Beautifully sung and emotionally charged production, especially notable for Pears
Billy Budd is one of Britten's best operas, it has a very moving story and some of the most beautiful music of any of Britten's operas(especially Captain Vere's epilogue). While the ENO and fairly recent Glyndebourne productions are very impressive(the 1997/8 Met production is not on DVD but that has many good things too), this is the best of DVD competition. For recordings, the Simon Keenlyside one is highly recommended. The camera work here is imaginative and lively, and the ship set is gorgeous, I saw a comparison before to the 1935 film of Mutiny on the Bounty and that is apt here. The staging is intense and moving, the scene with Billy being given his final meal is a very good example of the latter. The music as said already particularly with the epilogue is beautiful. But special mention should also go to Claggart's big aria "Handsomely done...O beauty, o handsomeness, goodness!", the line "But alas, alas! A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehends it, and suffers..." has to be one of the most chilling lines in all of opera, and also to Look Through the Port. The orchestra play with nuance and power, the chorus are rousing and sympathetic in accompanying the principals and the conducting from a young Charles Mackerras is efficient and nuanced. Of the performances, Peter Pears(who created the role of Captain Vere as he did with Peter Grimes, he and Britten were great friends as well) comes off best, his trademark musicianship and intelligence shines through as does the dignity of his acting. His singing does have a nice ring to it as well as great vocal expression, though his voice always did have a somewhat personable quality to it. Peter Glossop sadly was an underrated baritone who never got the recognition he deserved, his voice is bigger and more sonorous than most which you can hear evidently here, and he gives a very moving performance here. Michael Langdon is a very frightening Claggart, his voice slightly lacks the black-hearted quality that Richard Van Allan had for ENO but it is still resonant and dark. John Shirley Quick is handsome, youthful and sympathetic as Redburn, Robert Tear and Benjamin Luxon are good in early roles and Dennis Wicks brings a crusty warmth to Dansker. Overall, a great production that is sung beautifully and staged with intelligence and emotion. If you want to see why Britten thought of Pears highly enough to get him to create characters like Peter Grimes and Vere, this is a fine example to see clearly why. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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