Opera, An Aide De Small Talk Guide

One of my more obscure passions is opera. I know what you’re thinking, that this is a pretty weird thing for a man in his 20’s to be into, but there you have it, I am enamoured  with those foreign subsidised vowels. I’m not sure how my love of the art form came about but it is something I’ve indulged since my teens, leading my mother to be possibly the only parent ever to yell up the stairs “WILL YOU TURN DOWN THAT F***ING OPERA” to which I would invariably turn it up louder.

So here is a little look at 5 operas designed to give you something to start off with.

Pagliacci:

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Pagliacci is a fairly short Italian opera by  Ruggero Leoncavallo which premiered in Milan in May 1892. It follows the tale of the jilted clown Pagliacci and his quest for revenge on his cheating wife and her lover. As an opera in two acts the High point of the piece from my point of view, comes at the end of act one, where the great clown, upon discovering his wife’s infidelity begins preparing to take the stage for the evenings performance, it’s beautiful, haunting and really moving.

HMS Pinafore:

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H.M.S Pinafore is a comic opera in two acts by the British duo Gilbert and Sullivan. This opened at the Opera Comique and had an original run of 571 performances. The story takes place aboard the ship HMS Pinafore. The captain’s daughter, Josephine, is in love with a working class sailor, her father intends her to marry the slightly inbred First Lord of the Admiralty. She goes along with her father’s wishes, but her fiancee’s  advocacy of the equality of all man encourages Josephine to overturn conventional social orders and plans to elope with her true love Ralph. As with most Gilbert and Sullivan operas it feels like a pantomime, especially being in English. The best part from my point of view is the song He Is An Englishman, it evokes a national pride in me (even as a Welshman) and is both stirring and rousing at the same time.

Cavalleria Rusticana 

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The Cavalleria Rusticana is an opera in one act by Pietro Mascagni adapted from a play and short story written by Giovanni Verga. It premiered in Rome in 1890 and since 1893, due to its relatively short length, has been performed with the aforementioned Pagliacci. The story is a pretty simple one, a young farmer goes off to war, while he’s away his fiancee gets married to another man, he comes back and meets another woman, his married ex doesn’t like it, they begin an affair, then the cuckolded husband and the jilted rebound girl team up for revenge and like any good opera ends in tragedy. You may recongnise this particular opera from The Godfather Part Three. I think the best bit musically would actually be the Intermezzo, and the this opera was actually the first opera recording that I ever purchased on CD (the Maria Callas version).

Carmen

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Carmen is a four act opera by the French Composer Georges Bizet the opera was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 3 March 1875, the song Habanera from act 1 and the toreador Song from act 2 are among the best known of all operatic arias. The opera is written in the genre of opéra comique with musical numbers separated by dialogue. It is set in southern Spain and tells the story of the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier who is seduced by the tempestuous gypsy Carmen. José leaves his childhood sweetheart and also deserts from his military service, however he loses Carmen’s love to the toreador Escamillo, after which José  then kills her in a jealous rage. The depictions of everyday life, immorality, and lawlessness, and the tragic death of the main character on stage, broke new ground in French opera and was highly controversial at the time, however managed to draw in non french audiences and proved extremely popular outside France, a fitting legacy for Bizet, who died after the productions 33rd performance, never knowing the success it would gain.

Der Ring des Nibelungen

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 I’m cheating somewhat as Der Ring Des Nibelungen is actually a cycle of four operas composed by Richard Wagner, comprising of Das Rheingolfd, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. The plot revolves around a magic ring that grants the power to rule the world, forged by the Nibelung dwarf Alberich from gold he stole from the Rhine maidens of the river Rhine, intended to rule the feminine multiplicative power by a fearful magical act termed as ‘denial of love’. With the assistance of the god Loge, Wotan – the chief of the gods – steals the ring from Alberich, but is forced to hand it over to the giants, Fafner and Fasolt in payment for building the home of the gods, Valhalla, or they will take Freia, who provides the gods with the golden apples that keep them young. Wotan’s schemes to regain the ring, spanning generations, drive much of the action in the story. His grandson, the mortal Siegfried, wins the ring by slaying Fafner (who slew Fasolt for the ring) – as Wotan intended – but is eventually betrayed and slain as a result of the intrigues of Alberich’s son Hagen, who wants the ring. Finally, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde – Siegfried’s lover and Wotan’s daughter who lost her immortality for defying her father in an attempt to save Siegfried’s father Sigmund – returns the ring to the Rhine maidens as she commits suicide on Siegfried’s funeral pyre. Hagen is drowned as he attempts to recover the ring. In the process, the gods and Valhalla are destroyed. The musical high points of this saga are too numerous to mention, but most will be familiar with the piece the Ride of the Valkyries (of Apocalypse Now fame).

