Must See: Billy Budd, London Coliseum, WC2

A timeless tale honoured in a production for the ages

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The Independent Culture

Kim Begley's Captain Vere silently mouthing Billy Budd's death sentence in the final scene of Britten's opera will be one of the enduring images of David Alden's new English National Opera production. It's a terrible mantra that he will repeat to the end of his days.

Time is indeterminate, the pain eternal. As for Vere, so for Alden. 1797 is the date in the ship's log but the morality of Herman Melville's tale is tied to human nature in perpetuity.

It's hard to determine a period or clear naval identity for Alden's staging in its designs, but the black leather greatcoats and uniformity of the rank and file has an ugly familiarity.

Should you quibble with the decision to remove the piece from its time and place, you could have no qualms about the magnificent musical presentation.

Edward Gardner inspires his chorus and orchestra to great heights as bright young stars (Nicky Spence, Duncan Rock) emerge from the ensemble. Thrilling.

(020 7845 9300; to 8 July