Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Billy Budd: the Indomitable docks in SF

I'm glad to see The Indomitable docking at so many
places around the world at once. Benjamin Britten's
opera "Billy Budd" is a very special work. It was a great
privilege to see my first live performance of this work
in such a splendid production as the one unveiled
last night in San Francisco.

Nathan Gunn is quite good as Billy, the character comes
naturally to him, and of course, he's got the ultimate
physique du rĂ´le for the part. Nate's pecs still look
awesome, and it seems like he's been spending time in
a tanning booth, too.

But for my money, I find John Claggart by far a more
interesting character. Claggart's "O beauty, o
handsomeness goodness" is one of the most fascinating
operatic soliloquies ever written, a creepy self-analysis of
such harsh, terrifying honesty, that instead of bringing
a deliverance to Claggart, it ultimately causes his own
demise, and he takes Billy along with him. It is also
central to the opera and sends Claggart into a path of
destruction akin to that of Salieri in Peter Shaffer's
"Amadeus," when he decides to destroy Mozart, one of
God's supreme creations.

The SF Opera's Claggart was bass Phillip Ens. He delivered
a serious character study and a committed reading, but
one which didn't sound vocally ideal to me. Britten is a great
composer for the voice, and my personal preference would
have been for a little more warmth in the lyrical passages
of Claggart's great soliloquy, juxtaposed against a more
roaring, enraged verismo resonance for the character
defining declamation, "I will destroy you!"

I'd love to hear John McVeigh's current Novice at the Washington
Opera in in D.C. (I love his Emilio in the Partenope recording
from the Gottingen Festival), but tenor Harold Gray Meers did
an excellent job in this emotionally wrenching, difficult and
traumatized character's part.

The chorus also did a superb job. The choral writing in Billy
Budd is brilliant, firmly webbed to the dramatic fabric, rather
than simply in the manner of specious manifestations to
provide variety.

Otherwise, people who are skipping this opera because it
doesn't have any female dramatis personae to hit the high
notes don't know what they're missing. Besides, this being
Britten, there's always going to be cherubic voiced little boys
running around.


Post a Comment

<< Home