Billy Budd
Los Angeles Review by Willard Manus

Benjamin Britten's powerful opera about the clash between innocence and evil in the British navy, circa 1797, was recently produced in magnificent fashion by Los Angeles Opera in a co-production with Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Paris Opera. The opera, adapted by E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier from Herman Melville's novella, tells the story of a young sailor, Billy Budd (the excellent Liam Bonner), who is persecuted maliciously by the H.M.S. Indomitable's master-at-arms, John Claggart (Greer Grimsley in an Iago-like performance). Claggart's moral confusion (triggered by his homosexual yearnings for the handsome Billy) leads him to charge Billy with mutiny. When called by the captain (Richard Croft) to defend himself, Billy's fatal flaw, a tendency to stammer under pressure, manifests itself. Frustrated and anguished, he then loses all self-control and strikes Taggart with his fist, killing him. Captain Vere, despite having sided with Billy against Taggart, is obliged by British articles of war to sentence the foundling Billy to death.

Photo: Robert Millard

Britten's distaste for military justice and for Britain's imperialist ambitions is given full expression in BILLY BUDD. The opera attacks those twin evils in bold, brave fashion, with music and text making the case relentlessly, insistently. There are some memorable arias in this opera, underlined by Britten's haunting, deeply felt score. The principal singers' admirable work was amplified by the lusty sea-chanting of the L.A. Opera Chorus.

Photo: Robert Millard

The culmination of the Britten 100/LA Festival, this James Conlon-conducted production of BILLY BUDD paid appropriate tribute to a great composer.

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