2011-11-18 14:36:09 UTC
I haven't watched the entire opera (this is the two-act revision), but
Fanfare's rave over its video presentation is deserved. To answer the
original question... Yes, there are video presentations of opera that do
justice to the work. Unlike others I've seen, the choice of camera angles,
and the points to switch among them, are well-chosen and rarely distracting.
One's reaction is... Why should I have to sit in a theater to see this?
As for the performance... I'm not sufficiently knowledgeable to pass
judgement on the quality of the singing -- but I didn't hear anything that
offended my not-well-educated ear.
On the other hand, I'm not that happy with the acting. Philip Ens (Claggart)
seems to be auditioning for Snidely Whiplash. And Jacques Imbrailo (Budd) is
physically miscast. Billy Budd is tall and ridiculously good-looking, *
while Imbrailo is short and merely sorta-handsome. His innocence and naïveté
are appallingly overstated, to the point of (this viewer's) embarrassment.
He isn't believable.
The Fanfare review is worth reading, especially for its attack on
deconstructionist operatic productions.
As for calling the opera "Billy Butt"... That's not far-removed from the
truth. Several of Britten's operas have homoerotic subtexts (and "Peter
Grimes" adds one that's not in the original work -- yes, I've read the
poem). It's not surprising that he and E M Forster picked Melville's
Melville's writing has many homoerotic references, including Ishmael and
Queequeg rubbing their legs together, and Ishmael describing their
relationship as a marriage. "White-Jacket" explicitly mentions the existence
of sodomy on American warships. There are others, including the metaphor of
Billy's stammering for homosexuality. (The opera's libretto underlines
There's little doubt Melville was at least bisexual, and he was a hunk, even
in his senior years. (He apparently had some sort of crush on Nathanial
Hawthorne.) I have no doubt he picked "Budd" as Billy's name, not only as a
reference to a beautiful flower that would be cut down, but as a pun on
"butt". (One might also vulgarly conflate the two.)
If you've never read "Bartleby, the Scrivener", do so. Bartleby is perhaps
the first passive-aggressive character in American fiction. It's very funny.
* I just came off a contract job working with a 6'4" blond who's a
dead-ringer for Sterling Hayden. If he could sing, he'd be the perfect Billy
Budd. Billy Budd is the "handsome sailor" or "beautiful sailor" men gather