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Cupertino
Cupertino
Price: $2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Generation Now, January 15, 2015
This review is from: Cupertino (Kindle Edition)
From Bret Easton Ellis to Donna Tartt's Goldfinch, is there a movement in recent literature that is warning us of a new "lost generation"? Is this something we should be worried about, or is it something that has always been there, and part of the generational divide? From Salinger's Holden Caulfield, but probably even before then, the change to the modern world has undoubtedly caused emotional problems for lost youths looking for love, security and stability in their lives. If seen in that respect, Matt Szymanowski's Cupertino is probably nothing new, but there is a growing sense from this latest account that the modern lifestyle is indeed generating an increasingly dysfunctional society.

In Cupertino we are introduced to another young man who isn't exactly an orphan, but might as well be. Stevo and his friends are all about good times, enjoying life to the max - parties, girls, drink, drugs, porn and sometimes running into trouble with the authorities and rival youths. Something however just isn't right. Stevo is fully plugged into the world, but is unable to grasp hold of it or make sense of it all. At 16, the simplicity of childhood is gone and life still hasn't taken on a new meaning. Stevo seems to be unable to control his destiny, or has perhaps abdicated any responsibility for it, but what's to control when every freedom is there for the taking?

Or perhaps Stevo's lifestyle is just taking its toll. The narrative and writing of Cupertino corresponds to this disintegration of any kind of semblance of form or passage of time. Like The Goldfinch, it captures the same sense of inability to find meaning in a modern society where relationships are not valued or are impossible to form in any meaningful sense. Stylistically however, it's about as far away from Donna Tartt as you can get, feeling more authentically of the generation the author is writing about. Instead of an old Dutch Master painting, there's a blank advertisement with the words 'YOU ARE HERE' that haunts Stevo's imagination, but where is here, and how did he get there?

There are a few clues scattered around in Stevo's relationship with his parents, a few stories about his missing brother Roman, but Stevo's psychiatrist isn't going to make anything of it, and it's left open to the reader to determine their significance. As the story takes an increasingly sinister turn however - with some very graphic sex scenes and considerable drug consumption - all of it clearly points to a life going off the rails, or one that has perhaps already gone off them and is grasping around for something to hold onto to find a way back. The conclusion offers the possibility for some redemption in this respect, but if the final scene is a little more conventional than what comes before, not quite having the nihilistic edge of Bret Easton Ellis, it does feel authentic and still leaves options open.

The freeflowing style of the narrative and the matter-of-factness of Matt Szymanowski's writing elsewhere give Cupertino something of a surreal edge at times, showing us a world that comes close to JG Ballard's premonitions of a terminally corrupt and morally uninhibited society where everyone can indulge their most perverse desires. Some references are made in passing to American society, to Bush politics and international perspectives, but it's background noise and there's nothing here that helps ground Stevo in the 'real world'. There's no moralising however in Szymanowski story, no premonitory outlook, no guarantee of redemption. This is how it is, this is now, YOU ARE HERE.


Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier [Blu-ray]
Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Mojca Erdman
Price: $35.99
10 used & new from $31.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classy, elegant Rosenkavalier, January 12, 2015
As Salzburg productions go, the 2014 Der Rosenkavalier isn't one of their most adventurous, but in almost every area it serves the intentions of the work well. It's the conductor who is in charge of Der Rosenkavalier, and leading the ever impressive Vienna Philharmonic, Franz Welser-Möst's control and management of the score is absolutely stunning, weaving Strauss' complex lines through the singing voices, matching the melodies, the tempo and the sheer majesty of a score whose lyricism and evocation of resonances belies any notion of the work being merely "a Viennese farce and nothing more".

