Not being a student of American literature(my undergraduate English requirements were spent in composition),I'm not really aware of Melville's intentions,beliefs,or thought systems in writing this work.But,there does happen to be an interesting,although very dark subtext for this operatic adaptation.
The libretto was devised by C.S. Forester,who was gay.The composer,Britten,was also gay,and he created the role of Captain vere for Peter Pears,who was his lover for many years.So,it's pretty easy to see the filter through which this story can be interpreted.
Sir Winston Churchill once described the 3 major traditions of the British Navy as"...Rum,sodomy,and the lash!"And,if you know what to look for,you can see all 3 in this opera.
1.)Why does Claggart want to destroy Billy?IS it JUST because he's pure?Well,there ARE some very malevolent people in this world,who are very destructive,just on general principle.But,one point of view might also might also see Claggart,who is described as a rigid,and chaste man(no going to the brothel for him) as being sexually attracted to Billy,unable to deal with this aspect of his own personality,projecting it onto Billy,and then decides to destroy the evil in Billy that he can't deal with in himself.Of such vidious cycles is paranoia born.
2.)By the same token,Captain Vere,no ladies man either,won't save Billy from execution for the same reasons.He's also attracted to Billy,can't handle THAT aspect of his own personality,and sends him to the gallows.And then,at the end,he blesses Billy for saving him.YOU LOUSY HYPOCRITE!He saved you from having to deal with your own issues.The life which is unexamined is one that is wasted.
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