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Billy Budd at the Met

8/10
Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
15 August 2013

This production is a very good one, if not quite as good as the 1988 ENO performance with Thomas Allen, Phillip Langridge and Richard Van Allan. Some of the lighting is on the dark side, and the tempo for Claggart's aria "Handsomely done...O beauty, o handsomeness, goodness!" was a little too slow. But that was all really that came across as things that weren't so good. The ship set is really beautifully rendered and realistic, and the idea of setting it against a black void symbolising the travelling through darkness. The staging is intelligent, the staging for the Epilogue is effective in its simplicity and "Handsomely done...O beauty, o handsomeness, goodness!" is chillingly subtle. Britten's music is both beautiful and evocative, the orchestral playing is lyrical and haunting as well as allowing the little things to come through. The chorus are fully engrossed in the drama and their sound is warm, though their singing accompanying Claggart's aria is a tad flat. The conducting is solid on the whole, musical and authoritative if not always exciting. The principal singing and performances are excellent, with the much-missed Phillip Langridge outstanding(and perhaps definitive also) as Captain Vere.

He sings wonderfully throughout with great command of the timbre, crystal-clear diction and an appealing timbre(his rendition of the Epilogue will bring tears to the eyes). And his acting is equally commanding and as well as heartfelt and nuanced. Dwayne Croft gives some of his best ever singing in the title role, a full warm sound that is handsome to listen to, evident in particular in "Look Through the Port". Overall it is a charming and moving performance, and closer in age for the character than Allen for ENO(though Allen was great in the role). James Morris sounds unsteady at times but has the right chillingly dark sound for Claggart(up there with Scarpia, Iago, Hagen, Klytamnestra and Barnaba as one of opera's most evil characters). Despite looking like such a nice and sympathetic man he does succeed in making us believe in Claggart's evil, relishing one of the most chilling lines in opera "But alas, alas! A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehends it, and suffers...". The supporting cast are fine too, Redburn, the Novice and Donald are sung vibrantly and well acted, while Met stalwart Paul Pliska sings sonorously and characterises Dankser with crusty warmth. Overall, very good production of one of Britten's best operas and compares very favourably with the ENO production. 8/10 Bethany Cox

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2 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Interesting Subtext

Author: Hans C. Frederick (schweinhundt1967@postmaster.co.uk) from Parma Heights, Ohio, U.S.A.
29 February 2004

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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