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Thread: Britten on DVD and Blu-ray

  1. #1
    Senior Member Herkku's Avatar
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    Default Britten on DVD and Blu-ray

    Britten: Owen Wingrave



    Benjamin Britten's Owen Wingrave must have been the first opera composed especially for TV. Commissioned by BBC, it was premiered 1971, the war in Vietnam going on. It is the first opera where I have heard Kandahar mentioned, as a fitting reminder of the fact that Afghanistan has been a battlefield for a very long time, the opera depicting the late 19th century.

    Some possibilities of the media are utilized, sudden changes of location during a single scene, different picture material on top of each other, nothing very spectacular considering today's technical possibilities, except that they were already planned during the writing of the work. The audio recording shows it's age now, but it must have sounded completely adequate with the television sets of the seventies.

    The opera (based on a novella by Henry James - like The Turn of the Screw) tells about Owen Wingrave, a young man, last in line of a family known for it's military backround for hundred's of years, who decides to abandon his military education, because he doesn't approve of war and violence. His family, friends, even his fiancee turn against him, he is disinherited, but refuses to change his mind. The only ones that understand Owen are, curiously enough, his military cramming teacher and his wife. His would-have-been fiancee dares him to spend the night in the haunted room of the family mansion, which he agrees to do to show that he is not a coward, only to be found dead there later on.

    I find the ending a bit dissatisfactory, because the situation is left hanging in the air. On the other hand, it solves everything, once and for all - although too easily. Here in Finland we have compulsory military service. I remember when I suggested to my parents that what if I chose the alternative civilian service instead, just to tease them! My father fell into complete silence, but my mother went ballistic: how could I even think about bringing such disgrace upon our family?! Not unlike the reactions in the opera.

    The cast here was hand-picked by the composer, so it should be the ideal one. Benjamin Luxon is certainly very good as Owen, Peter Pears has a relatively minor role of his grandfather, John Shirley-Quirk and Heather Harper as the understanding cramming teacher and wife very good, too. Janet Baker in the role of Kate, Owen's fiancee, is just too kind-looking to turn against him. I'm not too keen on Nigel Douglas as Lechmere, a friend of Owens determined to pursue a military career, but it may be that the recording doesn't treat his tenor voice kindly. As the conductor, we have the composer himself.

    In the extras we see the ubiquitous (as the opera on video goes) Brian Large as a young man, as well as John Culshaw, the producer behind Solti's Ring, Salome and Elektra... A pity that they are delt with so briefly.

    All in all, if you like Britten, you will like this performance, too. I'm not sure if this will make many new converts, though.

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    Senior Member Herkku's Avatar
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    Default Britten: Peter Grimes

    To be honest, I have never been a fervent admirer of Britten's operas. But, I have read my Kobbé and considered them works that one has to know. I have already dealt with Britten's TV-opera, Owen Wingrave, which I liked and had not even heard before. Peter Grimes is, of course, his most famous opera, and I have heard it on record and seen alive in The Finnish National Opera. Perhaps it requires multiple listenings/seeings, because only after these two performances on DVD I'm beginning to understand, how fine a work it is.

    Peter Grimes is a fisherman in a little English village, suspected being responsible for the death of his apprentice. Although he is officially acquitted, almost the whole village is convinced of his guilt, the schoolteacher Ellen being an exception. The two seem to have some kind of romantic affection towards each other. When the next apprentice disappears, no-one is left to defend Peter, who is advised to sail out and sink his boat and drown with it. Rather grim stuff.



    Firstly, we have a performance made specially for television, firstly broadcast by BBC 1969, Britten himself conducting, Peter Pears singing the title role that was written for him. So, you could call this a kind of definitive version. If anything, Pears may be considered a little too refined for a fisherman. Anyway, you wouldn't expect Grimes to be a tenor in the first place. Alas, the years have gone by and the picture and sound quality are not what we expect nowadays, especially the cramped mono sound. Of course, if you happen to be a Britten/Pears fan, you already have this.



