Britten, Billy Budd, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

5.00

Britten’s gripping masterpiece begins in fateful indecision oscillating in the violins between major and minor key centres as the old and broken Captain Vere looks into his soul for answers as to why he put duty before reason to condemn the one man who seemed to reinforce his faith in human nature.

And just as the librettists E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier afford us privileged access to the workings of Vere’s mind so Michael Grandage and his designer Christopher Oram take us deep into the bowels of HMS Indomitable quite literally gliding the vessel into our midst from the summer of 1797. The darkest recesses of Vere’s soul and those of his ship become one.

Oram’s majestic set puts us inside the hull of the vessel, it puts us on the quarter deck and high on the bridge, and with the lowering of a gigantic wooden frame it imprisons us far below decks where the shadow and undercurrent of this great piece are bred. And with astonishingly atmospheric lighting from Paule Constable (imagine a wash of surreal lamplight illuminating Billy Budd as he awaits his fate) it affords Michael Grandage in his thrilling operatic debut to achieve a filmic transition between the swift moving scenes of the narrative. His blocking has a strength and immediacy that perfectly complements the clarity of his story telling: as in the close of the first act where Billy’s excitement at the prospect of promotion is menacingly undermined, both in the orchestra and on stage, by the lowering presence of the Master-at-Arms Claggart looking down on the boy from his position of privilege and pinning him with his evil eye like some bird of prey.

The big set pieces are marvellously marshalled, too, the thrilling call-to-arms in act two achieving a visceral excitement physically and sonically, its onstage drummers powering us into the attack, the ship’s ensign billowing at the stern. The Glyndebourne Chorus, small in number but mighty and incisive in sound, are, of course, integral to the impact of the show meshing brilliantly with the many named roles to achieve a wonderfully busy and coherent ensemble. Is there anything as uplifting, as overwhelming, as the huge choral swell of the shanty “Blow her to Hilo” when it’s this lustily sung?

Magnificently conducted by the Mark Elder with an unerring sense of the score’s momentum and many moments of stasis the London Philharmonic served him handsomely, queasy bass undulations fathoms below the light-catching streaking and skirling of exposed high woodwind and trumpets.

But it was in the tension of the psychological drama that Elder and Grandage really excelled. Of key roles it’s almost invidious to single anyone out but one should mention the trio of senior officers, Matthew Rose’s Flint, Darren Jeffrey’s Ratcliffe, and the ever-impressive Iain Patterson as Redburn. And further down the food chain, Ben Johnson’s affectingly sung Novice.

Phillip Ens’ Claggart had to work harder than he ideally should to encompass the vocal extremes of the role and a disturbing shift of colour in the upper register didn’t help matters. And Jacques Imbrailo’s slight but refreshingly modest Budd likewise had to dig deep – and did - to surmount the limitations of his bantam-weight voice and ultimately achieve real pathos through the strength of his conviction.

What a marvellous idea to have the old and broken Vere – his inner-turmoil beautifully conveyed in John Mark Ainsley’s achingly sung performance – become an unseen presence in the harrowing final scene as if recalling the terrible consequences of his indecision in hindsight. Powerful, penetrating, deeply moving - a tremendous start to Glyndebourne’s season.

http://www.edwardseckerson.biz

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'