This superb reading by Timothy West is marred by the fact that the last 15 chapters of the book are missing from Audible's initial posting. Phineas Finn consists of 76 chapters but as of May 2010, Audible's version had only 61 (presented in three files, lasting a total of 18 hours). It's to be hoped that Audible will quickly correct the problem as West makes a perfect reader of Trollope and this is one of the most accessible and entertaining novels in the Palliser series.
Though this recording contains another brilliant performance by James Saxon of another wonderfully-characterized Ngaio Marsh story, as of mid-November 2011, THE RECORDING STOPS TEN MINUTES TOO EARLY ... in fact, right before Inspector Alleyn announces the solution to the mystery! When Audible repairs the file, the story will be highly recommendble for Ngaio Marsh fans.
KEY: If the file runs 7 hours 24 minutes, the recording is defective. If it lasts 7 hours 33 minutes (give or take a minute) it's OK. (OPENING NIGHT on the AudioGo web site runs 7hr 33min.)
You'll note that Audible's recording listed as NIGHT AT THE VULCAN (the American title for OPENING NIGHT) read by James Saxon *does* seem to be the right length. Unfortunately the audio quality of this version is terrible, so I'd advise waiting for Audible to repair OPENING NIGHT. (Aside from technical differences, the two performances are identical, I believe.)
As to the story, OPENING NIGHT presents another homage by Ngaio Marsh to the theater - this time expressed by a more sympathetic collection of characters than in some of her other stage stories. But there are still enough vivid and annoying egoists to add edge and interest to the plot. In general, Marsh is able to evoke some of the most irritating yet nuanced characters in light fiction - and James Saxon always brings these men and women to life most masterfully.
(Rick Jerrom often does as well with individual characters, but I find his rendering of the overall narration less engaging than Saxon's. Jerrom's voice becomes quite repetitive and predictable in its cadences - and I find some of his verbal tricks distracting. Nadia May is duitiful and clear-voiced but she strikes me as much less interesting and engaging than Saxon or Jerrom, particularly in her characterizations.)
OPENING NIGHT contains a couple of nice surprises for died-in-the-wool (q.v.) Ngaio Marsh fans - including references to New Zealand and a startling reapperance by one of the fantastic Lamprey clan. If not as complex as some other stories, OPENING NIGHT remains beautifully written and is a typically charming and diverting entertainment.
(By the way, speaking of the Lampreys, it's really too bad that an unabridged audio performance of SURFEIT OF LAMPREYS, one of Marsh's most elegant and engaging books, remains mostly unvavailble. It's possible that only Stephen Thorne has ever recorded the complete book [for ISIS Audio in 1995, cassette only]. Thorne - one of the best of all British readers - does a wonderful job with SURFEIT OF LAMPREYS. [If only he didn't say "Al-LAIN" rather than "Allen" ... but, then, so does Saxon in his first Marsh recording, SCALES OF JUSTICE (Chivers 1987).] ISIS Audio should be encouraged by Marsh fans to release SURFEIT OF LAMPREYS in MP3 form. ... As to the abridged version of LAMPREYS available on Audible, read by the estimable Anton Lesser, I can only say that shortening any Ngaio Marsh story, presumably by editing out chunks of characterization, makes as much sense as shortening a Sherlock Holmes story by editing out "extraneous" interactions between Holmes and Watson. The appeal of Marsh's stories lies in her evocation of odd-ball families, atmospheres and environments The wonder of SURFEIT OF LAMPREYS rests with the extraordinary eccentricities of the Lamprey family that fill page after charming page. ... Abridgement eliminates the main reason we spend time with Ngaio Marsh's fiction.)
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