    The second performance comes from the Met, 2008. And it is very good! Grimes, Anthony Dean Griffey, looks more like a fisherman, but sings as well as Pears - to the finest nuances in high pianissimo. Patricia Racette as Ellen doesn't have anything to be ashamed for compared to Heather Harper in the older version. Felicity Palmer as Mrs. Sedley is absolutely delicious as the busybody of the village. The conductor, Donald Runnicles, a Scotsman, is at least from the same island as Britten and performs his duty admirably. Thanks to the newer technology we can hear what fine details the orchestration has. This is a challenge to the chorus as well, beautifully met here. The sets and direction work nicely. During the intermissions we have Natalie Dessay interviewing the various persons involved.

    So, the Met version is definitely recommended. If you already have everything else, the older version is not without interest.

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Default Britten: Peter Grimes on DVD

    Here is a very fine acting/singing job


    Probably not the best Peter Grimes out there, and with two significant technical problemas: the sound is only stereo, and there are no subtitles (of course, for English speakers, they aren't really needed since one can perfectly understand the well articulated words as in this opera there is more arioso and recitatif than actual lyric singing).

    Still, I found this production beautiful and very well acted.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Default Britten: Billy Budd on non-commercial DVD

    I got from House of Opera a DVD recorded from the 3sat TV station HD showing of the Wiener Staatsoper 2001 staging of Britten's Billy Budd.

    This DVD has the best image and sound I've ever seen in a product from either House of Opera or Premiere Opera. The quality is virtually identical to that of any commercial version, except for the absence of menus, and the impossibility of changing the subtitles provided by the TV, which are in German. Otherwise, image and sound are impeccable and approach those of a high-definition DVD.

    Excellent staging, excellent singing, excellent conducting/orchestra (staging by Willy Decker, Neil Schicoff sings Vere, Bo Skovhus sings Billy Budd, Eric Halfvarson is Claggart, and the Wiener Staatsoper orchestra is conducted by Donald Runnicles), excellent acting. The production is flawless, and although I don't know the two commercial products that are available, I doubt that this opera could be staged any better.

    The absence of English subtitles is not bothersome since the opera is sung (or rather, declaimed) in clear English; by the way, the libretto is easily found online.

    The only major problem is that they chose to present the original 4-act version, and it is too long (around three hours). Britten rightfully shortened it to two acts (with a brief prologue and a brief epilogue) subsequently, and the 2-act version in my opinion is preferable, because an overlong Billy Budd can get rather tiresome, in spite of its dramatic intensity and beautiful score.
    Last edited by Almaviva; Jan-22-2011 at 16:58.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Default Britten: The Turn of the Screw on DVD



    I can't recommend this DVD because of its technical failures: no widescreen, no menus, no subtitles in any language (?!?), no bonus features, no audio choices. The only functions you get are "play" and "chapter selection."

    The performance itself is not bad, most singers do OK and look the parts (the boy singer is the weakest link and Quint is the strongest one with appropriately metallic voice and an evil face), the traditional staging is dark and fittingly oppressive and the "special effects" with mirrors are tasteful - but I've seen better. Acting is good (not great) in terms of facial expressions but static in terms of movement. The Australian chamber orchestra causes no fireworks but still does very well.

    So, the bottom line is that it is a very decent performance of this impressive, phantasmagoric opera, but it is marred by a very technically weak DVD.
    Last edited by Almaviva; Feb-06-2011 at 05:20.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Senior Member Sieglinde's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    Here is a very fine acting/singing job


    Probably not the best Peter Grimes out there, and with two significant technical problemas: the sound is only stereo, and there are no subtitles (of course, for English speakers, they aren't really needed since one can perfectly understand the well articulated words as in this opera there is more arioso and recitatif than actual lyric singing).

    Still, I found this production beautiful and very well acted.

    No subs? But mine has them! This was my first PG dvd with subs.

    Ensemble-wise not as strong as the Covent Garden version (although Alan Opie, the Jolly Joker of Britten operas is great as always, and Mrs. Sedley looks suspiciously like Agatha Christie), but Philip Langridge made me cry and want to hug Grimes... and he's not an easy-to-like character. Also, Philip was probably the only man who managed to look still hot in the trademark ragged sweater, unshaven and uncombed. I miss him so badly...

