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
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
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.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments