Poe is a favorite of mine, so I've heard a lot of great actors narrate his stories over the years: Christopher Lee, Basil Rathbone, Vincent Price, to name a few.
I wasn't expecting a narration of that level, though. I was just looking for a complete collection of the short stories. Sadly, the narration makes it almost impossible to enjoy listening to it.
Thomley's narration is flat and without any affect, more suited to the reading of a dry history than masterful tales of suspense, mystery, and humor.
Also, his mispronunciations are like fingernails on a chalkboard. Poe is strewn with Latin, French, and German. It is not unreasonable to expect a narrator of Poe to be able to pronounce the words with basic proficiency.
But for three dollars, you do get all the stories, including some of those rare treats that hardly appear in other collections, such as his humorous tales. I particularly love "The Angel of the Odd." Poe's twisted sense of fun is all too often eclipsed by his more macabre works.
You be the judge. It is a bargain of sorts, but don't expect too much.
As others have rightly said, Trollope may be better than Dickens. And if not better, then he certainly can give him a run for his money every time!
Both share a genius for choosing the perfect names, and both provide social commentary and satirical wit. Both stage-manage a breathtaking cast of characters, and provide unforgettable stories. But there are differences. For one thing, I find Trollope's female characters, while still Victorian, to be far more fully developed and interesting. At times one begins to feel that the women in Dickens are either angels or demons, with some close to caricatures. Not so with Trollope. And his wit is so dry and crisp that he doesn't lapse into the preaching tone into which Dickens sometimes falls.
One couldn't find a better illustration of Trollope's considerable talents than this book. It begins simply: Auguste Melmotte has lately come to London. If one is well-born, one certainly does not wish to know this man, but one cannot afford to ignore anyone this rich, nor the daughter who is his sole heir. The vultures begin to circle, to highly entertaining effect, and we meet dozens of characters whose lives will be affected by the parvenu.
We may not be corseted, nor driving four-in-hand in the park these days, but this is still the way we live 138 years later. Money "expects money," and those who do not have money scheme to get it, some legally, some not. And as ever, greed and social climbing are the very soul of modern satire.
For those who watched the wonderful BBC miniseries with David Suchet you may find the book to be even better. It ends in a far more interesting way, I think, with all the loose ends tied up, and the characters are fully developed over the long course of the reading. Timothy West is incredible at bringing the characters to life.
"What follows is intended to show nothing in history is inevitable. Events themselves can be both cause and consequence." Richard Overy
Overy, Professor of History at the University of Exeter, brings to life a ten day period in 1939, prior to Germany's invasion of Poland. While there is nothing new here to any student of the era, what is here is presented well and in a no-nonsense manner. The book is only 120-something pages, so it makes a quick listen with no fluff. While it is more of an essay than a great work of history, it is nonetheless a valuable, thought-provoking piece of writing.
For those who are new to the study of World War II, this is a snapshot or sketch rather than a finished portrait. The narrow focus centers on the post World War I creation of the independent Polish state and issues surrounding Danzig, etc. Overy writes, "It was Poland's intransigent refusal to make any concessions to its powerful German neighbor that made war almost certain." But only "almost," in his view.
Interesting personalities abound, from Hermann Goering, whose diplomacy with the Swedes was critical, to Neville Chamberlain and his famously embarassing negotiations with Adolf Hitler, and many others. The author's views of some players may surprise the reader.
I can't say I agreed with Overy on all points, but I'm glad I listened to the book. My own views, possibly for personal reasons, are more fatalistic. World War I, and particularly Germany's not being defeated in the field, and the consequent Treaty of Versailles made war inevitable. It was not a question of "if," only of "when," that war would be.
May 22, 2013 marked the 200th anniversary of Richard Wagner's birth. Perhaps not surprisingly, the magazine Der Spiegel ran a cover on its March 30th issue featuring a portrait of Wagner holding a tiny fire-breathing dragon as if it were his pet. The headine: "Das wahnsinnige Genie," or "The Insane Genius." This was visual shorthand for the pop culture view that we already know all there is to know about Wagner, danke schön.
But what do we know, and is it even true?
Often we are reminded Wagner was Hitler's favorite composer, and his music is used as background in TV programs featuring the Third Reich. Many of Hitler's minions did not share his taste for Wagner's operas, but never mind. We are primed to imagine the horrors of that regime set to the work of one composer in particular.
Wagner was not a pleasant man. If you need to love the person to enjoy his work, this isn't the composer for you. But the personality characteristic criticized most often, Wagner's anti-Semitism, is rarely put into the context of his times and the many who sadly shared his views.
On a lighter note, jokes are made about things "Wagnerian," while brides still continue to use the march from Wagner's Lohengrin as they proceed down the aisle, and cartoons feature fat, horn-helmeted women belting out glass-shattering tunes.
