The work, based upon the popular short novel by Herman Melville, was originally adapted as a four-act opera by British novelist E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier for the 1951 Festival of Britain. It was later revised and shortened to the two-act version almost always performed today.
According to program notes, the piece follows the trials of Billy Budd, "a new sailor aboard the H.M.S. Indomitable [whose] strength, confidence, and ability threaten the evil Master-at-arms, John Claggart." What follows is a tale of jealousy, torture, accusations of mutiny and accidental death.
Music Director Patrick Summers, who conducts the production, describes the opera as "a powerful moral parable of personal morality vs. public duty... as directly related to the current state of the world as any story ever told."
Presented at HGO for the first time since 1998, this Billy Budd is also the very first installment in a multi-year series celebrating composer Britten. The company will present a variety of his works through the year 2013, which marks the centennial of his birth.
This critically-heralded staging by Australian director Neil Armfield garnered a Barclay's Award in London and a record six Dora Awards in Canada. It is a co-production of Welsh National Opera and Opera Australia.
Taking on the title role is HGO Studio alum Daniel Belcher, a baritone last seen in Houston as Mercutio in 2005's Romeo and Juliet. Other notable credits include Papageno in Mozart's Magic Flute at New York City Opera, Dandini in Rossini's La Cenerentola with San Francisco Opera, Tony Kushner's Angels in America at Th_ê¢tre du Chê¢telet and the starring role in the Opera Atelier production of Don Giovanni that toured Japan and Korea.
Also featured in the all-male cast are bass Phillip Ens as the black-hearted John Claggart, British tenor Andrew Kennedy making his U.S operatic debut as Captain Vere, baritone Liam Bonner as Redburn, tenor Joseph Evans as Red Whiskers, Phillip Cutlip as Donald, Gwynne Howell as Dansker, Rodell Rosel as Squeak and Ryan McKinny as Flint. Rounding out the cast are Chad Freeburg, Richard Sutliff, James J. Kee and Beau Gibson.
Sets and lighting are by Australian designers Brian Thompson and Nigel Levings, respectively, with costumes by Carl Friedrich Oberle.
Billy Budd will run through May 9.
For more information or tickets visit www.houstongrandopera.org
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All photos by Felix Sanchez for Houston Grand Opera.