View Full Version : Operas by Britten on DVD, blu-ray, and CD

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:03 AM
Britten: Peter Grimes on DVD
Here is a very fine acting/singing job

There are two significant technical problemas: the sound is only stereo, and there are no subtitles (of course, for English speakers, they aren't really needed since one can perfectly understand the well articulated words as in this opera there is more arioso and recitatif than actual lyric singing).

Still, I found this production beautiful and very well acted.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:05 AM
Britten: Billy Budd on TV
3sat TV station did a broadcast in HD, showing the Wiener Staatsoper 2001 staging of Britten's Billy Budd.

Excellent staging, excellent singing, excellent conducting/orchestra (staging by Willy Decker, Neil Schicoff sings Vere, Bo Skovhus sings Billy Budd, Eric Halfvarson is Claggart, and the Wiener Staatsoper orchestra is conducted by Donald Runnicles), excellent acting. The production is flawless, and although I don't know the two commercial products that are available, I doubt that this opera could be staged any better.

The only major problem is that they chose to present the original 4-act version, and it is too long (around three hours). Britten rightfully shortened it to two acts (with a brief prologue and a brief epilogue) subsequently, and the 2-act version in my opinion is preferable, because an overlong Billy Budd can get rather tiresome, in spite of its dramatic intensity and beautiful score.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:06 AM
Britten: The Turn of the Screw on DVD

I can't recommend this DVD because of its technical failures: no widescreen, no menus, no subtitles in any language (?!?), no bonus features, no audio choices. The only functions you get are "play" and "chapter selection."

The performance itself is not bad, most singers do OK and look the parts (the boy singer is the weakest link and Quint is the strongest one with appropriately metallic voice and an evil face), the traditional staging is dark and fittingly oppressive and the "special effects" with mirrors are tasteful - but I've seen better. Acting is good (not great) in terms of facial expressions but static in terms of movement. The Australian chamber orchestra causes no fireworks but still does very well.

So, the bottom line is that it is a very decent performance of this impressive, phantasmagoric opera, but it is marred by a very technically weak DVD.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:07 AM
Britten: The Rape of Lucretia on DVD
This is just a very brief review. I saw this production one of these days:


About the opera itself, I don't feel like going into a lot of detail. It will suffice to say that I liked it, and liked it less than Peter Grimes, but more than The Turn of the Screw and Billy Budd.

This DVD is technically very weak - no subtitles (fortunately I found the libretto online - and even though the opera is in English, subtitles are essential because it is very hard to understand the words). No menus. No insert. No choice of sound track. 1.33:1 image. It seems to be the filming of a staged version with closed doors (no applause, no curtain calls).

Minimalistic staging, modern clothes, good singing overall, good acting. As far as the opera and the staging/singing are concerned, recommended; but this Kultur DVD is of such low quality that it may be just better to listen to this opera on a CD.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:08 AM
Britten: Death in Venice on DVD

Conductor Graeme Jenkins; The London Sinfonietta
1990 Glyndebourne Touring Opera, filmed on stage without the public for the BBC
Robert Tear is Aschenbach
Alan Opie has multiple baritone roles (traveller, old gondolier, hotel barber, hotel manager, Dyonisus, elderly fop, etc)
Michael Chance is Apollo
Gerald Finely is the English clerk

Choreography and co-stage direction are by Martha Clarke, the other co-director is Stephen Lawless

Running time 2'18"
This product comes from Kultur with the usual cheap packaging and 1.33:1 image (and no subtitles), but it has apparently been remastered and re-issued by ArtHaus with better quality of image and sound, and an alternative cover.

Modern minimalistic staging, very tasteful and beautiful as usual for a Glyndebourne production. Excellent singing by all concerned. Great acting. The orchestra plays beautifully.

I understand from reviews that this opera was better done in another production available on DVD with Langridge, but I consider this one good enough to be recommended (actually, to be highly recommended). One of the highlights is the coreography (basically the various children on the beach).

This is a fabulous opera that pretty much cements my getting back on track with Britten after being disappointed with a couple of his operas, which I didn't feel were as good as Peter Grimes. Death in Venice *is* as good as Peter Grimes, if not better (just as dramatic, and the music is more enticing).

