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Benjamin Britten: Billy Budd [Glyndebourne Festival] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080i/60
  • Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio  5.1
  • Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1
  • Studio: Opus Arte
  • Blu-ray Release Date: June 28, 2011
  • List Price: $39.95

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Billy Budd (Glyndebourne) -

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Overall
[Rating:5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:2.5/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG  thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)


The Performance

[Rating:5/5]

When Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd debuted in 1951, a few years after the triumph of Peter Grimes, the composer was abetted by a superb cast and a libretto written by no less than E. M.Forster and Eric Crozier. The story is based on Herman Melville’s novel in which a young seaman, Budd (baritone Jacques Imbrailo) is impressed into service on the HMS Indomitable during the French wars. He falls under the scrutiny of master at arms, John Claggart (bass Philip Ens) and Captain Vere (tenor John Mark Ainsley). In an allegory depicting the struggle of innocence versus evil and corruption, Billy is eventually and falsely accused of fomenting a mutiny. During his meeting with Vere and Claggart, his stammer prevents him from denying these charges. Billy kills Claggart unintentionally, is sentenced to death and then executed. Vere, as the navigator of the ship and this story, years later, regrets this decision and finds redemption in Billy’s forgiveness before he dies.

This 2010 Glyndebourne production, directed by Michael Grandage, features the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Britten expert, Mark Elder. The all-male cast, in period costume and realistic ship set, provides a strong chain with nary a weak link.  The intensity and intimacy of the action is superbly realized with outstanding videography and sound reproduction.

Video Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

This is a deliberately dark production, highlighted by numerous close-ups of the singers. The balance and perspective of the cameras is exemplary.  The use of a single versatile set gives the appropriately claustrophobic nature of this psychodrama while allowing a focus on the archetypal characters, the well-meaning Vere, the handsome and innocent Billy, and the supremely evil Claggart.  The pivotal and chilling apex of the opera, Claggart’s monologue, “O beauty” is highlighted with such skill that it draws the viewers into his perverted universe and chills them to the core with its malevolence.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

The sound engineers have done an excellent job in projecting the stage voices, while allowing the orchestra, especially the solo details, to be reproduced with great clarity. Ambience is carried out by the surround speakers, enhancing the “live” effect of this performance.  The recording of the voices is so good that it renders subtitles for English speakers is completely unnecessary.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:2.5/5]

There is a gallery of cast photos and two brief pieces on the concept of this production and its staging.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:5/5]

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.

Additional Screen Captures

[amazon-product]B004UU31WU[/amazon-product]

[amazon-product region=”uk” tracking_id=”bluraydefinit-21″]B004UU31WU[/amazon-product]

BestBuy.com:
Billy Budd (Glyndebourne) -

Purchase Billy Budd on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:2.5/5]

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