Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

John Gay: The Beggar’s Opera
12 Dec 2005

GAY: The Beggar’s Opera

Benjamin Britten’s identity as a decidedly “national” composer is formed in part by his well-known engagement of pre-existent English music, old English texts, and subjects rich in the English legacy, as a glance at works like the Purcellian The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, the Chester mystery play, Noyes Fludde, or the Elizabethan opera, Gloriana, all confirm.

John Gay: The Beggar’s Opera
A Musical Version Realised from the Original Airs by Benjamin Britten.

Original 1948 Cast, including Peter Pears, Nancy Evans, Jennifer Vyvyan, and Otakar Kraus. The English Opera Group Orchestra; Benjamin Britten, conducting.

Pearl GEM 0225 [CD]

 

Thus, there is little surprise in his taking on a modern realization of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, an undertaking that, as Philip Brett observed, “signifies the culmination of a process of self-conscious rapprochement with history and national identity, part of what Britten thought necessary, as a newly connected and ‘located’ artist, to fulfill his role.” Certainly The Beggar’s Opera claims a special place in the English musical legacy. First performed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in January, 1728, its satirical volley aimed at Walpole’s administration, the aristocracy, and the Italian opera struck a responsive chord in London audiences—audiences that could have seen it performed an impressive sixty-two times during its first year alone! And London audiences would find it performed annually throughout the remainder of the eighteenth century. The best-known “ballad opera,” The Beggar’s Opera combines spoken dialogue and popular tunes drawn from English ballads, Irish, Scottish, and French airs, and melodies from composers like Purcell, Handel, and Bononcini, all intertwined in a tale of “low life.”

The musical content was originally skeletal—melodies with bass lines devised by Johann Pepusch. Britten’s realization gives the tunes a content-rich accompaniment, employing harmonies, effects, and inflections far-removed from the eighteenth century. Pepusch is left behind here, and what emerges is not a dressed-up neo-classicism—Pepusch with modern spice—but rather a fresh re-imaging of the melodies’ harmonic and dramatic propensities.

Britten created his Beggar’s Opera for performances by the English Opera Group in 1948, the year after its founding by Britten, the artist, John Piper, and librettist-director, Eric Crozier. This present CD offers a digitalized recording made from acetates of the 1948 production. Peter Pears takes the role of Captain Macheath, and it is wonderful to savor his voice in moments of lightness and ease, as in the second act air, “The first time at the looking-glass.” But by and large, the biggest presence on the recording seems to be Britten himself. The radical transformation of the airs through such highly inflected accompaniment transforms the nature of the work itself. In part this has to do with the manner of performance. The amount of “information” in the orchestra goes hand-in-hand with a necessary slowing of the airs, and as a result, one misses their often-times lilting quality. But additionally, the sophistication of the accompaniments and their amount of information transforms the aesthetic from one of engaging popular simplicity to a more complex, multi-layered affair, seemingly rich with meaning and inflection. In short, the eighteenth-century ballad opera has here taken on the language of opera, that which it had originally lampooned.

If one’s interest lies in The Beggar’s Opera itself, the Britten 1948 version will be of only tangential interest, I suspect. But, if one’s interest lies in Britten and his ability to transform and create within the constraints of pre-existent material, this is a rich sample, indeed, and a valuable historical artifact of English musical life in the early years after World War II.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):