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 & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvMartin Freeman’s casting is a stroke of genius

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival

film
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players