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Britten: Billy Budd

4.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

The first film of any Britten opera. The only version to star Peter Pears, who originated the role of Captain Vere. A cast of distinguished British singers, under the baton of a young Charles Mackerras.

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: Peter Pears, Peter Glossop, Michael Langdon, John Shirley-Quirk, Robert Tear
  • Directors: Benjamin Britten
  • Format: AC-3, Classical, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Chinese, English, French, German, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Decca
  • DVD Release Date: July 8, 2008
  • Run Time: 115 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0012L0TEI
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #125,748 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Verified Purchase
I feel I should write a review after going through this emotionally loaded production, but there is so much to it that I find myself at a loss for words.

"Billy Budd" was not all that well received when it first appeared but many now consider it Britten's best, "Peter Grimes" included. Perhaps it needed to be compressed from the original 4 act opera to the 2 act one that is now performed. Certainly it is now a very tight opera that does not seem to have any superfluous bits.

This was recorded in 1966 in a BBC studio wherein there was built an accurate set giving the illusion of a fully-manned man-of-war. The action takes place within this enclosed claustrophobic world of which the captain is king and feels he must must allow the laws to be enforced. The orchestra (excellent) played on an adjacent stage while the filmed action took place on the set. The actor/singers were most appropriately cast and were all wonderful.

The camera work is superb; and with cutting and camera placements illustrates the characters and the moral problems much more clearly than would be experienced by a theatre audience. It feels as though the viewer is there and participating emotionally. I suspect that the fact that it is in black and white, and not coloured, helps to emphasise the dilemmas that are presented.

The original recording has been painstakingly remastered. The picture is very clear; and the sound, albeit mono, is surprisingly good.

I will not get into a discussion of the issues raised by Britten and his librettists. There is certainly a lot to think about and discuss. I hope that those of you who read this review and buy the DVD will enjoy doing so.

If you admire the works of Benjamin Britten, this is a must buy. If you are open to being turned on to the works of Benjamin Britten, you cannot do better than start with this production.
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I love Britten's music. Not surprisingly I have heard most of "Britten conducts / plays Britten", conveniently packed in 4 boxes: Britten Conducts Britten 1, Britten Conducts Britten 2, Britten Conducts Britten: Operas 1 Britten Conducts Britten: Operas 2, and the CD Britten: The Canticles 1-5, etc., as well as his other works. Even though the ranking is a silly business, Billy Budd, for me, is a supreme example of Britten's craft and achievement, second perhaps only to his Peter Grimes in the opera category. It was unjustly ignored outside the U.K. until recently. I believe this superb production will help bring to it the wider audience and the long-overdue recognition.

In a very broad sense, Britten's compositional model resembles that of a Baroque master. His musical language was set early on and it only developed and evolved very gradually. There was never a dramatic turn in his language. (Unlike the "Chameleon" Igor Stravinsky, for example.) The language and sound are so consistent that one can hear a few bars and tell it's by Britten and Britten alone. His enormous output with various degrees of perfection also makes him stand out among the twentieth century composers and reminds us of the Baroque (and pre-Beethoven classical) composers.
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There is no way around it. This is the definitive version of a masterpiece. It moves with the inexorability of a Greek tragedy, driven by a cadre of powerful singing actors, headed by Peter Pears, Peter Glossop and Michael Langdon. The underlying homoerotic text of the original is carefully preserved (the librettist was non other than E.M. Forster himself). And the music is simply exquisite. Now I recommend you go for the recently released "Moby Dick" (see my review) What a combo! Interestingly, the new "Peter Grimes" at the Met is basically done in stark black, white and gray . . . Did I mention that's how this Billy Budd was filmed?
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I am not a great fan of filmed opera. Nor am I a great fan of Britten's operas. They can be a moving experience since he has a good eye for a great story but his music leaves me cold. The best I can say for it is that is interesting. But this performance, as a music drama, is riveting. Everything comes together to create a wonderful realization of Melvile's story. One of the great treats was seeing early work by singers who would become prominant on the English opera scene...including a few lines sung by a pre-bearded Ben Luxon. Wonderfully conducted by Makerras, this DVD puts the more recent Glyndebourn production in the shade.
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I would like my review to stand out and say something that hasn't been said in the other reviews. Alas, I have nothing to add but enthusiasm.

This is a very powerful opera and superbly staged, costumed, conducted, acted and sung. Peter Pears is a superb Captain Vere.

Okay, maybe I can add a little...I felt an undercurrent of some social/emotional issues here. I believe there is a gay sub-text that is important to the story. First, Billy Budd has no home---no one at home. He's ready to join the ship. No, no, that doesn't mean he is gay. But the Captain never mentions a wife back home either. Scenes of Captain Vere reminiscing clearly take place in a bachelor pad. The other conscript mentions his wife and family back home---I believe that give a contrast.

The superior officer killed by Budd seems to be motivated by a manifestation of jealousy. He calls Budd his "Beauty" and there are some squirmy scenes of touching which I believe imply a sexual attraction. The captain is restrained as a senior officer but Claggert is far less sophisticated. I would say that Otello (Verdi) has a similar under current---

The fact that Britten was gay has nothing to do with my observation. I believe it is there and I believe it is deftly handled by all parties.

So, maybe I did add something to the discussion.

The work is superb. It's beautiful in black and white. It's perfectly executed---no pun intended.

I highly recommend adding this to your collection. It is a treasure.
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