Through the decade of the 1990's, director John Singleton was known best, of course, for 1991's Boyz N the Hood, and his 2001 companion film Baby Boy is a similarly structured urban drama involving the disadvantages and trials of African American black men in urban settings. The film is once again a challenging look at the central themes that Singleton often raises in his projects, and while critics praised his ability to maintain a realistic perspective within the genre, many black audiences were less than pleased about the stereotypical portrayals of gang-tempted blacks in predictable and disappointing situations. Many viewers agreed, however, that Singleton's film presented far more questions than answers. An interesting answer to one question was David Arnold, whose hiring to write the music for the project was considered a curious move by the fans of the composer only familiar with his small body of soundtrack work. The British composer was widely recognized as the composer of several very large-scale orchestral film scores of the 1990's in America, and the last genre that came to mind when most fans thought of Arnold was rhythm & blues. And yet, Arnold's fans should never have been surprised that he could pull it off, because his ability to adapt his talents to several different genres, whether pop, electronica, jazz, or orchestral, is well established.
The latest release in Hallé’s award winning series of recordings of works by Elgar couples his last great choral work with a fascinating collection of works which similarly remember the departed. Previous Elgar choral releases of The Dream of Gerontius (CDHLD7520), The Kingdom (HLD7526) and The Apostles (CDHLD7534) were universally acclaimed, winning numerous awards, including a Gramophone Award for each release. The largely overlooked The Spirit of England is arguably Elgar’s last great choral work. Thematically linked to The Dream of Gerontius the work sets texts from WWI poets and was premiered in sections during 1916 and 1917. In tone it is close to the melancholy of the Cello Concerto and Britten referred to its music as displaying “a personal tenderness and grief” as well as “genuine splendour”.
Despite its moronic libretto, the opera was an enormous success at its premiere in Naples in 1822, and even Bellini wrote nice things about the second-act septet. Donizetti mixes buffo and serious characters, as well as Neapolitan dialect (there are no recitatives; numbers are separated by spoken dialogue) with “pure” Italian, and the absurd plot is (sort of) held together by the clever Argilla, who under the guise of telling fortunes gains entry to people’s feelings as well as to every area of the castle. Is it a masterpiece? Even close? No, but there are niceties galore–rhythmic arias and ensembles, good (if typical) characterizations, and good tunes.