Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: The Barber of Seville

We must be getting old.

For Missus B's birthday we decided to do something different, A Night at the Opera.  Fans of the Marx Brothers (and Queen) will realize that A Day at the Races could be next...

The Dallas Opera for its spring season was rolling out Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" (only seven performances) and a chance to see almost anything at the beautiful Winspear Opera House is not to be trivialized.  This was our first encounter with baritones, mezzo-soprano's and diva's in general and it turned out to be a wonderful evening.

 "The Barber of Seville" is as much comedy as it is opera.  Before the curtain was raised we were treated to the audio from the Warner Brothers classic The Rabbit of Seville, featuring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Since the opera was being simulcast at Cowboy's Stadium, there were a few references throughout to football and one of the cast members even got an impromptu wave going during the intermission.

The orchestra was terrific and Nathan Gunn was excellent as Figaro.  He is blessed by a great voice and perfect comedic timing.  The role of Rosina was played by Isabel Leonard who has sung before audiences in New York and Munich.  They held the audience captive throughout the evening.

I would say we will look to go again, but stick to the major operas and pass on the lesser known "more difficult" works - you know the ones with the huge woman wearing the Viking helmet...

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Review - "Arsenal: The Making of a Modern Superclub" - Alex Fynn

I asked for and duly received this for Christmas.  About two-thirds of the way through reading it, I was looking through the bookshelves at home and guess what?  I found another copy!  Not only did I have it, I had already read "Arsenal: The Making of a Modern Superclub".  So either it was not very memorable first go round, or my memory is shot (after all memory is the second thing to go...).

The book is faintly memorable.  It does a fine job of digging into some of the boardroom shenanigans, especially the ouster of David Dein but sheds little light on the motives of Stan Kroenke or the other fat Russian (Arshavin was the first).  A lot of the subject matter has been well covered on the blogs such as Arseblog, A Cultured Left Foot, Arsenal News Review and the Guardian's excellent football section and is not very revealing.

I would like to have seen a little more devoted to the onfield success - what Arsenal fan cannot get enough of the Invincibles 2003-04?  But why was team broken up so quickly?  And why did Wenger take Pires off in the 2005 Champions League Final, thereby practically condemning Arsenal to a loss?

Nonetheless, it is required reading for Gooners and maybe even some ardent fans of the game would find it interesting.  I mailed my extra copy to a friend in Connecticut - a fair-weather Arsenal fan who has been making noises about transferring his allegiance to Chelsea.  I know, awful.  I am hopeful "Arsenal: The Making of a Modern Superclub" will help him keep the faith.

Grade: B-

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book Review: Alex Ferguson - My Autobiography

If Lord Wrigley's book were one of his teams, they would be a mid-table outfit with +1 goal difference and knocked out of all the cups by the quarter finals. A bit like his early MUFC teams in fact. His autobiography is middling, not a patch on the man himself or the type of performance we came to expect from Old Trafford.  His book does him and his achievements a disservice.

Now why is a die-hard lifetime fan of the Arsenal reading the words of an avowed competitor? Ah, to beat the enemy you must know him. I expect Wenger has read Fergie's book too - but he probably got even less out of it than me.

In fairness, parts of it are very good, particularly the chapters on Keane, Beckham and the two losses to Barcelona in the Champions League Finals. The sections on the media and other managers (Wenger, The Special One etc.) are interesting and reveal the side of Fergie we want to know more about.  But not nearly enough pages devoted to his early life, his playing career (he scored a lot of goals in Scotland), his success at Aberdeen, or the first few mediocre years at Man U.

He is  too effuse in praise for Giggs, Gary Neville and Scholes. Very little about the two Champions League wins. Some good parts on the way he managed certain players, especially van Nistlerooy and Rooney... but not enough on the earlier warriors like Robson, Ince, Paul McGrath. He totally glosses over the Cantona kung fu incident and gives Rio's failed drug test too many pages. Not nearly enough info on his relationship with the Glazers. Worse is the annoying habit of claiming to have spotted every talent imaginable at the age of eight... Please.

I have nothing but admiration for what he achieved. I remember when Man U were a joke: the Tommy Doherty and Ron Atkinson years. As old Rednose wrote, they only bought players who scored against them, like Alan Brazil and Gary Birtles and won nothing of note for decades. Then starting with his first Championship win in 1992, he transformed them into a world power and took them further than Busby. But his book does not bring that forth. It was rushed and too short. With a normal size font and the last 30 pages of meaningless statistics removed, it is barely 100 pages. He only retired in May, how could his autobiography be ready by October?

