Michael Grandage, artistic director of London’s Donmar Warehouse for a decade until last year, made his opera-directing debut with Glyndebourne’s Billy Budd in 2010, and it returns now under revival director Ian Rutherford.
A scene from Billy Budd, Glyndebourne Festival 2013 Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
Right from the orchestra’s snaking opening string lines, a disquieting cohabitation of good and evil seeps through the opera, and its dark disquiet is sensationally captured in Christopher Oram’s multi-tier cross-section of the Indomitable’s decks, whose sides arch outwards from a curved hull, bounding its crew in a constricting embrace.
Crushing love is paramount, too, in Brindley Sherratt’s magnetic performance as the master-at-arms Claggart. His attraction to the handsome and innocent new recruit Billy Budd is barely articulated in the text, and yet in this performance we sense it’s the chink in Claggart’s armour that is the key to a deep self-loathing. Budd’s relationship to Captain Vere is also brilliantly drawn, a consummation based on mutual loyalty and understanding.
Andrew Davis, Glyndebourne’s music director throughout the 1990s, captures the crew’s exuberant sea-shanties and its testosterone-fuelled anticipation of engaging with the enemy ship, as well as Billy’s somnolent dream music and the stark yet inscrutable series of 34 chords intoned by the orchestra while Vere, offstage, informs Budd of his death sentence.
The singing is uniformly first-rate. Jacques Imbrailo, as Budd, strikes a fine balance between naivety and self-confidence, and Mark Padmore’s smooth-toned Vere matches the character of an idealistic intellectual tormented by having administered the rule of law against his own beliefs.
This stunningly powerful production must surely be a high point of this year’s Britten centenary celebrations.