The Off-Topic Chat Thread (2023 onwards)

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Derek McGovern

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Feb 4, 2023, 1:30:37 AM2/4/23
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Please use this discussion thread for any posts not directly related to Mario Lanza.

Derek McGovern

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Jul 15, 2023, 12:15:06 AM7/15/23
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I see that Andrea Bocelli has just released, of all things, a complete recording of Verdi's Otello. Samples can be heard here:


Ironically, the conductor is Steven Mercurio---the same luminary who claimed some years back that Lanza's voice wasn't big enough to be heard in a decent-sized theatre!   

Steff Walzinger

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Jul 15, 2023, 4:03:37 AM7/15/23
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Hi Derek,

Povero Maestro Giuseppe Verdi!

I see that  Bocelli posted the following on his FB-site yesterday:
"It was Luciano Pavarotti who encouraged me to reflect on the unique nature of this masterpiece. We were at his house, discussing vocal technique and interpretation, and he remarked that a tenor will never feel truly satisfied until he has sung Rigoletto, and especially Othello."

That says a lot about Boccelli's ambition! However, Pavarotti's voice was not made for "Otello," and Boccelli's certainly isn't either. So why trying to sing something with might and main that is just not suitable for one's voice? (I think Otello is certainly one of the most demanding roles for a tenor - and performed on stage even more).

After listening to a few seconds of Boccelli's recording (the love duet "Già nella notte densa") I feel the need to dig out the great recording of Plácido Domingo (with Katja Ricciarelli and Justino Diaz,  conducted by Lorin Maazel,  Orchestra of La Scala, Milan). That's how a real Otello has to sound like!

Boccelli's voice is toneless and colourless, there's no passion or sensitivity in his singing whatsoever (which one actually would particularly expect from a singer who is blind and therefore uses and depends on other special senses more intensely). To me it is just a singing of notes, not an "inspiriting" of them.

I wonder what comes next? According to Pavarotti's statement it might be "Rigoletto." "Questa o quell' aria,  per me pari sono a cantar." (Mi scusa, Signore Piave!).

Steff


Armando Cesari

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Jul 15, 2023, 5:07:03 PM7/15/23
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Bocelli as Otello? That’s the equivalent of the frog blowing itself up to try and resemble the bull.

Armando


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Andrew Bain

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Jul 15, 2023, 7:14:38 PM7/15/23
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Shame this group is so unkind

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Derek McGovern

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Jul 16, 2023, 6:18:46 AM7/16/23
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Andrew: Have you actually listened to any of those extracts I posted from the Bocelli Otello recording? Whoever encouraged him to release this is as cynical as RCA was in releasing the infamous Lanza on Broadway album. 

Bocelli does not have a true operatic voice. He should not be singing Rodolfo in Boheme, let alone Otello. There is ample evidence from those who have heard singing the likes of Werther in an unmiked venue that, regardless of how he was singing, he simply does not have the ability to project his voice across an orchestra.  

I think he has a very pleasant voice for popular fare, but he is completely out of his league here, and people should not be criticised as "unkind" for pointing that out. The same would be true if---heaven help us---Josh Groban were to sing Iago.

In any event, the reactions from those on a popular operatic forum I subscribe to have been far more critical than anything written here. This just in from a well-known vocal coach and professional music director:

I have to say - wow - what the hell has happened to his voice? I seem to remember that when his first recordings came out in the mid 90's, he at least had something to sing about. Maybe he was always better suited for lighter music and the pop-ish stuff like Con te partiro, etc, but it did seem like a decent sound at least. 

But oh, the pushed sound here, the tortured distorted vowels, the overly bright placement, etc. I have no other way to describe this other than ugly. And I'm only essentially talking about a line of lower mid-range Gb's. I'm not even going to try to listen to anything above the staff. 

I'm actually a bit surprised at the extent of the dreadfulness. And I take no pleasure in saying that. [...] But this is torture. And it really makes me feel awful. 
  

Derek McGovern

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Jul 16, 2023, 7:54:23 AM7/16/23
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Just to clarify: The vocal coach I quoted in the post above was responding to Bocelli's singing in the opening passages of "Gia' della notte densa." He gave up listening after a few minutes.

Actually, the most brutal putdown of Bocelli I've read was certainly not by anyone here; it was by the late, great baritone Dmitri Hvorostovky. This is from a 2008 post of mine after I'd read an interview with Hvorostovsky:

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who's made no bones about his irritation at
Bocelli's enormous popularity in the United States. To those who
acclaim Bocelli as one of the great singers, he says, "That's like
saying the best cuisine in the world is chewing gum." 