Hopefully you’ll all go out and immerse yourself in these great works of art, but at the very least I hope this little guide may come in useful if you ever need it for small talk, are dragged to one by a would be suitor or even need an answer in a pub quiz.

 

 

The A-Z Of Super Teams

The Avengers

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Marvels flagship super team formed in the 1960’s and originally comprising of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Ant-man and the Wasp, this team has gone on to produce multiple spin off titles and has run for over 50 years. Even being the focus of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Big Hero Six

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Japan’s premier superteam introduced by marvel in the 1990’s, originally comprising of Hiro, Gogo Tomago, Honey Lemon and Baymax along with X Man Sunfire and former villain Silver Samurai, this team was formed by the Japanese government to protect their shores. This title was short lived running for only 3 issues in 1997, then ressurected as a mini series in 2005 before enjoying success as an award winning Disney animation

The Champions

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In the aftermath of the Civil War II storyline, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man (Miles Morales), and Nova have left the Avengers and make plans to “put the world back together.” After recruiting The Totally Awesome Hulk, The Vision’s daughter Viv, and a time displaced cyclops, they form the Champions.

The Defenders

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Originally formed of The Incredible Hulk, Namor The Submariner and Dr Strange the team came together in order to take on lovecraftian villains the undying ones, who are hell bent (pun most defiantly intended) on taking over the earth for themselves. The defenders would enjoy a great deal of success over the years and, unlike regular superteams, would feature a rotating cast of characters depending on the mission at hand. The defenders name lives on to this day and will feature as a new television series as a joint venture between Marvel Studios and Netflix.

Excalibur

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Britain’s Premier superteam, consisting of various European and American X-men led by the mystical hero Captain Britain and his wife, the Roma Gypsy, Meggan. Conceived as a team when the X-men were missing and presumed dead, Excalibur dealt with a number of threats, including aliens, werewolves, alien werewolves and a whole series of extra-dimensional misadventures. The original series ran for 125 issues and then came back as a mini series, then another 24 issue series entitled New Excalibur, which then morphed into the Captain Britain and Mi 13 series.

Fantastic Four

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Marvels first family was arguably the beginning of the silver age of comics as far as marvel are concerned, a team made up of the Thing, The Human Torch, The Invisible Woman and the bizarrely titled Mr Fantastic (the man has an excessive amount of doctorates but whatever). The Fantastic Four have endured in comics since their development in 1961, however have not enjoyed much success in other media, with every attempt at hitting the big screen being a disaster, including one film so bad it was never released.

Guardians of the Galaxy

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There’s been more than one team to bear the name Guardians of the Galaxy, a team from the year 3000 who would sporadically appear in the pages of the Avengers, and the New team, coming in the Wake of Marvels Annihilation and Annihilation Conquest events, this version featuring Star Lord, Gamora (the deadliest woman in the galaxy) Drax The Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon and Groot (the sentient tree and Monarch of Planet X) have stared in 2 series (25 and 27 issues respectively) with a third ongoing series under way, as well as a major motion picture (with a sequel to be released next year) that many are claiming is the high point of the Marvel Cinematic universe.

Heroes For Hire

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Heroes for Hire is literally as it says on the tin, the concept started with Luke Cage the Hero For Hire, who teamed up with Iron Fist, and then various other superheroes forming heroes for hire inc.

The Invaders

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The Invaders were Marvels superteam of world war two featuring Captain America and his teenage sidekick Bucky, The original Human Torch and his teenage sidekick (sensing a pattern?) Toro, Namor The Sub Mariner, Union Jack and Spitfire. They took the fight to the axis powers and did what they could to further the allied cause, before Captain America and Bucky became frozen in the ice cold Atlantic.

