 Jan. 2014
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Sometimes we read of how not all scholars agree with Marija Gimbutas' interpretation of the evolution of goddess belief and how, before the advent of the so called 'Heroic Age', religion was very much a goddess-centric 'woman thing'. The reason why so many of us continue to prefer her interpretations is because, unlike her critics, she is never dogmatic. She prefers to allow the artefacts to speak for themselves, as this work admirably illustrates.

'The Language of the Goddess' is a supreme example of how to compile and write a truly helpful and very usable reference work. All too often historical and archaeological works waffle and ramble in such a fashion that, when the reader wishes to access information concerning any particular event or individual, he/she must needs root out snippets in a variety of places. There's none of that in this work. It reminds me of a woman's neatly kept house where everything has its place and of how the man comes in and says he has lost something and is told by the house goddess: 'It's right there, just where you left it.'

Marija Gimbutas was an all time great woman to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude for her research work and refreshing outlook on the true origins of our religious beliefs and of how the self-regenerating womb of the universal Great Mother is a personification of how the universe truly works and makes infinitely more sense than does the 'Daddy in the Sky' concept. This work is labour of love and a real gem.+


Love in Excess (Broadview Editions)
Love in Excess (Broadview Editions)
by Eliza Haywood
Edition: Paperback
Price: 13.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but Long Winded., 24 Jan. 2014
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Although I find both Eliza Haywood's writing style and early Eighteenth Century use of the English Language fascinating, I'm afraid I cannot say the same about the content of 'Love in Excess', which I find tediously snail-paced. Whilst some readers will not mind this, others, like me, will be put off by it, which is why I think it only fair to mention it.

'Love in Excess' will be of value to those who are interested in the development of the English novel and it also shows how Jane Austen's style is in the way of being an offshoot in the evolution of the novel rather than being in the mainstream of novel evolution. Off shoots, of course, are very important. They lead to variety and cater for different tastes. The fascinating thing is, you can see how Elixa Haywood's style has evolved into a variety of styles. Bits of the way she did things can be seen in the works of future authors.

So, if you are interested in the evolution of the novel, then you will probably find this work valuable. However, those hoping for a 'great read' may very well find it hard going.


Strauss: Elektra [Blu-ray] [2011] [Region Free]
Strauss: Elektra [Blu-ray] [2011] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Irne Theorin
Price: 25.13

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding! An All Time Great Performance., 20 Jan. 2014
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This Blu-Ray DVD is accompanied by a most helpful booklet giving information and explanations that greatly enhance the understanding and enjoyment of the work. Both sound and picture quality are excellent and the opera lasts for 109 minutes. The awesome staging gives the appearance of bleak concrete pitted with rectangular holes representing windows, doors and holes in the ground, from which the chorus and individuals emerge and return into from time to time. This bleakness fits in perfectly with the theme of this great work by Richard Strauss.

I have no hesitation at all in labelling this performance as an all time great. It's hard to see how Irene Theorin's performance as Electra could be bettered in any way and she is supported by an equally impressive rest of the cast, all of whom obviously benefit from top quality direction. Richard Strauss had this wonderful way of being able to fit the music so perfectly into the real life emotions experienced by all kinds of people and this production inspires us with its near perfect interpretation of what the great master intended.

I can't see how any Richard Strauss fan could fail to be inspired by this intelligent version of Elektra, which presents ancient Greek legend as taking place in the mid nineteen thirties if the appropriately designed costumes are anything to go by. With Strauss nothing stops for anything as it does in some traditional grand operas when a lead role is singing an aria. Here the music is appropriate to every nook and cranny of life and not only do all the singers sing to perfection, they also act to perfection. If you love the music of Richard Strauss you cannot fail to be inspired by this all time great presentation of Elektra.


Gioachino Rossini - Il Turco in Italia (Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova, 2009) [Blu-ray] [2010] [NTSC]
Gioachino Rossini - Il Turco in Italia (Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova, 2009) [Blu-ray] [2010] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Simone Alaimo
Price: 29.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Well Staged, Enjoyable Romp., 18 Jan. 2014
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We have here a well staged and very watch-able presentation of Rossini's Il Turco in Italia. Both sound and picture quality are of the best in this Blu-ray version live from the Theatro Carlo Felice di Genova in 2009. The orchestration is of the best, the singing is, on the whole, very good and the whole performance is an uplifting delight from beginning to end. The staging is cleverly done and I especially liked the settee in the shape of two high backed easy chairs joined together, which is on stage in the second half of Act One. This work, which falls into the opera buffa genre, was first staged in 1814 when Rossini was around 22 years old.

I must say I thought Antonella Nappa verged on the lacklustre in her performance as the gipsy beauty Zaida. Although this role is small compared to the three main roles forming the triangle between Selim the Turk, Donna Florilla and her husband Don Geronio, it is, nevertheless, an important one in relation to the plot that requires a performer who is able to come across as a real gipsy and not just as a half-hearted attempt at being one. Fortunately, none of this is bad enough to either spoil the performance or warrant a star deduction. At least, I don't think so, although some might.