Ouch!!   

Steff Walzinger

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Jul 16, 2023, 8:48:48 AM7/16/23
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Hi Derek,
Wow, that is some statement of a world class OPERA singer like Hvorostovsky! I like people who are outspoken and get to the point with only a few simple words and figuratively spoken too (and his comment matches quite well with Armando's short and crisp remark).

Yes, I, too, saw many - or should I say almost only - devastating comments on Boccelli's latest endeavour.  

Actually, I wonder, what audience he wants to address, attract and interest with a complete Otello recording (incidentally, what label is behind this release? I understand he is under contract with Decca?). Opera lovers, connoisseurs and experts will not bother and not take this as, let's call it, "serious art", and people who love Boccelli as a singer of popular stuff, will not listen to heavy opera music - maybe only to single arias, such as the old-time classic "Nessun Dorma," but certainly not "Otello" in its entirety (with "Carmen" it might be a little different).
It just does not make sense. It will certainly not become a best selling album, but it keeps the "Boccelli-family-promoting-machinery" going. Boccelli's blindness is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it is a disability, that I wish nobody to experiment, but on the other hand it has been an extreme career booster for him. One can read it again and again on different places, that without his blindness (and the support of some famous singers as a plus) nobody would bother for him. This Wow-Effect ("Wow, this blind singer made it!"), is his greatest capital.

On a last note, about Mario it was sometimes said that he only had a microphone voice, enlarged and enhanced by studio technique. Well, in Boccelli's case apparently not even technique could help. 
Steff

Derek McGovern

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Jul 16, 2023, 10:51:31 AM7/16/23
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Steff: At this stage, it's not 100% clear who is releasing this recording. The only promotion for it so far has been on Opera Wire in this grammatically inaccurate and typo-ridden press release and on Bocelli's Facebook page. 

Yes, Bocelli is a Decca artist, but Decca's own web site says nothing about this release. Also, Bocelli is performing in Lourdes today, and I understand that there has been no mention of this release in the publicity for that event either. 

Regardless of the apparent mystery surrounding this recording,  it's only one of many complete operas that Bocelli has recorded, so presumably his innumerable fans are buying these recordings. To date, he has recorded "Aida," “Turandot,” “Manon Lescaut,” “Roméo et Juliette,” “Andrea Chénier,” “Carmen,” “Cavalleria Rusticana,” “Pagliacci,” “Il Trovatore,” “Werther,” “Tosca,” and “La Bohème.” He's also scheduled to record "Lucia di Lammermoor" and "La Forza del Destino."

Derek

Steff Walzinger

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Jul 18, 2023, 6:50:50 PM7/18/23
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Hi Derek,
On another note,  absurd things can be found everywhere:


The listing lacks any logic.

Steff


Tony Partington

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Jul 19, 2023, 2:16:29 AM7/19/23
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Wow! That's really quite something. Perhaps we should perceive this as the "lyric" interpretation of OTELLO. As for the opera itself; it is my favorite of Verdi's works and, at last count, I have about fifteen different recordings (both studio and live) of the opera in our music library, and the artists singing the title role range from Nicolo Fusati (La Scala 1932) to Nicola Martinucci (Barcelona 1996) as well as the usual suspects: Domingo (4 recordings), Vickers (3 recordings), McCracken (2 recordings), Vinay (3 performances), Giacomini, etc. My point is, there are many different interpretations of the Moor. My father played Iago to Canada Lee's Othello back in the 1940s after he returned from the war. According to some who saw both Canada Lee and Paul Robeson in the role, Canada Lee's performance eclipsed that of Robeson's. My first live performance  of Othello was at the Met in 1980. Othello was Jon Vickers. His voice is not an "Italiante" voice by any means. But my God, what he did with that role. He was frightening. To me that is not just great singing it was great acting, great theatre! Could Lanza have sung Otello? Probably. Would it have been the deep artistic interpretation of a Vickers? Absolutely not. I don't think Mario had that much interest in plumbing artistic depths. To some degree yes. But I have no illusion of Mario being any sort of deep thinking intellectual like Vickers. My personal opinion is that Mario fell in love with Othello, as any tenor would, and he was lucky enough to perform, very successfully, two powerful scenes from the opera with two capable and sympathetic conductors helping him along (I don't think of the Celanese performances of Otello as anything more than an oddity). Don't get me wrong! I love Mario's Otello recordings. The duet with Albanese is a favorite of mine to play for opera "expert" friends. Every time I've played that recording, the listeners, who did not know the Lanza voice before, come away with a whole new perspective and respect. I can tell you though that I did speak with Maestro Callinicos, when I studied with him, about Mario and the role of Otello. What I remember clearly is that he said Mario had an Otello in him, but he was not ready at the time of his death. I'm guessing Costa meant artistically and discipline wise. That's nothing new though. I think he was right. It's a very different thing to sing a complete role compared to recording or filming a scene. Mario was 38 when he died. If he had stayed sober and healthy - and really gotten himself together - he probably would have sung Otello when he was 40. Just my opinion. And oh my, what of Andrea Bocelli's Otello??? Well, let's just say I shan't be asking for it for Christmas. Ciao all! - Tony

