Billy Budd Events
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Billy Budd is an opera in English with music by Benjamin Britten and a libretto by E. M. Forster (author of A Passage to India and A Room with a View) and Eric Crozier. It is based on Herman Melville's short novel of the same name (published posthumously) about a young man forced to join the British Navy and entrapped by a resentful fellow sailor.
Billy Budd debuted at London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on December 1, 1951. Subsequent national premieres followed, including the United States premiere at the Indiana University Opera Company in 1952. Originally, it was presented in four acts, but Britten made heavy revisions in 1960 to prepare it for a BBC television revival. Today, the two-act version is considered superior and is used more often, but the four-act version is sometimes performed. Get your Billy Budd tickets today for a refreshing change of pace from the usual Italian, French, and German selections from the operatic canon. And don't miss your chance to see the work of one of America's most cherished authors performed in musical glory.
Prologue: An old sea captain named Edward Vere reflects on his days in the navy. As he thinks about the battle between good and evil, he finds that he is still riddled with guilt from his encounter with a sailor named Billy Budd aboard his ship, the HMS Indomitable, many years earlier during the French Revolutionary Wars.
Act I: It is an early morning on the HMS Indomitable, and the crew is busy about its work. While a young sailor is flogged for accidentally bumping into an officer, a sailor arrives on a smaller boat with three men he has forcibly conscripted from a merchant ship. One of these new recruits, Billy Budd, catches the eye of Master-at-Arms Claggart, who is impressed with his enthusiasm and promise despite his stammering speech. Oblivious to how his words might be interpreted by his new crew, Billy says a cheery goodbye to his old ship, the "Rights o' Man;" hearing this and suspecting trouble, Claggart orders him to be watched below deck. When Billy sees the Novice reeling from his flogging, he resolves to behave himself, and, seeing his innocence, the old sailor Dansker gives him the nickname "Baby Bud." Dansker also tells the others of the noble Captain Vere, also known as "Starry Vere," and Billy, enchanted, swears his loyalty to him sight unseen.
In his compartment, Vere pores over classical literature. When his officers come calling, they discuss the French Revolution and the recent British mutinies inspired by the ideals of French democracy. The Captain dismisses the officers' worries that Billy might be a troublemaker and expresses his love for his crew. Below decks, the sailors are at leisure. Billy tries to cheer up the sullen Dansker with some tobacco when he discovers Squeak, a sailor that Claggart has ordered to watch Billy, going through his belongings. When he accosts Squeak (while stammering in rage) for the offense, Claggart enters and takes Billy's side, though he secretly wishes to ruin him. He orders an obedient sailor to trap Billy by offering him a bribe to partake in a mutiny, but Billy refuses. He believes he will be rewarded, but Dansker smells foul play and tells Billy to beware of Claggart.
Act II: Claggart tries to convince Vere that Billy is dangerous, but they are interrupted by the arrival of a French ship. They attack, but the enemy ship slips away into the mist. Claggart once again tries to warn Vere, but he does not believee that Billy is up to any trouble. He orders Billy to join them so that Claggart can make his accusations directly. When Billy arrives and hears Claggart's false charges, he slips into another stammering rage and kills Claggart. Vere has no choice but to court-martial Billy; the officers convene to sentence him. Billy pleads with Vere, but he accepts the council's decision. Later, he goes to Billy's holding cell and sympathetically tells him that he has been sentenced to death.
As Billy waits for death, Dansker brings him a drink and news that the crew supports him and is ready to mutiny to save him, but Billy refuses, having accepted his fate as justice. At four o'clock the next morning, the entire crew assmembles and the Articles of War are announced along with Billy's death sentence. With his last words, Billy praises Captain Vere, and the rest of the crew follows suit.
Epilogue: Still reflecting on the past, the older Vere recalls Billy's burial at sea. He reasons that the man he didn't save has instead saved him; Billy's blessing has shown Vere true goodness, and he can now find inner peace. Order your Billy Budd tickets to experience this poignant tale of treachery, loyalty, and the nature of man.
|Written by||Benjamin Britten|
|Libretto by||E. M. Forster, Eric Crozier|
|Based on||Billy Budd by Herman Melville|
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