It's immediately apparent that the Salzburg production has a handle on all the essential ingredients. From the overture to the impression that is created by the elegant set for the Marschallin's bedroom in Act I, everything feels right and sounds right. All the more so on account of the singers we have in the roles of Marschallin and Octavian. Sophie Koch is maybe not so sure of voice on the top notes as she once was singing Octavian, but her experience counts. She knows the role well and is better fitted than most to handle the intricacies of this difficult trouser role (ahem, Glyndebourne!). Krassimira Stoyanova is a glorious Marschallin and gives a great performance here. She has an amazing voice that is perfect for big roles like this, and she is simply just one of the best Marschallins in the world at the moment. I don't think there's any particular chemistry between Stoyanova and Koch, but they work together well and bring their own character successfully to the roles.

I was disappointed however by Günther Groissböck's Ochs von Lerchenau. His timbre is lovely and his delivery is perfectly good, but I just couldn't take to him as the baron. He doesn't look right and he doesn't appear terribly comfortable with the part either, focussed on delivery, singing almost entirely without looking at any of the other characters he is interacting with. It's possible I suppose that this is how the role has been directed, Ochs always dominating, the other characters always behind him, subservient to his sense of self-importance. Other than that however, Harry Kupfer's direction is hard to fault. The stage design is classy and elegant, the silver-grey colour scheme giving a sense of a cool nostalgic detachment for an idealised past. Hans Schavernoch's set is made up of large panels and props that glide into position, while large projected photographs of classical Vienna scenes, rooftops and parks place the work perfectly into the essential context of the wider world that the opera is set in.

The stylised version of this cold idealised Vienna contrasts perfectly with the warm richness of the lives and sentiments of the characters within it. Act I and II contrasts noble elegance with vulgar extravagance of marbled ostentation, while Act III doesn't just reveal the darker underside of the comic playing, it practically builds the set around the performers in the location of a misty Prater park, making it feel wholly a part of the wider world. Everything slips into place the way it ought to, as elegantly as Strauss's score falls into place, and the finale is simply gorgeous. Ochs ungraciously fades back into the mist, the Marschallin glides off in her Rolls Royce, leaving Koch's Octavian and Mojca Erdmann's delicately sweet-toned Sophie to break free from the past and look ahead to a new future.


Verdi: Don Carlo [Blu-ray]
Verdi: Don Carlo [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Svetlana Kasyan
Price: $35.99
8 used & new from $31.85

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive effort but not quite total opera, January 12, 2015
First presented in Paris in French as a five-act grand opera, the challenging length and nature of Don Carlos meant that it would undergo several further revisions, but in whichever version it's presented, this remains one of Verdi's greatest works and one of the most impressive spectacles in all of opera. That impression is upheld by the 2013 Teatro Regio di Torino production of the 1884 four-act version of Don Carlo even if the musical performance and singing are not quite up to the considerable demands of this challenging opera.

The 1884 version drops the whole of the original Act I, where Don Carlo first meets and immediately falls in love with his promised bride Elisabeth of Valois in the gardens of Fontainebleau. This has the consequence of shifting the emphasis from love story to brotherhood, family and duty, but openings with a funeral and an apparition rather than the romantic encounter of the five-act version of the work, this sets the tone for a work that is still a highly charged drama. This tone comes through most successfully in the Turin production, with monumental sets, stone pillars, the ceremonial, religious and regal formality and richness of the costume designs all contributing to a sense of deeply serious intrigue and dark drama. It's a grandeur that matches Verdi's vision. and intensity of purpose, a major spectacle that looks every inch the ultimate expression of opera, which in many ways Don Carlo is.

While the epic scope is all there on the stage, the level of nuance and psychological probing that needs to be expressed through the playing and the singing just doesn't live up to the exceptional demands of Verdi's score here in the Turin production. It's a heavy and oppressive work, but even so Gianandrea Noseda's management of the pace and tone of the work is quite leaden, never finding the light and shade that is there to reflect the shifting themes and personalities. There's a lot demanded of the singers too, but despite the fact that the cast here is an exceptionally good one, it's hard to feel that any of them are right for the roles. Ildar Abdrazakov comes out best, his singing capable, controlled and authoritative as Philip II, but Ramón Vargas' voice has lost much of its former force as Carlo and Elisabeth is much too big a role for Svetlana Kasyan. Even the wonderful Daniela Barcellona is pushed by the excessive demands of this work, but even if they are unable to get across the full measure of Verdi's brilliance, the Turin production is still impressive, and you are never in doubt that this is one of the greatest creations in all opera.

