Britten: Billy Budd
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"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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Black and white movie so not as good as a live production but musically goodPublished 13 months ago by T. Weaver
Another popular Britten, probably his best, if you like Britten.Published 21 months ago by Robert M. Nied
The re-mastering of the original BBC production of this opera by Benjamin Britten is a real treat with Peter Pears. The story, adapted from Melville by E.M. Read morePublished on November 15, 2010 by Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
This is a rare recording and a difficult one to find. It arrived in excellent condition and has titles which are necessary, even though the opera is in English. Read morePublished on July 6, 2009 by Irma Gurman
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