Justice League

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The Justice League of America is DC’s flagship superhero team, originally formed of Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and The Martian Manhunter. The Justice League has featured almost every hero from the DC universe at some point or another. The team has enjoyed great success as a title, running almost non stop since the 1960’s, its spawned two animated tv series, various animated feature length pictures and a major motion picture is just around the corner.

Knights of Pendragon

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The team is formed to be agents of the Green Knight; a mystical entity representing the natural cycle and spiritual growth. The Knight is in ageless conflict with the Bane, an unnatural destructive force of warfare and winter, apparently led by the Red Knight, the Green Knight’s adversary. The Green Knight invests power, in the form of a possessing spirit bestowing powers, to various groups throughout British history, to protect nature; one such group were the original Knights of the Round Table; the Knights of Pendragon are a modern-day incarnation.

Legion of Superheroes

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The Legion of Super-Heroes is a fictional superhero team in the 30th and 31st centuries of the DC Comics Universe. Initially, the team was closely associated with the original Superboy, and was first portrayed as a group of time travelers who frequently visited him. In later years, the Legion’s origin and back story were fleshed out, and the group was given prominence on par with Superboy’s in a monthly comic. Eventually, Superboy was removed from the team altogether, and appeared afterwards as an occasional guest star.

Midnight Sons

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The midnight sons came together from the mystic corner of the Marvel universe, comprising of Blade, both The original and the Second Ghost Rider’s Johhny Blaze and Danny Ketch, Morbius the Living Vampire and Doctor Strange, they came together to fight threats like Vampires and Lillith the mother of demons. The team was rather short lived even though the concept was pretty cool.

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E

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The Nextwave series features a collection of minor Marvel superheroes: monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone; Monica Rambeau, the former Captain Marvel; Tabitha Smith, formerly of X-Force; Aaron Stack, the Machine Man; and new character the Captain, previously called Captain ☠☠☠☠ (the obscured words being so horrible that Captain America allegedly “beat seven shades of it out of [him]” and left him in a dumpster with a bar of soap in his mouth). These individuals are assembled by H.A.T.E., the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort, to fight Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction (U.W.M.D.s). The Nextwave team learns that H.A.T.E. is funded by the Beyond Corporation©, an organization formerly known as terrorist group S.I.L.E.N.T. As a result, the heroes leave H.A.T.E., stealing a vehicle called the Shockwave Rider. They destroy the U.W.M.D.s that the Beyond Corporation and H.A.T.E. have hidden around the United States, while being pursued by H.A.T.E. Director Dirk Anger.

Outsiders

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Originally formed by Batman The Outsiders have had three incarnations. They were founded by Batman, whose ties to the League had become strained. The Outsiders were reformed in the early 2000s by Nightwing and Arsenal after The Titans dissolved following the events of the graduation day story line, in which the heroine Donna Troy was killed by a rogue Superman android. The intention of this new team was to act as ‘hunters’, actively searching for superhuman criminals currently on the loose, rather than waiting for them to act and then responding as other super-vigilante groups often do. In its most recent formation the group’s leadership was relinquished by Nightwing to Batman, who recruited former members and newcomers. He has stated his intention to use the team as a black ops version of the Justice League, able to take the proverbial “fall” in public opinion when the League cannot. After Batman’s (apparent) death in Final Crisis, he posthumously charged Alfred Pennyworth with recruiting a new team of Outsiders for a forthcoming mission of “great importance”.

Power Pack

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Power Pack is a fictional team of comic book superheroes consisting of four young siblings who appear in books published by Marvel Comics. They were created by writer Louise Simonson and artist June Brigman and first appeared in their own series in 1984. The series lasted 62 issues. The characters have since appeared in other books. Power Pack was the first team of preteen superheroes in the Marvel Universe and the first in comics to operate without adult supervision. The title retains a cult following and in 2005 was relaunched as a title aimed at younger reader

Quantum and Woody

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Eric Henderson and Woodrow Van Chelton are adoptive brothers. After years of estrangement they are brought together by the mysterious death of their father (Woody’s foster father). They set out to find their father’s killer and, in the course of their investigation, are accidentally imbued with powers.