The production looks stunning in High Definition on the Blu-ray release, the image crystal clear, the sets looking impressive with bold colouration and strong contrasts. The singers are not wearing radio mics so it can be a little echoing, but there's a rich dark tone to the orchestration that is warm and enveloping, with good presence in the DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 mix. There's a deep low-frequency boom on the surround mix which has most impact during the Grand Inquisitor scene. The only extra feature on the disc is a Cast Gallery, but there's an essay on the creation of the work and a synopsis in the booklet. Subtitles are in English, French, German, Japanese and Korean.


Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A novel
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A novel
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.57
144 used & new from $10.79

4.0 out of 5 stars South of the Norwegian Border After Dark, January 12, 2015
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Love it or hate it, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is on the Norwegian Wood side of Haruki Murakami's writing, dealing with personality issues and difficult relationships, but it still has the author's familiar diversions into surrealism, magic realism, post-modernism or whatever you want to call the dream-like flights of imagination and strange connections that his sensitive characters establish with the world around them.

At the heart of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is a typically sensitive young man, a misfit with emotional problems who struggles with relationships. It wasn't always that way, Tazaki once an equal part of a close-knit group of five friends in Nagoya. Murakami's unique outlook on the dynamic of the group is interesting, each of the two boys and two girls having a name that refers to a colour, while Tazaki is "colourless". And in some ways that reflect how Tazaki sees himself. When Tazaki leaves to go to university in Tokyo, he finds himself inexplicably banished from having any further contact with his friends. Tazaki's life and outlook is profoundly affected by this until 16 years later when he goes back looking for answers.

The questions Murakami grapples with in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki are the familiar psychological issues of identity, sexuality and death that are covered in Norwegian Wood, mixed with feelings of guilt, sin and questions of evil. Some of the situations and character types are similar to that book, but given a bit more of a latter-day Murakami spin, with the surreal nightmarish qualities of After Dark and the heightened sexual situations of South of the Border, West of the Sun. Instead of the Beatles, this time we also have Liszt, so all the usual Murakami tropes are in there.

Which makes you wonder whether Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage has anything new to offer from this author. It doesn't really, but it is still a good read and is possibly something of a pilgrimage for the author himself, going back to revisit a youthful work, explore its mysteries with a more mature outlook, and even in some way seek - as Colorless Tsukuru does - to 'exorcise the evil spirit' that still has a hold over him to some extent. Sometimes it's best leaving the mystery alone, but there's still a lot of unanswered questions in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and a lot of classic Murakami here.

incidentally, for those who still care about such matters and haven't yet moved to a Kindle, the Knopf hardcover edition of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage is a beauty to behold, with gorgeous graphic design and a compact size that is a joy to hold in your hands. Such matters are not incidental to the pleasure of reading Murakami.


The Desert of the Tartars ( Il deserto dei tartari ) [ Blu-Ray, Reg.A/B/C Import - France ]
The Desert of the Tartars ( Il deserto dei tartari ) [ Blu-Ray, Reg.A/B/C Import - France ]
DVD ~ Giuliano Gemma
5 used & new from $29.19

5.0 out of 5 stars Restored French version of a masterpiece in stunning HD, December 3, 2014
Valerio Zurlini captures the sense of vast, mystical forces at work and the place of humanity within it in the extraordinary 1976 film Desert of the Tartars. It's like the abstraction of Antonioni applied to the bewildering rules and impossible logic of some cruel authority in a Kafka novel and it's just as compelling and just as unfathomable.

Lieutenant Drogo (Jacques Perrin) is sent to Bastiano, a remote fortress outpost in the rocky, barren and frozen northern region of some unidentified Prussian-like nation. Among the military officers there, giving it an additional edge of surrealism - are an international cast of some of the greatest actors of the age including Vittorio Gassman, Fernando Rey, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Max von Sydow and Philippe Noiret. It seems to be a place that people want to leave but seem to be unable to pull themselves away from, arriving and staying almost stumbling their own way there voluntarily, and relocated likewise subject to some obscure rules or the whim of the powers that be. Orders are orders however, and if that means shooting on your own soldiers or taking suicidal excursions up to the frozen mountains in order to establish where exactly the frontier is.

