Nina

Paisiello

Information

(Nina, or The Girl Driven Mad for Love)

The Deanery Garden, Bampton, July 1999

Commedia in prosa ed in verso per musica in two acts by Giovanni Paisiello to a libretto by Giambattista Lorenzi after Giuseppe Carpani’s translation of Benoît-Joseph Marsollier des Vivetières’ Nina, ou La folle par amour.

Performed by arrangement with Ricordi, in the revised edition by Fausto Broussard
English translation by Jeremy Gray and Gilly French

Cast

Nina Michelle Harris
Lindoro, her lover
Howard Kirk
The Count, her father Henry Herford
Susanna, her companion Amanda Pitt
Giorgio, the Count’s valet Justin Harmer
A musician Christopher Dyson
Second musician Jean-Pierre Rasle
   
Conductor Guy Hopkins
Director Jeremy Gray
   
(Chorus of) staff and patients at the sanatorium: Morag Crowther, Gilly French, Annabel Molyneaux, Jennifer French, Jackie Huntingford, Christopher Dyson, Geoffrey Huntingford, Andrew Hichens, Damian Riddle.
Orchestra Miranda Walton (leader), Liz McCarthy, Liz Hodson, Sarah Jackman, Stewart Attwood, Diana Hinds violin; Nikki Attwood, Felicity Cormack viola; Judith Dallosso, Eleanor Rice 'cello; Ben Griffiths double bass; Christine Woodward, Catherine Goble flute; Carolyn King, Sheila Nichols, oboe; Doug Lamb, Jonathan Hill clarinet; Simon Payne, Ian McCubbin bassoon; Bob Fox, Julian Morris horn; Jonathan Katz harpsichord.

 

Synopsis

 As we learn from Susanna's account in the course of Act I, Nina's unhappy state is the result of the Count's misplaced ambition for his daughter's marriage. Nina had fallen in love with Lindoro, a match at first approved of by her father. When a wealthier rival presented himself, however, the Count quickly changed his mind; Lindoro was dismissed and Nina's pleadings were to no avail. Hoping to see her one last time, Lindoro encountered his rival and was mortally wounded in a duel. The experience had a traumatic effect on Nina: she lost her reason and no longer recognises her father or friends. Yet she clings to the expectation that Lindoro will return to her, and waits daily for him at the garden gate.

Act I
In a sanatorium, staff and patients comment on the tragic fate of Nina. Her governess, Susanna, appointed by her distraught father to watch over her, is deeply upset by the experience but the Count's valet, Giorgio, is ever optimistic. Susanna relates the circumstances which brought about Nina's illness. The Count is full of his own woes and rejection by his daughter, but also realises that he is entirely to blame; Giorgio tries to cheer him.

Nina waits in the garden, and sings of her solitude and unhappiness as she waits for Lindoro to return. She fails to remember Susanna's name, and dispenses gifts to the women. They comfort her by singing a song to Lindoro. The Count approaches, unable to keep away, but Nina imagines that he is a stranger. Her increasing misery is alleviated by the rustic song of a musician, accompanied on the bagpipes. Susanna attempts to persuade her to leave her vigil and go inside. Reluctantly, Nina agrees. Susanna, the musician, and the Count comment on Nina's and their own distress.

Act II
Susanna sings of her devotion to Nina. Giorgio, quite breathless, arrives to announce to the Count the amazing appearance of Lindoro in the grounds. Against all odds, his wounds from the duel have been cured, and he is attempting to see Nina again. The repentant Count greets Lindoro as his son, but warns him of Nina's illness, and advises caution in approaching her. Alone, Lindoro meditates on his love, before leaving to await the Count's signal. The company, hearing of Lindoro's return, try to hint to Nina that she should make herself ready for him. Suddenly she encounters him but convinces herself that he is also a stranger. Lindoro adopts the role of a friend, and cautiously tells of his love. Unaware of his true identity, Nina is enraptured by his 'knowledge' of her love affair and, without realising it, projects her affections onto him. Finding new contentment, she begins to recognise the familiar faces around her; true awareness of Lindoro's presence soon follows and the two rejoice in their rediscovered love.

