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It was with great excitement that I discovered the release of this DVD a few weeks back. Priam is my favourite Tippett Opera, though I have never had the chance to see it, and know it only through the outstanding Chandos recording under David Atherton Tippett - King Priam.
It's been digitised from VHS with the usual haze that results, but until something more modern comes along this will do very well. Hence my title for the review. Also the musical recording is not perfect. The dynamics are quite extreme so you find yourself craning to hear some of the quieter passages. My guess is that the orchestra was not mic'd up particularly well. I would guess its been recorded with reduced orchestral forces as well, as I have to admit, a very initial disappointment as the blazing brass fanfare that opens the work, and so much sets the tone for the drama, sounded rather lame and insipid in comparison with what I am used to. However, once the singers got going all doubts were dispelled.
Priam is sung by Rodney MaCann and he holds the centre throughout with a superbly portrayed tragic nobility and an absolute charisma from start to finish. For me, the other standout character is Christopher Gillett who plays Hermes, and the significance of whose role was never quite so apparent to me until a direct visual experience.
The stage and set design are obviously low budget but nonetheless very effective and artistically convey the mood as the drama develops.
If you know the opera then this is a must have and any reservations you might have about possible datedness can be dismissed.Read more ›
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Despite the limitations imposed by the musical style chosen by Michael Tippett, this performance of King Priam deserves five star rating for being exceptionally well sung, presented and performed by the Kent Opera Chorus and Orchestra. I think it wrong for reviewers to award as little as one star simply because they don't like any given performance. However, although I watch a lot of operas and enjoy nearly all of them providing they are well staged and performed, I'm afraid I cannot include King Priam among this happy majority even when it is well staged as in this case.
For me, the style adopted by Michael Tippett has all the attributes of a set of people who, having never heard of speech modulation, let alone having been schooled in it, are unable to communicate with each other in any other way than by shouting everything out at the top of their voices. Now, even when spoken, language usually has a rhythmic, musical quality about it. This is especially true of such languages as Italian, which is probably why that language lends itself so well to operatic performances.
Even in English some dialects are more musical than others. I was born and brought up in the heart of the Suffolk countryside during a time when its inhabitants still spoke the old dialect, which was a very musical one. When asked: what is the difference between the Norfolk and Suffolk dialects, the answer always used to be: the Suffolk dialect is the Norfolk dialect set to music. Benjamin Britten, who was a Suffolk man, was well aware of this.
If we listen to a room full of people as their voices rise, fall and mingle we will become aware of a certain musical quality in the plethora of variations. Some operatic composers make good use of this knowledge to brilliant effect.Read more ›
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Tippet's Powerful Antiwar Opera - More Relevant Than Ever29 Feb 2008
G P Padillo
- Published on Amazon.com
I was thrilled to find in this morning's mail, the hot-off-the-press DVD release of the Kent Opera production of Sir Michael's "King Priam." This has for years been one of my favorite videos of any opera, and though I still own it on VHS, that tape has seen better days, so I've been waiting for this to appear on DVD - for years never believing it would finally happen. Well, here it is!
First the technical: Little seems to have been done in transferring it to DVD, though it appears to have been minorly cleaned up, but since this was shot on videotape in 1985 lacks the visual "pop" we're getting used to with HD. It is still looks good. I did have to cruank up the sound as the audio seems to have been recorded at a lower volume, but that's a minor quibble. There are no extras, save for the standard subtitles in several languages and chapter settings.
The VHS release was little known and seemed to be something of a cult hit - even amongst modern opera aficionados. It's my hope that this attractive new DVD incarnation, nicely put together by Arthaus, will find this production - and Tippett's magnificent opera, a whole new audience.
While there has always been some debate on Tippett providing his own libretto, some finding it subpar to the music, I find the text to be one of incredible imagery, and beauty. Often criticized for sometimes arty-ponderous turns of phrase in his other works, here, working from The Ilyiad and the Fabulae of Hyginus, Tippett was inspired - artful and direct, fusing equally its components of text and music and condensing one of the world's great tales into a gripping musical drama.
One of the most interesting aspects of the score is that its composer uses a sparseness to the orchestration - recitatives, arias and ensembles with spare accompaniments, broken up - punctuated and punctured by violent outbursts sometimes by solo instruments, others by massive walls of sound. The opera, composed in 1962, sounds fresh enough that, were its composer still among us, one might not be surprised to learn the ink hadn't yet dried on the score. I have read some compare Priam's score to Berg's Wozzeck, in matters of tonality and structure, but I fail to see the connection or any necessity in comparing one with the other: Each has plenty to comment upon on certain aspects of the human condition, but then so do Massenet's Manon and Bach's Passions. Musically, I find there is more here in common with Stravinsky and Barber.
Another feature I very much like was how Tippet scores a number of scenes with only one, or several instruments, e.g., guitar, piano, cello, and harp.
One of the most hauntingly beautiful and odd moments in this opera is Achilles' aria "O rich soiled land" - accompanied only by guitar. Somewhat boldly (especially for 1962) Tippett makes clear what is at best usually only hinted at and that is the great love shared between Achilles and Patroclus.
The original direction for the Kent Opera by Nicholas Hytner (directed for television by Robin Lough)is presents a timeless, "indoor" Troy, both futuristic and ancient feels more like an office building, partially in ruins but gleaming white as it steadily grows jagged, jumbled, its surfaces -as the evening wears on - cluttered variously and stained by earth, blood, wire, sandbags and eventually everything we perceive as the wreckage of war. While not "realistic" in appearance this production is every bit as powerful visually as it is musically.
