BBC Music Magazine - - Opera -

Jac­ques Im­brailo, Toby Spence, Brind­ley Sher­ratt, Thomas Olie­mans, David Soar, Tor­ben Jür­gens; Cho­rus & Or­ches­tra of Teatro Real de Madrid/ Ivor Bolton; dir. Deb­o­rah Warner (Madrid, 2017)

Bel Air Clas­siques DVD: BAC154;

Blu-ray: BAC554 174 mins

In surely Brit­ten’s great­est dra­matic opera, we have here three su­perb singer-ac­tors.

Toby Spence is the nervy and wellmean­ing Cap­tain Vere; Jac­ques Im­brailo the in­no­cent sailor Billy Budd, tor­mented first by his stam­mer, then by his Christ­like fate; and Brind­ley Sher­ratt is mem­o­rably malev­o­lent as Clag­gart. As a team, they al­most out­match the for­mi­da­ble trio in Tim Al­bery’s clas­sic ENO pro­duc­tion (avail­able on Arthaus), Im­brailo’s an­guished por­trayal ar­guably dis­plac­ing even Thomas Allen’s noble and stoic hero (though for ENO, Philip Lan­gridge in the even more cru­cial role of Vere is in a class of his own). It helps that Deb­o­rah Warner in her pro­duc­tion gives those char­ac­ters scope to be more openly ex­pres­sive: Clag­gart leers at Billy just be­fore be­ing struck dead by his tongue-tied vic­tim; and as Billy is sub­se­quently taken to the ante-cham­ber to await the court’s ver­dict, he lunges for­ward and clasps Vere around his chest as he makes his fi­nal des­per­ate cry: ‘Save me!’

Though ★er­man Melville’s novel, on which the opera is based, is set in the Napoleonic Wars, Warner has the of­fi­cers kit­ted in modern uni­form, and there’s no sail in sight on stage de­signer Michael Levine’s not so much ab­stracted as de­con­structed ship: a mul­ti­tude of ropes hang from the fly loft down to the stage, it­self punc­tu­ated by two trenches of wa­ter through which un­for­tu­nate sailors are made to run. Some of the added sym­bol­ism can seem over-elab­o­rated and be­side Melville’s – and the opera’s – point: Bibles not only dou­ble as holy­stones (as they did in Al­bery’s stag­ing), but also an old sailor is seen dis­tract­ingly rub­bing the stage with one dur­ing Vere’s Pro­logue.

Yet ul­ti­mately none of this gets in the way of the out­stand­ing cen­tral

per­for­mances in a pro­duc­tion, su­perbly con­ducted by Ivor Bolton, which brought me close to tears. Daniel Jaffé



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