I was interested in hearing Britten's original four act version of this opera, which I adore. Apart from around five minutes more music at the end of act One and some extra bars here and there there is little difference. The performances sadly were a let down. Thomas Hampson's (an artist I admire) is a total miscast as Billy. He does not seem at home in the role, his timbre is wrong for it, his characterisation bland and his diction poor. Rolfe-Johnson's Vere is also let down by poor characterisation, though he sings beautifully (as he always did). Best is Eric Halvarsen's Claggart, a towering performance. Small parts represent a galaxy of great British singers at the start of their carreeers and are well done. Negano's conducting and the playing of the Halle orchestra is superb. A better bet is the Chandos CDs cond. by Richard Hickox with Simon Keenlyside as a moving Billy, John Tomlinson as Claggart and the incomparable Philip Langridge as Vere.
There are several recordings of Billy Budd, including one conducted by the composer. This one however must be a must for Britten enthusiasts . Thomas Hampson has a naturally beautiful voice which makes the character even more sympathetic than usual, and the sadly departed Anthony Rolfe Johnson a superb Vere. The conducting and sound are superb. Recomended.
This is a fine performance of Britten's Billy Budd, probably my favourite of all his operas.
A live recording, this is the original 4-act version of the work which I much prefer to the shortened 2-act version, as it restores the rousing address (closing the first act) Captain Vere makes to the crew and serves - I think - to emphasise both how close-knit (and claustrophobic) life on a man o`war was and how much reverence the sailors (particularly the newly impressed Billy – in both senses of the word) hold for their captain. The music is beautifully and vividly recorded; this is an exciting opera and not only do the singers perform superbly, the orchestra really carries the listener along; the dynamic writing of the score is at times breathtaking which really brings the action to life, most notably in the sea shanty scene and the scene in act three when the ship readies for action. The singers are, without exception well-cast, Hampson makes an excellent Billy, with Rolfe Johnson a sympathetic Vere and Halfvarson a suitably malicious Claggart.
There are several recommendable recordings of the opera available, but I think this is the only one of the 4-act version; this Erato recording has a full libretto and notes in English, French and German. I note that the recording has been reissued through Warner, but I can't vouch for the inclusion of the same booklet. Disc running times are 77 minutes and 71.45 minutes, disc 1&2 respectively.
I first saw this opera in full this summer when I watched the film of the new Glynebourne production. I have always loved parts of the opera, but the film was the first time I have seen it in full. I was so taken with the music that I had to buy a copy. As always with Amazon there is a huge choice. Thomas Hampson is my favorite baritone, so when I saw this particular version advertised I had to have it. I have not exactly worn out the CD as I have downloaded it to my computer, but if it had been a vinyl, it would already have been showing serious wear. It is a beautiful version of the opera and Hampson as Billy is incredible, as he always is. I strongly recommend this version to any lover of Britten and Hampson.