Reviews

Opera Magazine
Opera Magazine

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Opera Magazine

Opera Magazine

Bampton Classical Opera summer productions are staged al fresco in a delightful village deanery garden just south of Witney, Oxfordshire. No strimmers from grousing neighbours. Swallows, and later bats, flit. The adjacent church spire looms impressively. A solitary chestnut mare clops by. It’s take-your-own-seating and (optional) champagne. A tented gazebo prevents the orchestral sound getting diffused, focussing wind and brass – through marginally cramping the strings. Thanks to intelligent stage positioning and enfolding hedges, the voices carry well, despite a small measure of directional loss.

Rare 18th century fare is a Bampton speciality, and for this reason alone it deserves recognition. This year’s offering, Paisiello’s Nina, proved several notches up on last season’s visually good but marginally amateurish staging of Arne’s Alfred, whose vocal impact hinged largely on Michelle Harris’s gustily projected Prince Edward. Harris, who sang Nina here, has an assured stage presence and marked strengths in the mezzo range, slightly tailing off in upper registers in the title role’s Act 1 arias. Paisiello’s forlorn tale – reworked by his regular collaborator, Giambattista Lornezi, from a French original – of a girl driven mad by her father’s intransigence and her true love’s apparent demise in a duel (happily her reclaiming beau resurfaces to beef up Act 2 with some effective duets) is frankly sentimental stuff. It was first seen in 1789, Celeste Coltellini taking the title role, and retained its popular appeal for half a century, into the 1830’s. The lack of a sub-plot renders it a pretty monochrome melodrama, though the lightweight melodic charm Mozart admired in Paisiello (1740-1816) is certainly there in abundance.

Jeremy Gray’s tidy and compact production, imaginatively updated to a 1930’s hospital setting, worked well thanks to intelligent consistency in sets, props and costumes and a well-marshalled chorus impressively free of overacting. The extended recitative was fluently delivered, if occasionally a bit protracted. The opera’s main strength lay in some pithy second-half exchanges between Harris’s Nina and Howard Kirk as Lindoro, her restored boyfriend; in the pathetic gradual stages by which she comes to her senses and recognizes him; and in a pair of cheerfully sung arias from Justin Harmer as Giorgio, the excitable valet-chauffeur (a real 1934 Rolls Royce was drummed into service), and Amanda Pitt as Nina’s flustering governess, Susanna. The translation by Jeremy Gray and Gilly French, came across well. Guy Hopkins conducted.

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Roderic Dunnett

 

from 'Opera Now'
'Opera Now'

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from 'Opera Now'

'Opera Now'

Bampton Classical Opera, annually based outdoors in an Oxfordshire village, specialises in reviving rare 18th centuary fare. Lesser Mozart, Arne (Alfred), Gazzaniga (Don Giovanni), and this summer Paisiello (Nina) have all benefited. The talents of Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816) were drummed into the service of Russia, Naples and Napoleonic France. With 80-plus comic and tragic operas to his name, he ranked high among stage composers of his day. Mozart rated his strengths, which included a marked melodic gift, charm and an able collaborator and librettist in Giambattista Lorenzi. So where are all Paisiello’s operas now?

Nina, first seen in 1789 with Celeste Coltellini in the title role, enjoyed favour longer than most. With its rather monochrome, sentimental though touching tale of a girl driven mad by paternal intransigence and her fiance’s apparent demise, it won many hearts. It finds echoes, arguably, in Lucia di Lammermoor.

Jeremy Gray’s carefully considered staging updated Nina to the 1930s, and from the meticulous opening chorus entries looked and sounded well in its enchanting garden setting. Not just set (1934 Rolls-Royce fronting a stylishly designed backdrop, well lit) but make-up and costumes (an apt hospital setting) kept this production taut and focused. The outdoor setting diffuses the sound, but not too badly. The reactive accompaniment (non-Paisiello) was attentive, if occasionally hazy. Clarients, bassoons and flute shone, though some subtler, more charismatic coaxing from the conductor, Guy Hopkins, might have enhanced a few later string passages. Pick of the performers were Michelle Harris’s appealing Nina and, vocally, Howard Kirk as Lindoro, her unexpectedly restored sweetheart. Her two delicious Act 1 arias entranced, and her upper tessitura gained strength in Paisiello’s meatier second half exchanges. Other moments stood out: if Henry Herford’s Count rather lacked presence, Justin Harmer as the valet/chauffeur delivered his ‘breathless’ Mozatian message with zest; and Amanda Pitt briefly triumphed in Susanna’s Act II aria. The well-directed chorus characters caught the asylum atmosphere effectively, without a hint of overacting.

