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1985, Opera Theatre, Royal Northern College of Music, Billy Budd (Donald)

Billy Budd

Composer: Benjamin Britten
Librettist: EM Forster and Eric Crozier after Herman Melville’s unfinished story
Venue and Dates: Opera Theatre, Royal Northern College of Music
16, 19, 24, 27 March 1985
Conductor: David Lloyd-Jones (16, 19, 27)Simon Phipps (24)
Director: Joseph Ward
Producer: Joseph WardDesigner: Michael Holt
Lighting: Philip L. Edwards
Performers:
Billy Budd : Mark Tinkler (16, 19, 27) / Gwion Thomas (24)
Edward Fairfax Vere: Geraint Dodd (16, 19, 27) / Gareth Lloyd (24)
John Claggart: Clive Bayley
Mr. Redburn : Howard Charles
Mr. Flint : Andrew Greenan
Mr. Ratcliffe : Robert Corbett
Red Whiskers : Colin McKerracher
Donald : Simon Keenlyside
Dansker : Mark Glanville
Novice : Paul Nilon
Squeak: Richard Reaville
Maintop: Paul Trotter
Bosun : Jonathan Adams
First Mate : Paul Anwyl
Second Mate : Colin Campbell
Novice’s Friend : Simon Royce
Arthur Jones : Ashley Kirkham
Cabin Boy : Hal Fraser
Four Midshipmen : Mark Brandreth, Daniel Curtis, Benjamin Dixon, Samuel Wilkinson
RNCM Chorus and Orchestra
Notes: There is a recording of the performance on 16 March at the Britten-Pears Library in Aldeburgh

Soundbites

Michael Kennedy, The Daily Telegraph, 18 March 1985

Manchester audiences expect RNCM opera productions to attain a standard comparable with – and sometimes superior to – many a professional effort and they are rarely disappointed. But with „Billy Budd“, which had the first of four performances ay the college on Saturday evening, all previous achievemnets are surpassed in a production which confronts head-on and overcomes the challenges of Britten’s great opera. Musically, emotionally and dramatically, this was a triumphant occasion, its impact enriching and draining.

The first performance was dedicated by the producer, Joseph Ward, to the memory of Frederick Cox, architect of Manchester’s student-opera reputation. No finer tribute could have been paid than this mature and accomplished presentation of an English masterpiece. And much is owed to Michael Holt’s magnificent set, which gives us a three-level cross-section of HMS Indomitable, the bridge, the gundecks and the mess decks, crowded and claustrophobic, and revolves to show Captain Vere’s cabin.

To describe the leading singers’ performances merely as promising is to verge on the patronising. But the promise for their careers of already so much achievement is undeniable. For example, Clive Bayley as Claggart, the evil master-at-arms of this 1797 warship, gaunt, sinister and sadistic, has the sort of rare bass voice that can penetrate the full sound of Britten’s orchestra and never lose intensity or colour at any point in its compass. This is outstanding singing of rare quality.

Mark Tinkler’s Billy Budd is equally well cast, vocally and personably, his lustrous baritone conveying both the character’s naive exuberance and the Persifal-like simplicity exemplified by the poignancy of his aria as he awaits execution. If Geraint Dodd sometimes failed to suggest the austere intellectual in the Pears role of Vere, he rose successfully to his impassioned private denunciation of Claggart and sang the prologue and epilogue particularly well.

Howard Charles’s Mr Redburn, Paul Nilon’s brilliant Novice, Mark Glanville’s sympathetic Dansker and Colin McKerracher’s Red Whiskers, were vocal characterisations of high distinction. And throughout there is the superb chorus, almost unbearably moving in the “Hilo” chorus, chilling the blood with that amazing mutinous sound after Billy’s hanging.

Under David Lloyd-Jones’s sensitive and perceptive direction, the orchestra played with complete security, the woodwind solos impeccable, the colouring of the famous series of chords striking in its variety, and always reaching the true Britten contrasts of richness and spareness. As for the production, it served the music and the libretto so naturally and rightly that one was scarcely conscious of its existence, and that is the highest compliment I can pay Mr Ward. We seemed to be part of real events. An ecstatic ovation greeted this marvellous evening.

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