Perhaps the most interesting concert of the Toronto Summer Music festival so far took place at Walter Hall last night. The main event was the presentation of Sounding Thunder; a work about the life of Francis Pegahmagabow, Canadian war hero and First Nations activist.
It’s a curious thing how some works get over recorded and others are almost entirely neglected. For example, there’s only one video recording of Weill’s Die Dreigroschenoper and that a 1931 film that omits huge chunks of the stage work. It’s inspiration fares little better. There’s only one video recording of The Beggar’s Opera by Johann Pepusch and John Gay. It’s a 1963 BBC TV production of Benjamin Britten’s reworking of the piece for the English Opera Group based on a stage production by Colin Graham. [ETA: There are actually two other versions; a 1953 movie version with Lawrence Olivier and a 1980s version with Roger Daltrey and John Eliot Gardiner].
Various thoughts about the Channel 4 film of Britten’s Owen Wingrave led to me seeking out the original BBC TV version from 1970, now available on DVD. It’s extremely interesting and worthwhile. Britten himself conducts and the cast includes many of the people involved in the first productions of many other Britten operas. They include Peter Pears (General Wingrave/Narrator), John Shirley-Quirk (Coyle), Benjamin Luxon (Owen), Janet Baker (Kate), Heather Harper Mrs.Coyle) and Jennifer Vyvyan (Mrs. Julian). The quality of the music making is superb and I found myself constantly surprised and delighted by details brought out by Britten supported by the excellent English Chamber Orchestra. At the same time, the fluent and idiomatic singing pointed up the excellence of Myfanwy Piper’s libretto. This really is Britten at his best.