BRITTEN: Peter Grimes
BRITTEN: Billy Budd
BENJAMIN BRITTEN - A TIME THERE WAS...Tony Palmer film
Here are two major television productions from the BBC vaults. Benjamin Britten's greatest opera, Peter Grimes, was filmed in color Feb. 24-28, 1969, televised for the first time the following November. The composer conducts, and Peter Pears, who had sung the role for the first time almost 25 years earlier, was in the title role. John Culshaw was in charge of audio, a guarantee of superb sound, and Brian Large directed doing a remarkable job in the confined space of The Snape. Video is excellent although perhaps a bit primitive by today's standards (the storm is depicted by a kaleidoscopic montage of color images, sometimes with Grimes in the hazy mist). Recorded in September 1966, Billy Budd, was first televised December 11th of that year. This was one of the most ambitious televised opera productions; the set included the illusion of a fully-manned English man-o'-war. Peter Pears is Captain Edward Fairfax Vere, and a young Peter Glossop has the title role. Charles Mackerras conducts. This is a black and white film of high quality, with excellent audio as well--audio choices are LPCM mono or Enhanced Dolby Mono for both operas, and surtitles are provided in English, French, German, and Spanish. The Billy Budd disk also contains a brief feature called Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears that opens with an excerpt from a concert in which the composer is pianist, including as well excerpts from other performances by Pears.
Also indispensable for classic collectors is Tony Palmer's award-winning Benjamin Britten 1979 film produced at the request of Peter Pears. It gives an intimate view of the life of this "strange, haunted man" and includes recollections by many of his friends and associates including Mstislav Rostropovich, Sviatoslav Richter, Janet Baker, Julian Bream and many others, along with many musical excerpts. A beautiful production in every way, and highly recommended.
R.E.B. (December 2008)