Several moments stand out and provide lump-in-your-throat terror, excitement and beauty. The image of Priam and his sons standing over the corpse of Patroclus and stripping down to smear their torsos with his spilt blood reaches a fever pitch, their triumph turned inside out by Achilles' horrifying battle cry at the discovery of his beloved's murder.
The scene that moves me most is that of the King, barefoot and broken who, humbled bows before Achilles and, kissing "the hands of him who slew my son," begs for the mutilated body of Hector. As the two enemies share wine they discuss the futilities of their efforts and, in candor, prophecy how each will die at the hand of the other's son.
Without ever getting preachy, by guiding the story through its natural contours, Tippett's opera is among the strongest anti-war statements made by any artist equal to Britten's harrowingly beautiful "War Requiem." Historically these works are also linked together, premiering in back-to-back in Coventry in May 1962; Priam on the 29th, the War Requiem on the 30th.
As Priam, Rodney Macann gives a tour-de-force performance, giving the enormous palette of Priam's emotions full range, musically and dramatically. He is never short of amazing.
The Achilles of Neil Jenkins, makes this "hero" equal parts seductive and repulsive.
Christopher Gillett, his body painted gold and at first wearing but a G-String, has an otherworldly ease and his aria preparing the final scene is beautiful.
The trio of women - Andromache, Helen and Hecuba are, respectively, Sarah Walker, Anne Mason and Janet Price - while looking a little older than their male counterparts, handle their difficult music wonderfully and dramatically. (They also briefly appear as the godesses Athene, Hera and Aphrodite.)
Honors extend also to riveting performances by Omar Ebrahim as Hector and Howard Haskin as Paris. While neither possesses a voice of great beauty, each serves the music well and make believable the difficulties between Priam's sons.
Tippett populates his tale with a trio of huntsman, nurse, Old Man, Young Guard, soldiers, etc.
Musically everything is held together perfectly by then Ken Opera's Music Director, Roger Norrington who leads a reading from those forces that is appropriately propulsive, contemplative and compelling.
"King Priam" is not an easy entertainment that can move you, sweeping the observer along in the easy manner of Puccini or Mozart. Its subject matter, its musical language and its individualistic way with the story require - or should I say "demand" one pays complete attention in order to reap its many, and powerful rewards.
This is a most welcome release to DVD and, again, I hope this wins new fans to one of Tippett's greatest works.
Gripping retelling of Trojan War saga28 Oct 2014
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I had heard for many years that Tippett's opera King Priam was written, along with Britten's War Requiem, for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral in 1962. But finally hearing the opera, I forgot all about that and didn't even notice whether it was an anti-war message (has any pro-war opera ever been written?) ... I was so wrapped up in the drama, the performance, and the music.
I have been taking an interest in the Trojan War and was assembling as many operas relating to it as I could find. Surprisingly, there don't seem to be that many. There are operas with Dido and Aeneas (Purcell, Cavalli, Hasse currently available), which takes place in Carthage, thousands of miles away from Troy after the war has ended. A few zoom in on one particular story such as Iphigenia in Aulis, or Paride et Elena, both by Gluck. A great many are about heros of the Trojan War, or their kin, after they have returned home: Monteverdi's Return of Ulysses; Mozart's Idomeneo; Strauss' Elektra; anything with Hercules, and so on. But so far I have not run across anything that deals with the war itself as an epic, unless you wanted to count Offenbach's La Belle Helene (which I don't).
Even the stalwart Berlioz Troyens begins with the Trojan Horse (the end of the war) and then heads for Carthage like the others. No, I have been looking for an epic saga about the entire conflict, like the old movie, Helen of Troy.
Tippett's King Priam actually comes closer to what I wanted than I realized. It begins with the birth of Paris, and ends with the destruction of Troy. But--it is character-driven, not event-driven. It does not even show the Trojan Horse. Rather it shows the reaction of the central characters, with the terrifying sounds of war outside.
Now, concerning this particular production. It is excellent. Although I am generally only interested in period-friendly stagings, this was mildly abstracted to a period-neutral setting and not too offensive. Most of the settings are white, to give a classical feel, but with dirty and broken tile to keep us rooted in reality. It is a strong musical performance, no weak singers, filmed for television and the singers actually sing, they do not lip-synch. The picture and sound are also excellent. If I had to engage in a little nitpicking, the worst I could come up with is that Hector's wife looked old enough to be his mother. That's it.
There is one other oddball item I will mention, not as a criticism, but something I found surprising. That is, Paris being portrayed by a black man. It seems an unusual thing to do, politically, in this day and age, to have a black man as the bad guy in an otherwise all-white cast (and playing it up as a horny horn-dog, to boot).
It was obviously a conscious casting decision, not simply a matter of Equal Opportunity where a black singer auditioned for and won a part. I say it was a conscious decision because there were three black actors playing the part--Paris as a baby, as a boy, and as an adult. (At least they were consistent, that would have been even more jarring otherwise!)
Well, I am not sure what I think about that particular matter, only that it seems a little crude on the surface, and problematic at best.
In any event I do recommend this video, both musically and visually.
Fantastic rendering29 Dec 2013
- Published on Amazon.com
Tippett's opera is embued with martialistic music which underscores the pathos of these tragic characters, thus reinforcing the notion of the futility of war. The singing actors were flawless, but grand kudos to Macann for his heart-wrenching portrayal of Priam. Terrific production as it catches the essence of ancient Greek tragedy: the chorus is beautiful in sound and staging and ACT III will render you speechless.
2 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A second rate composer. A second rate opera.30 Jun 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Michael Tippett's King Priam only becomes more dated with time. His dull musical language is so devoid of any inspiration that the stilted libretto and bad staging only make matters worse. "Much ado about nothing". Buyer beware!