Billy Budd

The Houston Grand Opera mounts Melville’s story of treachery at sea

Nautical tragedy Billy Budd, one of the major operatic works of the last century, has impeccable credentials: a script based on Herman Melville’s novella first published in 1924, written by A Room with a View author E.M. Forster, and a score by Benjamin Britten. All Music Guide says Britten’s music “paradoxically evokes the expanse of the wide-open ocean and the claustrophobia of dozens of men forced to work on the confines of a wooden sailing ship.”

Among those men is Billy Budd (baritone and Houston Grand Opera workshop alumnus Daniel Belcher), the broad-shouldered naif whose sudden rage leads to profound consequences. Treacherous Master-at-Arms John Claggart (bass Phillip Ens in his HGO debut) is unable to abide Budd’s virtue and eventually accuses the conscript of mutiny. There’s also compassionate but conflicted Captain Edward “Starry” Vere (tenor Andrew Kennedy, another HGO first-timer), the commanding officer forced to choose between the law of the sea and the laws of humanity.

Recent considerations of Budd have almost invariably focused on the opera’s undeniable homoerotic undertones, but its themes of betrayal, justice and redemption are as resonant now as ever. 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Through May 9. Wortham Center’s Brown Theater, 500 Texas. For information, call 713-228-7372 or visit www.houstongrandopera.org. $25 to $275.
Fri., April 25, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., April 27, 2 p.m.; Fri., May 2, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., May 4, 2 p.m.; Fri., May 9, 7:30 p.m., 2008

 
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