DVD explains how we know what time it is



Science of Measurement -- How long is a foot? If you have a 12-inch ruler, how can you tell if it is actually and exactly one foot? What about a meter? And what about a cubit? And if you have one kilogram of something, where in the world is a standard by which your sample can be measured? And how long is an hour? (A lot shorter when making love than when sitting on a hot stove, as some wit once remarked.) Or the strength of a volt or an amp; or the brightness of a light? And so on.

"The Science of Measurement" tackles these questions in a three-part series from Athena Learning. Here Marcus du Sautoy very nicely explains the earliest attempts at answering these seemingly unanswerable questions, then he discusses into more recent attempts, and finally he arrives at the attempts at establishing measuring standards by connecting them to unchanging forces of nature.

For example, a "span" used to be the distance from a king's nose to the tip of his fingers. New king, new span. Not good. Centuries later, a bar was created to be the standard meter. Very good but not perfect. Today, certain wave lengths of light are used. Since they never change -- an assumption, come to think of it, but what can we do? -- we have a perfect measure of the meter.

At times, the technology might be a bit too much for many viewers, but all in all this is a really outstanding educational DVD. (If only they would stop showing speeded up traffic flow to suggest -- I guess -- the progress of human thought. And, please, stop with "And things were never the same"!)

Each episode is just short of an hour and the subtitles are as always most helpful. So is the booklet that Athena always includes.

Iolanthe -- Of all the productions of Gilbert and Sullivan I see on You Tube, those by the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society are consistently the best. I am trying to collect all of their DVD presentations and was most impressed by their "Iolanthe," as it was performed in July of 2012.

As always, all is quite professional. The costumes are first rate, the choreography quite amusing, and the voices not quite all operatic but perfectly capable of handling Sullivan's vocal lines and enunciating Gilbert's tricky lyrics. I was glad to learn that body miking is not used and the sound on this disc is much better than other groups' recordings.

The Nightmare song is neatly staged, with fairies propelling the Lord Chancellor's bed around the stage. And thank you, Conductor Bernard Kwiram, for letting Dave Ross sing it first at comprehensible speed and saving the unintelligible patter for an encore! Thus should all the patter songs be performed.

Alyce Rogers certainly dominates the stage as Queen of the Fairies; and I am glad that the references to Captain Shaw of the London fire department of Gilbert's day were not changed. Indeed, the Captain was brought on stage, complete with hose, to explain the joke.

Alas, the Lord Chancellor's song "When I went to the bar" is completely rewritten to no conceivable purpose. (Indeed, it is the only VIP song in G&S in which the character does not brag about how unfit he is for his high station.) Gilbert does not need improvement.

Haley Gaarde makes an attractive blonde Phyllis, while her shepherd lover Strephon is played by John Brookes, who could pass for a young Eric Idle. The small role of Private Willis is made the most of by James Caspers, with perhaps a bit too much mugging. And William J. Darkow (Mountararat) and James Walters (Tolloller) are fun as the two possible fiancés of Phyllis.

Rachel Brinn is a sympathetic Iolanthe, but I could have asked for a little more sorrow in her Act II plea to the Lord Chancellor.

All in all, the production is lively and keeps much of the magic that Sullivan put into this fabulous score.

See this company's website at www.pattersong.org for information about ordering this and other DVDs in their catalog.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays


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