Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hobson's Choice (The Ballet)

Hobson’s Choice is chiefly remembered today as a very good old (1954) movie starring Charles Laughton.  But there is also a ballet based on the same turn-of the-century play, and if you like ballet – if even if you don’t – you might seek it out.  It will open your eyes and ears.

The ballet is by David Bintley, and the music was composed by Paul Reade. The only performance that was recorded, as far as I know, is by the Birmingham Royal Ballet Company in 1992, and I believe it is available. (I taped it when it was broadcast on Bravo a long time ago.)

The story: Hobson, a bootmaker, has three daughters who run the shop under their father’s iron hand. Hobson is irresponsible and an alcoholic, and the shop survives only through the hard work of the bootmaker Will Mossop, who labors unseen and unrewarded.  Hobson dominates his daughters, for whom marriage is out of the question. But the oldest daughter, Maggie, has an independent streak, as well as an eye for Will Mossop. I will reveal no more, other than to say that the story ends happily.

The principal dancers are Michael O’Hare (Will Mossop) and Karen Donovan (Maggie), and they are excellent. Hobson is played by Desmond Kelly, a veteran dancer who is also the production’s ballet master. 

The music is beautiful. Composer Reade has chosen to interpolate an old song, Lily of Laguna, which adds greatly to a pivotal scene. The orchestrations make full use of the large Royal Ballet Orchestra; in fact, the audio quality of the recording exceeds the video quality – a reflection of the state of technology in 1992.

I know next to nothing about ballet, but I know what I like, and I like David Bintley’s ballet very much.  If you’re interested, you can sample a bit of it by searching YouTube. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Billionaire's Apprentice

The subtitle of this book gives away the content: “The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund”.  The author is Anita Raghavan, a Malaysian woman who spent 18 years with the Wall Street Journal, then became the London Bureau Chief for Forbes.  Ms. Raghavan knows her subject, and her long book smothers you with facts, mostly about the bright but opportunity-starved youths from India who, after graduating from IIT (the India Institute of Technology), trekked to the Harvard Business School or Wharton and thence to Wall Street. Now, as the book shows, they are everywhere: investment banks, hedge funds, consultants and the SEC. They are the bad guys, but they are also the good guys who catch the bad guys.

The plot centers on Raj Rajaratnam (the billionaire), a securities analyst and the founder and leader of the Galleon Fund, a hugely successful hedge fund based in New York.  The Feds, suspecting that Galleon's traders are using inside information to give them an “edge” in stock trading, slowly but methodically built their case, using “willing cooperators” (tippers and tippees who traded information for softer sentences) and court-approved telephone wire taps. Eventually the net was closed, and Raj is now in jail. 

This should have been a great summer read, with cops, robbers, sex, money, etc. There are colorful characters, a Gatsbyesque milieu with lavish parties and international travel, an obsessive chief investigator (Indian, of course), and ambitious young women who feed Raj market-moving information. Unfortunately, though Ms Raghavan is probably a great reporter, she is not a skilled writer. A good editor might have helped. As it is, the story of the chase is interrupted too often by chapters about life in India. It is a sociological tract at war with a suspense story, and the suspense story loses.

So, unless you have a voyeur’s interest in watching Raj crash and burn or a lawyer’s interest in the construction of an insider-information case, you can skip the 425-page text (plus about 70 pages of notes) and open the Complete Short Stories of Evelyn Waugh, as I just did.