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Gay/Pepusch: The Beggar's Opera / Daltrey, Gardiner

Gay / Gardiner / Daltrey / Johns / Routledge
Release Date: 06/30/2009 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 102001  
Composer:  John Gay
Performer:  Peter BaylissGary TibbsBob HoskinsRosemary Ashe,   ... 
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Johann Christoph Pepusch
Libretto by John Gay

Macheath – Roger Daltrey
Peachum – Stratford Johns
Mrs. Peachum – Patricia Routledge
Polly Peachum – Carol Hall
Lucy Lockit – Rosemary Ashe
Beggar – Bob Hoskins
Player – Graham Crowden
Filch – Gary Tibbs
Lockit – Peter Bayliss
Jenny Diver – Isla Blair

The English Baroque Soloists
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor

Jonathan Miller, producer and director

Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu languages: English, German, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English,
Read more German, French, Spanish
Running time: 135 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)

R E V I E W:


PEPUSCH The Beggar’s Opera John Eliot Gardiner, cond; Roger Daltrey ( Macheath ); Stratford Johns ( Peachum ); Patricia Routledge ( Mrs. Peachum ); Carol Hall ( Polly Peachum ); Bob Hoskins ( Beggar ); Rosemary Ashe ( Lucy Lockit ); Peter Bayliss ( Lockit ); The English Baroque Soloists ARTHAUS 102 001 (DVD: 135:00) Broadcast: BBC 1983

In many respects, I find this version of The Beggar’s Opera , as directed by Jonathan Miller, exemplary. On a dramatic level, though filmed indoors, the cameras move freely and effectively through ample, well-defined spaces. Miller’s desire to “return to basics” and get rid of the romantic view of the work, first promulgated in its 1920s revival, produces wonderfully cluttered, grimy, and colorful sets, especially in Peachum’s office and Newgate Prison. The costumes are perfect, both for type and variety, along with the odd exception (such as a filthy white curled wig atop the head of one of Macheath’s gang) aping the upper classes much as Gay’s acid libretto relentlessly mocked them.

The performances are on a par with this vision. We are for the most part given actors who sing, rather than opera singers who act; and while the general level of acting at major and secondary opera houses today marks a major advance over 20 years ago, there’s much to be said for the wealth of physical and verbal characterization on view from the likes of Stratford Johns and Patricia Routledge. As for Daltrey, he’s excellent, a fine vessel for the larger-than-life anti-hero Captain Macheath, who never indulges in any emotion halfway.

I do have reservations about Peter Bayliss’s Lockit, however. Granted, Bayliss was known for his protean features and stage whimsy, but he is given his head in this performance, and I know no instance where more squeaks, gurgles, groans, sneers, clicks, chortles, wheezes, grimaces, crunches, grunts, snaps, snickers, and various other small visual and audio attention getters were fit into as narrow a time frame. Miller obviously thought it was funny, and in small doses it would be, but Restoration parodies are not usually at their best when presented as Chuck Jones cartoons.

One other reservation comes to mind as well: the changed ending. In the original, the beggar outside the work’s frame who supposedly writes The Beggar’s Opera is convinced at literally the last minute to create a happy ending, since opera audiences (we are told) must have a pleasant conclusion, and reprieves the Captain. Here, the reprieve takes too long to get to the executioner, and he’s killed: credits over freeze frame. If this was intended to provide a final laugh, it doesn’t succeed. Macheath forced to live and deal with his vicious mess of a private life was a far nastier and amusing sentence than death, as Gay realized.

Musically, everybody is competent, with the sole exception of Carol Hall. She’s a fine, professionally trained singer, a soloist, and a frequent member of Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir, who ironically seems just a bit out of place among the many rough character voices. That said, she does provide an excellent, patricianly foil to Rosemary Ashe’s vulgar Lucy Lockit, which was undoubtedly what Miller intended. Barlow’s musical arrangements (aside from the overture, no original orchestrations survive) are appropriately small-scaled, and don’t usually draw attention to themselves. Gardiner conducts the original folk and classical pieces that furnished Pepusch’s “ballads” with a good rhythmic sense and reasonable pacing.

The sound format is PCM stereo, and the visual format, 4:3. The image is crisp and properly colored, without any analog artifacts. Subtitles are available in English, German, French, and Spanish. (Note that the English updates the original Restoration text, so if you need to follow along when some of the accents become a bit too thick, you’ll find yourself frequently reading a different libretto than the one you’re hearing.) With excellent performances (save one) and a fine production, this is well worth the price.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Beggar's Opera by John Gay
Performer:  Peter Bayliss (Voice), Gary Tibbs (Voice), Bob Hoskins (Voice),
Rosemary Ashe (Soprano), Patricia Routledge (Voice), Roger Daltrey (Voice),
Stratford Johns (Voice), Carol Hall (Soprano), Graham Crowden (Voice),
Isla Blair (Voice)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1728; England 
Date of Recording: 1983 

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