Billy Budd at the Bolshoi Theatre


Billy Budd is based on a first class literary source – an unfinished story, Billy Budd, Foretopman by the American author Herman Melville, dated 1891. A very gloomy tale, based on real-life events, it is a powerful study in conflicting demands of justice, duty, passion and, in particular, of the consequences of jealousy. Billy Budd had its first production at London’s Royal Opera House on lst December 1951. Benjamin Britten himself conducted the première which got standing ovations. Captain Vere was sung by the legendary tenor and Britten’s partner Peter Pears. In 1966, when preparing the opera for television broadcast, the composer cut the score from four acts to two. And it is in the latter version that the opera is most often performed today.

William Lacey, David Alden.

Russian music lovers had to wait for the centenary of Britten’s birth to hear it. Billy Budd’s Russian premiere was in 2013 at St. Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Theatre where Willy Decker mounted the production he had done for Vienna Opera in 2001.

And it was as part of the centenary celebrations that the English National Opera did its 2012 production which, in 2014, transferred to Deutsche productions, which is led by the eminent director David Alden. (Before Billy Budd Alden mounted Peter Grimes for the ENO which also later transferred to Deutsche Oper).

The marvelous English conductor William Lacey is not a newcomer to the Bolshoi Theatre: he was a member of the production team for the Bolshoi’s 2015 Le Nozze di Figaro which he conducted several times. And he is known to Moscow music lovers as a Britten interpreter: together with Christopher Alden, David Alden’s twin brother, who is also an opera producer, he took part in the K.S. Stanislavsky and Vl. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre’s production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (the latter première was also the result of cooperation with the ENO).

The Bolshoi’s Billy Budd is graced by an international team of singers for the title roles. Billy Budd is sung by Oper Frankfurt soloist Yuri Samoilov.

The well-known British-born tenor, John Daszak, a recognized interpreter of Britten’s music, is to sing Captain Vere. In addition to Vere (he made his Met. Opera debut in this part in 2012), Daszak’s repertoire includes Peter Quint (plus Prologue) in The Turn of the Screw, the title role in Peter Grimes and Gustav von Aschenbach in the opera Death in Venice. John Daszak made his Bolshoi Theatre debut earlier this year in February when he sang the part of Sergei in Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera Katerina Izmailova.

Gidon Saks sang the part of Claggart, in the David Alden 2014 production at Deutsche Oper, after which there immediately followed invitations to perform this role from three theatres – Opéra National de Paris, The Royal Opera, London, and Scottish Opera. A concert performance of the opera in which he participated (together with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniel Harding) won a Grammy award.

Darren Jeffery sang the part of Mr. Flint at the première performances of the ENO production of Billy Budd. And the repertoire of the Australian baritone Jonathan Summers (in this production he sings Redburn) includes in addition to Billy Budd (ENO), Balstrode in Peter Grimes (Royal Opera House) and Lord Spencer Coyle in Owen Wingrave (Aldeburgh and Edinburgh Festivals).

Robert Lloyd, well-known to English opera lovers, sings the part of Dansker. With a career of 40 years plus as an opera singer, he has appeared as Claggart, and as Badd, true another Budd, but also from a Britten opera – Superintendant Budd (from the opera Albert Herring).

Keeping watch on board HMS Indomitable are Bolshoi Theatre artists Oleg Tsybulko (Lieutenant Ratcliffe), Marat Gali (Red Whiskers), Helicon-Opera soloist Alexander Miminoshvili (Donald), Bogdan Volkov (Novice) and others.

The première series of performances are on 25, 27, 29 November and lst December.