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 01:09 AM
Britten: Albert Herring on DVD

Bernard Haiting conducts the London Philharmonic at the Glyndebourne festival in 1985.
Patricia Johnson is Lady Billows.
John Graham-Hall sings the title role.
Alan Opie and Felicity Palmer complete the cast.
Sir Peter Hall directs the traditional staging.

Like most Kultur products, this one is also bare-bones, with 1.33:1 image, stereo sound only, no extras, but at least there are subtitles in 6 languages and the sound is pretty good.

There is good acting and orchestra/conductor are excellent. Singing is uneven. The staging, like in almost everything at Glyndebourne, is very good.

This comic opera by Britten is funny and interesting. The music is good, I like it overall, even if it can't compare to his best serious operas.


January 3rd, 2012, 04:30 AM

I cannot improve on the great review by Terry Serres on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Benjamin-Britten-Padmore-Montague-Sinfonia/dp/B0007CGPU0/ref=sr_1_21?ie=UTF8&qid=1306723788&sr=8-21).:tiphat:

What I can say is that I absolutely loved this DVD, it has shot straight into my top twenty list. It's the first opera movie I've seen that would work entirely as a movie as well as an opera. The acting, singing, cinematography are first-rate, the sets atmospheric, the casting perfect (especially Mark Padmore who looks appositely brutish but sings like an angel) and of course the music is fantastic. I just love the skill with which Britten uses musical effects to illustrate the action.

January 27th, 2012, 08:56 PM

Among the different DVD versions of The Turn of the Screw, this one from Aix-en-Provence is my favourite. The young conductor Daniel Harding extracts a lovely performance from the small orchestra playing this "castle of sounds".

[Link to video deleted by Admin - video no longer available]

Overall: B+, recommended for all Britten lovers.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
February 2nd, 2013, 02:53 AM
Owen Wingrave, opera in two acts (1970), on DVD
Music by Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976
Libretto by Myfanwy Pipen, after a 1982 short ghost story by Henry James


This opera was originally made for TV. This is a DVD recording of a newer film for TV produced in 2001, released by ArtHaus in 2003, and re-released by Kultur in 2005 (that's the one I'm reviewing), with the setting updated to the 1950s at the time of the Suez crisis. Available on Amazon.com for $15, [here (http://www.amazon.com/Britten-Wingrave-Barstow-Savidge-Hellekant/dp/B0007CILJI/)] - Region 1 (US and Canada only). NTSC 1.33:1, with very sharp image, good color, sound track of good quality but significantly unbalanced, with the voices being very loud and the orchestra very soft for the entire duration of the piece. No subtitles (which can be a problem even for native speakers of English, because while some singers are very easy to understand such as the one singing the title role, others aren't, given poorer diction - but the libretto can be consulted [here (http://www.kareol.es/obras/owen/acto1.htm)] to better follow the action on screen. There is no choice of sound track and no mention of what it is, but sound does pour from all five of my speakers so I assume it is DD 5.1.

Runtime for the opera is 92 minutes. There is a fabulous bonus feature - a documentary on Britten's life and works - "Benjamin Britten: The Hidden Heart," that lasts for 57 minutes, and in itself justifies the purchase of this product, especially at its bargain price.

Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Kent Nagano, conductor
Margaret Williams, film director


Gerald Finley (Owen Wingrave)
Charlotte Hellekant (Kate)
Peter Savidge (Coyle)
Hilton Marlton (Lechmere)
Josephine Barstow (Miss Wingrave)
Anne Dawson (Mrs Coyle)
Elizabeth Gale (Mrs Julian)
Martyn Hill (General Sir Philip Wingrave)


This opera was commissioned by the BBC and completed by Britten in 1970. It was first recorded in November 1970, and first broadcast on the BBC2 TV station on May 16, 1971. It is a 12-tone serialist opera, and Britten's next to last work (his last one is Death in Venice). Its pacifist theme was dear to Britten himself, who took advantage of this commission to express some of his own ideas about war, and to protest the events in Vietnam.