So who was this Richard Wagner, and why should anyone care?
Stephen Johnson answers that question admirably and contributes a great deal to the study of classical music in this book. It will reward anyone who is interested in Wagner, of course, but also makes a valuable addition to those starting their discovery of his music.
As Johnson says, "While this book makes no effort to gloss over the less pleasant aspects of Wagner's personality and thinking, its main purpose is to show that what matters most about Wagner's work are the very aspects of his work that make it greater than the man."
Far greater than the man. Listen and see if you don't agree with him.
There is narcissism with a small "n" and there is narcissism with a capital "N" as in "Narcissistic Personality Disorder" or NPD. Our culture is one becoming ever more narcissistic in the first sense of the word. But this book is about something far more serious:
"The word narcissism in its most fundamental sense means a tendency to self-worship. For the narcissist, his excessive self-absorption is a protection against unconscious but powerful feelings of inadequacy. Seduced by the narcissist's camouflage of outer charm or confidence, you are eventually drawn into the nightmare side of this relationship. By the time you realize that something is wrong, the cumulative effects can range from bruised self-esteem to severe depression." Eleanor Payson
You're a very lucky creature if you have never been involved with someone who has NPD characteristics. But if you have, Eleanor Payson offers much to help you here. Catherine Bond Doyle's narration imbues the author's work with an additional feeling of compassion.
Updating the Greek myth of Narcissus, Payson uses the metaphor of "The Wizard of Oz," hence the title. In dealing with a narcissist, there is only one road, and that is the road that leads to them.
She introduces the book with a discussion of NPD, including variations on its definition and diagnosis, and a discussion of overt and covert types. After establishing a broad foundation, she goes on to discuss various relationships, from parent-child dynamics to narcissists in professional and social life. The section on "love" relationships --- and I use that word advisedly in this context --- is particularly enlightening.
May you find healing, comfort, and peace as you bid the Yellow Brick Road farewell.
I just finished all three volumes of the Somerset Maugham short stories from Audio Connoisseur. Each was excellent, but this collection was my favorite.
"The Outstation" is the strongest story, I think, because of the way the author develops the contrast between the two dynamic main characters without turning them into caricatures. "Mr. Know-All" and "The Three Fat Women of Antibes" are laugh-out-loud funny and satirical. All of the stories reflect the author's gift for meticulous observation, and just as often, his thinly-veiled contempt for his fellow humans!
I was never under the impression that Charlton Griffin was British, so that wasn't an issue for me. I love his voice. Even if his pronunciations are sometimes eccentric, I really do enjoy him and the way he adds sound effects and music to his productions. (If you require a British narrator, try "Rain and other Stories," another good collection of Somerset Maugham stories, narrated by Steven Crossley). It's good to have a choice of styles.
Why is this opera called "The Bat?" In a nutshell, two gentlemen, Eisenstein and Falke, in the costumes of a butterfly and a bat, respectively, attend a winter masquerade. On the way back, Eisenstein, taking advantage of Falke's inebriated state, abandons him far from his home. When he wakes up, he has to walk through the town in his bat costume, to his undying embarrassment and the amusement of his fellow citizens. Naturally, he wants to get his own back, and it is for this reason the opera is called, "The Bat."
From this simple premise, the plot becomes "maddeningly complex," as the author rightly says. There are "multilayered and omnipresent infidelities," disguises, deceptions, drinking, dancing, and entirely too much carrying on. An opera featuring "Adele's Laughing Song" should be fun!
As with so many things that seem effortless, back-breaking work goes before. While Johann Strauss II hadn't much experience writing for the theatre before he composed this, you'd never know it. He has more than a few operatic tricks up his sleeve, including the masterful use of crescendo and accelerando. The author brings attention to Strauss' use of rubato, which he refers to as "stealing time to avoid schmaltz." Some of the roles require nothing less than a virtuoso performer. But the result is accessible, light-hearted, and fun.
A bottle of champagne to David Timson for his narration, and to you should you tackle "Die Fledermaus" during this, its rightful season!
Here the multitalented Miranda Richardson performs the stories of seven operas: Mozart's "The Magic Flute," Britton's "The Little Sweep," Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel," Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman," Rossini's "La Cenerentola," Gluck's "Orpheus ed Euridice," and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Christmas Eve." It would be nice to have Shahrukh Husain's print book to go along with this, as well as some other opera-related references and photos, if possible. Overall, a valuable addition to classical music education.
If you had crossed Bizet's path in 1875, the year "Carmen" was first staged, you would have met with a plump, bespectacled Frenchman who was forever nibbling sweet delicacies. But while you might overlook this unassuming person, you could not have ignored his music.
From early childhood, Bizet possessed prodigious talent. In the Conservatoire at nine, and winning every prize going, he worked his magic on a variety of instruments. At the age of 19, he won the Prix de Rome. With innate musical taste, judgment, and imagination, he stands above his contemporaries.