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Roderic Dunnett

 

from 'The Oxford Times'
'The Oxford Times'

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from 'The Oxford Times'

'The Oxford Times'

The Bampton summer opera is now in its seventh year, and last week continued its tradition of rarely performed classical and baroque works. The production was Giovanni Paisiello’s Nina, subtitled The Girl Driven Mad for Love. All the action takes place in a sanatorium, where the unfortunate Nina waits hopelessly for the return of her lover Lindoro, who has been killed in a duel with a rival suitor preferred by Nina’s father. Or so we are led to believe.

Under the direction of Jeremy Gray, the setting is transposed from the late 18th century to sometime in the 20th, which provides a good excuse for having Nina’s guilt-ridden father arrive on the scene in a fine vintage Rolls. Against all the odds, Lindoro turns up in the second act (with no explanation for his miraculous recovery), Nina gradually recovers her reason, and the happy ending unfurls at the sort of length usually reserved for tragic heroines to die in.

Paisiello’s music, noted among his contemporaries for its elegance, simplicity and charm, is altogether too charming for the sombre first act but well suited to the sweetness and light of the second. But if the music seemed to lack depth, the quality of everyone on stage more than made up for it. The professional singers in the leading roles of Nina (Michelle Harris), her companion Susanna (Amanda Pitt), her father (Henry Herford) and Lindoro (Howard Kirk) were outstanding, and there was also a fine performance from Justin Harmer as Giorgio, a valet somewhat in the tradition of Figaro.

The chorus of staff and patients at the sanatorium more than held their own, both vocally and dramatically, and the characterisation of the patients was at once subtle and disturbing.

The opera also benefited from an exceptionally good local orchestra, conducted by Guy Hopkins, and despite the potential hazards of an outdoor performance, the balance of singers and instrumentalists was everything one could hope for.

The weekend’s audiences had the satisfaction of knowing that they had seen a production which has just pipped La Scala, Milan, to the post (the opera is to be revived there this autumn) as well as the pleasure of being entertained in lovely surroundings and reasonably clement weather.

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Paula Clifford

 

Articles

Nina, o sia La pazza per amore

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Nina, o sia La pazza per amore

Commedia in prosa ed in verso per musica in one act by Giovanni Paisiello to a libretto by Giambattista Lorenzi after Giuseppe Carpani’s translation of Benoît-Joseph Marsollier des Vivetières’ Nina, ou La folle par amour.

The sentimental story of the girl sent mad by love had already been intensely cultivated during the previous decades. The French librettist Marsollier des Vivetières apparently made use of a true story which had become the basis for ‘La nouvelle Clémentine’ in F.T.M. Baculard d’Arnaud’s Délassements de l’homme sensible, 1783, and which had perhaps been available to Laurence Sterne for his figure of Maria de Moulines in Tristam Shandy, 1760-67 and A Sentimental Journey, 1768. The French libretto was used for a successful one-act opéra comique by Nicolas-Marie Dalayrac, given at the Comédie-Italienne in Paris in May 1786. Dalayrac’s success was repeated, in translations, in London and in Hamburg, both in 1787, and remained popular in Paris until the mid-19th century. Marsollier des Vivetières’ libretto was translated into Italian by Giuseppe Carpani, later famed for his biographies of Haydn and Rossini, and further additions by one of the great masters of Neapolitan comic opera, Giambattista Lorenzi, resulted in the text used by Paisiello for the first version of Nina at the Royal Palace of Caserta in 1789. Both Lorenzi and Paisiello further developed the piece into a two-act version given at the Teatro dei Fiorentini, Naples, in 1790. A third version substituted sung recitatives (the music probably not by Paisiello) for the spoken dialogue, and was performed at Parma during the Carnival of 1793 and at the Fiorentini in 1795.

