Tag Archives: Review

A night out at Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast

Last night, we started off our family’s indulgent 3 musicals in 2 weeks program!  We have planned to see Beauty and the Beast in Perth,  My Fair Lady in Sydney and Wicked in Melbourne.  A bit indulgent, but we love our musicals 🙂

And so we braved the cold and wet to drive to Subi last night with the kids.   They were quite excited about going to see a musical again and had even watched the Beauty and the Beast on DVD in the last few days.   It’s definitely a clever choice by Playlovers to put on Beauty and the Beast – a musical that appeals to kids and all ages, across the school holidays, recognisable tunes and a very popular movie to back it.

Playlovers is a local theatre production company who have been producing plays and musicals for 50 years.  They are an amateur group in the sense that the performers do not get paid.  However, much time, organisation and money is required to put on large productions, especially with rights, venue, costumes, stage, props and promotion and musos (yes – I believe the orchestra gets paid but the singers and actors on stage don’t – sounds wierd doesn’t it).

The leads were great!  It must be so hard to characterise an over the top, one dimensional, animated character, especially when much of the audience is familiar with the movie roles.  Standouts for me included Belle (beautiful voice) and Lefou (yes, over the top, but that’s what the movie character is like).

We had pretty good seats towards the front half of the hall.  Unfortunately I struggled through the night to hear the dialogue and singing.  A lot of the singing seemed to have too much mid range, making Belle sound like she’s singing through a telephone/radio type effect.  She sounded like she has a beautiful silky voice but it didn’t come out that way through the speakers.  About half way through the first half, it seemed to be a bit louder, but could still be improved.   Also in general, the orchestra was too loud in the mix.  Either they need to be turned down, or actually play softer when there is singing and dialogue on stage.  In the scene when Gaston is scheming in the pub, I couldn’t make out a single word 😦

It was great to see professional quality sets and costumes (although I’m sure at a large cost to the production company).   However, some of the scene changes could’ve been smoother, especially at the end after the Beast is injured fighting with Gaston – it detracted from the whole pace of the story as we waited for sets to get into place.  Talking about this with Wifey, I don’t think it’s the stage crews fault as the actual set mechanics worked fine and smoothly – I wonder if it’s partly a problem of trying to adapt a screen movie to the stage.  The stage adaptation can’t have as many scene changes as the movie as it would be impractical.  But then again, perhaps it needed a really clever solution.   One Disney stage production that I was most impressed with was the Aladdin show at the California Adventure theme park in Disneyland.  That was a truly slick production – but they’ve also had years to refine it and a much larger budget I’m sure!

Which makes me remember, although the ticket price is not small, this really is an amateur production.  It must be an extremely special opportunity to take part in a production like this – a chance that not many amateurs would have, especially if groups like Playlovers and other groups in Perth weren’t around.  I love the fact that the cast aren’t doing it for money, but because they want to (either for exposure, experience, fun or the love of it I’m guessing).  It reminds me of where I am in with my music having a full time job in the IT industry.

Well, it’s put me back in the musicals mood.  Can’t wait for My Fair Lady and Wicked next week!

Some entertaining community reviews here:  http://www.theatre.asn.au/theatre_reviews/beauty_and_the_beast_at_playlovers_regal_theatre

Playlovers info here: http://www.playlovers.org.au/beauty_beast.htm

And tickets to the show can be bought through Ticketek here, http://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=BEAUTYBE08.  Be quick though, the last show is this Saturday.

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Review: AirPort Express

A few years ago, I made myself a mini project to try and convert all our CDs into a digital format, like mp3s.  Why?  Imagine having all your music accessible immediately, at your fingers, never having to find a CD again.  It was a nice dream and I got part of the way there.

So, fast forward to today – I have gigs of music stored on some external hard drives.  But what now?

Listen to them on my laptop or through headphones on my laptop?  That’s not I wanted either.

I want to be able to listen to my music on my home stereo!!  But how?

There are many products and solutions out there that try to solve this problem.  For Father’s Day, I was fortunate enough to receive (with a little hint), an Apple AirPort Express!  Yep, no socks or ties – a piece of technology – w00t!!

Unboxing the AirPort Express
Unboxing the AirPort Express

The AirPort Express is a little box sold by Apple.  But what does it do?  Many things, but the thing that attracted me was that it basically is a “remote” speaker for your computer.  I’ve put it near my amp, and plugged the audio out of the AirPort Express into the stereo.  Then, by the magic of iTunes, wifi and some Apple technologies, it appears in iTunes as a “remote” speaker that I can output music to.  You’ll read that it enables you to “stream” audio from iTunes to an amp or speakers connected to the AirPort Express.

