Thursday May 23, 2013


Syndicate -- Long ago there was a British miniseries about a family named the Braithwaites. The mother wins 38 million pounds in a lottery and they all try to keep it a secret. A recent miniseries, "The Syndicate," Series 1 of which is now available in a two-DVD set from Acorn Media, is about five workers in a food shop in Leeds, who have collectively won a lottery and should have kept it a secret, were it not for the condition that they had to be interviewed and publicized.

The comings and goings of the plot are so complicated and so prone to "spoilers" in a review that I best just set up the situation.

There is the manager Bob (Timothy Spall, in a radiant performance), the brothers Jamie (Matthew Lewis) and Stuart (Matthew McNulty), the beautiful Leanne (Joanna Page), and obese Denise (Lorraine Bruce). Leanne wants nothing to do with her husband who left her some time ago, while Denise wants her husband back, even if she has to undergo liposuction to do it. The first is afraid that her winnings will not bring her man back; the second prays that her winnings will bring her man back.

There is a robbery that succeeds but not enough to keep the police from being suspicious, during which Bob is badly hurt. But the hurt proves to be a blessing since it leads to his discovering. ... No, that would be a spoiler. Both Stuart and Bob have their women, the status of whom is not at first clear. Jamie is an out and out Bad One, who causes even more misery for the others and (thanks to his dealing in "gear") for himself.

Enough. What happens is believable, given the characters, and the acting is top notch. Viewers will find themselves feeling more for the innocent children than for those adults who made their beds and refuse to lie in them. I am looking forward to Series 2.

Each of the five episodes is 54 minutes long, the picture is widescreen, and (given the accents) the subtitles are most welcome.

Don Giovanni -- Having been called the greatest opera of them all, Mozart’s "Don Giovanni" has been committed to video many times. While none are completely satisfactory (and one in modern dress is absolutely over the top), several are quite good, and one of them has been reissued on an ArtHaus DVD, with a change of cover.

Here we have a notable production from Glyndebourne, England, conducted by Bernard Haitink. This 1977 performance stars Benjamin Luxon in the title role, Stafford Dean (Leporello), Horiana Branisteanu (Anna), Rachel Yakar (Elvira), Leo Goeke (Ottavio), Elizabeth Gale (Zerlina), and John Rawnsley (Masetto).

The setting and costuming seem to be from the early to mid-19th century.

The director makes use of "suspended time," that interval during which the characters on stage are expressing their opinions to themselves or to the audience and no time is supposed to be passing. On screen, we see only close-ups of the singers and dramatically it does not work.

Luxon is an imposing if not particularly charming Don, while Dean is an excellent Leporello. The relationships between all the characters seem to have been carefully worked out, and Gale gives us a very attractive Zerlina who is strongly drawn to both the Don and her fiancé. Even the chorus seems interested in what is going on, something of a rarity in modern performances of opera.

Dean’s Leporello is especially human without being comic in an exaggerated way. Elvira’s entrance song lacks some of the requisite madness the character must show. The Act I and II finales, however, are very well performed, right up to one musician in his nightgown, having been awakened to play for the Don’s late dinner. It is little details like this (with realistic scenery) that make opera believable.

"Concept" approaches (by directors who seem to hate opera), like placing the action of "Don Giovanni" in a New York ghetto or having the costumes change from Baroque to modern in the course of the production, do little to appeal to anyone except the director.

The running time is 174 minutes and the subtitles are in five languages.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.


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