The original production was preserved as a studio recording on DECCA from 1970, and its TV broadcast is available on DECCA DVD as well, even cheaper than the current product, and is available on Amazon.com [here (http://www.amazon.com/Owen-Wingrave-Janet-Baker/dp/B001KVAMNI/)] for $11.99. I've never seen it. Here is its simple cover:


The original credits (the creators of the role) are as follows (the conductor was Britten himself):

Orchestra - English Chamber Orchestra
Chorus - Wandsworth School Boy's Choir
Owen Wingrave - Benjamin Luxon
Spencer Coyle - John Shirley-Quirk
Lechmere - Nigel Douglas
Miss Wingrave - Sylvia Fisher
Mrs. Coyle - Heather Harper
Mrs. Julien - Jennifer Vyvyan
Kate - Janet Baker
General Sir Philip Wingrave - Peter Pears himself (Britten's partner)
Narrator - Peter Pears

There are two other CD recordings, both from 2007 and both with the City of London Sinfonia, but with different conductors: Richard Hickox, and Rory MacDonald.

The opera's performance history is relatively scarce. The stage premiere was at the ROH Covent Garden on May 10, 1973. Then it was seen at Santa Fe Opera in 1974, at Glyndebourne in 1995, at Linbury Studio Theater in London in 2007 with reduced orchestration, at Chicago Opera Theater in 2009, at Wiener Kammeroper in 2009, and at Opera Frankfurt in 2010.

Our partners The A. J. Fletcher Opera Institute will present a fully staged production of Owen Wingrave on April 17 at 7:30PM, 19 at 2 PM, and 21 at 7:30PM, 2013, at the De Mille Theater in campus, 1533 South Main Street, Winston Salem NC 27127. If you are at driving distance and feel like attending a live Britten opera in this year of 2013 which is the composer's centennial, stay tuned to the Local Area of our website (click on United States, then North Carolina) for full announcement. Tickets will be available closer to the dates by clicking [here (http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?organ_val=21800&schedule=list)] or by calling 336-721-1945.

Musically speaking, it is considered to be a minor Britten work, and it is his least successful opera. However, I do like it. It has many beautiful moments in my opinion - some of the short intermissions, some compelling tonal percussion, a very lyrical chorus moment (when the story of the murdered boy is being told), and an interesting long duet between Owen and Kate in the second act. It is true that the vocal writing for the male voices is more impressive than for the female voices which seems to be of narrow range and often a bit shrill.

The synopsis is very simple. It is set in Edwardian times. Owen is the last heir of the Wingrave family, who had a long tradition of soldiers. The opera open with Owen attending military school, and interacting with his instructor Spencer Coyle, and his peer Lechmere. To their dismay and that of his mother Mrs. Wingrave, Owen is a pacifist who abhors war and refuses to follow the family tradition of becoming a soldier. All other characters of the opera spend their time berating him, trying to convince him to change his mind, and despising him because he doesn't, including his fiancée Kate. He is sent from London (where his mother is living) back to his family manor Paramore in the countryside, on the hope that the environment of the old house with all the pictures on the wall of his famous soldier ancestors will sway him. Kate is there waiting for him, but receives him coldly, disappointed in his rebellion. The manor has a haunted room, where in the past a young boy who refused to fight with a peer was killed by his father for being a coward. After killing his own son, the father dropped dead. Coyle and Lechmere travel there as well for some more arm twisting. Owen's grandfather, a retired general (Sir Philip Wingrave), scolds him and as this continues to be to no avail, dishinherits him. With this, Kate is not very excited about the prospect of marrying Owen any longer, and seems to be willing to accept Lechmere's flirtatious advances. She asks if Lechmere would spend the night in the haunted room to prove his mettle. He would. Owen gets jealous, confronts Kate, decides to spend the night in the haunted room himself. He does, sees the boy's ghost, and the next morning is found dead. Kate laments his death and grieves over his body. A narrator says some final words. The end.