This work is of great value just to watch and listen to as a relaxing romp. There are so many kinds of opera which we can watch for a variety of reasons. Interest in a particular opera and its performance is enhanced when we are able to relate to it in relation to such things as the period in which it was composed, the age and experience of the composer when it was written, why it was composed and so on. For instance, we can say: 'Ah yea! This shows how the young composer was beginning to develop into his future greatness.' or 'How wonderful that he could write such gorgeous music when he was so young!'

I find that being able to assess each work in relation to these kind of factors greatly enhances the enjoyment of it. 'Ah yes!' we can say, 'I can see what he was trying to do. Good, but he did it even better later on.' And so on. In this way the opera lover comes to feel that he/she is living within the immortality of a composer's greatness. Here we are progressing with the young Rossini knowing that he is destined to do even better and earn his place among the greatest of the great. Anyway, since I very much enjoy watching this production of Il Turco in Italia, I see no reason why many other opera lovers will not also like it. Watch out for Bruno di Simone, who gives an outstanding performance as Don Geronio.


Gluck: Alceste [DVD] [2009]
Gluck: Alceste [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ John Eliot Gardiner
Offered by wantitcheaper
Price: 5.04

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding., 17 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: Gluck: Alceste [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
This production of Gluck's Alceste is an all time great, which it would be difficult to improve upon in any realistic sense. Anne Sophie von Otter, who is awesome in the role of Alceste, is supported by a dedicated cast, all of whom, including a boy and girl representing Alceste's children, fulfil their roles brilliantly as also do the orchestra and chorus. Costumes, choreography, staging and direction are all of the highest standard that blends in beautifully with the music.

Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) was the son of a German-Bohemian forester and huntsman who was employed in sequence by a variety of German aristocrats including Prince Lobkowitzt. Around 1732 Gluck attended at Prague University, after which he became a chamber musician in the household of the prince in Vienna. He is a paramount figure in the development of opera. The success of his music owes much to its austerity of design in contrast to the more ornamental style of his contemporary, Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764).

Both sound and picture quality on this 16: 9 EMI disc are very good. The music is of the kind that allows the viewer-listener to relax and bath in it and it instils thoughtful contemplation of the inter-relationship of life and death. It's 'we can only live in this moment' music that teaches us that it's all a question of knowing how best to pass from one moment into the next. Here we have husband and wife, mother and father, showing us how dedicated self-sacrifice, however painful at the time, can nevertheless bring its own reward as true love triumphs. If you enjoy great music, you will very much enjoy this outstanding performance of Alceste.


The Moonstone [DVD]
The Moonstone [DVD]
Dvd ~ Vivien Heilbron

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Adaptation of Wilkie Collins' Famous Book., 14 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: The Moonstone [DVD] (DVD)
The problem with 'The Moonstone' by Wilkie Collins lies not in this BBC version of it but in the original story, which lacks the concise plotting and character development found in the works of some of his well known contemporaries. With this in mind, it's hard to see how the BBC could have made a better job of staging it than in this version. Since, when we read a novel or listen to a radio play we use our imagination to create the environment in which the action is taking place, stage plays, operas etc. present us with a kind of halfway house with the staging suggesting a real life context. Making a film of a book can ruin our enjoyment of the story because it might well destroy a wonderful picture which our imaginations have built up around the story. Often it happens that we think the film or TV version is not true to the original story. My view is that this version of 'The Moonstone' is as true to the original as one can expect in a TV adaptation.

Sometimes when a work is described as 'dated' it is a great compliment because some of the old productions produced with older technology are much better than more recent versions. It reminds me of the story of two men who were standing near the base of the Great Pyramid in Egypt. 'I don't see the point of it,' said one. 'Go back a few hundred yards and look up,' retorted the other, 'And you'll be able to see point of it well enough. It's right at the very top.' Lots of viewers will love this version of Wilkie Collins famous yarn. Not only has it not spoiled the written version, if anything, it has improved upon it. It's a good buy and I thoroughly recommend it.


Dove  Amore  Gelosia Blu-ray] [2013]  [Region Free]
Dove Amore Gelosia Blu-ray] [2013] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Lenka Mcikov
Price: 29.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delightful Joy of a Romp. Very Watchable., 12 Jan. 2014
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This is a work in two parts with part one divided into seven scenes and part two into nine. There are just the four singers supported by a few walk on parts. Lenka Macikova appears as the Marquise Clarice, Ales Briscein as Count Orazio, Katerina Knezikova as Clarice's maid Vespetta and Jaroslav Brezina as Patrizio, Orazio's servant and confidant. All four perform excellently, are a joy to watch and are obviously enjoying themselves. The baroque costumes by Helena Kasarova could not have been designed better. They relate perfectly to the period of the action and even the orchestra are clad in the correct period costumes.

I like to think that Giuseppe Scarlatti would have enjoyed composing this enjoyable romp, which really is very funny even by modern standards. Even the theatre and staging are true to the period in which the work was composed. That is, except to say, they haven't used real candles, which is just as well considering the horrific instances there's been of theatres burning down during the candlelight era. During the performance the recording regales the viewer with fascinating glimpses of how the staging was operated during the Eighteenth Century. All kinds of wheels, pulleys and ropes can be seen along with how they made 'thunder'. None of these glimpses is long enough to spoil the viewing of the performance. On one occasion Lenka Macikova, in the role of Marquise Clarice, stamps her foot as a signal for the stage hands to open a hole in the floor, through which a writing desk and chair are elevated onto the stage.