So, now I can play all my music that is on my laptop, and the sound comes out of my home stereo.  Not bad 🙂  Works fine as long as I want to control my music from my laptop/computer.

So here are some thoughts:

It’s SMALL!  Yes, upon unboxing the AirPort Express, I was surprised by how small it is.  It’s basically the same size as the power adapter for a MacBook.  Cool.

The AirPort Express
The AirPort Express

It looks SIMPLE!  It follows Apple’s simple yet stylish design philosophies that drive the iPod, MacBooks, etc.  I like how it’s white and smooth.  I like the power plug IS the device.  No extra wires to contend with.  I like the absence of buttons so I can leave it behind my stereo without needing to fiddle with it.  All the configuration is done remotely on a laptop (but see below for some problems I ran into).

It does so many things!  Too many maybe.  Via software that you run on your laptop/computer, you can configure the AirPort Express to be:

  • A wireless bridge – if you want to connect wired ethernet devices to a wireless network.  I could’ve connected the Tivo into this maybe.
  • A wireless access point – if you want to add wireless capabilities to your network.  I didn’t need this as I already have a wireless router.
  • A print server – if you want to connect your printer directly on the network.  Would be good if you want to share a printer between multiple computers.  I might try this one day as we currently share a single USB cable.
  • A set of remote speakers for iTunes – if you want to be able to play music in iTunes and get the sound to be output via the audio jacks
Ports at the back
Ports at the back

I like the selection of jacks (ethernet if you want it to be wireless bridge, or a wireless access point), USB and analog stereo or digital stereo.

I like how you can decide whether it should join your existing wireless network or set up its own.

I would have liked an RCA plug and digital connection to be included.  I have optical inputs in my amp, but I now have to buy a separate cable.

I did run into a problem in setting it up though.  When I used the AirPort Utility on my Dell, it could not connect to the AirPort Express.  I didn’t bother investigating much, because wifey has a MacBook, and it worked perfectly on there.

Also, I’m now frustrated that iTunes is the only officially supported player.  I use Foobar2000 and Media Monkey to organise and play my music on the laptop.  With a bit of Googling, I’ve found these two things that could help:

  • AirFoil – http://rogueamoeba.com/airfoil/ – exposes the AirPort Express as a sound output to Windows, basically allowing you to output all sound/music from Windows and Windows applications to the AirPort Express.  Neat 😉  I guess I could even play games and hear the sound through the AirPort Express 🙂
  • AirPort Express remote speaker plugin for MediaMonkey – http://emilles.dyndns.org/software/out_apx.html – let’s MediaMonkey output its audio to the AirPort Express.

The main drawbacks I see to the AirPort Express is that the music has to be controlled through a computer.  What if I turn off my laptop?  What if I’m sitting in front of the stereo and want to play something?  I’m lucky for now that the laptop is in the same room as the stereo, but if they’re not, then what?

Luckily I’ve also setup my laptop as a Media Server for my PS3, but that’s a story for another time…

A night out with ACO

ACO Vivacious - Alina Ibragimova
ACO Vivacious - Alina Ibragimova

Due to some great friends and some luck, we were able to secure two great seats to the ACO Vivacious concert last night.  I was really looking forward to this concert as I hadn’t heard the ACO for a while,  there seems to be great reviews for the guest musical director and I was keen to compare the Four Seasons to a recent concert of it I heard in Venice itself.

Alina Ibragimova was the guest director and lead violinist for this concert season, and as soon as she walked on, I’m sure she already caught the attention of every (unfortunately probably 40+ year old) male in the Perth Concert Hall.  I was wondering how someone with her petite stature, cute face, funky hair and tender age of 23 (10 years younger than me!) could command a group like the ACO.  But she immediately impressed me from the first movement of Bach’s The Art of Fugue.  ACO was amazing yet again – the first movement was played without vibrato, but the intonation was perfect and the tone and interpretation extremely delicate, too delicate.

I was wondering how ACO would fare alternating movement’s of the Bach with Signs, Games and Messages by Gyorgy Kurtag.  I imagine it would be hard to context switch between the different styles, but I think it was an interesting experiment in the end – it even made some of the Bach sound foreign at times.   There were some great thoughtful and well executed solos and chamber playing from ACO.  The last piece of the first half was what I’d term “difficult listening”.  I could sense unease in some of the audience around me, and I was wondering what they must be thinking about of the three pieces from the Lyric Suite by Alban Berg.  Luckily, the amazing execution by ACO kept me engaged throughout.  Not being familiar with the piece at all, I’m not sure if it worked out well – especially the third (?) movement which was extremely complicated and all over the place.  I was laughing on the inside because they could have all been out of time with each other or lost, but I don’t think anyone would know, because they all ended together – just like true professionals.  Judging from the expressions of some of the players as they walked off the stage after that piece, I’m sure some things didn’t go quite to plan.  (Note to all performers – even though you may have finished “playing” the piece, you’re still “performing” until you’re out of sight of the audience!!!)