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sieglinde View Post
    No subs? But mine has them! This was my first PG dvd with subs.

    Ensemble-wise not as strong as the Covent Garden version (although Alan Opie, the Jolly Joker of Britten operas is great as always, and Mrs. Sedley looks suspiciously like Agatha Christie), but Philip Langridge made me cry and want to hug Grimes... and he's not an easy-to-like character. Also, Philip was probably the only man who managed to look still hot in the trademark ragged sweater, unshaven and uncombed. I miss him so badly...
    Strange. My version came without subs. Maybe the re-released it later with subs. Yes, Philip Langridge was phenomenal as Grimes.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Moderator mamascarlatti's Avatar
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    Default Billy Budd upcoming DVD release

    Looking forward to this, whenever it is released.



    Britten: BILLY BUDD [DVD & BLU-RAY] - John Mark Ainsley, Jacques Imbrailo, Phillip Ens, Iain Paterson, Matthew Rose, Darren Jeffery, Alasdair Elliott, John Moore, Jeremy White, Ben Johnson, Colin Judson, Richard Mosley-Evans; Michael Grandage; Mark Elder, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 2010 (Opus Arte)

    Rupert Christiansen gave the production a rave review.

    Behind the scenes:

    [YT]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5e1uvPCGsrM[/YT]
    Natalie

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    Senior Member sospiro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mamascarlatti View Post
    Looking forward to this, whenever it is released.



    Britten: BILLY BUDD [DVD & BLU-RAY] - John Mark Ainsley, Jacques Imbrailo, Phillip Ens, Iain Paterson, Matthew Rose, Darren Jeffery, Alasdair Elliott, John Moore, Jeremy White, Ben Johnson, Colin Judson, Richard Mosley-Evans; Michael Grandage; Mark Elder, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 2010 (Opus Arte)

    Rupert Christiansen gave the production a rave review.
    Thanks Natalie - this looks superb.
    Ann

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Default Britten: The Rape of Lucretia on DVD

    This is just a very brief review. I saw this production one of these days:



    About the opera itself, I don't feel like going into a lot of detail. It will suffice to say that I liked it, and liked it less than Peter Grimes, but more than The Turn of the Screw and Billy Budd.

    This DVD is technically very weak - no subtitles (fortunately I found the libretto online - and even though the opera is in English, subtitles are essential because it is very hard to understand the words). No menus. No insert. No choice of sound track. 1.33:1 image. It seems to be the filming of a staged version with closed doors (no applause, no curtain calls).

    Minimalistic staging, modern clothes, good singing overall, good acting. As far as the opera and the staging/singing are concerned, recommended; but this Kultur DVD is of such low quality that it may be just better to listen to this opera on a CD.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  11. #11
    Moderator mamascarlatti's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    This is just a very brief review. I saw this production one of these days:



    About the opera itself, I don't feel like going into a lot of detail. It will suffice to say that I liked it, and liked it less than Peter Grimes, but more than The Turn of the Screw and Billy Budd.

    This DVD is technically very weak - no subtitles (fortunately I found the libretto online - and even though the opera is in English, subtitles are essential because it is very hard to understand the words). No menus. No insert. No choice of sound track. 1.33:1 image. It seems to be the filming of a staged version with closed doors (no applause, no curtain calls).

    Minimalistic staging, modern clothes, good singing overall, good acting. As far as the opera and the staging/singing are concerned, recommended; but this Kultur DVD is of such low quality that it may be just better to listen to this opera on a CD.
    I really wish the Sarah Connolly/Christopher Maltman version which is on YouTube (Almost all of it, one scene appears to have been censored) would come out on DVD. It's beautiful.
    Natalie

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    Senior Member Sieglinde's Avatar
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    Default Billy Budd from Glyndebourne

    Not exactly dvd as I recorded it from Mezzo, but it's coming soon (or maybe out) on dvd/blu/ray too.

