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Britten Billy Budd (two-act version)

Edward Fairfax Vere – Kim Begley First Mate – Oliver Dunn Second Mate – Gerard Collett Mr Flint, sailing master – Darren Jeffrey Bosun – Andrew Rupp Donald – Duncan Rock Maintop – Jonathan Stoughton Novice – Nicky Spence Squeak – Daniel Norman Mr Redburn – Jonathan Summers Lieutenant Ratcliffe – Henry Waddington John Claggart, Master-at-arms – Matthew Rose Red Whiskers – Michael Colvin Arthur Jones – Philip Daggett Billy Budd – Benedict Nelson Novice’s Friend – Marcus Farnsworth Dansker – Gwynne Howell Cabin Boy – Thomas Fetherstonehaugh Midshipmen / Powder Monkeys – Boys from Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School Chorus & Orchestra of English National Opera Orchestra Edward Gardner

ENO 18 June 2012

A disappointment after ENO's compelling Dutchman which was pervaded by the sea. This slow production has no visual feel of the sea to set against the orchestral splendours and Alden's stage picture jettisoned concepts suggested by E. M. Forster, Eric Crozier and Herman Melville.

It sent the mind back into comparisons with Billy Budds of yore and afterwards, to refresh our memories we went backto revisit two of them on DVD - as reviewed by Musical Pointers and on TheOperaCritic -

1. a distinguished BBC TV filming of the notable 1988 ENO production, on square 4:3 format - this heightens the claustrophobic atmosphere of the opera? (Why don't the BBC take ENO's operas any more?)

2. Glyndebourne 2010 - - The set is brilliant as is its exploration by the cameras. A lot of it is dark, as is the story, but vivid on BluRay. Essential for any Britten collection.

Both of those will probably cost you less than a night at the live opera for two...

Peter Grahame Woolf

See: How to make Britten's great opera a bloodless bore: junk the context and get the cast wrong [Arts Desk]
- - There is something missing from the production, and its absence was keenly felt. The sea. [Classical Source]
- - it holds fire and doesn't engage with the darkest aspects of the opera any more than the Indomitable engages with the French [Ozorio]

Wagner The Flying Dutchman (one-act version)

Daland: Clive Bayley Senta: Orla Boylan Erik: Stuart Skelton Mary: Susanna Tudor-Thomas Steersman: Robert Murray The Dutchman: James Cresswell
Chorus and Orchestra of English National Opera / Gardner

Early evening performance, ENO, London, 5 May 2012


There is not a lot left to say about ENO's Dutchman; Google the indispensible TheOperaCritic for some twenty positive reviews of the first night [L & R] !

We found the singing persuasive, and diction commendable, but the adult Senta's '40s dress off-putting for a romantic operatic heroine (it had taken time to get used to her childhood self in bed for the first part - v.s.).

We enjoyed it from back stalls, with the orchestra and chorus sounding truly magnificent under Edward Gardner, and many of the words commendably audible.

More than two hours makes for a long sit, and legs can become restless, but it suited this production to have it sweep us from beginning to the enigmatic end without a break. And it was good to get home at a reasonable hour!

There were impressive videos of sea and ghostly ship (now obligatory in opera production) but at least one striking conceit in Jonathan Kent's production which seems to have escaped the notice of other reviewers.

The spinning chorus became a ship-in-a-bottle packing assembly-line - surely an allusion to the splendid one which had been gracing Trafalgar Square's 4th plinth close by, and which is now resplendent at its permanent home outside the Royal Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

No doubt souvenir copies are being manufactured, packed and sold in their hundreds, for this year's Royal celebrations; they are already on sale at the refurbished Cutty Sark close by, newly re-opened to the public.

We join our recommendation of ENO's Dutchman to all the others.

Peter Grahame Woolf

[Photo PGW]