When I first reviewed Sourcebooks Shakespeare I had not ripped into the accompanying audio CD because I wanted to give them away to my readers. Well, now that we are giving away copies to TWO readers I am free to dig in. Umm…wow. Or maybe, holy cow! Or fill in your own word for “cow”. To think I almost missed this. Let me take a moment to explain how I listen to stuff on CD these days. Regardless of the matter, I rip it into MP3, compile it all up into a single file, turn it into audiobook format, and then put it on my ipod where I most typically listen while driving. I got into this habit specifically because the ipod lets you put audiobooks (and not just any random MP3) on “faster” mode, allowing you to effectively speed read your way through a book on CD. It was with this approach that I began the King Lear CD. …and it took me about 10 seconds to turn off “faster” mode, for starters. I want to enjoy this, not merely say that I completed it. The CD ends up being something that is half lesson, half sampler, and all wonderful. There’s a very simple structure – Derek Jacobi narrates, introducing a scene from the play followed by two different versions of that same scene. At least I think it is always two, I’m not quite done yet. By description I don’t just mean he says “Ok, here’s the Scofield versus the Olivier” – that would be the sampler. It is a lesson because he explains what to listen for in each, how in the first you might hear Edgar doing a manic Poor Tom who barely prevents breaking character when he realizes he is speaking to the king, while in the second you get an Edgar who always looks to be in control of himself and is merely spouting a steady stream of gibberish. (That is my paraphrase, that is not part of the narration). I could listen to that all day. There is no confusion, none at all, with this snipping of a scene here and a scene there, without context. The narration provides perfect context, telling you what’s led up to this point, and walking you through the action that will happen. It is where he says what to listen for that the real hardcore fans in the audience might find fault, as they’d like to listen for themselves first. Not me. I’m perfectly happy to be told the differences to watch for, and then see if I can hear it in the performance. Quite honestly sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t. Jacobi may tell me that this Lear is going to speak to the storm like it’s a person standing next to him, but then when I hear that performance that’s not the thought I get at all. Walking through the scenes like this is also a great way to get a taste of productions you might not otherwise get to witness. The first Fool I ever saw was John Hurt, playing to Olivier’s Lear. Samples from that version are included, sometimes up against none other than Kenneth Branagh, playing the Fool vs Paul Scofield’s Lear. You know what? To my ear, Branagh never stood a chance. 🙂 It is easy to get confused, I have to say that. One long stream of various people doing various scenes from the play makes it hard to connect the two and say “Ok, I remember how Olivier played Lear in the first scene, now I want to compare it to the scene on the heath…” That might be easier with the original CD and the book for reference, rather than how I am doing it. [Funny aside, a coworker just came by as we wrap up our lunch hour and we got into a discussion about source material and multiple versions, and how there are some folks that will only ever love the first “version” they see, while others will seek out multiple versions and find their enjoyment in the intricate differences between the two. I played a sample of this very audio for her, explaining that even though it is an analysis of King Lear, “This is the sort of thing I listen to for fun.” You know what? It sounds 1000x better on my headphones than in the car, I may have to switch my listening style…] Anyway, wrapping it up. This is just wonderful, wonderful stuff. I’d like the entire canon like this, please. I want more than 2 examples of each, I want half a dozen. I want a web site where they’re all indexed so I can pick and choose, a virtual Build-a-Lear Workshop (I just thought of that! :)) where I can piece together some Olivier, some Scofield, some McKellen… Don’t forget, we’re giving away two copies, so what are you waiting for?