BBC Music Magazine
Bel Air Classiques
Britten Billy Budd
Jacques Imbrailo, Toby Spence, Brindley Sherratt et al; Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Real de Madrid/ivor Bolton; dir. Deborah Warner Bel Air Classiques BAC154
Vividly filmed, this 2017 production of Britten’s seaborne opera ‘brought me close to tears’, revealed our reviewer Daniel Jaffé. Fellow viewers may well find themselves similarly storm-tossed.
‘Billy Budd packs a punch like no other opera,’ says conductor Ivor Bolton. ‘Deborah Warner’s claustrophobic production brings home the horror of these ships, where people lived horrible lives in contained spaces. The set design was full of atmosphere and detail, without being literal.’
But Warner’s mastery of the stage goes beyond the visual and, says Bolton, even the most seemingly straightforward characters leave room for doubt. ‘She’s very good at playing the ambiguity within roles. Claggart is often portrayed as simply evil, but her production leaves us asking more questions about him than it answers.’
A trio of singers seemingly born to play the main roles – Jacques Imbrailo (Billy Budd), Toby Spence (Vere) and Brindley Sherratt (Claggart) – may grab the attention but, says Bolton, this was a venture where no stone was left unturned. ‘The production’s subtlety was achieved by a lot of hard work in the studio. Then everyone, including the wonderful Teatro Real chorus, really committed to it. A real team effort.’