I think it a mistake to compare this Scarlatti opera with the operas composed by such composers as Mozart. Comparisons are only useful when we're comparing like with like, which is not the case here. Great arias in the Mozart style would be out of place in such a work as this. There were three composers called Scarlatti: Aleessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725), his son Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) and Giuseppe Scarlatti whose relationship to the other two is uncertain; he may have been a nephew. What Giuseppe set out to do he did well, and more than well, if this excellent staging of his work is anything to go by. There are all kinds of operas. Some of us like some sorts best and others like different sorts. It would be a boring old world if we all liked the same thing and if all composers composed in the same vein.

Dove e Amore e Gelosia (Where there's Love there's Jealousy) is a masterpiece in its own right,. Giuseppe Scarlatti does what he set out to do and composed a masterpiece in its own particular genre of the joyful romp. I'm sure that many other viewers will jump for joy at this performance just as I do. How wonderful it is that there was a third Scarlatti who lived and wrote it. One of the things this work, and some other Eighteenth Century works, seem to show us is that the relationship between aristocrats and/or the gentry and their servants was more relaxed in the Eighteenth Century than it was in the Nineteenth.

In short, this is a top quality, cross dressing, romp of a farce performed to the highest standards in a period theatre setting in Krumlov Castle and it thoroughly deserves to be the winner of Havel Foundation Award 2012.


Gounod: Faust [DVD] [2010] [NTSC]
Gounod: Faust [DVD] [2010] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Angela Gheorghiu
Price: 16.46

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An All Time Great Production., 11 Jan. 2014
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This Royal Opera House production of Gounod's Faust has to be an all time great. It would be hard to fault it in any way. It's riveting to watch from beginning to end and it's the kind of production one would watch over and over again and never tire of it. There are two 16:9 discs with a total 180 minutes running time. They played well on my Blu-Ray player and I couldn't see anything wrong with the picture quality. Even if there was I wouldn't deduct a star for it because I'm reviewing the opera, not the disc.

One of the joys of this production is that the cast are all equally good. Everyone is giving of his/her best and what 'bests' they are! The orchestration is inspiring with the conductor, Antonio Pappano his usual inspiring self. Angelo Gheorghiu as Maruerite has to be one of her greatest roles, Roberto Alagna is a great Faust and Bryn Terfel excels as Mephistopheles. Simon Keenlyside is perfect as Valentin and Sophie Koch (Siebel), Della Jones (Marthe) and Matthew Rose (Wagner) are all on top form. The staging and costumes were of the best and the diabolical ballet in Act 5 could not have been performed better. It's here that we see Bryn Terfel presented as a female version of Mephistopheles. Very interesting!

One can only imagine that Gounod would be delighted with this production of his masterpiece. I could go into lots more detail including a resume of the storyline, but it's a very well known one, besides which those who don't know it will enjoy themselves more by finding it out as they watch this brilliant production. And please, good people, don't allow any adverse comments about the picture quality of the disc phase you. Most of us who have watched it on its two discs are not bothered by it; otherwise it wouldn't have received such a cascade of five star reviews. In short, it really is an all time great production of an all time great opera.


Vicente Martin y Soler: L'arbore di Diana [DVD] [2010] [NTSC]
Vicente Martin y Soler: L'arbore di Diana [DVD] [2010] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Laura Aikin
Price: 19.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An Insult to All that is Wonderful about Womanhood., 10 Jan. 2014
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The better qualities of this work by Martin I Soler are sadly eclipsed by its propensity for demeaning womanhood by picturing women as ridiculous, giggling creatures crazy about men of inferior quality. Although the demeaning of women in tragedies is acceptable because it highlights the problems they have to face and their sufferings, it doesn't work in comedy of this kind, a fact that such composers as Pergolesi and Mozart knew very well indeed. Any merits that the music and singing have is utterly ruined by the composer's failure to recognise these important truths.

Unlike most sports, in which the difference between the physical strengths of men and women is an important factor, no such factor exists in the realms of singing and the playing of musical instruments. (Some of the best drummers are women and the best harpists men) Opera is the ideal genre for the portrayal of strong women, some of them mistreated and put upon, no doubt, but nevertheless strong with their courage being an inspiration to the opera goer. Sadly, there's none of that here. All we get is silly women being put upon by even sillier men. Cliché after cliché, in fact.

This is all very sad because the performers are all trying to give of their best and I wanted to like their efforts. Maybe some women will like it. However, since I'm a mere man, I was not impressed. It will be interesting to learn what others think. If anyone at all ever reads this review, I wonder how many ticks I will get in the not helpful box? I think that means how helpful a review is to the reader, not how helpful it is to the work being reviewed. I always read the one star reviews first because, every now and then, one of them notices something important that everyone else has missed. I always give these ones a helpful tick.


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