Sunday, November 30, 2014

Celebrating Benjamin Britten's "Billy Budd"

Lauri Vasar in Berlin (Photo- Hans Jörg Michel)
Today we celebrate the anniversary of Benjamin Britten's opera Billy Budd, which premiered on December 1, 1951 at the Royal Opera House in London. Britten originally planned on having Sir Geraint Evans sing the title role, but the great baritone felt that the role sat too high for his voice. Britten opted for blond heart thrrob Theodor Uppman as his replacement. The opera received 17 curtain calls and Uppman was acclaimed as a new star. Evans remained in the cast as Mr Flint.

Billy Budd received its United States première in 1952 at Indiana University with Jack Gillaspy in the title role. Gillaspy went on to have a career primarily in Germany under the name John Gillas.

Theodor Uppman
The libretto was written by the English novelist E. M. Forster and Eric Crozier, and is based on the short novel Billy Budd by Herman Melville. The book was first published posthumously in London in 1924. Melville began writing the work in November 1888, but left it unfinished at his death in 1891. The novella was discovered in manuscript form in 1919 by Raymond M. Weaver, who was studying Melville's papers as his first biographer.

It was acclaimed by British critics as a masterpiece when published in London, and quickly took its place among the canon of significant works in the United States.

Jacques Imbrailo at Glyndebourne & Amsterdam
In 1960 Britten revised the score substantially in preparation for a BBC broadcast, and compressed it into two acts. Vere's first appearance after the prologue had been originally the Captain's Muster, in which he addresses the crew at the end of Act 1; Britten cut this, explaining to his librettist Eric Crozier that he had never been happy with that scene, so making Vere's first appearance on the ship a private moment alone in his cabin. Britten changed some of the structural balance from the contrasting Acts 3 and 4. The original version in four acts is still occasionally revived, such as at the Vienna State Opera in 2001 and 2011, and has been recorded at least twice.

The opera was produced on November 6, 1970 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, with Uppman reprising the title role; the cast also included Richard Lewis as Vere, Geraint Evans as Claggart, Bruce Yarnell as Redburn, Raymond Michalski as Flint, and Arnold Voketaitis as Ratcliffe.

Lucas Meachem, Craig Verm, Liam Bonner and John Chest
The opera has become a calling card for barihunks, as Herman Melville described Billy Budd as a fine physical specimen at age twenty-one, renowned for his good looks and gentle, innocent ways. It was recently performed in Berlin with John Chest in the title role, who we once described as a Brad Pitt lookalike. Other recent barihunk portrayals include Liam Bonner at the L.A. Opera, calendar model Craig Verm in Santiago, Jacques Imbrailo at Glyndebourne and in Amsterdam, Lauri Vasar in Berlin, Lucas Meachem in Paris, Teddy Tahu Rhodes in Sydney and Santa Fe, and Daniel Belcher in Houston. Other famous barihunk Billy Budd's include Simon Keenlyside, Peter Mattei, Nathan Gunn, Rod Gilfry, Bo Skovhus and Thomas Hampson.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes in Santa Fe & Sydney
The author E. M. Forster had an interest in the novella, which he discussed in his Clark lectures at Cambridge University. Having admired Britten's music since attending a performance of The Ascent of F6 in 1937, he first met the composer in October 1942 when he heard Peter Pears accompanied by Britten perform the Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo at the National Gallery. In 1948, Britten and Forster discussed whether Forster might write an opera libretto, and by that November, Britten seems to have mentioned Billy Budd as a possible work to be adapted. Forster agreed to this project, and worked with Eric Crozier, a regular Britten collaborator, to write the opera's libretto.

The next scheduled Billy Budd is at the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genova in April 2015 with Philip Addis in the title role. 
Pietro di Bianco, Michael Hewitt & Michael Scarcelle
Make sure to order your 2015 Barihunks Charity Calendar, which includes the 2014 Paris Opera Award winner Pietro di Bianco and 18 more of opera's hottest men!!! Click below.
Support independent publishing: Buy this calendar on Lulu.

No comments:

Post a Comment