The Four Seasons was what featured in the second half and I think this was the reason why the Perth Concert Hall was sold out, up to its upper gallery, and why many proud parents had brought their musical genius wannabe kids.  Again, Alina’s and ACO’s execution was extremely delicate and precise.  Was it fresh?  Yes – it definitely was not the boring/usual interpretation and my wifey commented later how liberating it must be to be able to get to a stage of your playing and career where you CAN experiment like this.  At which I replied, there’s nothing stopping amateurs doing that anyway!    Was it authentic?  I don’t know – but does it matter anymore?  However, I am not totally convinced of the ACO performance – some of it was TOO liberally interpreted in my opinion, especially in Autumn.  I wonder if people go out of their way to pull the music in different directions, just to be different, just because they can.   I guess ACO didn’t claim to deliver an authentic performance, but a fresh one, so they achieved what they wanted and I wasn’t bored but wondering how they were going to play the next bit.

At times, I felt Alina’s playing was a little too introverted and chamber like (sometimes playing into her stand instead of to the audience), which would be OK in a smaller room, but at times in the Perth Concert Hall, she was slightly drowned out by the other ACO players.  But I loved the use and non-use of vibrato for effect, the variation in bow speed in long notes, the use of dynamics in ways I hadn’t heard before for the Four Seasons.  The sul ponticello in Winter seems to be the “fashion” lately as Interpreti Venezia did exactly the same when we saw them in Venice.  Alina’s execution of the fast runs were energetic, but didn’t some fast passages didn’t seem as clear as Carmignola’s playing (but that is a studio recording).

So, in the end, a satisfying and inspirational night out, confirming that Australia really has one of the top ensembles in the world in the ACO.  ACO seem too perfect at times, so it was refreshing to see Alina walk into the wrong door when exiting the stage after the first half, and (distracting and unfortunate!) to see her have problems with her music page turn over (due to Perth Concert Hall’s airconditioning breeze I think?) – yes they are human!  Actually, I found that the time when her music did turn over and she had to play from memory was the time when her playing and performance was liberated the most.  Oh how I wish I could be good enough to play with them one day.

As for Perth audiences – I know it’s winter season, and many people do try to hold their coughs until between movements, but even that because annoying or disrupting – when the performers (ACO) have to wait before starting the next movement because people are still coughing = BAD.   Why don’t the venues offer free cough lollies (without crinkly wrapping)?  Wouldn’t this help?  And please, please, don’t unwrap crinkly cough lollies in the slowest quietest movements.   The quieter you try to unwrap it, the longer it takes, the more agonizing it is for those around you!

Funnily, I decided to wear jeans and a shirt to the concert thinking ACO is meant to be fresh, vibrant, youthful… but I felt quite underdressed with most of the patrons being older and in suits/jackets.  Even with snazzier photographs/posters/brochures and better online presence (see ACO’s blog here), I wonder if classical music will ever be more accessible to the younger generations.   And why do Perth audiences feel the need to rush out as soon as a concert is over?  The last ACO member hadn’t even left the stage yet and people were up on their feet trying to get to their car to beat the Perth “traffic”.

Review: BH Photo Video

My new toy finally arrived!  But what a journey!

After toying between the Nikon 18-200 VR and the Nikon 17-55 f/2.8, I decided that I’d make more use of the 17-55 f/2.8, especially since I love low light photography and minimal depth of field.  I know the VR would also help in low light in certain situations, but VR doesn’t help stop a moving object.   I know both of these are expensive purchases – but I’m considering this my belated birthday present to myself 🙂  (plus I don’t really go out drinking or gambling hahahaha!)

