Initially ... only for a few seconds, really ... it was disorienting to hear "Don Juan" read by the passionate American Hollywood film actor Tyrone Power; I've gotten accustomed to hearing distinguished knights of the British stage reading the Romantic poets on Audible.com. But early 19th-century British poetry with an American accent: how dare they?!
But then, quite rapidly, things got downright spooky. The swashbuckling Power BECOMES the swashbuckling Byron. While Tyrone Power has been dead now for 51 years and Lord Byron for 185, both men died tragically young: Power at 44, Byron at 36. Both were Byronesque figures in real life, the latter no less so than his eponymous predecessor. Bisexuals both, subjects of scandal both, larger-than-life artistic talents both. And by all means DO surf the web for their portrait and photo, respectively: the two men even resemble one another!
All of this I learned only AFTER listening to this audiobook, of course. Although this is obviously a transfer of an old LP, the audio quality is superb. But it is Tyrone Power's powerfully engaging interpretive reading ... particularly the fluency and passion of the interpretations, the nuances, the super clean diction that together with Lord Byron's colloquial prose make these poems sound so modern ... which makes this one of the very best Audio.com purchases I have ever made. All Audio.com "veterans" know that even with the best source material, a mediocre (or worse) narrator can leave a bad taste in listeners' mouths with nary a thing to be done about it. Rest assured, there is no such problem here. It sounds suspiciously hyperbolical, I know, but I have to say it nonetheless: Tyrone Power was born (and died) to play Lord Byron!
I don't understand the criticisms by some other reviewers of this album's audio quality. Might they be referring to an earlier release of this album (which has been offered in several formats by a few vendors over the years)? The quality is absolutely outstanding, and the readings by Stephanie Beacham, Colm Meaney, Julian Sands, David Warner, Gabriel Byrne, Roger Rees, Minnie Driver, and Samantha Eggar are as fine as you could ever want.
There are 88 "tracks" on this album. Unfortunately Audible's space limitations preclude me from providing here a Table of Contents. What I will say is that titles of poems are introduced, but not who's narrating what: a typical (and frustrating) lapse in documentation by Audible.
Any Yeats lover should buy this new release, as roughly a quarter of the poems are not present on the 4 other Audible.com Yeats compilations.
An unfortunate flaw of most Audible.com poetry anthologies is their paucity of information. Here, fortunately, we know the narrator, Mark van Doren, who does a superb and seamless job introducing each poem excerpt (all of them British) with brief enlightening information. All authors and virtually all works are identified. The latter are the usual canonical suspects, although there are a couple enjoyable surprises. Unfortunately the narrators, classically-trained British actors, are not named ??? which is a shame, since they are uniformly excellent. One example: Having heard at least a dozen recordings of Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (and if truth be told being somewhat tired of it!), I was utterly blown away by the 2 or 3 minutes excerpted here; so emotionally powerful and delicately nuanced was this performance, I'd give anything to know the reader and have the opportunity to hear his complete rendition. This delightful anthology, whose contents are presented in strict chronological order (from John Dryden to Lord Byron) is far too short: one wishes it included (where practical) the poems in their entirety.
This two-play compendium is thoroughly wonderful. If you enjoyed the "History Boys," Bennett's most recent hit play, now a hard-to-find (and excellent) movie, you will love these two one-acters. Both deal outwardly with the English spy scandals of the '50s and '60. "An Englishman Abroad" deals with Burgess in Moscow, and "A Question of Attribution" with "the fourth man" identified as Anthony Blunt in his capacity of curator of the Queen's pictures. However, the subject is really just a means of allowing Bennett to use his facility for charmingly glib dialog expressing thoughts about art, history, patriotism, and other interesting topics. The actors, a group of reliably splendid English performers, are delightful. In particular, Prunella Scales, as the Queen in "A Question of Attribution," is particularly memorable. Buy and enjoy again and again!