Quite what the troops are protecting and who they are protecting from is also vague and uncertain. Partly because the command are unwilling to recognise the nature of the threat, treating sightings of the enemy with suspicion or as a trick of the mind, which is entirely possible in this place. There's a mystical quality to the wide open spaces of the desert that emphasises a fear and unwillingness to confront a fate that will eventually arrive. The stunning cinematography and the location contribute to this quality, as does a score by Ennio Morricone. Filmed at the citadel of Bam in Iraq, an abandoned mud city in ruins, parts of the fortress itself are eerily uninhabited, with even the inhabited part seeming to exist in another dimension far from the real world. The eventual fate of Bam itself, destroyed entirely by an earthquake in 2003, only enhances that impression.

Presenting the French version of the film, the quality of this French Blu-ray edition is quite frankly stunning, the image restored to near perfection. The BD also includes an extra feature on the creation and restoration of the, Jacques Perrin principally involved in supplying a near-pristine print. The film is subtitled in English, but the extra feature is not.


Glass: Spuren der Verirrten - The Lost
Glass: Spuren der Verirrten - The Lost
DVD ~ Dennis Russell Davies
Price: $28.78
8 used & new from $21.67

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not great opera, but still impressive, December 3, 2014
The commission of a new opera by Philip Glass to open the new Landestheater at Linz in 2013 was a bold statement of intent. Whether the expectations were met or not, I doubt the sprawling and largely incomprehensible Spuren Der Verirrten was what anyone had in mind, but it has to be said that the work fulfils its remit perfectly and often impressively.

As you're dealing with a Peter Handke script as the origin for the libretto of Spuren Der Verirrten (literally 'Footprints of the Lost'), I guess the question 'what is it about?' doesn't really apply. Or perhaps you don't need to look far beyond the title itself to grasp the essential theme of the work. It is indeed about the lost, and the opera takes a kaleidoscopic and somewhat abstract view of where we are as a society today, a lost society that has indeed just blindly followed in the footsteps of those lost before us. There are a few characters and motifs around this theme that weave through the three acts in a variety of short scenes to the extent that by the end of the opera the chorus are in the orchestra pit and the orchestra are on the stage. Everyone is lost and we don't know what's going on, but look, isn't it still wonderful?, Spuren Der Verirrten seems to say.

Well yes actually, it is. While this kind of narrative can prove puzzling to an audience, it's perfect for the abstraction of music, and perfect for how Philip Glass traditionally approaches such material. Spuren Der Verirrten is really no more abstract a piece than Einstein on the Beach, Glass unconstrained by narrative demands and writing music purely for the beauty of the theatrical experience alone. As such he's at his most lyrical, rhythmic and melodic here. It's almost like a 'Best of Philip Glass', with the flow of Einstein, the choral surges of Satyagraha, the swirling musical melodies of his Dance pieces and the pulsing narrative drive of Powaqqatsi (more so than Koyaanisqatsi). There's also something of The Voyage in the approach to a similar concept, and even some of the film soundtrack Glass of 'The Hours'. It's certainly a much more musically rich piece than the recent The Perfect American, but by the same token, it's not exactly anything new from this composer either.

The reason for the richness of melody and tempo is clearly a response to the variety of Spuren Der Verirrten as a theatrical piece and Glass gives this expression the perfect musical accompaniment. Finding a coherent narrative line in it all is partly down to the individual in the audience, but it's also a challenge for the director David Pountney to give a visual representation to abstract fragments of text, keep it flowing and make it all fit under one roof. The artistic, logistical and technical challenges are evident (and alluded to in the Making of feature on the DVD), but even though it inevitably looks a little cluttered in places, it does all come together remarkably well and provides Linz with a suitably grand, epic and ambitious work to open their new theatre. It might not be great, but it's an impressive achievement nonetheless.