I would have him training with the reserves, based on this hardly definitive effort.   A grade of "C".

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Like Fairytale of New York, "Twinkle Little Christmas Lights" will one day be a Christmas classic. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Like the night before Christmas, only better...

Our Beloved Redman Mascot -
torn away by the PC Nazi's
Excitement abounds on the online message boards as the 2013-14 college basketball season is about to tip off.  There are high hopes in St. John's Redmen, I mean Red Storm land (old habits die hard...).  The Big East conference has been reshaped and those nasties from UConn and Syracuse booted out.  What is left is largely the old Big East Catholic schools: SJU, Seton Hall, Gerogetown, Providence, Marquette, Seton Hall and DePaul.  Also coming in are two Jesuit centered schools Xavier and Creighton.  The tenth member is Butler, who are agnostic except when down by seven with less than a minute to play.  Fox Sports is carrying almost all of the games to a nationwide audience. These are truly exciting times for college basketball.

Compounding the eager anticipation is the fact that the Redmen, I mean Red Storm, look very good on paper.  Leading scorer from last year, D'Angelo Harrison is back and is vowing to keep his brittle temprament in check.  Our big blocker, Obekpa is back.  Big East Rookie of the Year, Jakaar Sampson is back.  We have recruited a blue chip point guard, Rasheed Jordan (yeah, like anyone named Jordan can be any good).  We have the great names of God'sGift and Sir'Dominic coming back.  The 24 year manchild (but not yet professional, really) Dominican Sanchez has been cleared to play.  And finally, we have a redshirt transfer from Harvard with the greatest name in all of basketball: Max Hooper.  His job is to shoot threes and threes only.  The headlines will write themselves!

SJU has two exhibition games this weekend before heading west to take on the Badgers of the University of Wisconsin (preseason rank # 20) on Friday Nov 8th.  We don't need no stinkin' Badgers...

Let's hope this talented group of Redmen Johnnies can emulate the past greats of Mullin, Berry, Jackson, et al.  LET'S GO ST. JOHN'S!!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Review: Ethan Frome

An oldie but a goodie. This one and was laying around the house practically begging to be read and being more novelette than book was quickly devoured.  Written by Edith Wharton and published in 1911, it is a dark unsentimental story almost Gothic in style and set in the snow covered hills of New England.  Here, one cold winter, the narrator comes across the protagonist, the quiet, unassuming and partially crippled, Ethan Frome.  Despite pressing the townsfolk about his past, they are generally tight-lipped about what brought the middle-aged Frome to this state, other than he has endured hardship and some sort of terrible accident in his youth.

The narrator, a visitor on a work assignment, needs a daily taxi (horse and carriage) to the next village and hires Frome,  gradually befriending him.  One night, during a bad snowstorm, Frome invites the narrator into his home and there inside are two older and worn women.  From this point on, the tale switches to the third person and the details of Frome's demise and present state are revealed.  Let's just say he had women (plural) problems.   And he was weak willed.  A poor combination, exacerbated by being housebound in a long Massachusetts winter...

Edith Wharton went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1920 for The Age of Innocence.  Based on her own chequered marital history, there may well be some basis for fact in Ethan Frome.

As mentioned, Ethan Frome is a quick read but a fine book and worth seeking out.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Movie Review: Gravity

The human stars of Gravity are Sandra Bullock and George Clooney; however the real star of the show is the special effects department.  It is hard to believe the action and effects are computer generated and the filming did not actually take place in space.  We watched it in 3D and for once the 3D effects actually enhanced the film.

While we hear the voices of mission control, there are really only two characters in the movie: Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (Clooney).  The story takes place almost entirely in space and the time frame is only a few hours.  Kowalski is leading his last space shuttle expedition and Stone is on her first.  While she is on a space walk, working on the Hubble telescope and Kowalski is clowning around with a jet pack, they get news that the Russians have purposefully destroyed one of their satellites and the debris is heading their way.

From this point on, all hell breaks loose.  The space shuttle is badly damaged by the debris.  Kowalski and Stone must defy the short odds and use their experience and training (and in Stone's case, lack thereof) to survive.  There is not much of a story / plot but the action sequences are terrific and as mentioned, the effects are first rate.  Both actors are tremendous and Bullock will probably get an Oscar nomination.

Overall it is not as good as Apollo 13 (1995) and it makes you realize how brilliant the effects were (for their time) in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

I rate Gravity an A-.