05 Dec 2005

Billy Budd at ENO — Two Reviews

ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA: ‘Under no circumstances to be missed’ (The Guardian), Neil Armfield’s illuminating reading of Billy Budd receives its long-awaited London premiere. In the season in which Benjamin Britten becomes ENO’s House Composer, this engrossing WNO/Opera Australia production is the perfect salute to a great British masterpiece.

The all-male cast sees Timothy Robinson making his role debut as Captain Vere, while the charismatic Simon Keenlyside sings the title role and Sir John Tomlinson appears as Claggart. With a sense of motion created through a cleverly abstract set, this Billy Budd is gripping theatre from start to finish.

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Billy Budd - London Coliseum
By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 5 December 2005]

Once again the company has bailed out the board. As in January 2003, when Khovanshchina signalled English National Opera's highest artistic intent at a time of crisis, Saturday's performance of Billy Budd set its latest problems in perspective. In spite of last week's bloodless coup, which saw Sean Doran, ENO's inexperienced artistic director, replaced by two of his deputies, the show went on - brilliantly. No opera company deserves two defenestrations in three years: it's an outrageously expensive way of dealing with chief executives. Vernon Ellis, ENO's vice-chairman, says he actually admires Doran, that there is no financial black hole and that we have reason to feel positive about the company's prospects. Why then did the board fail to support Doran when he most needed it, just as he was getting his feet under the job?

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Billy Budd

Tim Ashley [The Guardian, 5 December 2005]

It has taken seven years for Neil Armfield's production of Britten's Billy Budd to reach London. Premiered in 1998 by Welsh National Opera at Cardiff's New Theatre, it was deemed definitive by many at the time. It's still staggering, though anyone who remembers those first performances may well consider it less than ideally suited to the Coliseum stage, and also notice that it has undergone a significant shift in emphasis now that it has been reworked for a new cast.

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