Must See: Billy Budd, London Coliseum, WC2
A timeless tale honoured in a production for the ages
Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson is Chief Classical Music and Opera Critic for The Independent. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen, in which he interviewed many of the most prominent writers and stars of musical theatre. He appears regularly on BBC Radio 3 and 4. On television, he has commentated a number of times at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He has published books on Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and has been on Gramophone Magazine's review panel for many years. Edward presented the 2007 series of the Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. He has interviewed everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Liza Minelli; from Paul McCartney to Pavarotti: from Julie Andrews to Jessye Norman.
Saturday 23 June 2012
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.
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