"Tippett and Britten were composers who, though very different in temperment and style, had many interests in common. One of the overiding concerns with both composers was the moral response to war and it's horrors. For Britten, the War Requiem and Owen Wingrave are his very clear moral response to war. Tippet, in his fashion is much more psychological in this work, which must rank as one of Tippett's best and most powerful operatic statements. King Priam is a dramatic tour de force. Based on the Illiad as seen through the eyes of the Trojans, the work is a meditation on the inevitability of fate in mass movements like war. Priam, though illdisposed to the war, is unable to stop or control it as it takes both of his sons, his kingdom and then finally his own life. He emerges as a figure of moral power and grandeur, but ultimately as impotent and tragic. This libretto is one of Tippett's best and most clear statements. Musically, Priam is a powerhouse, inaugurating Tippett's second major style. Priam is constructed in a mosaic style. Small chamber groups of instruments with defined musical content are assigned to characters. As the work develops, these small groups combine and recombine in a shifting maze of patterns that seems to endlessly reinvent itself. The music starts out as largely tonal, but the tonality breaks down as Fate takes over and dooms the Trojans. The work is never serial, but it takes an almost Bergian view of tonality, sometimes more and sometimes less tonal as the dramatic situation warrants. The vocal lines are mostly declaimed, but with moments of lyricism that are unfogettable, such as Priam's first aria, A Father and a King, or the beautiful scene between Priam and Achilles in the third act. And Achilles war cry at the end of act two is bone chilling!This is a great performance of this piece. Many of the singers originated the roles and sing them with power and authority. Phillip Langridge is terrific as Paris. Robert Tear is a marvelous Achilles. David Aetherton conducts this difficult score with precision and a fine ear for balances. This is a profound opera by a major 20th century composer. If you like Britten, you should own this as well. It is increasingly looking like Tippett's masterpiece."
One of the best and most easily grasped of modern operas
Justin Weaver | 02/27/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Contemporary opera was never the same after King Priam, a suitable irony given that the Opera is perhaps the most easily grasped by the listening public of the 5 Tippett Operas. Even so, the "crisis of King Prian" stylistically and emotionally is the germ-seed for the eccentrism yet to come in "The Knot Garden", "The Ice Break", and "New Year". Tippett's theme is the futility of choice and the nature of the impact of choice on humanity in the micro-sphere of the individual and the macro-sphere of the community and history. Tippett's unusual yet perfectly conceived recasting of the Iliad from the Trojan persepctive does more than summarize plot, but pauses to comment on the universal human potential implicit therein. A must-buy for Tippett fans and for anyone who likes opera, Greek Mythology, classical music, or a good story.--Justin Laird Weaver "
Visceral power & beauty coupled with stunning performances!!
Happy in NYC | New York, NY United States | 06/12/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I bought this on a whim, having heard only the slightest bit of Tippett's orchestral music and none of his operas. I expected the music to be "difficult," and the performances stilted, but I was oh so wrong! Yes, this is definitely late 20th century music -- often dissonant and atonal, but it is utterly beautiful, emotionally moving music. I'm a huge fan of Britten's operas, and judge all modern opera composers by his standards, and (pardon my gushing) Sir Michael is more than up to the challenge. First of all, he takes on the daunting task of adapting the Iliad into a opera libretto and manages to compress the drama beautifully into 3 acts that tell the story imaginatively, comprehensively and in a wholly theatrical manner. Second, he uses the music to heighten the sense of character by giving each persona a unique style of vocal line and orchestration (yes, this is what all composers do, or try to do, but Tippett succeeds in a way few others do). Several of the characters are accompanied by solo instruments (bravura parts of concerto-like difficulty performed brilliantly) -- Achilles by solo guitar, Helen by solo cello, King Priam by violin, etc. Three characters form a sort of Greek chorus who comment on the action and bring a sense of questioning morality to the whole.All of the solo singers are astutely cast and sing with amazing power. Standouts (difficult to single out any of them, they're all so brilliant): Phillip Langridge is first-rate as Paris, Priam's second son -- he sings with enormous power and pathos at the same time. Felicity Palmer is velvety sex personified as Helen. Norman Bailey as Priam has a raw edginess to his sound, which lends such a sense of reality to a man pushed to the edge by fate and his warring sons. The London Philharmonia gives a virtuoso performance, led sensitively and intelligently by David Atherton. The digital sound is crystal clear and beautifully engineered: the sound couldn't be better live at the Met! Take a chance on this one, and enter into an operatic world you will never forget."