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Tony Partington

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Jul 19, 2023, 2:28:47 AM7/19/23
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By the way, I noticed that Bocelli is producing the OTELLO recording. Not sure of label or availability worldwide. It also is not listed on Amazon. At least not in the U.S.

Steff Walzinger

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Jul 22, 2023, 5:07:47 AM7/22/23
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Hi Tony,

It is not available on German Amazon either. I could not figure out the label. Bocelli's last complete opera album was "Aida" in 2016 and it was with Decca. "Otello" seems not to be released under this label. I am not even sure if the album will be released on CD. It just appears to me that it is only available at Apple Music Classical. Otherwise it would already be offered for (pre-) order on Amazon, wouldn't it?

Steff

Derek McGovern

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Jul 22, 2023, 7:06:12 AM7/22/23
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Hi Steff and Tony,

According to All Music, the Bocelli Otello is a Decca release, but who knows. After all, the same site previously had it listed as being available for digital download on August 4, 2034! 


Screenshot (2131).png


Cheers,
Derek

Derek McGovern

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Aug 16, 2023, 11:58:06 AM8/16/23
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I see that soprano Renata Scotto has died at the age of 89. She was certainly a compelling performer, even when she was in vocal decline from the late 1970s onwards. I often thought of her as a kind of Italian Maria Callas, and I particularly liked her 1977 recording of Puccini's Il Tabarro with Domingo. 

The New York Times has published an unusually long and interesting obituary for her:


Renata Scotto, the firebrand Italian soprano and Metropolitan Opera favorite who was acclaimed for her acting and insights into opera characters as much as for her voice, died on Wednesday in Savona, Italy. She was 89.

Her son, Filippo Anselmi, confirmed her death in a telephone interview. He did not specify a cause.

At her best, in roles like Puccini’s Cio-Cio San in “Madama Butterfly” and Mimì in “La Bohème,” Verdi’s Violetta in “La Traviata” and Bellini’s “Norma,” Ms. Scotto achieved a dramatic intensity that electrified audiences and elicited the highest praise from her fellow opera stars. “Renata is the closest I have ever worked with a real singing actress,” the tenor Plácido Domingo said in The New York Times Magazine in 1978. “There is an emphasis, a feeling she puts behind every word she interprets.”

Vocally, Ms. Scotto could not match the sensuousness of Renata Tebaldi or the astonishing technique and range of Joan Sutherland. And miscues on high notes could mar her exquisitely shaped phrases.

But Ms. Scotto’s charisma and stage presence made critics overlook her shortcomings. “Her voice may be a bit hard, and seldom does she get through an aria without some kind of vocal flaw, but the important thing is that when she sings, a sensitive mind is at work and a powerful personality comes through,” The New York Times chief music critic, Harold C. Schonberg, wrote in a review of a Scotto recital at Carnegie Hall in 1973.

Ms. Scotto long reigned as one of the most popular sopranos at the Metropolitan Opera. Between 1965 and 1987, she delivered more than 300 performances in 26 roles at the Met. Her stage appearances then tapered off until her retirement in 2002.

Armed with self-confidence, the diminutive soprano jousted with giants of the opera world, including the general managers of Milan’s La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera and renowned conductors who took issue with her interpretations. “In opera, the singer comes before everything,” she said in a 1972 interview with The Times. “Many times I have had discussions, sometimes fights, and always I win.”

She was equally demanding of her colleagues onstage.

