John Tomlinson, Philip Langridge. Felicity Palmer, Elise Ross and David Wilson-Johnson. the greatest English singers of their time, all still young and vigorously in their prime. An ideal way into Holst's At the Boar's Head (1925) on BBC Radio 3 HERE. The voices absolutely matter in this cheerful one-act opera, which springs from Shakespeare's Henry IV and in particular the scene at the Boar's Head tavern. Voices utterly dominate, since Holst was inspired by the text in the plays, which he read while enjoying the score of John Playford's The English Dancing Master and transcripts of folk tunes collected by Cecil Sharp. The words seem to come alive in his imagination. as though, as he said, the music replicated the plays. This context shapes the opera which predicates on the interplay of different voices and on the syntax of speech. Thus orchestral links are minimal, and oriented towards sturdy dances. David Atherton and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra don't have a great deal to do but mark the lively counterpoint and pace. But what wonderful singing - sharply articulated, lively, perfect diction and mastery of tongue-twisting lines, such as would have thrilled the audience of a play with incidental music. The dialogue betweem Tomlinson's Falstaff and Langridge's Prince Hal is close to ideal.
Fortunately now we can listen to At the Boar's Head without expecting a musical, and appreciate it for what it is.