    It's a very good performance in general, I'd definitely recommend it.

    First the really few negatives: not enough light in some scenes, lack of research in hairstyles and therefore beards where they shouldn't be, unforgivable powdered wig on Vere (they were out of fashion by this time).

    The LOL: Redburn (Iain Patterson) looks like King Théoden.




    Pretty impressive set, although not as good as the one in the Met.

    Billy is Jacques Imbrailo, already have 2 cds with him, so I knew his voice, and he's great. Young, masculine, full of energy, and really radiates goodness.

    Vere is John Mark Ainsley and now I officially have a crush on him. Beautiful voice, elegance, classy style, and his suffering is so heartbreaking. So good to hear a tenor in this role who is not only the right fach but also alive and active.

    Philip Ens is Claggart, I'm still not too impressed by his voice. Nice but not that type who can kill you with his low notes. But he's surprisingly lyrical and more sensitive than evil. Also obviously lusting for Billy. These two should just make out already!

    All the supporting cast very good, especially Iain Patterson as Redburn. What a gorgeous voice! I feel more and more sorry for the officers. They're quite nice guys by default...

    And I couldn't resist making another silly comic.


  13. #13
    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Default Britten: Death in Venice on DVD



    Conductor Graeme Jenkins; The London Sinfonietta
    1990 Glyndebourne Touring Opera, filmed on stage without the public for the BBC
    Cast:
    Robert Tear is Aschenbach
    Alan Opie has multiple baritone roles (traveller, old gondolier, hotel barber, hotel manager, Dyonisus, elderly fop, etc)
    Michael Chance is Apollo
    Gerald Finely is the English clerk

    Choreography and co-stage direction are by Martha Clarke, the other co-director is Stephen Lawless

    Running time 2'18"
    This product comes from Kultur with the usual cheap packaging and 1.33:1 image (and no subtitles), but it has apparently been remastered and re-issued by ArtHaus with better quality of image and sound, and an alternative cover.

    Modern minimalistic staging, very tasteful and beautiful as usual for a Glyndebourne production. Excellent singing by all concerned. Great acting. The orchestra plays beautifully.

    I understand from reviews that this opera was better done in another production available on DVD with Langridge, but I consider this one good enough to be recommended (actually, to be highly recommended). One of the highlights is the coreography (basically the various children on the beach).

    This is a fabulous opera that pretty much cements my getting back on track with Britten after being disappointed with a couple of his operas, which I didn't feel were as good as Peter Grimes. Death in Venice *is* as good as Peter Grimes, if not better (just as dramatic, and the music is more enticing).
    Last edited by Almaviva; May-23-2011 at 02:38.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  14. #14
    Moderator mamascarlatti's Avatar
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    I cannot improve on the great review by Terry Serres on Amazon.

    What I can say is that I absolutely loved this DVD, it has shot straight into my top twenty list. It's the first opera movie I've seen that would work entirely as a movie as well as an opera. The acting, singing, cinematography are first-rate, the casting perfect (especially Mark Padmore who looks appositely brutish but sings like an angel) and of course the music is fantastic. I just love the skill with which Britten uses musical effects to illustrate the action.

    Highly recommended.
    Natalie

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Default Britten: Albert Herring on DVD



    Bernard Haiting conducts the London Philharmonic at the Glyndebourne festival in 1985.
    Patricia Johnson is Lady Billows.
    John Graham-Hall sings the title role.
    Alan Opie and Felicity Palmer complete the cast.
    Sir Peter Hall directs the traditional staging.

    Like most Kultur products, this one is also bare-bones, with 1.33:1 image, stereo sound only, no extras, but at least there are subtitles in 6 languages and the sound is pretty good.

    There is good acting and orchestra/conductor are excellent. Singing is uneven. The staging, like in almost everything at Glyndebourne, is very good.

    This comic opera by Britten is funny and interesting. The music is good, I like it overall, even if it can't compare to his best serious operas.

    Recommended.
    Last edited by Almaviva; Jul-02-2011 at 06:32.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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