A PARTNER FOR BRITTEN'S WAR REQUIEM?
Klingsor Tristan | Suffolk | 08/12/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral in 1962 was responsible for Epstein's Michael & the Devil, Graham Sutherland's giant tapestry of Christ in Glory, John Piper's glorious baptistry window and the world premieres of both Britten's War Requiem and Tippett's King Priam - appropriately both were major anti-war pieces by pacifist composers. It would be hard to imagine such an outpouring of masterpieces (though, personally, I'm not sure about the Sutherland) in this day and age!
Such was the immediate success of Britten's piece, though, that Tippett's opera took a while longer to emerge from its shadow - which it eventually did through Sam Wannamaker's dramatic production at Covent Garden. And it had to wait nearly twenty years for this first recording.
The opera surprised, even shocked listeners at the time for it represented a marked change of style in Tippett's output. The soaring lyricism of his early period as heard in The Midsummer Marriage and which was largely based on the unique sound that Tippett could elicit from the upper strings, had been replaced by a much grittier, sparser, leaner sound with its foundations in the brass and woodwind. This was the start of what is usually recognised as the composer's middle-period and which led to works like the Concerto for Orchestra, The Vision of St. Augustine and The Knot Garden. In Priam it is a sound that grows out of the fanfares and alarums of war at the very beginning of the opera, but which also leads us to the striding piano chords that usually accompany Priam himself, the huntsmen's horns is Scene 2, Patroclus' solo horn and even to the flickering solo guitar of Achilles' campfire.
While War - specifically the Trojan War - provides the background for most of the action after Act 1, the opera is about much more personal themes as well. Principally it is about choice and the consequences of even the smallest choices we make, what Tippett himself called, "the mysterious nature of human choice". From the choice to kill a son prophesied to be responsible for his father's death, through the choice to re-admit him to the family, through that son's fatal choice in the Judgement of Paris, through Achilles choice to let Patroclus wear his armour and his later choice to allow a grieving father to take home the mutilated body of his eldest son, it is these choices that haunt the piece and which lead to the classically Aristotelian tragic catastrophe at the end.
As the opera's title suggests, it is King Priam himself and not the more familiar heroic characters of the Iliad who lies at the centre of the piece and, in this recording, he receives a towering, Wotanic performance from Norman Bailey. Bailey was always a master at penetrating to the human core of any character he played - whether the obstinate resoluteness of a Kutuzov, the bluff sympathy of a Balstrode, the unsentimental goodness of a Barak or the humanity underlying the godlike façade of a Wotan. So here he adumbrates all the facets of the title-role from kingly arrogance to a father's pitiful, grieving pleading. And the strong vocal lines sit firmly and powerfully in the heart of his distinctive and individual vocal colour.
The rest of the cast is a roll-call of the best English singers of the period (late 70's). Thomas Allen makes a strong forthright Hector, Philip Langridge a shifty but finally resolute Paris. Robert Tear is predictably sensitive to the words and shifting colours of Achilles' song of his homeland and to the growth of mutual grief when Priam begs for the return of his son's body, but lacks the last few ounces of heft for one of the most hair-raising moments in Twentieth Century opera - when the terrifying sound of Achilles' war-cry echoes across the plains from the Greek camp to the walls of Troy.
The three main women - Heather Harper, Felicity Palmer and Yvonne Minton - all sing and act wonderfully, making their big trio in Act 3 (which can outstay its welcome) into a highlight of this performance. The London Sinfonietta under David Atherton bring great clarity and acuity to the testing contrapuntal lines of this masterly score, well aided and abetted by the Decca engineers in the warm acoustics of the Kingsway Hall and by the Chandos re-mastering onto CD. This is still the only recording of an important opera in the Tippett canon, but it is hard to think of it being easily bettered."