The success of Nina was considerable. It was taken up by most of the significant theatres in Italy, remaining popular until 1845, performed often by the finest singers such as Rossini’s sometime wife, Isabella Colbran, and Giuditta Pasta, probably the greatest soprano of her day. Da Ponte reworked the text and Joseph Weigl added new music for a Vienna production in 1790, and in Paris in 1791 Cherubini supplied recitatives and an aria. Translations were given in Mannheim, Prague, St Petersburg, Warsaw and London (1825).


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'The greatest composer there is: Paisiello' [remark attributed to Napoleon]
Michael F. Robinson

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'The greatest composer there is: Paisiello' [remark attributed to Napoleon]

Imagine for one second that you are back in the 1790s among a group of knowledgeable musical connoisseurs. 'Which contemporary composers' you ask them, 'have the greatest appeal among the public?' It is unlikely that any of your respondents puts Mozart on the list. Some, thinking of recent developments in the symphony, may mention Joseph Haydn. But an equal number will opt without hesitation for Giovanni Paisiello. It is a fact that during the 1780s and 1790s few composers could claim greater popularity with musical society than could Paisiello.

By any standard, Paisiello's life story was one of outstanding success. At the time he wrote Nina o sia La pazza per amore in the summer of 1789 (when he was 49), he already had seventy operas to his credit. Endowed with a fine sense of melody and colour, and a sense of dynamic rhythm that drives his music forward page after page, he created compositions that exactly mirrored what society of the time regarded as 'good' music. It was progressive, yet not over-exacting or difficult on the ear. This explains, on the one hand, why the number of performances of his operas surpassed that of virtually any other composer, and, on the other, why he was the favourite composer of many of Europe's rulers. He was much admired by the Empress Catherine of Russia, whom he served for eight years between 1776 and 1784, and by Ferdinand, King of the Two Sicilies, who in 1785 gave him a special, and sizeable, pension to induce him to settle in Naples and not to serve another prince anywhere else. Napoleon esteemed Paisiello's music highly later called the composer to Paris to become his maître de chapelle.

Nina was the result of a special commission from King Ferdinand. The King liked to spend much of his time at his palace of Caserta, where he indulged in his favourite pursuit of hunting. Feeling the need to show the world that he was also an Enlightened monarch, he took an interest in the adjacent village of San Leucio and decided to turn it into a model community of silk manufacturers with its own code of practice and constitution. By the summer of 1789 the community had been established. On 25th June, at what might be described as an official opening ceremony, the King invited 240 special guests to visit the silk mills. That evening he entertained them with Paisiello's opera (in a specially constructed theatre in the garden) and with a gala dinner and ball. The prima donna was Celeste Coltellini, and the evening was a triumph.

The first version of Nina has several unusual features. Instead of being in the usual two- or three-act format, it is in one act designed to run without a break. Furthermore it has spoken dialogue in between the ensembles and arias instead of recitative. The reason for this is that it is modelled on a French opéra comique called Nina, ou la folle par amour first performed in Paris in 1786 with words by Benoît Joseph Marsollier and music by Nicholas Dalayrac. French comic opera, unlike Italian, characteristically had spoken dialogue between the lyrical items. The question remains why the subject should have been chosen for Paisiello. It is not a 'comedy of manners' as most Italian comic operas of the period are. It is a highly charged, sentimental comedy, borrowing motives from contemporary French larmoyants novels, in which the heroine, made insane by the reported death of her lover, mopes from the start through to the finale when he is restored to her. We can only conjecture that the subject may have appealed not merely because of its sentimentality but also because it is set in pastoral surroundings, matching to some extent the rusticity of the Caserta countryside. The composer's use of a rustic instrument called a zampogna at one point hints at the 'back to nature' primitiveness of the rural setting.

