Billy Budd is the second of Britten’s large scale operas. Originally envisaged as a four act piece with prologue and epilogue it was later reorganised into two acts and that’s the version the BBC recorded and broadcast in 1966. That broadcast has now been released on DVD. Technically it shows it’s age. The picture is 4:3 black and white though there’s a remastered, and very decent, LPCM mono sound track. There’s also an enhanced Dolby mono track. The video too has been restored and looks pretty decent.
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.