This Kultur DVD suffers from the usual stingy packaging. Maybe the ArtHaus earlier release is more informative. Like I said, the orchestra is not very audible, except in the more dramatic moments when it plays louder. This is a film, not a staged performance. It's entirely filmed on location. Acting by all principals is very convincing. Cinematography is rather good, with atmospheric scenes, old paintings in the scenery, good use of light and shadow, some interesting British locations. The two main roles of Owen and Kate are very well acted and sung by Gerald Finley with a secure and dense baritone instrument, and Charlotte Hellekant who is an attractive lady with a decent voice. The comprimarios are of variable singing quality: good in the case of Peter Savidge (Coyle), Hilton Marlton (Lechmere), and Josephine Barstow (Miss Wingrave); and less impressive in the case of Anne Dawson (Mrs Coyle), Elizabeth Gale (Mrs Julian), and Martyn Hill (General Sir Philip Wingrave).

Now, the greatest asset of this product is the bonus feature. It contains great footage of Britten conducting, excerpts of some of his best works, and very interesting interviews with people who worked with him and befriended/loved him. There is rare footage of Peter Pears' performance in Peter Grimes.

The documentary, by the sheer fact of containing excerpts of some of Britten's greatest works (emphasis on Peter Grimes, The War Requiem, and Death in Venice), does reset the stature of this opera as one that doesn't reach the heights of his major masterpieces. However, I still find it worthy of attention.

Not only the performance of the work is rather good, but the outstanding documentary makes of this product, in my opinion, a highly recommended one for Britten fans. I can't say A+, though, because of the problem with sound balance, and the absurd lack of subtitles, which is a major, incomprehensible blunder - in the documentary, there are parts in Russian, and they have no subtitles either!! I don't understand how and why a commercial DVD company does something like this. It's mind-boggling. Anyway, most of it is in English, so, it's still worth watching. I give the product a B+.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
February 9th, 2013, 10:49 PM
Gloriana on DVD, a film - not a traditionally recorded opera in video medium, and not the complete opera (severely abridged), but wow, quite good!


Continuing my efforts to get to the bottom of each single opera from 2013's three celebrated composers Wagner, Verdi, and Britten (200 years, 200 years, and 100 years - I've seen/heard all of Wagner's, all of Verdi's, and by now almost all of Britten's), today I'm watching Britten's Gloriana, in an unconventional film that is not the complete opera, but has the decency of billing itself as a film *based* on Britten's opera.

Well, their modesty is appreciated, but still, this creative team did wonders, and while it is to their credit that they acknowledge that they did not intend to present a plain, uncut recording of Britten's work, but rather a very compelling filming of this Opera North production with both on stage and backstage takes, this is still *way* better than other efforts that we've criticized lately, when video directors don't respect the total immersion into the operatic performance.

So, this is an Opus Arte release (2006, filmed in 2000), which already reassures us in terms of quality. Indeed, image and sound are spectacular in color, definition, and balance, with a perfect DTS 5.1 track, and 1.78:1 sharp image that confirms this recording label's technical expertise. This product is for all regions, has subtitles in English, Spanish, German, French, and Italian, and its bonus features include interviews with the two leading singers, the conductor, and the director, all worthy viewing. Run time is about 1h40' for the opera, and some 38' of interviews. Available [here (http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51mXYC3fWXL._SL500_AA300_.jpg)] on Amazon.com for $24.99.

Josephine Barstow is Queen Elizabeth I, Tom Randle is the Earl of Essex, and Clive Bayley is Sir Walter Raleigh. Charming Emer McGilloway is lady Essex. The conductor is Paul Daniels, at the helm of the English Northern Philharmonia, with the chorus of Opera North. The director is Phyllida Lloyd.

Staging and costumes are simply breathtaking. Josephine Barstow in spite of some wear and tear in her voice with some shrill sounds (which is not bothersome because her character is an older woman so it all fits) puts together a *devastatingly phenomenal* acting job. This is one of the deepest and most nuanced acting I've ever seen from an opera singer. Her leading man Tom Randle is impetuous, manly-looking, energetic, and a good singer. Clive Bayley is very convincing in his role. Comprimarios are all good, and I can't spot any weak link.