As happened in the case of other Paisiello operas that were deemed successful and had acquired a degree of publicity, theatre managers throughout Italy and abroad were soon trying to get their hands on scores of Nina. The first public theatre to perform it was the Fiorentini Theatre in Naples, where it went into production in the autumn of 1790. The printed libretto for that production makes it clear that the opera was thought too long to be performed without a break, so it was split into two halves. To provide a satisfactory finish to Part One, Paisiello added a new ensemble. He also added a shepherd's song just before the new ensemble, and an extra aria for Giorgio early in Part Two. It is this version of the opera that became the basis of the most subsequent productions in other theatres.

The point to emphasise here is that once the opera had left the composer's hands, he was no longer able to control its destiny. There were no internationally accepted copyright laws, so singers and impresarios could treat the work how they wished. Scattered throughout European and American libraries there are at least sixty manuscript scores of the work, many containing insertions, substitutions, or other corrections to the music, corresponding to particular productions during the 1790s or 1800s. With none of these did Paisiello apparently have anything to do. It is becoming clear that the earliest productions tended to preserve the spoken dialogue, although this was a feature which devotees of Italian opera were unaccustomed to. But Italian singers seem to have been unhappy with the situation. The point was best put in the preface to the libretto of the 1795 production in Naples, where it is stated that the opera was now to be sung throughout (i.e. with recitatives replacing the dialogue). 'It was intended', the preface continues, 'to revive the opera as it had been performed in 1790. But limitations of time have prevented the present cast learning to recite the prose with that degree of expertise that can only come with much rehearsal'. In short, many Italian singers did not like mixing speech with song.

In many instances therefore Nina became an opera with conventional recitative. This recitative, opera goers should note, is never by Paisiello. The earliest production in Italy that was sung throughout appears to be the one at the court theatre in Parma in carnival time 1794. This is the version upon which tonight's performance is based. It also seems to have been the basis of the first ever production of the opera in England. This occurred at the Haymarket Theatre in April 1797, when the famous soprano Brigida Banti led the cast in the title rôle. We possess no musical source associated directly with these English performances, but since the printed text is so close to the text used at Parma, we may assume that Parma provided the material for London. Tonight's performance therefore is not exactly according to the composer's intention, but it does follow a pattern of performances that reaches back to his times.

By the 1820s the composer's star had waned and his operas had fallen out of the repertory. He himself died in 1816. So if you could go back in time not to the 1790s but thirty years later and ask the same question of your musical cognoscenti, you would hear not the name of Paisiello but, above all, of Rossini. And Mozart's name might be beginning to crop up too. For all that, an affection lingered on, especially in Italy, for particular items in Paisiello's best operas, Nina to the fore among them. Mainly because Paisiello achieves in Nina a particular simplicity of melodic line that is apt for expressing feelings of tenderness and sincerity, its music can be very touching. Particularly for this reason it deserves more revivals than it receives in the present age.

Michael F. Robinson

(Michael Robinson is the author of Giovanni Paisiello: a Thematic Catalogue of his Works, and Naples and Neapolitan Opera)

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'Light and pleasurable sensations'
Jeremy Gray

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'Light and pleasurable sensations'

Discoursing on the merits of composers and composition, Paesiello was mentioned, and Mozart, who knew his works well, spoke very favourably of them. 'Whoever seeks for light and pleasurable sensations in music', said he, 'cannot be recommended to anything better.'[Edward Holmes, The Life of Mozart, 1845]

The genius of the simple genre and naïve gracefulness, who realized the most astonishing effects with the utmost simplicity of melody, harmony and accompaniment.' [Rossini, on Paisiello]

The music of Paesiello is remarkable for its extreme elegance, the great beauty of the melodies, and that degree of science which tends to enrich the composition without fatiguing the ear. It is at once calculated to charm the professor and the amateur. [The Examiner, 17th January 1808]

 

