Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Barihunks galore in Rome's "Billy Budd" led by Phillip Addis

Phillip Addis as Billy Budd in Rome
Benjamin Britten's opera Billy Budd has long been a favorite of readers of this site. After all, who wouldn't like an opera that features a cast of sailors with some homoerotic undertones? The Teatro dell’Opera di Roma is opening a run of the opera tonight laden with barihunks, starting with Phillip Addis in the title role. Also in the cast is John Relyea as the evil John Claggart, Thomas Oliemans as Mr. Redburn, Zach Altman as Mr. Flint and Jonathan Michie as Donald.

Performances will run through May 15th and tickets and additional cast information is available online.

Phillip Addis made his debut in the title role in 2015 at the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa. John Relyea will return to the role in January at Den Norske Opera with Jacques Imbrailo in the title role.

Phillip Addis as Billy Budd in Rome
Billy Budd had its world premier at London’s Royal Opera House on December 1, 1951 conducted by the composer with the role of Captain Vere sung by Britten’s partner Peter Pears. In 1966, in preparation for a television broadcast, Britten cut the score from four acts to two with a prologue and epilogue, which has become the standard version for the opera. 

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.

The first production of the opera Billy Budd in Russia occurred 100 years after the birth of Britten at St. Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Theatre in 2013. Billy Budd received its United States premiere in 1952 at the Indiana University Opera Company with Jack Gillaspy in the title role.

Phillip Addis as Billy Budd in Rome
Britten originally intended the title role for Sir Geraint Evans, but he felt that the role sat to high for his voice, so he switched to the role of Mr. Flint. Britten then opted for barihunk Theodor Uppman to replace Evans in the title role.

The performance launched Uppman's international career and he went on to become one of the definitive Billy Budd's off all-time. Uppman sang in an acclaimed performance in 1970 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which included Sir Geraint Evans as Claggart and Richard Lewis as Vere. 

A number of famous barihunks have sung the role of Billy Budd, who many believe was secretly desired by the evil Claggart. Famous barihunk Billy Budd's include John Chest, Simon Keenlyside, Richard Stilwell, Nathan Gunn, Rod Gilfry, Bo Skovhus, Thomas Hampson, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Peter Mattei, Lauri Vasar, Lucas Meachem, Jacques Imbrailo, Daniel Belcher, Roderick Williams, Iurii Samoilov and Liam Bonner.

German barihunk Björn Bürger will add his name to the roster, when he takes on the title role beginning May 19th at the Frankfurt Oper.

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