Usually I don't like filmed opera that focus too much on the backstage. This time, it certainly works. What comes from these backstage takes is how much all the members of the crew, the creative team, and the artists love what they do, and how they sort of *become* the characters. The dilemmas of the roles seem to filter into the real-life backstage situations and the actors seem to lose themselves into the characters. It all plays like a hymn of love for the art form. These people from Opera North are very much into putting together a great show, and they do! Also, the film director has managed to make of little things like make-up and dressing, a fitting part of the opera's plot. I thought it was *brilliantly* done, and a lesson to other video directors. Again, I repeat, it was great that the film director chose to say that this was a film of this entire effort of putting together Gloriana, not a full, uncut, focus-on-the-music-and-the-opera recording of Gloriana, so, any excesses do get to be immediately forgiven.

Now, regarding the score, why isn't Gloriana better considered among Britten's masterpieces? It is outstanding! The score is inventive and lively, with many great moments, and it reaffirms the geniality of this great composer in tone painting, in creating atmosphere, in impacting dramatic weight into theatrical situations.

OK, certainly, purists will want a more specialized conductor (there is criticism regarding Paul Daniels' tempi); they'll want the full score and the full staging without the cuts and the distraction of switching to backstage takes while the opera's music is muted and reduced to soft background sounds, they'll want a principal singer with a more preserved voice, and certainly this shouldn't be someone's only version of Gloriana, but still, I think this film that won an Emmy award is a pleasure to watch, is incredibly good, and I give it my A++, "highly recommended" seal. It's not the full opera, but it is one of the best operatic documentaries ever made, in my opinion (and as a documentary, it does contain rather good - if not perfect - musical values and a good chunk of the opera). I'd call it an obligatory buy for the Britten lover. You know, just Josephine's acting job in itself (regardless of her failing voice) is enough justification to buy this. Go for it!

However, buyer beware: our good Schigolch whose operatic expertise is miles ahead of my humble one, has quite disliked this product, so, the reader should take my enthusiastic opinion with a grain of salt - unlike him, I'm not hindered by comparisons with supposedly much superior products like the ENO DVD which I've never seen and gets glowing reviews. Anyway, for all it's worth, I *loved* this DVD!

February 10th, 2013, 12:40 AM
I love this DVD too. I like the parallels between the aging opera singer of Barstow and the aging queen, both of them having a double life of public onstage and private backstage, and wondering how long their glory can last.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
February 10th, 2013, 12:44 AM
I love this DVD too. I like the parallels between the aging opera singer of Barstow and the aging queen, both of them having a double life of public onstage and private backstage, and wondering how long their glory can last.

Yes, like the interviewees explained in the bonus feature, it was all skilfully matched to the happenings in the opera, in a rather brilliant way, in my opinion. So, the back and forth between stage and backstage was actually intelligently done and had a purpose, unlike some of those DVDs that we hate because the video director can't decide whether he/she is showing the opera or the performers.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
October 12th, 2014, 12:48 AM
The Rape of Lucretia on blu-ray disc


The Rape of Lucretia, opera in two acts sung in English, premiered on July 12, 1946 at Glyndebourne
Music by Benjamin Britten
Libretto by Ronaldo Duncan after André Obey's play Le Viol de Lucrèce

This BBC/Opus Art blu-ray released in 2013 was recorded live in June of 2001 at Snape Maltings Concert Hall, UK (103 miles to the Northeast, from London), on the occasion of the Aldeburgh Festival

It is a co-production of ENO (English National Opera), the Aldeburgh Festival, and the Britten Estate, Limited.

Orchestra of the English National Opera
Conductor - Paul Daniel
Stage Director - David McVicar
Set and Costume Design - Yannis Thavoris
Lighting Design - Paule Constable
Directed for video by Sue Judd


Male Chorus - John Mark Ainsley
Female Chorus - Orla Boylan
Collatinus - Clive Bayley
Junius - Leigh Melrose
Prince Tarquinius - Christopher Maltman
Lucretia - Sarah Connolly
Bianca - Catherine Win-Rogers
Lucia - Mary Nelson

All regions, 1080i HD 16:9 image, LPCM 2.0 and DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 sound, subtitles in English, French, German, Japanese, Korean
Bonus - David McVicar commentaries and cast gallery
Runtime - 120 minutes

The insert contains a 4-page essay by Mervin Cooke, and a synopsis, both are repeated in English, German, and French. No production pictures (the back cover of the disc case does contain four very small color production pictures - there is only one black-and-white picture of Benjamin Britten. No track list.