In a 1963 performance of Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” in Bergamo, Italy, the tenor Giuseppe di Stefano left her in the middle of a duet to eat an apple in the wings and Ms. Scotto slapped him across the face when he returned. (The scene called for only a pinch on the cheek and the tenor’s shocked reaction alerted the audience that something was amiss.) 

In another incident, Ms. Scotto unleashed a verbal barrage at Luciano Pavarotti for pushing her and other cast members aside to take unscripted solo calls during and after a performance of Ponchielli’s “La Gioconda” at the San Francisco Opera in 1976.

Yet Ms. Scotto’s combination of talent and hard work drew admiration from fellow singers. “She’s unique in vocal coloration,” the baritone Sherrill Milnes told The New York Times Magazine. “Even if you don’t understand the language, you feel it. She will also sacrifice vocal beauty to get the word or the emotional intention across.”

Renata Scotto was born in humble circumstances on Feb. 24, 1934, in Savona, then a small Italian fishing town on the Mediterranean coast west of Genoa. Her father, Giuseppe, was a police officer and her mother, Santina, a seamstress. When Savona came under Allied bombardment during World War II, Renata, her older sister Luciana and their mother took refuge in a nearby Alpine village, Tovo San Giacomo.

Even as a child, she showed signs of the diva to come. In Tovo San Giacomo, she would stand by her bedroom window and regale passers-by with the latest songs favored by the leading Italian tenor, Beniamino Gigli. The villagers applauded and often tossed her candy. “You see, I never sang for nothing in my life,” she noted in her 1984 memoir, “Scotto: More Than a Diva,” co-written with Octavio Roca.

When she was 12, Renata was invited by an uncle to her first opera — Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” with Tito Gobbi in the title role — at the Teatro Chiabrera in Savona. “Gobbi the great singer and Gobbi the great actor made me decide that night that I would be an opera singer,” she recalled.

As a teenager, Ms. Scotto was sent to Milan for voice and piano lessons. The only lodging her family could afford was at a Canossian convent, which she described as “somewhere between a jail and a very austere kindergarten.” The mother superior lectured her on the banality of secular music and a nun tried to steal her music scores. But outside the convent, her teachers, especially the soprano Mafalda Favero, recognized her talent and helped bring about her career. Several years later, she studied with the Spanish former soprano Mercedes Llopart — “who really taught me how to sing,” Ms. Scotto said.

Ms. Scotto made her operatic debut in her hometown in 1952 at age 18, singing Verdi’s Violetta. She appeared the next day in the same role at Milan’s Teatro Nuovo. A year later, she made her first appearance at La Scala in Catalani’s “La Wally,” singing the role of Walter. Skeptics on La Scala’s staff considered her too short, at 4 feet 11 inches, to play Walter and also forced her to wear a plastic nose because her own was supposedly too small. But audiences wildly applauded her performances.

Ms. Scotto’s international breakthrough came in 1957 at the Edinburgh Festival, where La Scala staged its production of Bellini’s “La Sonnambula.” Maria Callas sang the lead role of Amina in the first four performances covered by her contract, but bowed out of an unscheduled fifth performance pleading illness. Ms. Scotto then replaced her to great acclaim.

“I became a celebrity, I could choose my roles,” Ms. Scotto recalled. “The applause at the end would not stop, with 10, 12 solo calls.” But the episode ignited a lengthy feud between the two divas, stoked by media gossip and overwrought opera fans.

At La Scala in 1970, Ms. Scotto sang the role of Elena for the first time in a new production of Verdi’s “I Vespri Siciliani.” Ms. Callas, who had performed the same role almost 20 years before and retired in the mid-1960s, was in the audience. As soon as Ms. Scotto walked onstage a claque of Callas fanatics began yelling: “Maria, Maria!” and “Viva Callas!” Ms. Scotto continued to perform despite the frequent interruptions. But afterward in an interview in her dressing room, she erupted in fury: “Let them get Callas to come and do ‘Vespri’ if she can sing.”

A worse incident occurred at the Metropolitan Opera on opening night in 1981 with Ms. Scotto in the title role of “Norma” and Mr. Domingo as Pollione. Though Ms. Callas had died four years before, a band of her rabid followers began shouting her name as soon as Ms. Scotto walked onstage. At intermission, she broke down in tears and had to be convinced by Mr. Domingo to return and finish the performance. Four hecklers were arrested later.