Runaways

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The Runaways are an interesting concept. Take the children of a group of super villains, let them inherit their superpowers, then upon discovering that their parents are murderous villains instead of doing the superhero thing and fighting them, they run away.In August 2016 Hulu ordered a pilot for a TV series based on the comic.

Suicide Squad

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Take villains and make them heroes, its a simple concept, that has made DC a fair bit of money over the last year, Suicide Squad is has been around in its current incarnation since the mid 80’s and this year has managed to become one of DC’s highest grossing cinematic releases to date.

Teen Titans

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What started out as a Justice League for teenage sidekicks has over the years evolved into one of DC’s best selling titles, spawning its own animated series and several animated features including the upcoming Justice League vs Teen Titans. Originally featuring Robin, Aqualad, Speedy and Wonder Girl the Titans have expanded to feature fan favourites such as Cyborg, Raven, Beast Boy and Starfire.

Ultimates

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The Ultimates are The Avengers, but from another universe, thats pretty much all you need to know.

V Battalion

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The group was originally a British agency formed in World War II to fight Nazis,the leader of the organization was John Watkins. However, in his superhero alter-ego, Citizen V, he was strangled to death by Baron Zemo. In time Zemo hunted down and murdered most of the original organization. Citizen V’s pregnant lover Paulette Brazee was kept in hiding to protect her and her unborn child. She would later give birth to a son named John (JJ) Watkins, Jr. In time both Paulette and JJ took up the mantle of Citizen V as well as JJ’s son John Watkins III.With the original organization destroyed, a group of Golden Age heroes choose to reconstitute the group, including Roger Aubrey (the Destroyer), Betty Barstow (Silver Scorpion), and Helmut Grueler (Iron Cross). The organization operated out of Symkaria and one of their primary missions was to hunt down Nazi war criminals. The team has constituted 2 mini series and one or two sporadic appearances over the past 20 or so years.

West Coast Avengers

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The team is founded by the Avenger Hawkeye in response to a suggestion by android and fellow Avenger the Vision, who at the time wished to expand Avengers’ influence. Hawkeye recruits Mockingbird, Wonder Man, Tigra, and War Machine, Together the team defeat a petty criminal called the Blank and later the Avengers foe Graviton. The team would later take on Henry Pym as a scientific advisor and compound manager. Due to constant in-fighting and a general lack of organization, Captain America intervenes and disbands the team. Several members of the West Coast team—including a returned Iron Man—are unhappy about the decision and leave to form another team, called Force Works.

X-men

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The X-Men were formed by Charles Xavier and his dream of peaceful coexistence between humans and the mutant race. Facing racism and fighting for survival these days the term X-Men pretty much just refers to any mutant out there, but the dream still lives on even if they fight for it. The X-men is arguably marvels biggest franchise with over 30 different ongoing titles over the last 50 years and and 9 major motion pictures (with a 10th to be released in 2017), as well as 3 pretty awesome cartoon series (with possibly the best theme tune outside of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

Young Avengers

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The Young Avengers came about after the actual avengers called it quits following the events of Avengers Disassembled. Featuring a Young Vision, the twin sons of the Scarlet Witch and (The adult) Vision, The half Skrull/ Half Kree Hulkling, and female teenage Hawkeye and a young black Captain America wannabe. They have slowly become a fan favourite, with two ongoing titles and various miniseries and one shots the Young Avengers are definitely here to stay.

Zoo Crew

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Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! (give me a break, nothing starts with z) is a DC Comics comic book about a team of funny animal superheroes called the Zoo Crew. The characters first appeared in a special insert in The New Teen Titans #16. followed by a series published from 1982 to 1983

 

 

Seeing Red (Razors) A 2000ad Review

What sounds better than making criminals pay for their crimes, by actually making them uphold the laws that they have broken? This is the concept of Red Razors. Brainwashing dangerous criminals into becoming the police force of Russia in the late 22nd century, what could go wrong?

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The series focuses on Razor’s the first of the Red Razor’s rehabilitation program, a former member of the Red Death gang, Razor’s is finally brought to Justice by Chief Judge Yeltsin, who after extensive surgery puts Razors to work cleaning up the streets of East Meg Two (the last population centre of a future Russia ravaged by nuclear war). Razors is a accompanied by his partner Ed, the talking horse.

