Discussion:
the Glyndebourne "Billy Budd"
Add Reply
William Sommerwerck
2011-11-18 14:36:09 UTC
Reply
Permalink
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.

http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=570802

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regietheater

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
novella.

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
this.)

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.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Melville

* 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
around.

http://www.novelguide.com/BillyBudd/novelsummary.html
Christopher Webber
2011-11-18 20:23:42 UTC
Reply
Permalink
(much on Billy Budd's personable physicality)
Well Melville is one thing, but Britten is another. There are two main
emphases in the opera about the character's qualities. One is his
handsomeness ("handsomely done... and handsome is as handsome did it")
but the other is Billy's brilliant singing.

If you have to cast the role, I suggest that the second condition rather
outweighs the first (for nearly every reason!)

The singer who created the role, the American baritone Theodor Uppman
fulfilled all Mr Sommerwerck's criteria. A story went round Aldeburgh
circles for years that vocally he hadn't been any great shakes - a myth
dispelled at a stroke when the revelatory recording of the opera's first
night at Covent Garden appeared on CD a few years ago. My goodness, he
could sing it all right!

After this big break, Uppman went on to a long and distinguished career,
mainly with the Met. In his later years he did the seven baritone roles
in "Death in Venice" (1983 Geneva) which was the first Britten he'd done
since creating Budd.

My reason for coming out with all this is simply to urge anyone who
hasn't, to hear that CD issue of the world premiere. It is a marvel.
Christopher Webber
2011-11-18 20:26:58 UTC
Reply
Permalink
Post by Christopher Webber
In his later years he did the seven baritone roles
in "Death in Venice" (1983 Geneva) which was the first Britten he'd done
since creating Budd.
That's wrong. To correct myself, he'd done Budd (in Chicago and
elsewhere in the USA) during the thirty years between the premiere and
his Geneva "Death in Venice".
William Sommerwerck
2011-11-18 21:21:07 UTC
Reply
Permalink
Post by Christopher Webber
(much on Billy Budd's personable physicality)
Well Melville is one thing, but Britten is another. There are two main
emphases in the opera about the character's qualities. One is his
handsomeness ("handsomely done... and handsome is as handsome
did it") but the other is Billy's brilliant singing.
If you have to cast the role, I suggest that the second condition rather
outweighs the first (for nearly every reason!)
It goes without saying! Voice before looks, of course.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_Uppman
g***@gmail.com
2019-09-05 07:48:54 UTC
Reply
Permalink
Post by William Sommerwerck
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 naďveté
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.
http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=570802
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regietheater
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
novella.
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
this.)
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.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Melville
* 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
around.
http://www.novelguide.com/BillyBudd/novelsummary.html
Fans of Melville may find the following lecture of interest:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?328603-1/morality-19th-century-literature
Mandryka
2019-09-05 15:00:02 UTC
Reply
Permalink
How do we know that Billy Budd is tall? Does it say it somewhere?
number_six
2019-09-07 01:38:12 UTC
Reply
Permalink
Post by Mandryka
How do we know that Billy Budd is tall? Does it say it somewhere?
Because the seamen were impressed when he came aboard...let me rephrase that...actually, he came aboard when he was impressed...

So Peter Ustinov (Capt. Vere in the film) gets into this thread as well as the narrated works thread.

Sommerwerck, rest his soul, was often misguided, but he may have had a point about certain themes in Billy Budd.
Loading...