Posts Tagged ‘Iain Paterson’

Das Rheingold, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

5 April, 2013

The lights went down and all was silence. In the partially covered pit the conductor was invisible but slowly a quiet E flat emerged. Daniel Barenboim’s restrained conducting allowed huge clarity for the singers and plenty of scope for the brass at big moments. It was a coolly intriguing prelude to The Ring.

Alberich and Rheinmaidens, all images ©Monika Rittershaus

Alberich and Rheinmaidens, all images ©Monika Rittershaus

The stage was filled with water, albeit shallow, and Alberich and the Rheinmaidens were like a boy with three teasing girls splashing around in the water. After their mockery he is defeated and soaking wet. Then comes the gold motif and we’re off and away.

After Alberich takes the gold, dancers enter. They form everything from an arch for the entrance of Wotan and Fricka, to a throne for Alberich and an animated tarnhelm. They also writhe and express themselves to the music, but not everyone will like this aspect. Some of us prefer less distraction. It seems that the director, Guy Cassiers is keen to see perpetual motion on stage, whereas many in the Wagner audience are doubtless more keen to listen to the orchestral sound and the singers.

Loge and dancers

Loge and dancers

In this respect there was some very fine singing indeed. Johannes Martin Kränzle was a terrific Alberich, somewhat hampered by the dancers in this opera, and I look forward to his return in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Superb diction and tone from Iain Paterson and Mikhail Petrenko as Fasolt and Fafner, plus a very strong vocal presence by Stephan Rügamer as Loge, and mellow attractiveness from Ekaterina Gubanova as Fricka. Despite a subdued performance as Wotan, René Pape came through strongly when necessary, particularly after taking the Ring from Alberich when he gloats that his new possession will raise him to der Mächtigen mächtigsten Herrn (the mightiest of mighty lords).

Alberich and dancers

Alberich and dancers

The Ring itself in this production is a sparkling glove, and when Alberich loses it the end of his arm appears cut off. The glove idea has the merit of making the Ring obviously visible to the whole audience, and when Wotan heeded Erda’s warning he gave it up by simply tossing it over his head.

Costumes by Tim Van Steenbergen put the giants in dark suits, and the representation of the male gods reminded me of some rather odd dictators (the late Kim Jong Il came to mind in the person of Donner), and British readers will know what I mean if compare the appearance of Loge to violinist Nigel Kennedy.

Good lighting by Enrico Bagnoli, who collaborated with director Guy Cassiers on the sets, and I liked the video projections that at one point seemed to suggest a future world. Their reflection on the water was very effective, but I gather from friends that this was not visible from all parts of the auditorium.

This performance was on April 4. Die Walküre continues tonight on April 5, unencumbered by dancers if my memory of La Scala serves me right.

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Don Giovanni, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2012

21 October, 2012

The revival of this production by Rufus Norris has a cast very similar to its opening run in 2010 and works rather well this time. Paul Anderson’s excellent lighting helps create a sense of dark forces at work, and is particularly effective in Act II for the scene featuring Donna Elvira, and again towards the end when multiple Commendatores remove their head coverings and the flames of hell flicker round the side of the set.

Giovanni in action with Zerlina, all images ENO/ Richard Hubert Smith

The cheap picnic for the Commendatore at the end and Ian MacNeil’s simple sets, pushed around by masked men, lend an air of improvisation symptomatic of the Don’s horribly loose lifestyle, and this time Iain Paterson sang the title role with a far sharper cutting edge. Here was no longer a libidinously engaging academic but an assertive and ruthless womaniser, driven by a lust for power and new experiences. As his sidekick Leporello, Darren Jeffery was almost as unsympathetic as his master, and though unable to match Paterson’s strong bass-baritone, he became more engaging towards the end.

Anna, Zerlina, Masetto and Ottavio catch Leporello disguised as the Don

Don and Commendatore

Sarah Tynan and John Molloy reprised their delightful portrayal of the peasant couple Zerlina and Masetto, singing and acting with gusto, and Katherine Broderick gave another fine performance of Donna Anna, her recognition of Giovanni as the murderer of her father the Commendatore being delivered with fine vocal power, superbly backed up by the orchestra. As her fiancé Don Ottavio, Ben Johnson joined the cast to great effect, singing heroically, and his Dalla sua pace (referring to his fiancée’s peace of mind) in Act I was superbly delivered, in translation of course. Matthew Best sang a fine Commendatore, coming over very strongly after his return from the grave, and Sarah Redgwick reprised her performance as an attractive Donna Elvira in dark stockings and red dress.

The cast worked beautifully together and music director Edward Gardner conducted with great power and sensitivity, his curtain call appearance in white tie and tails adding a nice touch. These are performances of great musical strength, leavened by Jeremy Sams’ vernacular translation with its slightly coarse but witty moments.

Performances of the present production end on November 17 — for details click here.

Das Rheingold, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

25 September, 2012

This prologue to Wagner’s Ring promises a feast of fine singing and acting in the remaining three operas of the cycle.

