Originally set on board a naval ship in the late 18th century, the story opens with the vessel's retired captain looking back at an incident during his command that haunts him into old age. A likeable young sailor was taken to task for insubordination and executed. In endorsing the punishment Captain Vere had stuck to the rules of the sea, at a time of unrest and mutinies, but to do so he had behaved with apparent heartlessness.
Toby Spence as Captain Vere quells his men in Billy Budd. Photo: Yasuko Kageyama,Teatro dell'Opera di Roma
This moral dilemma was raised by the Herman Melville novel, Billy Budd, Sailor, on which Britten and his librettists – the novelist E M Forster and director Eric Crozier – collaborated. Britten's life partner, the tenor Peter Pears, played Vere at Billy Budd's premiere, at the Royal Opera House in 1951. A subsequent two-act version was given its stage premiere at the Royal Opera House in 1964 and is the one usually performed today.
A new production by Deborah Warner, in collaboration with the Teatro Real, Madrid, and Teatro dell'Opera, Rome, stars three leading singers of British opera: as Vere, the tenor Toby Spence, with baritone Jacques Imbrailo in the title role and bass Brindley Sherratt as the vicious Master at Arms John Claggart, who brings about Billy's downfall.
Jacques Imbrailo plays the innocent seaman whose story is told in Billy Budd. Photo: Yasuko Kageyama,Teatro dell'Opera di Roma
Warner's sympathetic, character-focused staging and Michael Levine's semi-abstract sets give a sense of the intimacy that develops among men living at close quarters at sea, and highlights the contrasting lives of the officers above decks and the men below.
Ivor Bolton conducts the Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera.
This production is sure to sell out in minutes flat. Stand by your beds!
Billy Budd is sung in English with English surtitles. General booking opens 9AM, Thurs 30 Jan. Public performances: 23, 29 April, 7, 10 May only
|What||Billy Budd, Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
23 Apr 19 – 10 May 19, five performances
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|