Even as a young soprano on the rise, Ms. Scotto demonstrated self-assurance in dealing with management at the great opera houses. In 1964, when La Scala’s general manager, Antonio Ghiringhelli, withdrew his promise to cast her as Violetta in a new “La Traviata” production by Franco Zeffirelli, she vowed never to perform there as long as Mr. Ghiringhelli remained. And true to her word, she returned to the Milan house only after he stepped down in 1972.

She similarly challenged the Met’s strong-willed general manager, Rudolf Bing. Ms. Scotto complained that in the three seasons after her 1965 debut, she was always offered the same operas — “Traviata,” “Butterfly,” “L’Elisir” and Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.” When Mr. Bing refused her any new roles, she left the Met two seasons later after meeting her contractual obligations. The New York press cast her as imperious: “If the Met Won’t Sing Her Tune, Goodbye Scotto,” a New York Times headline read.

But once Mr. Bing’s tenure ended in 1972, Ms. Scotto was invited back to the Met. Upon her return in the fall of 1974, her first role was Elena in “Vespri,” conducted by James Levine. “Renata is a direct descendant of the great, expressive Italian sopranos,” said Mr. Levine, who became the Met’s music director in 1976. The two got along famously, and the ensuing decade proved to be Ms. Scotto’s glory years.

Her artistry and popular appeal reached such heights that the Times declared: “From all appearances, the New York opera season of 1976-77 will be the season of Renata Scotto.” The previous summer she had drawn an estimated 100,000 people to a concert performance of “Madama Butterfly” in Central Park. Early in 1976, she became the first soprano to perform all three leading roles in Puccini’s three one-act operas, “Il Trittico,” at the Met in the same evening.

In 1977, Ms. Scotto broke new ground with the first live telecast at the Met, when she performed in “La Bohème” as Mimì, with Mr. Pavarotti in the role of Rodolfo. As Ms. Scotto noted, the broadcast reached more people in a single night than had seen Puccini’s opera since its premiere in 1896.

But she was so appalled by her heavy appearance that she went on a diet, losing 30 pounds and keeping them off the rest of her career. “Some people worry that losing weight might hurt the voice and I say nonsense: that is a myth to protect the fat singers,” she said.

With Mr. Levine conducting, Ms. Scotto gave deeply etched performances in “Norma,” Meyerbeer’s “Le Prophète” and Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.” As she explained in a 1976 interview with The Times: “A singer has to give emotion to the audience, and for that you must be a complete performer, not just a good singer and not just a good actress.”

This approach endeared her even to critics who faulted her vocal miscues. In an October 1976 review of Ms. Scotto’s performance as Leonora in “Il Trovatore,” Mr. Schonberg cited her rendering of the aria, “D’amor sull’ali rosee” as an example: “Miss Scotto scooped her way through it and had trouble with the tessitura. It was not a distinguished example of vocal technique. But Miss Scotto was able to get away with it because of the style she brought to the aria, the conviction with which she sang it,,” Mr. Schonberg wrote. “Personality sometimes can count for more than voice alone.”

But as Ms. Scotto’s singing talents eroded in her last years on the opera stage, critics asserted that not even first-rate acting could compensate. In a 1986 Times review of “Madama Butterfly,” the critic Donal Henahan wrote that her performance “followed a pattern we have come to expect from the soprano in the late years of a long career: ardently and sometimes shrewdly acted, though erratically and sometimes painfully sung.”

Ms. Scotto married a violinist in the La Scala orchestra, Lorenzo Anselmi, in 1960, and they had two children, Laura and Filippo, who survive her. Mr. Anselmi abandoned his playing career to become his wife’s voice coach, musical sounding board and business manager. “The biggest decision that a man can make is to give up his own career to dedicate himself to his wife’s,” Ms. Scotto said.

After retiring as a diva, Ms. Scotto directed a number of operas to modest praise. She also gained renown as a voice teacher.

Her advice was often practical. She used to remind her students of an admonition from her first voice teacher, Ms. Favero, that it was necessary to reserve vocal stamina for emotional scenes.

She also urged her students to draw on their own life experiences, especially family relationships. Ms. Scotto cited as an example how memories of her mother, Santina, helped her interpret Mimì in “La Bohème:” “I would understand Mimì’s sweet desperation and her happiness by remembering Santina the seamstress as she worked and sang.”

Armando Cesari

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Aug 16, 2023, 6:25:05 PM8/16/23
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A fantastic singer! 

R.I.P. 

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