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Britten: Billy Budd / Elder/LPO, Ainsley, Imbrailo, Ens [Blu-Ray]

Album Summary

>Britten, Benjamin : Billy Budd, Op. 50
Performers Conductor Ensembles Composer

Notes & Reviews:

Set on a British man-'o-war ship with an all-male cast, Billy Budd tells the story of pure good versus blind evil. The Herman Melville novel is brought to life through co-writer EM Forster and art director, Michael Grandage. Special features on this 2 disc set include 'Introducing Billy Budd' and 'Designs on Billy Bud'.

"None of the camera’s interventions disturb the sweep of Michael Grandage’s carefully realistic production...you’re still sucked inside the drama, especially if you watch on a widescreen TV...[Imbrailo] is as ardent and puppyish as you could wish...the London Philharmonic revel in the baleful drums, salty woodwinds, and dark beauty of Britten’s score. On DVD as much as in the opera house, this is a Billy Budd to remember." -The Times

"[Elder paces] the developing tragedy with airily lyrical detail and brooding, ominous power. John Mark Ainsley' s plangent, dark-toned tenor and intense diction show us a more neurotic Vere than usual, ridden with doubts and anxieties...Phillip Ens's Claggart maintains a chilly calm, sadistic philosopher rather than snarling bully...[Imbrailo's Billy] is no plaster saint but gauche, hyperactive and open-hearted...this is the most compelling Billy Budd on video." -BBC Music Magazine

"Truly, we live in a golden age of great opera recordings where a performance of Britain’s masterpiece -- perhaps his greatest operatic achievement outside Peter Grimes -- can be set down in an edition as exemplary as this. Singing, staging and recording are all non-pareil." -London24.com

"Elder's unerring sense of theatre puts him absolutely at one with the stage in every episode. He's clearly the guiding spirit of this Billy Budd. The production has been directed with laudable unobtrusiveness by Michael Grandage. Everything is executed with the utmost sensitivity, and there are some telling original touches...Video director Francois Rousillon does exceptional work here, with the precision of HD a constant pleasure. Opus Arte's recorded sound is superb." -International Record Review

"Jacques Imbrailo fields just the right youthful lyric baritone and sings Billy's solo below decks beautifully. John Mark Ainsley gets to the heart of Vere, every close-up showing an artist immersed in his role, and Phillip Ens sings gravely as a Claggart who seems sadly resigned to his lot, rather than an active force of destruction." -Gramophone

"The realisation of the decks of a man-o’-war seem even more claustrophobic than it was at Glyndebourne. The casting is immaculate, the choral singing is overpowering, and you can almost feel the salt spray flying off Mark Elder’s magnificent conducting." -The Daily Telegraph

Audiophile Audition
The forces of the LPO and the Glyndebourne Chorus perform magnificently under the strong leadership of Englishman Sir Mark Elder. Special mention must be made of the production design by Christopher Oram.

Opera News
Jacques Imbrailo... command[s] the stage... with an unfailing good humor and friendliness that make plausible everyone's certainty of Billy's "goodness." His medium-weight baritone proves just right for the challenging music... the large cast is filled with strong voices and individual presences. The production also makes a splendid showcase for the men of the Glyndebourne Chorus (chorus master Jeremy Bines) and for the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Mark Elder secures razor-sharp execution, transparent textures, overwhelming massed impact and thrilling realization of Britten's nonstop coloristic invention.

The costumes are in harmony with the set, and the acting by all concerned is natural and unaffected, with crowd scenes of the entire ship's crew exceptionally well conceived and managed. ... an absolutely stupendous performance in which - mirabile dictu! - the production team dedicates itself to a scrupulously accurate and imaginatively vivid realization of the creators' intentions. The results are nothing short of spectacular... The recorded sound quality is stupendous, particularly the deep, thunderous, rolling bass that rumbles through the theater without the slightest hint of dryness or muddiness.

The picture quality is exemplary, from the opening close-ups to the remarkable solidity of the "below decks" scenes, and the sound matches up to the sharpness and tonal range of the video. There's a choice of LPCM stereo or dramatic DTS-HD Master Audio surround and both have impressive weight, sparkle and clarity.

There are two SD sets of Billy Budd, both of which have strong casts, albeit less good videography or soundtracks. Nonetheless, the legacy B&W TV production on Decca DVD, featuring the legendary Peter Pears as Vere under composer Britten's direction, presents the closest thing to this work's original concept. The more recent English National Opera's presentation with Sir Thomas Allen as Budd and David Atherton's conducting is also a contender. The current set is the BD premiere and, I am delighted to report, holds sway over the field in every possible respect. The singing is beyond reproach with outstanding contributions from principal to supporting cast. Maestro Elder understands the Britten idiom, perhaps better than did the composer himself, allowing the vocal line to rise and fall as it would in spoken text. The technical aspects of the recording are as good as it gets in live opera videos. Whether you have seen Billy Budd a number of times, as have I, or are coming to it on a maiden voyage, this production is the best starting point imaginable for getting on board and relishing a real 20th century masterpiece.

Notes & Reviews:

Run Time: 200 min.
Region: All
Picture Format: Blu-Ray, 16:9, Color
Sound Format(s): LPCM Stereo, DTS 5.0 Surround
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish


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Works Details

>Britten, Benjamin : Billy Budd, Op. 50
  • Performers: John Ainsley (Tenor); Alasdair Elliott (Tenor); Phillip Ens (Bass); Jacques Imbrailo (Baritone); Darren Jeffery (Bass-Baritone); Ben Johnson (Tenor); Colin Judson (Tenor); John Moore (Baritone); Richard Mosley-Evans (Bass); Iain Paterson (Baritone); Matthew Rose (Bass); Jeremy White (Bass)
  • Conductor: Mark Elder
  • Ensemble: Glyndebourne Chorus
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Form: Opera/Operetta
  • Written: 1951