The popularity of Britten’s three chamber operas proper (The Rape of Lucretia, Albert Herring and The Turn of the Screw) has tended to somewhat overshadow his brilliant adaptation of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, the realisation of which was completed in 1948.
First seen in 1728, this original ballad opera weaving popular tunes of the day from England, Scotland and Ireland (with some Handel and Purcell thrown in) as it depicted the goings-on in London’s criminal underworld. Many different versions have been made of The Beggar’s Opera, but Britten’s version, from 1948, stands out through its skilful, sensitive treatment of the original music realized from the original airs. Britten’s interest in The Beggar’s Opera as a vehicle for the newly-formed English Opera Group stemmed naturally from his love of folk-song. Britten used 66 of the original 69 airs and twice combined two of the songs. He described the airs as “the most characteristically English of any of our folk-songs.”
In January 2009 The Royal Opera presented a new production directed by Justin Way, featuring a strong cast of Royal Opera performers including Tom Randle as Macheath, Jeremy White as Peachum, Leah-Marian Jones’s as Polly and Sarah Fox as Lucy. They are ably accompanied by the City of London Sinfonia, conducted by Christian Curnyn. This recording was made between these performances.
The Stage noted ‘The cast is beyond reproach. Jeremy White sings, acts and delivers his dialogue as Peachum with equal naturalness, Leah-Marian Jones struts her stuff uninhibitedly as Polly and Sarah Fox as Macheath’s other lovestruck devotee, Lucy Lockit, sings affectingly, not least in her If Love’s a Sweet Passion. But Tom Randle truly anchors the cast. He gives Macheath a somehow likeable sheen, impressing as much with his vocal and acting talents and, before the philanderer’s sudden reprieve at the opera’s end, elicits genuine pity as a condemned man.’ The Stage