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Britten;Benjamin Beggars Opera

Janet Baker , Bernard Dickerson , Charles R. Rogers    NR (Not Rated)   DVD
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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John Gay's The Beggar's Opera created a theatrical revolution in London in 1728. It lampooned the conventions of Italian opera seria--then the reigning form of musical theatre in London--by putting the genre's aristocratic attitudes and high-flown sentiments into the dialogue of thieves, beggars, cutthroats, and prostitutes and by making it painfully clear that petty greed, vanity, and jealousies, not the noble sentiments uttered by operatic heroes, were what motivated its plot. For the elaborately structured da capo arias and rhetorical recitatives of opera seria, it substituted spoken dialogue and popular tunes of the time with new, satirical lyrics. It was sensationally popular because it was in touch with the contemporary environment.

Today, nearly three centuries later, it requires some historical background for complete enjoyment. Only a few of the tunes are still familiar, and for American audiences, subtitles might occasionally be useful. Some of the characters, representing small-time underworld operators, have Cockney accents almost as impenetrable as the German, Italian, or Russian heard in other opera videos. But the performance is superbly styled and it grows more enjoyable with repeated hearings. The cast includes some highly skilled stars of British TV who slip easily into a baroque equivalent of their sitcom experience. For Americans, the best-known cast member is Roger Daltrey (of the rock group the Who), perhaps better-known for Tommy than for The Beggar's Opera. --Joe McLellan


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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
The acting and the singing was superior on all accounts, and especially the way the singers allowed character-voicing into their portrayal without compromising the valid singer within.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Subtitles very inaccurate July 3 2013
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I already have a copy of this opera without subtitles and when I saw that it was available with subtitles I ordered a copy. I'm not sure where they got the text from, but the words are not the same in almost every sentence. It's as if they had the text from another version. I found the sound quality clear and easy to follow, but I was constantly having to edit in my head what I was reading in the subtitles.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I Know the opera by VHS video June 6 2010
Format:DVD
The VHS video opera is very good, with poor quality. I think the DVD is much better, but Amazon.ca sent all my last three purchases by DHL. Sorry to say that in BRAZIL, only the oficial Brasilian Post Ofice has custons oficials to clear goods for people without taxes and import documents. To send by DHL, Amazon.ca must send a proforma invoice first in order the buyer pay the custons taxes. These way take about three months to clear documents and taxes are about 100%. Sorry to say it's only for business, not allowed to individuals.I hope people of Amazon.ca read this review and take the correct measures. (SEND THE GOODS BY POST CANADA - CANADA POSTES). This way I always get my purchases in about tree months. Two weeks if Air Mail.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A near perfect performance May 12 2004
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
I'm fairly familiar with both the period when the Beggar's Opera was written and with the popular tunes it is based on. Its only real flaw is that Roger Daltrey is not the best singer for this type of music. It pays to know (or look up) the traditional lyrics used with the tunes, as Gay seems to have written his lyrics with reference to them (and the original audience would have known them). Comparison of both versions often reveals a satiric intent. There are many period jokes, such as when a lawyer who specializes in defending various types of thieves reads out a client list of pickpockets, houebreakers, etc. and the list includes "tailor." Tailors were often accused of appropriating some of the fabric provided by their clients and pretending it had been used up in the garment.
To me, at least, this was a very witty opera with lots of action as well as good music.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent direction and performances March 5 2003
By A Customer
Format:DVD
Although I understand the complaints about the dialogue being unintelligible, I actually thought the songs were very easy to understand. Both the singing and the general presentation of the music were excellent--John Eliot Gardner does a great job of music direction. I also agree that this is an excellent version to use in teaching; it's lively, thoughtful, virtually uncut, and offers some interesting interpretations. (Jonathan Miller diverges from the text at the end, but it is a thought-provoking divergence.) It's not a sugar-candy version of the Opera, but since the threat of death by hanging is a central element of the text, I don't see the gritty aspects of this performance as a problem.
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