Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

National parks' fee-free weekends, a money tale from Niall Ferguson, opera for Bellini fans, and more.

Courtesy of PBS
Juan Diego Florez as Elvino and Natalie Dessay as Amina in Bellini's "La Sonnambula."
Courtesy of PBS
Financial historian and best-selling author Niall Ferguson, shown here at the New York Stock Exchange, traces the evolution of money in "The Ascent of Money," based on his book of the same title.

A sleepwalker's tale

Spend another Saturday with world-class opera when PBS airs No. 8 in its 11-part "Great Performances at the Met." On July 11, Bellini's music soars in "La Sonnambula," an updated production of the 19th-century Italian tale of a haunted sleepwalker who must prove her love. The program, sung in Italian with English subtitles, is scheduled for noon.

Money, money, money

Confused about money? Financial historian Niall Ferguson will explain it all to you, with a look backward and forward, showing where money, and all the various financial instruments on which our economy relies, have come from. The four-part series "The Ascent of Money," an expanded version of a single hour that aired in January, begins July 8 on PBS at 9 p.m.

Life at downing street

"Number 10," the British drama series about the famous occupants of that London address, brings to life the country's prime ministers. First aired on ITV in 1983, this seven-episode DVD box set ($49.99), available in the US June 30, covers top figures from the Napoleonic era to the 1920s, going behind the news headlines into the private lives and trials of Britain's leaders.

A cinematic view

As Iran's political upheaval spills across the news, several classic and perceptive films about Iranian society might give a perspective beyond the street protests and violence. "The Color of Paradise" (1999), by director Majid Majidi, tenderly portrays a blind boy's relationship with his widowed father who is contemplating remarrying. "The Circle" (2000), by Jafar Panahi and banned in Iran, is the haunting tale of a group of women released from prison who suffer daily hardships and indignities. "Where is the Friend's Home," "Life goes on," and "Through the Olive Trees," all by Abbas Kiarostami and known as the Koker trilogy, revolve around life, death, and change in the northern Iranian village of Koker.

Park for free

In a nod to the tough economy, the National Park Service is offering Fee-Free Weekends on July 18-19 and Aug. 15-16. Park concessions are also throwing in discounts. For more details go to:

Vivacious voices of India

Putumayo's CD compilations emphasize a "feel good" mellowness that can occasionally tumble into global Muzak, but "India," a compilation of pop music colored by India's lyrical film soundtracks, is an unqualified triumph. Ten selections perfectly blend hedonism with authentic touches of India's venerable musical heritage. While A.R. Rahman, composer of the "Slumdog Millionaire" soundtrack, is heard in a lush Euro-Indian pop fusion anthem, the best moments are given over to vivacious women vocalists. Kiran Ahluwaila recasts the ancient poetic form of ghazal, while Uma Mohan offers a devotional hymn to the god Siva. It's a light (though not forgettable) musical curry.

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