So my next decision was – where to buy this lens from?  As in my earlier post, price is a huge factor for me.  I really can’t bear to pay the retail store price in Australia.  So I went comparing online.  Here is a snapshot of prices (all prices in Australian Dollars except otherwise marked):

  • Dirt Cheap Cameras $1999 (product link)
  • Cheaptronics $1579 + $16.80 postage (product link)
  • Local Camera House ~$2200 (before bargaining)
  • Cameraland Camera House $2199, $1999 duty free (product link)
  • Digital Rev eBay $1480 + $79 postage + 10% GST = $1707 (Gray Market!) (product link)
  • BH Photo Video US$1199  + US$49.60 = $1262 + $52.21 (on 9/July/2008) + 10% GST = $1440 (USA & Worldwide Warranty – not Gray Market!) (product link)

I suspect the Cheaptronics lens is a Gray market one.   So looking at the above prices, with the Australian dollar at an all time high, it’s clear that buying from B&H Photo Video is a no brainer!

The only hassle is the time – it took just over a week until it was attempted to be delivered, but in the end I drove to the depot to pick it up myself.  Spent 10 minutes trying to find the darn building as there was no clear UPS sign out the front (there will be next week apparently!).

So how was the experience through BH Photo Video?  Good – I have nothing to complain about.  The order was processed quickly, and once my credit card went through, it was shipped almost immediately.  I can’t complain about the price.  Haven’t really used the customer service as I haven’t had to.  The site is extensive with a huge number of photography products being sold.   I can track my package electronically through UPS.  All good!

My only complaint is that they would only allow me to ship to my personal/home address and not to my work address.

Now to sell my 18-70 kit lens 🙂

Review: DigitalRev eBay

Since becoming more interested in photography a few years ago, I have started buying more and more toys.   Prices in stores in Australia have always been too high for me.  I used to buy gear from Cathay Photo on trips to Singapore.  However, this didn’t happen that often and usually meant I didn’t get Australian warranty.

And so I stumbled across eBay shops one day, and DigitalRev, in particular.  DigitalRev (http://www.digitalrev.com) is one of the online eBay shops specialising in photography gear.  I was attracted to the fact that since it’s on eBay, I could read reviews of previous transactions and I could use any protection provided by eBay for my purchases.  These definitely helped me decide on DigitalRev as one of the first eBay shops I’d try.

So how does it work?

1) I assume you’re signed up for eBay – if not, sign up
2) You buy your gear from DigitalRev through eBay using “Buy It Now”
3) You pay for it through eBay (I like PayPal for the protection)
4) Once they receive and acknowledge payment, they’ll send it to you
5) Then you wait patiently for a week for it to turn up 🙂

DigitalRev seems to be one of the more reliable and better rated stores on eBay.  It has a great range, their prices are competitive and I have had pretty quick responses from them.  I can also vouch that their return process works too (see below).  You don’t really have to worry about them not sending you your item as there is eBay buyer’s protection and they wouldn’t want negative feedback anyway!

I’ve since purchased many lenses and camera bodies from DigitalRev and been very happy with the results.  The main reason I like DigitalRev and eBay shops is the price – it’s much cheaper than buying gear from a store here in Australia.  Also, there’s more range and there’s no salesman forcing you into a purchase.

However, buying online means you don’t get the gear straight away.  So if you really need it for a client job, you either have to plan ahead or buy it from a local store.

Also, the lenses that DigitalRev are not covered with an official manufacturer’s warranty as they are “grey market lenses” (see this blog for a good description – http://jimdoty.com/Tips/Equipment/gray_market/gray_market.html).  What this means is it’s not distributed through the official local channels and doesn’t come with local manufacturer’s warranty.  You’re basically bypassing the Nikon Australia and Australian store markups.  What DigitalRev does is provide a dealer’s warranty.   So, if something goes wrong, they will replace it for you themselves.  DigitalRev will even reimburse you for postage.    But in the end, a similar arrangement to when I used to buy gear from Singapore.  If something went wrong, I knew I’d probably have to send it back to Singapore.

Be aware, that if buying things over AUD$1000, the item may be stopped at customs at which you have to pay GST on it to collect it.

For us in Australia, DigitalRev has an Australian agent – basically, someone in Australia that you can return the faulty equipment to and they’ll arrange a replacement for you (presumably from Hong Kong).  When I bought my Nikon D80, I found a stuck pixel on the LCD at the back – I shipped it to the Australian agent and they arranged a replacement for me.  I got it the new one within a week.  There is much talk on the net about whether it’s a good idea or not to buy precision optics with this type of warranty/service.

I don’t think there’s a single answer for everyone, it really depends on your situation and budget and how much risk you can afford.  For me, being a hobby and price being everything, saving the money was the priority and luckily I haven’t had any problems.  I’ve recommended DigitalRev to a few friends and they’ve had no problems either.

That said, I bought my latest toy from B&H Photo Video, for even cheaper than DigitalRev and it’s NOT grey market!  But that’s another story..