All images ROH/ Clive Barda

Alberich and Rheinmaidens, all images ROH/ Clive Barda

Bryn Terfel sang as well or better than I have ever heard him in the role of Wotan, emphasising maturity and self-awareness, showing he realises he has set in motion something against which the treaties on his spear will be powerless. His acting left the audience in no doubt that they were witnessing the start of something very dangerous, confirmed by Loge’s later warning when he sings of the gods hastening to their end.

As Wotan’s wife Fricka, Sarah Connolly sang beautifully, giving the role a hugely feminine charm, and in two days time it will be intriguing to see how she and Terfel interact in their difficult conflict during Act II of Walküre. Such a pity however that fratricide has removed Iain Paterson’s magnificent Fasolt. His engaging appearance in flat cap, carrying a measuring rod of five cubits length, was well matched by his superbly lyrical singing, and when Fafner strikes him down we see the action very clearly as he falls forward against the glass wall facing us.

Gods and telescope

This is one of many fine aspects to Keith Warner’s production, revived by the director himself. The descent to Niebelheim is accomplished by the floor rising, revealing a coldly lit, colourless realm where a cadaver lies on a hospital trolley, and Alberich rapes a woman tied down to another trolley, though Wotan eventually sets her free. Niebelheim is a thoroughly nasty world, but this production also has its light moments. Alberich’s transformations using the tarnhelm are amusingly effective, and right at the end of the opera, the shrewd but flippant Loge takes one of Freia’s golden apples, slices it, and cooks it in a frying pan!

Valhalla awaits

In the meantime Antonio Pappano’s conducting has moved the action smoothly forward, making two and a half hours seem like nothing at all, particularly with such very fine singing from the whole cast. Gerhard Siegel made a superb return to the role of Mime, but many of the cast were new. Wolfgang Koch and Eric Halfvarson sang strongly, making their House debuts  in the bass roles of Alberich and Fafner, and Maria Radner sang a glorious Erda. Stig Andersen made a cheekily lively, if somewhat ungainly Loge, Ann Petersen sang with real feeling in the relatively minor role of Freia, and among the Rheinmaidens I particularly liked Harriet Williams in the role of Flosshilde as she sings seductively to Alberich.

Word has it that the entire cast for this Ring is rehearsing very strongly both in terms of singing and acting, and I eagerly await the next three operas.

There are four Ring cycles, the final Rheingold being on October 26 — for details click here.

Peter Grimes, in concert, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, August 2012

25 August, 2012

For those who saw English National Opera’s new production of Peter Grimes in 2009, here was a chance to savour the full glory of Britten’s score. With the ENO orchestra and chorus in the vast expanse of the Albert Hall under brilliant direction by Edward Gardner, this was a musical treat.

As Grimes himself, Stuart Skelton gave a hugely powerful performance, with Amanda Roocroft warmly sympathetic as Ellen Orford, the same pair as in the 2009 production. Once again Rebecca de Pont Davies gave a fine performance of Auntie, and Gillian Ramm and Mairéad Buicke sang beautifully as her ‘nieces’. Felicity Palmer gave a witty portrayal of the spiteful Mrs Sedley, Leigh Melrose a strong performance as the apothecary Ned Keene, and Iain Paterson was terrific as Captain Balstrode. If the ENO restage this in coming years, one can only hope they will be able to call on his services for the role.

Despite the fact that this was a concert performance, broadcast on Radio 3, those of us in the audience had the advantage of some clever staging. Grimes’s new apprentice was present, cowering under his fierce domination, and at the beginning of Act II while Ellen is singing alone, the chorus (in church) turned round towards the chorus master, who conducted them standing in front of the bust of Henry Wood. As they sang, the Albert Hall organ played — a lovely touch. Then as the act progressed, Skelton hit his forehead in frustration, before calming down and trying to encourage the boy, sending him off-stage and letting him down by a rope. As the men from the town approached he forgot the rope, and we witnessed the fatal moment. At the end of the act, Balstrode stood alone on stage, the viola produced another solo, beautifully played by Amélie Roussel, and he slowly picked up one of the boots the boy had left behind.

Act III started with an off-stage band for the tavern scene, but as the chorus and principal singers start to express their disapproval of Grimes, using strong arm gestures, the stage was set for Amanda Roocroft to give a lovely rendering of “Peter, we’ve come to take you home”. To her horror, Balstrode tells him to take the boat out and sink it, and Grimes slowly exited winding his way through the audience in the pit. The singers returned to stage, the chorus intoned words about the majestic sweep of the sea, and this superb performance came to an end.

Edward Gardner with the ENO orchestra and chorus, along with Stuart Skelton as Grimes raised this to the very highest level, and I cannot wait to hear them do it again at the London Coliseum.

Götterdämmerung, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, February 2012

12 February, 2012

Rossini is said to have commented that Wagner had some beautiful moments, but terrible quarters of an hour. Whether this is genuine, I don’t know, but Rossini never heard Götterdämmerung, which is riveting, from the Norns with their rope of fate at the start to Brünnhilde’s immolation at the end. In the right hands with the right singers Götterdämmerung is magnificent, and the Met gave us a whole string of superlatives.

