February Reviews – Lightning Round!

Tender Is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald – (no rating)
Biggest disappointment of the year so far; did not finish.
The Atlas of Beauty – Mihaela Noroc – 3 stars
An interesting library book.  Somewhat repetitive; would’ve 
preferred less social-political commentary.
Embers – Sándor Márai – 4 stars
Surprisingly great!  European history buffs will appreciate
 this ruminating novel.  Full review here.
Poetry of the First World War – ed. Marcus Clapham – 3 stars
Not an easy or pretty read, but a sobering one.  More thoughts here.
Moonflower – Jade Nicole Beals – 4 stars
 Poems of peace and introspection; this was a refreshing read.
Anthem – Ayn Rand – 2 stars
Great concept, so-so execution.  Full review here.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote – 1 star
Writing style on point, story not my cuppa.  More thoughts here.

This has not been the month for in-depth, written reviews, and I’m feeling a bit sheepish about that.  Work has been so busy; I’ve gone from one big project to the next, which is great but takes a toll on the reading energies.  Here’s to hoping March will be a little easier!

Liberty: Ayn Rand vs. Truman Capote – Episode 15

Two runaways, two worlds, and the pursuit of freedom.  This week’s episode covers Anthem and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, two American classics with surprising similarities.

Sources / Further Reading:
Biography of Ayn Rand (Gale)
Biography of Ayn Rand (Encyclopedia Britannica)
Biography of Truman Capote (Encyclopedia Britannica)
“The Legendary Friendship of Harper Lee and Truman Capote”
About Truman Capote (PBS)

Ice Skating to Classic Literature – Friday Thoughts

Medvedeva’s Anna Karenina, from an earlier competition.

I don’t usually watch a lot of TV, but that changes as soon as the Winter Olympics comes around.  It feels like the world is just a little (tiny) bit saner when the Olympics goes well, and, of course, I get a thrill out of watching skiing, snowboarding, and bobsledding, which are all pretty close to flying.

But figure skating has that extra special piece to it – the story.  This evening we watched the intense, final showdown between the top two skaters, both hailing from Russia and studying under the same coach.  Oh – and they both skated to music with a classic literature connection!  Alina Zagitova, who won gold, skated to the ballet based on Don Quixote, by composer Leon Minkus.  Evgenia Medvedeva came in a very close second place with her performance to the Anna Karenina soundtrack by Dario Marianelli.  [Marianelli is more famous for his Pride & Prejudice (2005) score.]  

There were other skaters with bookish programs, too – Cinderella and The Phantom of the Opera, to name a couple.  Needless to say, classic lit was well represented at the Olympics. 🙂

Though not from a classic book, this program was one I wanted to share.  It’s Kaori Sakamoto, skating to music from the French movie Amélie.  I haven’t watched it, but it’s lovely to see the creative and whimsical story she’s telling through her skating.  This is from an earlier competition (YouTube is pretty strict about Olympics clips):
 

Rom-Com Opera: Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore

Three years already since my last opera review?!  I feel bad about that and intend to start making it right, firstly with this review of L’Elisir d’Amore (“The Elixir of Love”) by Gaetano Donizetti, of Lucia di Lammermoor fame.

Some backstory for newer readers: I’ve been enjoying operas at the local movie theater, streamed live from the Met, since 2012.  It’s a wonderful weekend “excursion” – my cousin, also an opera fan, has joined me in the last couple of years, and I’ve succeeded in getting my sister and brother interested as well.  Tickets run around $30, but for a 2-4 hour show and the quality of the productions, you definitely get your money’s worth.  (That said, I usually only go to 2-3 per season, for budgetary reasons.)

The story of L’Elisir d’Amore is a classic love triangle – a rich, carefree lady named Adina (sung by Pretty Yende) is being aggressively wooed by an arrogant but dashing sergeant, Belcore (baritone Davide Luciano).  Meanwhile, the young peasant Nemorino (Matthew Polenzani) is also pining after Adina and will do anything to get her attention.  A traveling salesman posing as a “Dr” Dulcamara (Ildebrando D’Arcangelo) sees an opportunity to sell Nemorino his special love potion, an elixir that is guaranteed to make all the ladies fall in love with him – including, of course, Adina.

Dramatic operas are more my cup of tea, so when L’Elisir d’Amore came up, I was drawn to it mainly because I loved Donizetti’s music in Lucia. I was not disappointed – Donizetti’s elegant bel canto melodies bring a level of class to a story that is otherwise pretty cheesy.  Most casual listeners will recognize Nemorino’s aria, “Una Furtiva Lagrima,” – in fact, I’d guess it’s many opera fans’ first favorite tenor aria.  Polenzani’s rendition is not virtuosic, yet it’s quite touching, in a way that fits the character very well.

In contrast, much of the humor of the story comes from Dulcamara, and D’Arcangelo stole the show at times with his suave fast-talking (er, singing).  Yende as the lead soprano did a fine job, though I was more impressed by her acting skills as the flirty yet affectionate Adina.  She is a natural for these Live in HD shows, where the close-up camera angles capture every emotion of the performer, something opera singers of the past did not need to think about.  (It used to be that over-exaggerated facial expressions were necessary to reach far into the auditorium – now, subtlety is imperative for televised or filmed productions.)

While not my favorite opera, L’Elisir d’Amore was pretty fun for a lighthearted story, and I would be open to going to more comedies in the future.