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Hung T. N. Tony (Hong Kong)
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Love Affair (Widescreen)
Love Affair (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Warren Beatty
Offered by eplayplay
Price: CDN$ 37.41
10 used & new from CDN$ 26.91

3.0 out of 5 stars A pale shadow of An Affair to Remember, Jan. 17 2004
This review is from: Love Affair (Widescreen) (DVD)
I'm afraid this movie is at best a pale shadow of its predecessor (An Affair to Remember). Annette Benning and Warren Beatty are woefully short on precisely those qualities which made Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant (in the original) so unforgettable -- wit, charm, chemistry, and STYLE. The presence of Kathleen Hepburn was no help -- the scene between her and Benning seems so stiff and uncomfortable beside the genuinely warm and charming meeting between Kerr and Cathleen Nesbitt (a truly gracious and affectionate lady, playing Grant's grandma). The only thing in this remake which challenges the original is Ennio Morricone's (as always) beautiful and moving score. It has the one thing the film as a whole lacks -- conviction.

Sibelius - Symphony No. 2
Sibelius - Symphony No. 2
Price: CDN$ 22.72
8 used & new from CDN$ 20.20

5.0 out of 5 stars Passion and Nobility, March 6 2001
Sir John Barbirolli (along with Jascha Horenstein) was perhaps the most unjustly neglected of the great conductors of the 20th century. For years he recorded with the Halle Orchestra for a small label (which, in spite of the poor sound and flawed playing, yielded several gems, including Vaughan Williams' London Symphony, Elgar's First, Dvorak's Eighth, etc.). It was not until the last decade of his life (1960-70) that the major companies finally gave him the chance he deserved to record the major repertoire with top orchestras. Even then, his EMI recording of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony (one of the greatest ever) had to languish for decades in oblivion until rescued and reissued by the Barbirolli Society and Dutton. And this recording of the Sibelius Second with the Royal Philharmonic was (believe it or not) original made for the Reader's Digest, and available for years only in a boxed set by mail order. It was thanks to an enterprising company like Chesky that this treasurable performance was made available to the general public.
And what a performance! The best tribute one can pay to it is that, no matter how many times you have heard this symphony, and from however many other conductors, Barbirolli lets you hear it as if for the first time, and makes you fall in love with it all over again. Like any other great Barbirolli performance, it is deeply imbued with passion and nobility (no wonder he was the ideal interpreter of Elgar, whose music has nobility ('nobilmente') as its very soul). Witness the noble, grandly spacious climax of the first movement (which makes every other performance seem so ordinary), the deeply expressive and moving slow movement, the exciting third and the triumphantly uplifting finale, sweeping all before it like a tidal wave, and the final peroration is too glorious for words. But the finale is no loud, blustering hymn of victory -- the wistful, dirge-like interlude just before the recapitulation has never been played more touchingly. I read somewhere that this performance was recorded only a few days after the death of Barbirolli's own mother. Perhaps this was a moment that reminded him of his loss. Whatever it was, you will never hear a preformance of Sibelius Second that is so full of warmth and humanity, that sees so deeply into the life of things.

Turandot At The Forbidden City (DVD)
Turandot At The Forbidden City (DVD)
DVD ~ Zubin Mehta
Price: CDN$ 25.81
25 used & new from CDN$ 14.47

5.0 out of 5 stars Turandot comes home to Beijing, Jan. 25 2001
Seventy-two years after its premiere in Milan, Puccini's Turandot finally "came home" to Beijing.
Never mind that the Turandot story was not even of Chinese origin, being based on a play by an 18th-century Italian dramatist who in turn probably got the idea from The Arabian Nights. And never mind that Puccini had never been to China, and knew little of Chinese history and culture. However imperfectly it was glimpsed, China was the inspiration for the opera, and China remains the source of much of its continuing fascination for the world.
For too many decades, Turandot was seen solely through western eyes, with scant respect for authenticity, its "Chineseness" no more than a veneer. Even a director such as Franco Zeffirelli could commit the unthinkable blunder (in his 1987 production at New York's Metropolitan Opera, also available on Video/DVD) of presenting the Emperor, the Son of Heaven, dressed completely in black! It was left to the great Chinese director Zhang Yimou to redress the balance and turn Turandot into a genuine and equal meeting of East and West, rather than a travesty of the East by the West. His production came close to a vision of this opera that the composer himself might have dreamed of, had he been all-seeing and all-knowing about China, whilst retaining the genius and conventions of Italian opera.
"Opera on original sites" (which started with Aida in Luxor some years ago) is a concept that has produced variable results with different operas. For all its extravagance, there is no denying the unique magic that the right location under the right conditions can conjure up for the audience. Though it is not one of the most majestic halls in the Forbidden City (which would in fact have dwarfed the production), the sight of Taimiao (Supreme Ancestral Temple) in the Beijing twilight as a backdrop for Turandot was perfectly imposing and inspiring. To this were added two moveable pavilions which Zhang used to brilliant effect, from being an integral part of the scene (from which, for example, the Wise Men read out the answers to the riddles), to a dreamlike evocation of the musical imagery (as when Ping, the Minister, nostalgically recalled his home in Honan, with its lovely blue pond surrounded by bamboo).
The production was a visual feast of unparalleled splendour from beginning to end, fully matching the splendour and passion of Puccini's score. The costumes set a standard in opulence and authenticity probably never equalled, let alone surpassed, in the annals of opera. With a cinematic director's eye, Zhang filled the 82-metre-wide stage with a huge cast of extras, from ministers and mandarins to dancers and soldiers, which lent flesh and blood to Puccini's "insubstantial pageant". Their beautifully choreographed movements, with elements from Chinese opera, dance, and even martial arts, were so skilfully blended in as to become an integral part of the music drama. For all its authentic appeal, a major drawback of the historic site as a "stage" was that its separate tiers leading up to the terrace outside the temple seriously constrained the movements of the crowd, especially in the riotous First Act.
If one talks much more about the production than the musical performance, it is only because it is for the former rather than the latter that the Beijing Turandot will long be remembered. Good as they were, the principals - Giovanni Casolla as Turandot, Sergej Larin as Calaf and Barbara Frittoli as Liu - were far outshone by the best of other recorded versions (particularly Nilsson, Corelli and Scotto, and Sutherland, Pavarotti and Caballe). Conductor Zubin Mehta presided over the orchestra and chorus with masterly control, and an equal sensitivity to the exotic colours of the score and its pacing and dramatic impact.
Like one of your readers, I too was at the performance in Beijing in 1998, but unlike him, I do not think it either realistic or fair to expect the video to duplicate that experience. Considering the conditions under which the production was shot (outdoor and at night), the visual quality is acceptable. The audio quality is variable, both at the live performance and on DVD. In this more than any other Puccini opera, the chorus plays a dramatically and musically pivotal role, but here their rousing and at times barbaric voice is often blunted by imbalances in the sound system.
But then, a barbaric China was not what this production was about. This was, above all, a gloriously and lovingly nostalgic Turandot. It was almost as if, after half a century of proletarian rule, Zhang Yimou was intent on recapturing, if only for a fleeting moment, all the pomp and splendour of a bygone civilisation which once thrived on this very spot, and whose heritage the "cultural revolution" almost destroyed. In this context, the three Ministers' valediction resounds with a new, touching significance: "Addio, razza! Addio, stirpe divina!" -- "Farewell, race of men! Farewell, divine heritage!"

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