Cupertino Story
Cupertino Story

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Generation now, November 18, 2014
This review is from: Cupertino Story (Kindle Edition)
From Bret Easton Ellis to Donna Tartt's Goldfinch, is there a movement in recent literature that is warning us of a new "lost generation"? Is this something we should be worried about, or is it something that has always been there, and part of the generational divide? From Salinger's Holden Caulfield, but probably even before then, the change to the modern world has undoubtedly caused emotional problems for lost youths looking for love, security and stability in their lives. If seen in that respect, Matt Szymanowski's Cupertino Story is probably nothing new, but there is a growing sense from this latest account that the modern lifestyle is indeed generating an increasingly dysfunctional society.

In Cupertino Story we are introduced to another young man who isn't exactly an orphan, but might as well be. Stevo and his friends are all about good times, enjoying life to the max - parties, girls, drink, drugs, porn and sometimes running into trouble with the authorities and rival youths. Something however just isn't right. Stevo is fully plugged into the world, but is unable to grasp hold of it or make sense of it all. At 16, the simplicity of childhood is gone and life still hasn't taken on a new meaning. Stevo seems to be unable to control his destiny, or has perhaps abdicated any responsibility for it, but what's to control when every freedom is there for the taking?

Or perhaps Stevo's lifestyle is just taking its toll. The narrative and writing of Cupertino Story corresponds to this disintegration of any kind of semblance of form or passage of time. Like The Goldfinch, it captures the same sense of inability to find meaning in a modern society where relationships are not valued or are impossible to form in any meaningful sense. Stylistically however, it's about as far away from Donna Tartt as you can get, feeling more authentically of the generation the author is writing about. Instead of an old Dutch Master painting, there's a blank advertisement with the words 'YOU ARE HERE' that haunts Stevo's imagination, but where is here, and how did he get there?

There are a few clues scattered around in Stevo's relationship with his parents, a few stories about his missing brother Roman, but Stevo's psychiatrist isn't going to make anything of it, and it's left open to the reader to determine their significance. As the story takes an increasingly sinister turn however - with some very graphic sex scenes and considerable drug consumption - all of it clearly points to a life going off the rails, or one that has perhaps already gone off them and is grasping around for something to hold onto to find a way back. The conclusion offers the possibility for some redemption in this respect, but if the final scene is a little more conventional than what comes before, not quite having the nihilistic edge of Bret Easton Ellis, it does feel authentic and still leaves options open.

The freeflowing style of the narrative and the matter-of-factness of Matt Szymanowski's writing elsewhere give Cupertino Story something of a surreal edge at times, showing us a world that comes close to JG Ballard's premonitions of a terminally corrupt and morally uninhibited society where everyone can indulge their most perverse desires. Some references are made in passing to American society, to Bush politics and international perspectives, but it's background noise and there's nothing here that helps ground Stevo in the 'real world'. There's no moralising however in Szymanowski story, no premonitory outlook, no guarantee of redemption. This is how it is, this is now, YOU ARE HERE.


Hahn: Ciboulette [Blu-ray]
Hahn: Ciboulette [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Julie Fuchs
8 used & new from $38.16

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sophisticated French operetta, November 16, 2014
Reynaldo Hahn was well-known for his French music-hall melodies, and in many respects his 1923 operetta Ciboulette was a home-grown response to the American musical comedy, particularly those that portrayed the Belle Époque period less authentically. Ciboulette, hardly any less idealistically, celebrates the innocent beauty of that age as well as its own. Quintessentially French, it's the kind of work that the Opéra Comique excels in producing as the home of French lyric theatre.

The music for Ciboulette, conducted with a delicate lightness by Laurence Equilbey, is also authentically music-hall in style for a plot that is as frothy as they come. It concerns the romantic complications of Ciboulette, a young market-seller at Les Halles. Her aunt and uncle in Aubervilliers are pushing the young woman to marry, but the decision is not an easy one for Ciboulette who is engaged to no less than eight suitors. Playing for time, Ciboulette announces her engagement to a young man she has discovered hiding in her market cart, Antonin de Mourmelon, a millionaire who has just been jilted by his mistress, the glamorous and flirty Zénobie.

