Billy Budd premieres at the National Theatre

The original four-act version of Benjamin Britten’s opera will be staged

The 2018 part of the opera season at the National Theater kicks off with the Czech premiere of British composer Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd, based on the Herman Melville novel. The relatively modern work, first performed in 1951, will have six performances this season.

The Czech premiere will be Jan. 18 and 20 at the historical building of the National Theatre.

The original four-act version will be staged. In 1960, Britten revised the score to two acts with an epilogue. The condensation was made for a BBC broadcast. The original version is now performed less often than the revised one.

The libretto, performed in English, is by novelist E. M. Forster and Britten’s long-term collaborator Eric Crozier. Forster is best-known for his novels A Room with a View and A Passage to India. Billy Budd was his only opera.

The story of Billy Budd unfolds on a British battleship during the Napoleonic Wars. Young Billy falls victim to a sadistic manipulator, the master-at-arms Claggart, who falsely accuses him of inciting a mutiny. This eventually leads to a dilemma that will deeply affect Captain Vere.

“Britten was fully aware of the destructive power of sexuality, afflicting both hetero- and homosexual individuals (most notably, he treated the subject in his opera Death in Venice). He was also a passionate pacifist, possessed a great sense of justice, and he personally resented violence, be it in war conflicts or committed on individuals. All these topics are afforded a significant role in the opera Billy Budd,” the National Theatre said in its description.

Billy Budd has an all-male cast. It is the Britten’s second nautical opera, following 1945’s Peter Grimes.

The lead roles in the National Theatre’s production of Billy Budd will be performed by American singer Christopher Bolduc and the Israeli bass-baritone Gidon Saks, while the Slovak tenor Štefan Margita will appear as Captain Vere.

Christopher Bolduc in 2011 received a grant from the Annenberg Foundation and made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 2013 in Nico Muhly's opera Two Boys. He was a national semi-finalist in the 2007 and 2008 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and first prize winner in the 2009 Sullivan Foundation competition.

Israeli-born South African bass-baritone Gidon Saks began his career in Canada before going to Switzerland and Germany. He has also performed in Paris, London and various locations in the US.

Štefan Margita has also performed in extensively in Switzerland and Germany, as well as other locations across Europe and the US. He is known for his roles in operas by Janáček in particular.

The musical preparation is by British conductor Christopher Ward. Stage direction is by Daniel Špinar, who has been artistic director of drama at the National Theatre since 2015.

The production also features the choir and orchestra of the State Opera, the Losers Cirque Company and members of Kühn's Children's Choir, led by choirmaster Jiří Chvála.

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