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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historic performance of a great work., 29 Aug 2010
This review is from: Billy Budd: Royal Opera House (Charles Mackerras) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
This is a very good television film from the mid-1960s of Britten's great and profound opera Billy Budd. All the performances are convincing, though I don't think Billy looks quite right. The real gem is Peter Pears's Vere, a part written with his voice, and to some extent his personality, in mind. Nobody else has ever given it the dignity and poignancy he did, and he looks wonderful in the uniform!

The set is realistic, the conducting excellent as you would expect. It's a privilege to be able to see something of such historic interest. Prepare to be harrowed though - this is a tragic story.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully done, 8 July 2010
This review is from: Billy Budd: Royal Opera House (Charles Mackerras) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
I didn't have high hopes for this - black and white, BBC studio video from the 1960s, but I'm glad I bought it. It is beautiful. Somebody has obviously gone to a lot of trouble with the lighting as the scenes below deck look like something out of a high quality 1940s film not a video. Imaginative camera angles make good use of the gorgeous ship set.
Musically the performance is superb. Being able to see and hear Peter Pears is great - he is in good voice, and manages to convey the rather patronising side of Captain Vere when he thinks he is doing Billy a favour, only to see it all unravel before him. Peter Glossop ideally captures Billy's naivity, and sings beautifully. Michael Langdon is a frightening Claggart, driven by jealosy of Billy's popularity with the other men rather than any gay overtones. The impossibly handsome John Shirley-Quirk stands out as Mr Redburn. You also get glimpses of the young Robert Tear and Benjamin Luxon.
I would highly recommend this.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When opera is not quite opera, 16 Feb 2009
By 
S. Graham David (Italy) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Billy Budd: Royal Opera House (Charles Mackerras) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
"Billy Budd" is a very different kettle of fish from "Peter Grimes", and this 1966 TV production is very different from the 1969 version of Peter Grimes. The "buggers' opera", as Sir Thomas Beecham facetiously dubbed it, has an all male cast and comes short of Grimes in lyrical afflatus. Peter Pears is, as one would have imagined, excellent as "Starry" Vere, and Peter Glossop makes a very good job of the leading role. The action takes place in a convincingly accurate mock-up of an English man-o'-war of the period, and the visual effect of the black and white photography with lively camera work and montage is somehow reminiscent of a film like the Laughton "Mutiny on the Bounty". And yet, with the virtual abandonment of theatrical convention the result is not entirely happy. At times the music seems to be commenting on the images that predominate, and one has the disorienting impression of a movie soundtrack. Unlike the later production of "Peter Grimes", which achieves an ideal synthesis between realism and convention.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars billy budd (mackerras), 21 April 2009
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M. A. Bolger (london) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Billy Budd: Royal Opera House (Charles Mackerras) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
A wonderful performance, conducted by the master!

Sound quality far better than expected.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Black and white., 28 May 2014
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This review is from: Billy Budd: Royal Opera House (Charles Mackerras) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
This is history in a dvd. The TV version made with Benjamin and Peter. What can be better? Get it. You may like a more modern color version as well, but must have this. One of his best operas: love it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars bbc classic era opera production, 19 May 2014
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This review is from: Billy Budd: Royal Opera House (Charles Mackerras) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
very good brand new condition ,fast delivery and packaged well ,very moving opera of britten,with his partner pears in it ,this was when the bbc produced great works of art for all to see shame not so now,its b&w but great sound &picture quality .good value too
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dramatic and musical marvel, 15 Nov 2010
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This review is from: Billy Budd: Royal Opera House (Charles Mackerras) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
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. Forster and Eric Crozier is a fascinating tale about the evilness of human justice on a ship under the Acts of War and other regulations having to do with court-martialing anyone for any misdemeanor in war time on a man-of-war.

Falsely accused by his superior officer, the foundling and volunteer in the royal service against the French in 1797 Billy Budd is unable to defend himself with words because he is silenced by a fit of stuttering. So he hits the accuser and kills him. But that accuser is his superior officer, hence he deserves death for hitting his superior officer and committing murder.

He has to be hanged twice but they will reduce it to once. The point is not that miscarriage of justice, but the all-male environment that creates tensions and stress. The said superior officer is "down on" Billy Budd, in other words attracted by him sexually, which he cannot accept and hence he decides to have him pay for that unmanly attraction of his.

But Billy Budd is liked by everyone and the captain is himself attracted to that young and handsome foundling. This time we cannot say the attraction is sexual but the attraction is a deep emotion that makes the captain like Billy Budd and vice versa Billy Budd like the captain. In an all-male environment all kinds of distortions can occur in the relationships among the men in this closed environment that the ship is. But that's not what Benjamin Britten tries to show. He tries to show the dilemma in which the captain was when the events took place.

He had to stick to what he had seen and avoid what he may have sensed or felt at the time. He then stuck to his testimony that meant two death penalties. But in his old age, that captain acknowledges the idea that he could have saved Billy Budd because he had the power to pardon the convicted man, and even before he could have testified about the loyalty of Billy Budd, hence the accidental and provoked assault on Billy Budd's superior officer. But he didn't and thus he is to be tried by another court, a divine court in which he believes. But the following episode is the main moment of that story.

Just before being hanged and released to the deep sea, Billy Budd actually forgives the captain and that saves the captain's soul, but then he could have pardoned on the spot and he did not do it, and that does not save his soul. That's the story of a sea episode in which a captain endorses a miscarriage of justice just to keep his liking for the accused secret in an all-male environment. It is very similar to Peter Grimes, except that in Peter Grimes the young apprentices die due to accidents, and yet a retired captain tells Peter Grimes to go at sea and sink himself in his boat and he does it. Miscarriage of justice again.

But it is an opera, so what is so musical in this story. The music and the singing are systematically dramatic and somber like hell. Instruments often run one against the others, creating conflictual points even at times hiatuses and that gives to the words and the images since it is a visual show a tremendous depth. But there are some moments when this depth becomes a tremendous elevation. Before his execution Billy Budd is visited by an older sailor who brings him a final drink and a biscuit.

That scene is full of emotion and Billy Budd concludes his making his peace with the whole world and the injustice he is going to suffer with a final sentence that reads like that when sung: "That's all, all, all, and that's enough, that's enough, that's enough. This is a marvelous direct allusion to Solomon's trial or wisdom (due to the two repetitive triplets in the sentence) but it shows that the captain was the one who was confronted to a decision that could be compared to Solomon's decision: Billy Budd is guilty twice and he is going to die, but this time the captain did not react like the real mother did, accepting to lose her child for it to live, the captain did not accept to make public his liking for Billy Budd in order to enable him to live.

And that's what is wrong with human justice: it is blind, deaf and mute: it does not see, does not hear and does not say the truth. The music that accompanies the gathering of all the men and the arrival of Billy Budd for his execution is a real gem and diamond in the whole opera with rolling drums from time to time, with whining horns and mocking flutes that create a fake environment to introduce a fake sham of justice that is a real execution nevertheless. And the forgiving declaration of Billy Budd after the reading of the sentence "Captain Vere, God Bless you" shines like a dawning sun in that visual scene of an execution you never see except through the eyes and movements of those who look at it.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, University Paris 8 Saint Denis, University Paris 12 Créteil, CEGID
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