is an adaptation of a short novel of the same name which was written by Herman Melville. It was composed by Benjamin Britten. Its text was written by Eric Cozier and E. M. Forster. The idea of the opera emerged when Forster who was a lecturer at the Cambridge University decided to work with his friend Britten, the composer. Forster was teaching the novel Billy Budd
at the University at that time.
He worked with Cozier to write the libretto. It consisted of four acts. Theodor Uppman was selected to play the title role. The opera premiered in December, 1951 at the prestigious opera house of London called the Royal Opera House. It drew seventeen curtain calls. Uppman was declared a rising star. A year later, its popularity carried it across the Atlantic Ocean where the Indiana University Opera Company
performed it. In 1970, the Lyric Opera of Chicago
The success of Billy Budd
led to many more performances of the opera. Britten revised it in 1960 for a BBC broadcast. The original four acts were condensed into two acts. The revised version was an even greater success because it was more dramatic and emotive. The role of Billy Budd has been coveted by many opera singers over the years because of its intense, high quality. Some of the leading baritones to play the leading role are Sir Thomas Allen, Richard Stilwell, Simon Keenlyside, Nathan Gunn, Bo Skovhus, Rod Gilfry, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, and Thomas Hampson.
In 2010, the revival of Billy Budd
was seen at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera
. It marked the operatic debut of Michael Grandage, the veteran numerous-award-winning British theater director. This year it is going be performed at the Metropolitan Opera. John Dexter, the famous British director, will be directing it. Nathan Gunn, who one of most the in-demand baritones of the contemporary opera and also famous for his gorgeous looks (a feat for an opera singer) will be playing the title role.
Besides the great cast, the storyline of Billy Budd
is enough to draw hordes of people to the opera houses. It begins with Captain Edward Fairfax Vere, now an old man, reminiscing about his years in navy. He talks of the conflicting forces of good and evil and of his guilt over the death of Billy Budd, a fellow seaman. Then as the first act begins, the audience is taken back in time to the English naval ship called Indomitable. Billy Budd is a newcomer on the ship. The Master-at Arms of the ship, Claggart tells his corporal, Squeak, to monitor Billy and rough him up a bit. Billy has two distinct qualities: he is very innocent and he stammers. Billy finds Squeak looking into Billy’s kit. Billy becomes livid, stammers and knocks the corporal down. Claggart’s hatred for Billy becomes evident when he asks someone to bribe Billy into mutinying against the captain, Vere. Billy refuses to take the bribe. Claggart tries to turn Vere against Billy but Vere calls Billy to explain himself. When Claggart wrongly accuses Billy of mutinying to Billy’s face, Billy again becomes angry and begins to stammer. Unable to explain himself, Billy kills Claggart on the spot. A court-martial is convened and Billy is sentenced to death. He appeals to Vere for mercy but Vere remains staunch. His fellow officers offer to mutiny for his sake but Billy refuses and resigns to fate. Just before his execution, Billy praises and blesses his captain Vere. In the epilogue, the audience is brought back to the present where Vere remembers that he could not save the man who had blessed him. He realized the beauty of human goodness and at last finds peace in the thought. Billy Budd
… A tale of such heartfelt remorse and the portrayal of such pure human innocence! Experience these intense emotions and revive your belief in human goodness by purchasing the Billy Budd tickets
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