Los Angeles Opera Preview: BILLY BUDD (LA Opera)

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by Tony Frankel on February 19, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

THE BLOOMING OF A BUDD IN L.A.

Based on Herman Melville’s classic American tale, adapted into a libretto by English novelist E.M. Forster and writer Eric Crozier, Billy Budd tells the story of the persecution and destruction of a pure-hearted sailor by a predatory master-at-arms. It’s a tragedy of “sexual discharge gone evil,” as Forster described it, and a work that has captivated audiences around the world since its 1951 world premiere. On Saturday night, Feb. 22, a spectacular production by Francesca Zambello returns to Los Angeles Opera’s stage for the first time in 14 years.

Greer Grimsley as John Claggart and Liam Bonner as Billy Budd in LA Opera's BILLY BUDD.Leading the all-male cast, baritone Liam Bonner returns for his role debut as Billy (Bonner was seen previously in LA Opera’s Albert Herring), with tenor Richard Croft as Captain Vere, and bass Greer Grimsley making his LA Opera debut as Claggart, the master-at-arms maddened by Billy’s goodness and beauty.

James Conlon leads the LA Opera Orchestra and Chorus (under the direction of Grant Gershon) for one of Benjamin Britten’s most strikingly theatrical and grandly scaled masterpieces. Maestro Conlon writes, “The entire drama unfolds simultaneously in a space enclosed and claustrophobic (a British war ship) and infinite (the ocean upon which it sails). The ship, with its crew, is cut off from the world and becomes a microcosm of humanity, with good and evil, strong and weak, powerful and powerless. The ocean and the skies suggest the boundless elements of spirituality and eternity.”

Liam Bonner and Ensemble in LA Opera's BILLY BUDD.

Conlon continues, “A universe within the universe, it touches upon Britten’s recurrent themes: outrage for the destruction—not just the loss—of innocence; the abdication by civil authorities of their moral authority to the detriment of the weak; and the importance of compassion and its lamentable absence in the affairs of men.

A scene from LA Opera's BILLY BUDD.

“This is the first of Britten’s four theatrical works with an exclusively male cast. It marks the composer’s return to “grand” opera, after the chamber operas The Rape of Lucretia and Albert Herring. It restores the extensive orchestra to its prior place, with a large chorus and some 20 solo roles. It is the second of three operas, along with Peter Grimes and Death in Venice, that play out in or around the powerful influence of the sea. It is the biggest of his large-scale works.

Greer Grimsley as John Claggart (top) with Keith Jameson as the Novice in LA Opera's BILLY BUDD.

“This presentation of Billy Budd marks the culminating event of Britten 100/LA. In the past three years, LA Opera has presented three mainstage productions of Britten operas. Through the collaboration of over 90 partners, Los Angeles has hosted one of the largest testimonies to one of the 20th century’s most prolific geniuses and the man who brought the English language back into the mainstream of classical music.”

Richard Croft as Captain Vere in the Prologue of BILLY BUDD at LA Opera.

On a personal level, Conlon has devoted much energy and attention to conducting Britten’s works around the world this year. This devotion, he says, is a small musical offering to a prolific composer whose contribution was colossal  and will live on in the future.

The crew of the HMS Indomitable prepare for battle in LA Opera's BILLY BUDD. The crew of the HMS Indomitable in LA Opera's BILLY BUDD. Liam Bonner as Billy is at lower right. Richard Croft as Captain Vere in the Prologue of BILLY BUDD at LA Opera. Liam Bonner in the title role of LA Opera's BILLY BUDD. Liam Bonner as Billy Budd with (back) Greer Grimsley as John Claggart in LA Opera's BILLY BUDD. Liam Bonner as Billy Budd in LA Opera's BILLY BUDD. Liam Bonner as Billy Budd and Matthew O'Neill (holding knife) as Squeak in LA Opera's BILLY BUDD.Richard Croft as Captain Vere in LA Opera's BILLY BUDD.Jonathan Michie (Donald), Greg Fedderly (Red Whiskers) and James Creswell (Dansker) in LA Opera's BILLY BUDD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photos by Robert Millard

Billy Budd
Los Angeles Opera
in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (London)
and the Paris Opera
The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
135 North Grand Avenue
 Saturday, February 22, 2014, at 7:30pm
 Sunday, March 2, 2014, at 2pm
 Wednesday, March 5, 2014, at 7:30pm
 Saturday, March 8, 2014, at 7:30pm
 Thursday, March 13, 2014, at 7:30pm
 Sunday, March 16, 2014, at 2pm
for tickets, call 213.972.8001 or visit www.LAOpera.com

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