Available on Amazon for $27 [clicky (http://www.amazon.com/Britten-Rape-Lucretia-Mary-Nelson/dp/B00FFYJHJ6/)]


I'm reviewing this in the context of my preparation for Opera Lively's in-person interview with Christopher Maltman scheduled for November 19 at the Met. It is also interesting to know that the engine behind the fact that we got in 2013 the release of this product recorded in 2001 is Sarah Connolly, according to what she told Opera Lively in her exclusive interview with us. She loved this production; it had been shown on television in June 2001 (BBC 2) therefore she knew that a video recording was available. She discovered the tape and was pleased to see that it had been recorded in high definition, and she lobbied Opus Arte to release it on blu-ray, which then they finally did. Apparently she even put money of her own in the production and worked with the various companies the artists belonged to, so that the proper authorizations could be granted. We owe to Sarah the product we have in hands.

Listening to David McVicar's comments (bonus track) although they are very brief (a couple of minutes) is essential. They are very interesting and insightful and introduce some nice angles to understand the piece. It is striking to see how in two minutes he said some meaningful words while the 4-page essay included in the insert is not very enlightening.

The concert hall reminds me of Wolf Trap Opera (it's a similar pavilion). The prologue opens with excellent singing by John Mark Ainsley (the Male Chorus), who has a powerful and well-modulated voice with pleasant timbre and very good clarity of enunciation. While less spectacular, Orla Boylan as the Female Chorus does well too. They are both dressed in white modern clothes. The stage is stark, minimalistic, and very tasteful, with large empty spaces and monochromatic lit background so that singers initially look like silhouettes, until they walk to the proscenium.

In Scene I, a young Christopher Maltman (still with hair, hehe) dressed in period costume makes his entrance, for now, in acting only since he doesn't sing yet. The two male comprimario roles get two singers of different quality: Bailey better than Melrose, but both tend to be a bit shouty. Maltman starts singing with a very deep and resonant voice. The scene develops with good acting by all artists.

The orchestra of the ENO plays with precision and good dynamics.

The description of Tarquinius' horse ride to Rome is performed with exquisite perfection by Ainsley and the orchestra. This is certainly overall a production with great musical values, but Mr. Ainsley so far is stealing the show (well, this is, after all, the role created by Peter Pears - so, Britten did write some mighty good music for his partner); I'd be eager to listen to him in other roles too.

The background walls slide up and we see the three women, for scene 3, lit in blue. Very beautiful effect. I like everything about this production, so far (except that singers at times are shouting their lines too loudly).

Next we hear one of my favorite mezzo-sopranos, the always excellent Sarah Connolly, here in great vocal form. The two comprimario females start singing too, and they both are a notch below Sarah and Orla, but not to the point of spoiling the performance (Mary Nelson is the weakest one).

A word about the opera itself: I like it, more than when I first had contact with it. It is my second favorite Britten after Peter Grimes. I'm aware that most people would place The Turn of the Screw and Billy Budd ahead of it, but I don't.

First act comes to a close, and I must say it was of high quality.

Scene I of Act II uses an inclined mirror in the background, similar to the famous Parisian Les Troyens.

The scene is very well acted and sung and quite impressive. There is some nudity (Taquinius rips off Lucretia's nightgown and exposes one of her breasts).

Scene II has a small body of water on stage, and the sets look good. By the way, image is crisp and sharp throughout the piece; video direction is very good, and the sound is simply excellent with perfect capture and balance.

Anyway, I've seen enough to give my rating already. This blu-ray is of very high quality both technically and in the musical, acting, and staging aspects of the production. A+, highly recommended. Pros include the four principal singers (Ainsley, Boylan, Connolly, and Maltman), excellent orchestra and conducting, tasteful staging, good video direction, sharp image and excellent sound, and nice comments by McVicar as bonus feature. Cons, which prevent the rating from reaching A++ territory, are a couple of weaker comprimario singers, and the insert documentation with a less-than-ideal essay and the lack of tracking list with musical numbers, singers, and durations.