The path to true love in a comic operetta is of course not as smooth as that, involving gypsy predictions, exotic disguises and romantic complications. Ciboulette is in some ways a throwback to the golden age of the opéra-comique (with a few references to Favart, Offenbach, Meilhac and Halévy thrown into the libretto), but despite its knowing wit and cleverness, it's not really a pastiche, but clearly intended to be light, entertaining and filled with tunes for the enjoyment of the audience of its own time. There's a self-awareness then, but not self-importance. It's not looking to art or posterity, but to present the very best kind of sophisticated musical entertainment for its audience.

Ciboulette does that with a certain degree of charm, even if it's not quite as smart and funny as the best Offenbach. The music hall melodies and songs, despite Hahn's reputation, didn't strike me as being particularly memorable, while the comedy relies heavily on repetition. It seems to work to the principle that if you keep repeating phrases and words, they will eventually just become funny. On the other hand, much of the success of this type of work lies in the hands of the performers, and it must be played with the right amount of verve and comic exaggeration.

The set designs are gorgeous, with lighting and colouration that makes it look like a hand-tinted monochrome movie, giving the work a delightful sense of period charm and innocence, but it's the performances that really bring Ciboulette to life. Julie Fuchs doesn't have a big operatic voice, but one that is pure, sweet and lyrical with just a touch of the French music hall tradition. Julien Behr is indeed a perfect match as Antonin de Mourmelon, but there is fine singing also here from Jean-François Lapointe as Duparquet. It's the secondary comic acting turns that are just as critical here as the singing roles, and those are very capably handled.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 29, 2014 3:38 AM PST


Wagner: Parsifal [Blu-ray]
Wagner: Parsifal [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Angela Denoke
Price: $49.49
19 used & new from $34.81

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slightly clinical production contrasts with warm musical performance, November 10, 2014
Richard Wagner's Parsifal is a work of supreme brilliance, the final work of a musical genius, the summation of his thoughts on what it means to be a human and to suffer. The challenges in how to present a work that is far from conventional and difficult to stage as a traditional opera makes it difficult however to pin it down to any one meaning. It's perhaps unreasonable then to expect anyone to have anything new to add to what is inherently great in itself, just that the work be allowed to weave its magic. As such, it's hard to find any fault with the Royal Opera House's 2013 production of Parsifal, but inevitably some parts fare better than others.

Knights of the Grail are there in name only in Stephen Landridge's abstract-modern production, all of them wearing immaculate grey suits rather than suits of armour. The staging is a little bit cold and clinical in this respect, Alison Chitty's symmetrical geometric stage design dominated by a large cube that serves principally as a hospital room for the bed where Amfortas was being looked after by concerned doctors. The use of lights and sometimes projections however also use the cube to reveal backstory elements in flash-frames and live-action slow motion. Nothing should overwhelm the senses more than the music or the expression in the singing in Parsifal, and every element here seemed well-judged to suggest and engage the audience rather than over-emphasise or impose a false reading.

Landridge's production continually engages with imagery that relates very closely to the original stage directions, but with a distinct twist that makes you re-examine what it all means. Most striking (and controversial) of all is the image of the Grail itself. There might be an inward rolling of the eyes when the cube opens up at the behest of the knights to reveal that the Grail is actually a child wearing nothing but a loin cloth, but the sense of a sacrificial act and the question of blood - both so vital to the underlying message of Parsifal - as well as the sheer pain of Amfortas's role as the keeper of the Grail, is unquestionably intensified when the ritual involves the actual cutting of the child and spilling his blood for the faithful. Such touches don't perhaps reveal any new vision for the work, but they certainly find a thought-provoking way to touch on the philosophical mysteries and the religious significance of the work without having to rely on over-used Christian imagery that has become detached from its original significance and meaning.