Elegance, simplicity, and charm were clearly the qualities which endeared the music of Paisiello. and Nina in particular, to such extensive audiences during the tumultuous epoch of revolutions which closed the age of enlightenment. In Nina, Paisiello cultivated a highly original idiom of clarity and innocence, remarked on by so many contemporary commentators, with which to define and explore effectively the concise and highly sentimental tale of the heroine's suffering and redemption. Already in the tragic operas he had composed in St Petersburg, he had 'completed excluded vocalizations, cadenzas and ritornellos' in order to 'get away from the inconveniences created in Italian theatres'. In the music of Nina, all is subservient to the expressive line of melody, although this is not necessarily taken by the voice: rhythm, ornamentation and harmony are frequently suppressed, and although orchestral colour is explored with a delightfully deft touch, especially in the many brief solo lines which are passed rapidly amongst the woodwind, nowhere does the accompaniment detract from the essential lyrical communication. Accompaniments are often based on the insistent repetition of a short passage, and frequently the legato vocal become transformed into fragmented staccato phrases, used especially to convey the mental instability of Nina (a technique which, incidentally, causes great problems for the translator). The great and once universally famed aria with which Nina makes her appearance in the first act, Il mio ben ('In my heart'), exemplifies this technique. Over a entirely regular but lilting triplet accompaniment, the slow vocal line is beautifully shaped to express the heartbreak of lost love, but eventually disintegrates into a remarkable sequence of passionate and angular utterances over a shifting chromatic harmony as Nina confronts the silence which surrounds her. The opening of the first act finale continues this thread of pathos – 'Wait! – ah, no! – what am – I saying? – Could – I leave – without – Lindoro?': little wonder that eighteenth century audiences leaned out of their balconies to assure the heroine 'do not fear, your love will come'!

One of the most unusual features of the opera is the cameo role of the Musician (originally a Shepherd) whose song brings momentary respite to Nina towards the end of Act I. Here, a rustic and open-air mood is created by giving the accompaniment to the Zampogna, or Italian bagpipes, a sound entirely familiar to the original Neapolitan audiences (this instrument is, incidentally imitated in the Pastoral Symphony of Handel's Messiah). All the conceits and complexities of Italian opera are thus suspended in order to make the story seem natural and true-to-life. The use of spoken passages in Paisiello's original version may well have also been intended to increase the realism: certainly one English critic, writing in 1800, was impressed by this experiment which left it 'in the power of the performers to render by their action the drama … more impressive'.

The plot of the libretto is remarkably slight in action – indeed the real drama, the duel between Lindoro and his rival, happens before the opera begins and is only related as history by Susanna. Everything concentrates on the tragic aftermath: Nina's insanity, commented on in the opening chorus, puzzled over by her family and friends, and expressed through the constantly shifting manners and music of Nina herself. This narrow focus, which was later to affect profoundly the approaches of Bellini and Donizetti, nevertheless never stagnates. Comedy, albeit somewhat morose, intervenes in the character and wit of Giorgio (especially his breathless entry in Act II), and even the distraught and guilty Count can hardly be taken too seriously. The extended chain finales to both acts, with their constant changes of pace and structure, are of course an essential feature of Italian opera buffa. The second finale has six major changes of tempo and many sub-sections. Opening with Nina's tentative awareness of returning calm (broken phrases again), Paisiello moves swiftly to the continuation of Lindoro's telling of his former romance with Nina (who as yet does not recognise him) until a slip of the tongue begins to bring the truth home. Using a simple but effective canonic structure, the four other principals pray that 'God give her strength and courage to utter the love within her heart'. In a further canon Lindoro drops all ploys and reveals his identity as the Count requests forgiveness, and Nina graciously responds. Now all can express their new-found peace and happiness (a third, lyrical, canon) and all that remains to be done is for the whole company to celebrate love and its enchantment.

The first British performance was on 27 April 1797 at the King's Theatre, London, with further performances in December and the following April. In modern times a production was given by the Oxford University Opera Club in the Oxford Playhouse in March 1982. Cecilia Bartoli selected the opera and sang the title role in a highly acclaimed production by Zurich Opera in July 1998. A new production will be given at La Scala, Milan, in September 1999, starring Anna Caterina Antonacci, conducted by Riccardo Muti.

There are two recordings currently available: the first, with Marina Bolgan, conducted by Richard Bonynge, is taken from a live performance and uses the spoken texts Nuova Era 6872/73); the second, and preferable, recording has Jeanne-Marie Bima, conducted by Hans Ludwig Hirsch (Arts 47166-2)

Jeremy Gray
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