WORKS: The Beggar’s Opera (ed. Britten)
PERFORMER: Philip Langridge, Anne Collins, Robert Lloyd, Ann Murray, John Rawnsley, Yvonne Kenny, Nuala Willis, Christopher Gillett, Declan Mulholland; Instrumentalists/Steuart Bedford
CATALOGUE NO: 436 850-2 DDD
Britten’s realisation of Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera – an 18th-century potpourri of popular songs – was written for the newly formed English Opera Group in 1948. Always in search of a tortured, misunderstood hero, Britten was probably drawn to the opera’s central character, Macheath,and the songs themselves also appealed because of their affinity with Purcell and folk music. The Beggar’s Opera was the third of Britten’s chamber operas, following The Rape of Lucretia (1946) and Albert Herring (1947).
This recording, made at Snape last summer, has an impressivecast who not only sing well butdeliver the extensive dialogue convincingly. It is still too politeto be believable but Robert Lloyd (Peachum) and John Rawnsley (Lockit) at least manage to sound menacing and suggestive of an earthy and vulgar underworld.
Britten’s contrapuntal weavingof melodies, voices and instruments moulds these songs into exquisite gems with some startling textures. Philip Langridge delivers Macheath’s Act III scene withreal bite. Ann Murray (Polly) spins ravishing lines in her solo songs;her duets with Yvonne Kenny (Lucy) – particularly ‘Why how now, Madam Flirt!’ – fill the air with vocal invective, and the early Act I duets with Macheath are superb. Steuart Bedford maintains an exciting pace with the orchestra responding to every nuance of the score and, apart from a couple of lapses, the chorus is excellent.Elisse McDougall