As this program points out, Bizet was no "one trick pony." He'd written most of his work before anyone had heard of "Carmen," and some of this sadly neglected work deserves rediscovery and appreciation, such as his opera "The Pearl Fishers."
Harold Schonberg wrote, "Carmen is an opera of passion, power, and truth, infinitely superior to the carefully arranged, prettily served canapés of Gounod and Massenet. They were skilled professionals. Bizet was a genius."
Tchaikovsky and Brahms were fans of "Carmen," too. Wagner, having heard it, said of Bizet, "At last, for a change, someone with ideas in his head!"
All this makes it the more stunning that this perennial favorite did not meet with immediate success. "Carmen" was called "immoral," and accused of being (even worse) "Wagnerian."
In this excellent program, David Timson brings the spectacle of "Carmen" vividly to life, with reference to many important excerpts, the fast and furious scene changes demanded by the complex action, and so much more.
If you're fortunate enough to be going to see the opera or just want to understand it better while you listen at home, you can't go wrong with this exploration of "Carmen essentials."
This was the first opera I heard (at the age of nine) and it left me forever in love with opera itself. My French wasn't under firm control, and I couldn't really understand everything that was happening, but that music! I have never forgotten it. Such is the power of Bizet.
"The Picture of Dorian Gray" continues to fascinate modern readers. It has given us the image of the portrait that holds all the ill-judged actions and age of one's life. It contains a preface that says all one ever needs to know about the arts. The text is a source for many of Wilde's wittiest and most frequently quoted epigrams. But the real enchantment lies in the originality of the story.
Dorian Gray is obviously the center of interest, but I always found the characters of Basil Hallward and Henry Wotton more interesting. It is through these two that Dorian finds out who he really is. At times, one suspects there is no real Dorian, only the reflection and influence of others upon him.
It is hard not to pity the artist of the fatal portrait. Hallward feared his own destruction from his first meeting with Dorian Gray: "I knew I had come face to face with someone whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature. Something seemed to tell me that I was on the verge of a terrible crisis in my life. I had a strange feeling that Fate had in store for me exquisite joys and exquisite sorrows..." Indeed it had.
Hallward's character is disdained by many writing literary criticism of this novel, but it is he who has a depth and wisdom the others lack. For one thing, he knows all too well the truth of his statement: "We shall all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly."
I also "hate to love" Henry Wotton, who is so deliciously evil. Or at least deliciously amoral. Affecting a world-weary elegance, and as free as only the very rich can be, he is from the beginning, the man who reveals to Dorian who he really is.
Descriptions are breathtaking, revealing layer upon layer of sensual details, evocative, intense, and rich: "It seemed to him that in exquisite raiment, and to the delicate sound of flutes, the sins of the world were passing before him." The author's understanding of the theatre assures the story unfolds with perfect timing, and the dialogue is pitch-perfect throughout.
"The Picture of Dorian Gray" is one of my favorite books in the English language. It is even more delightful to hear it read aloud. Edward Petherbridge's voice and manner is as ideally suited to the book as any I could imagine. Of the many good narrations I have heard, his is without a doubt the best.
In 1860, while looking through a secondhand market, Browning found a yellow book which recounted the true life story of a murder in Rome. For many years he considered writing about it, and eventually, he did.
Martyn Wade's adaptation is impressive. Browning wrote "The Ring and the Book" as a verse novel divided into twelve books, nine of which are monologues. Interspersed with early music and well-acted by a small cast, it is a brief but intensive encapsulation of the original. Anton Lesser always intrigues me, and the supporting cast was well-chosen, too.
The little yellow book tells about Count Guido Franceschini, who murdered his wife Pompilia, and her parents, Pietro and Violante Comparini.
Violante schemes to marry Pompilia, an innocent "lily with leaf intact," to the aging count. Parents and child-bride go to live with the count in Arezzo, but soon the count throws them out. Returning to Rome, they decide they're not going to give him the rest of Pompilia's dowry. They send a letter to the count informing him Pompilia is a bastard, the result of a late-in-life dalliance of Violante. The parents keep the money, ask for the earlier installment of the dowry to be repaid, and leave their daughter in the impoverished Tuscan home of a madly jealous, sadistic husband.
Meanwhile, the count is making Pompila's life a living hell. If she so much as breathes near another man, he accuses her of being a whore, and continuously torments her with baseless accusations. He forces himself on her, and in all ways treats her shamefully. He becomes obsessed with the idea that his wife is having an affair with a priest, Father Guiseppe Caponsacchi.
When Pompilia gives birth, the count, of course, suspects the child is not his own.
"The Ring and the Book" is melodramatic, violent, and tragic. But it is also an evocative visit to a long-lost Italy, an antique legal thriller, and a strange sort of romance well worth a listen.
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