In terms of singing, Angela Denoke is extraordinary as Kundry. Kundry is evidently no ordinary woman but something mythical and superhuman, so it's a bit much to expect anyone to really embody this character to the extent that Wagner developed her but... well, there you go, Denoke is something of a phenomenon here. Pitch-perfect maybe not, but it's such a strong and committed performance, from a vital central role, that it anchors all the others - not that they aren't spectacular in their own right. Simon O'Neill might not quite have the character or the acting ability to lift Parsifal up to a similar level, but you can't really find any serious fault his singing or his unstinting commitment here. He holds firm and steady throughout, but finds near-impossible reserves to keep up a consistent level of performance across the almost four hours that the role of Parsifal calls for.

You know that you can rely on that level of professionalism and consistency from René Pape as Gurnemanz. he's particularly good in the third act as a shuffling near-broken knight who finds his long suffering and his faith have been rewarded. It's all there in those finely sung lines and Pape delivers them with self-contained dignity. Gerald Finley feels the pain as Amfortas, director Stephen Landridge working with this aspect of the work as the driving force for the stage conceptualisation. Finley's singing is as smooth, precise and as measured as his Hans Sachs for Glyndebourne, but perhaps just a little too calculated. The Royal Opera House's production is led from the pit by Antonio Pappano with attention to detail and with genuine feeling for the work's Good Friday message, ensuring that it touches upon and brings together every aspect of the transcendent beauty of Wagner's great masterpiece.

On Blu-ray, the clinical qualities of the production design are perhaps over-emphasised. The image quality in the High Definition transfer is however impressive, and it benefits considerably from the DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 mix that warmly expresses the detail and the beauty of the orchestral playing. The BD is a two-disc set, with Act I and II on disc one, and Act III on disc two. There are only a few short features on the discs - a 6-minute Introduction to Parsifal that takes into account the production and the characters, and a five-minute piano run through of a scene from Act II between Simon O'Neill and Antonio Pappano. The booklet explains the significance and the intent of Alison Chitty and Stephen Landridge's production design, and there's a fascinating essay by Lucy Beckett on the writing of Parsifal, with reference to Wolfram von Eschenbach's 13th century text that serves as a basis of the libretto.


The Rhesus Chart (Laundry Files)
The Rhesus Chart (Laundry Files)
by Charles Stross
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.53
81 used & new from $5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Blood-sucking bankers!, November 6, 2014
Sometimes you think that Charles Stross is just too damn clever for his own good, too hip and caught up in the hyper-reality of the superficial technology and buzz-word obsessed world we live in, but the truth is that what he writes about is relevant and bang up-to-date. There's a recognition that things tend to go badly wrong when the real world doesn't quite manage to keep up-to-date with the speed of change in the new, and not just badly wrong, but hilariously wrong. The Rhesus Chart, the latest Laundry novel (no previous reading required) is an outstanding example of just how funny and clever this writer can be.

Stross's Laundry novels are a satire of the handling of regulations and procedures that have to be navigated when a secret department set up to protect the world from aliens, zombies, demons and otherworld threats run up against government bureaucracy, business processes, tech-speak and good old-fashioned British character traits. In The Rhesus Chart, the threat comes from an outbreak of vampirism in a banking group (something to do with stumbling across a suggestive algorithm in some quantitative trading analysis - magic being a side effect of computation). In some sectors this might be seen as a problem, but in banking, this is seen as a benefit that "constitutes a net benefit that would add to our core skills matrix for all personnel".

The city bankers don't immediately all start donning opera capes and cultivate widow's peaks, which makes them difficult to track down, but Bob Howard, a secret intelligence working for the Laundry is more concerned that about the official policy on vampires in his department, which seem to go through "the five stages of bureaucratic grieving" - "denial, anger, committee meetings, scapegoating and cover-up." Bob is to discover however that there worse things than blood-sucking banking vampires, and that's blood-sucking scary ex-girlfriends. That gives you a flavour of Stross's satire and it's to his credit that he makes all procedural bureaucracy and meeting ennui even more scary than the creatures that the Laundry deal with. Stross is on top form here.


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