5 June 2010

Billy Budd at Glyndebourne

Booking for the Glyndebourne Festival is a delicate matter of balancing friends' interests and availability and this year we are taking people to Macbeth, Don Giovanni and The Rake's Progress.

All very good but I wanted to see Billy Budd too so we decided to go on our own. This meant a slight deviation from the normal plans as, without company, there was no point in spending the whole afternoon there or in being too elaborate with the picnic. Instead the plan was to arrive there with just enough times for a Pimms before the start of the opera and, despite a bit of traffic trouble, the plan worked well.

Billy Budd was my third Benjamin Britten opera at Glyndebourne having seen The Turn of the Screw in 2007 and Albert Herring in 2008 so I had high expectations.

Billy Budd takes place entirely on board an English battleship HMS Indomitable during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1797.

The oppressive staging magnificently conveyed the darkness, crowding and brutality of life below decks and set the tone for the story perfectly.

Not surprisingly it's an all male cast and that works surprisingly well as it maintains the tension and drama.

There are several principle roles but it was the ensemble singing that I enjoyed the most. But all the singing was crystal clear, even from the cheap seats (£100 each!) at the back and the sur titles were largely redundant.

The plot is slight but moves along at a steady pace and there are some rich characters too so there is always something to grab your attention and the evening whizzed by in unseemly haste. It also ends in strangely positive mood despite Billy Budd's demise.

Billy Budd was a good example of all the things that Glyndebourne does consistently well with great staging, direction, singing and acting.

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