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Owen Wingrave (2009)

Janet Baker , Heather Harper , Brian Large , Colin Graham  |  NR |  DVD
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Owen Wingrave + Benjamin Britten's Owen Wingrave + The Hidden Heart Documentary
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Product Details

  • Actors: Janet Baker, Heather Harper, Benjamin Luxon, Peter Pears, John Shirley-Quirk
  • Directors: Brian Large, Colin Graham
  • Format: Classical, Color, Dolby, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Decca
  • DVD Release Date: July 14, 2009
  • Run Time: 109 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #352,856 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

Based on a story by Henry James, Owen Wingrave was commissioned by the BBC as an opera for television. Originally broadcast in color in 1971, it has an outstanding cast of great British singers, including Peter Pears, Janet Baker, Heather Harper, Benjamin Luxon and John Shirley-Quirk. The opera's story reflects Britten's own strongly-held pacifist beliefs; the opera's central character is a young man from an impeccable military background whose rejection of war leads him into family conflict with a tragic conclusion. Extras: 15 minutes of Extracts from Music Now introductory documentary

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly done! September 15, 2009
Verified Purchase
If you're a fan of Britten operas, this recording is a must. As much as I like the version with Gerald Finley, this new release has to take top honors. Given than Britten was a pacifist, this must have been composted from the heart - and how brilliantly he did! This is the original recording that was shown on British television with Britten conducting and a cast chosen by him. While the picture and sound (mono) show their age (1971), they are still quite good. I can't imagine it being done better.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Sirrah!" September 20, 2011
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"Owen Wingrave," after Henry James's tale of ghosts and pacifism, was Benjamin Britten's penultimate opera, and it is perhaps his most musically complex.

This long-awaited DVD is of the world première, since it was indeed written for television, and was first seen in May 1971. Britten's cast is hand-picked and top-flight: Benjamin Luxon (Owen Wingrave), John Shirley-Quirk (Spencer Coyle), Nigel Douglas (Lechmere), Sylvia Fisher (Miss Wingrave), Heather Harper (Mrs Coyle), Jennifer Vyvyan (Mrs Julian), Dame Janet Baker (Kate Julian), and Sir Peter Pears (General Sir Philip Wingrave).

Luxon sings beautifully, but looks too mature for the rôle, and does not portray a youth very well, unlike Dame Janet and Douglas, who do very well in this regard. And despite my great admiration for Sir Peter, Sylvia Fisher triumphs in the part of the rigid Miss Wingrave. In fact, Sir Peter called Fisher's a "splendid dreadnought performance." She was a great, but underrated, singing-actress!

The composer conducts, and the film was directed by Brian Large and Colin Graham. The film has much atmosphere, considering how difficult the enterprise must have been, and is highly recommended.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Coming Out January 10, 2011
The young Owen Wingrave, sung by the not-young-enough Benjamin Luxon, is the last scion of an aristocratic British family steeped in military tradition. The opera opens with Wingrave and his friend Lechmere (Nigel Douglas) studying Napoleonic tactics with their tutor Spencer Coyle (John Shirley-Quirk). Wingrave reluctantly informs Coyle that he has had an epiphany, that he despises the military ethics and refuses to become a soldier. Coyle is horrified, as are all of Wingrave's family members: his grandfather Sir Philip, sung by Peter Pears, his maiden aunt, and most distressingly his beloved cousin Kate (Janet Baker) whom he has expected to marry. Most of the opera scenes transpire in the gloomy family mansion, where the struggle of ideals is observed by portraits of generations of military forbears, including a Wingrave ancestor who accidentally killed his son in punishment for refuing to fistfight another boy.
Owen will be disinherited ...

The libretto By Myfanwy Piper was based on a short story by Henry James. The opera was commissioned specifically for television by the BBC, filmed in 1970 and first broadcast in 1971. This DVD is a hi-tech restoration of that TV film. The technical aspects are very artful: good visuals, good sound, excellent collage editing, altogether a successful exemplar of a 'new' genre, an opera not composed for the stage but for film. As such, it's an interesting experience for the viewer, but there I'm afraid my enthusiasm stops.

Owen Wingrave is a "coming out" story. The young man comes out of the very dusty family closet as a Pacifist, but the whole emotional tenor of the opera might just as easily represent another sort of "coming out.
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