Mark Millar (Civil War, Kick Ass) has managed to show a society that is overrun by violent crime, corruption at the highest levels, and the complete Americanisation of the world, there are lots of little nod’s and satirical references throughout, such as John Major’s Stand Up Comedy Club, the Mcburger and the Church of Elvis which left this hound dog chuckling right in the face of Armageddon and the violence that ensues, when the OAP KGB get their hands on a nuclear device supplied by a Mr Huggy Bear.

Steve Yeowell provides excellent art throughout and it really is quite well complimented by Nigel Dobbyn’s work in the second half of the book.

It was bloody, violent, shocking and managed to highlight the effects of capitalism on countries that aren’t used to such things as freedom of choice, this is why I devoured the book in one sitting and was then sad to find that that was itfor the Red Razors, hopefully one day there may be a sequel.

The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword (and Sorcery), A Look At Conan the Barbarian

Sword and sorcery as a genre is one that often gets a bad press, unless the words Tolkien or Pratchett are attached to it, but some of the best stories I have ever read have their roots in leather clad barbarians and mustachioed grand vizier with ties to some dark all powerful demon.

My all time favourite of these heroes, as you can probably guess, is Conan the Barbarian. Not the Arnold Schwarzenegger version, the original Robert E Howard version.

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Conan first appeared in a series of short stories in the pulp anthology magazine Weird Tales, the first story The Phoenix On The Sword being published in 1932, and by the time of Robert E Howard’s tragic death by suicide in 1936, a further 20 stories had been written, as well as various essays and poems.

what I loved about these stories is their timeless feel, which does come with a self contained world set before the birth of Christ, and for stories which are over 80 years old, they don’t feel it, they are well written, deep and rich and it would have been amazing if there could have been more.

Conan is one of those characters that has endured over the decades, through video games, comic books and more than one movie adaptation and now after what is probably my dozenth rereading of Robert E Howard’s version, I decided to dip my toe into the comic world of Conan and have ordered myself the first two volumes of the Chronicles of Conan, which is Dark Horse comics, reprinting Marvel’s adaptations of the original Robert E Howard stories.

I really am looking forward to it, and will let you know what I think after they arrive, and thanks to the beauty that is amazon prime, that shouldn’t be too long at all.

 

Guy Fawkes and Guy Fakes

Remember remember the Fifth of November, the gunpowder, treason and plot.Guy Fawkes

I take a lot of pride in the history of Britain, but one of the main things that baffles me is that year on year every 5th of November we celebrate the life of a terrorist…although burning his effigy isn’t exactly a glorious tribute.
In recent years Guy Fawkes has become a folk hero and his image is a used as a symbol for anti government feelings and a voice of civil discontent. Works such as Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta have romanticised Guy Fawkes as a freedom fighter trying to throw of the yoke of a totalitarian autocracy. In the Graphic Novel the eponymous V takes up the mantle of Guy Fawkes in order to overthrow a fascist dictatorship that has swamped Britain in an almost Orwellian dystopia. It is worth mentioning that one of the most prevalent images associated with Guy Fawkes now is the mask of V from V for Vendetta and is now even the symbol of online hacktivists and vigilante group Anonymous.
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But here’s the rub Guy Fawkes wasn’t actually anti government, he wasn’t even anti monarchy, he was just anti King James the 1st. The reason that Guy Fawkes chose Westminster Palace was fairly simple, firstly it was accessible from the river, secondly the labyrinth of cellars provided a decent hiding place and thirdly it was a place he knew the king would be. The initial bombing was planned for the state opening of parliament an event in public during which the king would have to be in attendance and stay for the duration. Guy Fawkes actually had a great admiration for the work of government and the only reason he was caught was that he was stupid enough to warn a member of the House of Lords about what was going to happen. And the rest is history.

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So how has Guy Fawkes gone on to become the symbol of anti government feeling? Well blowing up parliament will do that. But in this day and age Guy Fawkes is seen as the last honest man to enter parliament (a claim which I find highly insulting). I think that sometimes though it’s nice to have a reminder of what people are capable of when they are unhappy with the status quo and whilst I don’t agree with his cause and certainly don’t agree with his methods I think that Guy Fawkes does symbolise that sometimes the actions of those in charge need to be questioned and that positions of power are only as stable as the people that put them there.

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