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Gay: Beggar's Opera / Sutherland, Clark, Bonynge

Gay / Sutherland / National Phil Orch / Bonynge
Release Date: 08/31/2010 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4428629   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  John Gay
Performer:  Angela LansburyDame Joan SutherlandJames MorrisAnthony Rolfe Johnson,   ... 
Conductor:  Richard Bonynge
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Opera ChorusNational Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GAY The Beggar’s Opera Richard Bonynge, cond; Graham Clark ( Matt ); Stafford Dean ( Lockit ); John Gibbs ( Jenny Twitcher ); Kiri Te Kanawa ( Polly Peachum ); Angela Lansbury ( Mrs. Peachum ); Alfred Marks ( Mr. Peachum / Jailer ); Warren Mitchell Read more ( Beggar / Drawer ); James Morris ( Macheath ); Ann Murray ( Jenny Diver ); Regina Resnik ( Mrs. Trapes ); Anthony Rolfe Johnson ( Filch ); Joan Sutherland ( Lucy Lockit ); Ann Wilkens ( Dolly Trull ); London Op Ch; Natl Phil O DECCA ELOQUENCE 442 8629 (2 CDs: 125:26 &)

This recording with its stellar cast dates from 1982, when it was released on LP. The CD reissue coming as it does very close to the demise of one of its chief stars, soprano Joan Sutherland, there is a sense of poignancy to hearing it again after all these years. Of course, The Beggar’s Opera is and has always been a perennially favorite work since its premiere in 1728, and of course there is a numerological significance to it being originally released in January of 1982 (and for those not up on their math, the last two digits are the reverse of its original performance, which took place back then on January 28). The timing here, however, is good for the rerelease, particularly since there seems to be an increasing interest in English opera of the ballad sort from the 18th century of late, such as a new recording of Samuel Arnold’s Polly on Naxos.

Authenticity of performance practice is a real question with this work in particular, since almost all of the original music was made up of various favorite tunes of the time, mostly simplified. The only bit actually composed appears to have been the overture, which apparently was commissioned by John Gay from Johann Pepusch, a composer and teacher in London at the time. The rest seems to have been cobbled together willy-nilly using satire, paraphrase, parody, and even extant popular songs, all of which Gay envisioned as being sung without accompaniment (or perhaps improvised on the spot); Pepusch added a bass line in 1729 to keep body and soul together, just in case the piece had to be performed elsewhere. Richard Bonynge and his collaborator Douglas Gamley have entirely reorchestrated the work, essentially adhering to the spirit of The Beggar’s Opera as a pop music revue of the time but allowing for the entire National Philharmonic Orchestra to participate. The result is, as they say, a show, less notable for its felicity to Gay’s original than for reinvigorating it within a modern context as basically a movie musical.

How does one review this disc? The performances are quite good, as an opera or musical. Angela Lansbury reveals her theater background with a cockney accent that could cut wood, and this is precisely the sort of character Mrs. Peachum is. Alfred Marks’s Mr. Peachum is a deeper baritone, perhaps a bit more operatic in tone, but then that explains the fulsome timbre in opera star Kiri Te Kanawa’s Polly. James Morris as Macheath seems a bit more timid at first, but by the time he hits the aria “Which Way Shall I Turn?” his powerful bass is equal to Macheath’s bluster. The duet “Look Hither, Dear Husband” seems very much right out of Lakmé with the voluptuous voices of Sutherland and Te Kanawa blending; one would be hard-put to think of them in a prison vying for the attention of their seducer. The tempos seem clean, almost as if in a Broadway show, and the singers and orchestras blend extremely well together. In short, it is a rollicking good romp, this Beggar’s Opera , and in these days of close attention to the art of accurate Baroque performance practice, such an over-the-top modern version may seem anachronistic. The purists may decry that this updating is a travesty, but for those who seek little more than good entertainment, caring only for the show and its marvelous cast of characters, you might want to consider this rerelease. It is great fun, makes no pretentions for accuracy at the expense of the show, and brings together a great group of artists. So, go have fun.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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Works on This Recording

Beggar's Opera by John Gay
Performer:  Angela Lansbury (Voice), Dame Joan Sutherland (Soprano), James Morris (Bass),
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Tenor), Regina Resnik (Mezzo Soprano), Ann Murray (Mezzo Soprano),
Warren Mitchell (Baritone), Alfred Marks (Baritone), Graham Clark (Tenor),
Michael Hordern (Voice), John Gibbs (Baritone), Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (Soprano),
Stafford Dean (Bass), Anne Wilkens (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Richard Bonynge
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Opera Chorus,  National Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1728; England 

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