The final scene, all images MetOpera/ Ken Howard

Robert Lepage’s production with its set of long planks on pivots, along with Etienne Boucher’s lighting, allows transformations that in the final scene show Brünnhilde riding her horse onto the funeral pyre and disappearing into a mass of flames washed away by the Rhein. The set allows the Rheinmaidens to swim up and slide down those planks as they tease Siegfried about the ring, and after Gunther has got blood on his hands by cradling the dying Siegfried in his arms, he washes it away and we see the river run red. Glorious effects, but I only wish the translated sub-titles were more accurate. Hagen’s final words are Zurück vom Ring! (Get back from the ring), not ‘Give me the ring!’ And if that was a choice made in the context of the production the same excuse does not apply in some other cases. My point is that we heard such fine diction and it jars when the words are mangled in translation.

Brünnhilde and Siegfried

This is a minor quibble of course because the singing and character portrayals were unbeatable. Jay Hunter Morris is the most convincing Siegfried we are ever likely to encounter. He imbues the role with a joy and vivacity I have never seen equalled. Such a sweet smile he gives the Rheinmaidens when they ask for the ring, and his retelling of past deeds during the hunt was enchanting. Lepage’s production even brought the shadows of those ravens onto the stage before Hagen struck the fatal blow. And what a Hagen we had here in Hans-Peter König. His soliloquy Hier sitz’ ich zur Wacht at the end of Act I scene 2 was hugely powerful, with the production providing added value by seating him between two pillars, in a great chair that finally disappeared through the floor. His call to the vassals in Act II was terrific, and this extraordinary singer portrayed his character as a cunningly smug operator who, despite the dark make-up, reminded me of that Scottish politician attempting to pull Scotland out of the United Kingdom.

Hagen and Siegfried

The Alberich of Eric Owens looked so shrivelled as he appears to Hagen at night, a clever transformation because Owens is a large man. And that other dialogue between Brünnhilde and her sister Waltraute was full of angst. Waltraud Meier showed fearful determination as she visited her sister, yet gradually exhibited a sense that she was out of her depth with Brünnhilde’s newly found passion. Such a tragedy that Brünnhilde is then accosted by an unknown stranger who has walked through the fire, and this was cleverly done with Siegfried’s head covered by the net of the Tarnhelm, which he helpfully removed at one point so the audience could be sure of who he was.

His blood brother Gunther was superbly sung and portrayed by Iain Paterson, who looked very much the part, far slimmer than his recent Don Giovanni at the English National Opera. With Wendy Bryn Harmer as his sister Gutrune, the pair of them were attractively eligible, exhibiting determination and weakness at the same time.

Gunther, Brünnhilde, Hagen

Finally there was Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde, who opens things up immediately after the Norn scene, and brings it all to a close at the end. She was magnificent and one can see her as the wife of the man who will now rule the world after Wotan’s will has been broken. But like Siegfried she is cleverly deceived by Hagen, giving him the secret of how to kill her hero,and only when the scales have fallen from her eyes can she find the right course of action. Her immolation scene brings all to a close, and the lighting does the rest, as the flames recede into the distance carrying the gods away, and the Rhein purifies the world of Alberich’s transgressions and Wotan’s plans and deceits.

Wonderfully sensitive conducting by Fabio Luisi throughout, ranging from pellucid chamber opera to a full-throated roar of polyphony. I eagerly await broadcasts of the full Ring cycle in 2013.

This broadcast in 2012 is rather well-timed in terms of the Euro crisis — see my Eurodämmerung essay comparing the Ring with the Euro.

The Marriage of Figaro, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2011

6 October, 2011

Sometimes in Figaro the Count can appear a bit of a twerp, but not here. Fiona Shaw’s new production allows him to show testosterone-fuelled frustration, and Roland Wood acted the part as if he were Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey with a wonderful singing voice and hormones running riot, even tearing a doll to pieces in Act III. Forget the TV series — go to the opera. With Elizabeth Llewellyn stepping in at the last minute as the Countess, this was simply wonderful. Her cavatina at the start of Act II when she sighs for the loss of her husband’s love immediately raised the performance a notch, just as it had at Holland Park this summer.

Iain Paterson as Figaro, all images by Sarah Lee

Iain Paterson sang a very solid Figaro, with excellent diction, though you never felt he was in any danger of losing the plot, and Devon Guthrie sang a beautiful Susanna. She was delightful in every way, and Kathryn Rudge as Cherubino gave a remarkable en travesti performance, acting very much the amorous young man. The whole cast sang extremely well together, with fine support from Paul Daniel in the orchestra pit.

This Mozart and Da Ponte opera has a cutting edge, based as it is on Beaumarchais’s play, which was banned from the stage in Vienna where the opera was first performed, and this production adumbrated the tension between master and servants rather well. The translation by Jeremy Sams was suitably direct, as for example when the Count sings at the start of Act III, “Could it be that another of my lackeys has got ideas above his station”. And the emphasis on the master/servant relationship is alluded to before the overture even starts, as we see projections of silhouettes doffing their hats and bowing deeply. But if this makes it sound too political, the production admirably adheres to Beaumarchais’s alternative title The Crazy Day (La folle journée), with a rotating stage conveying different aspects of the house’s interior and adding to the confusion all round at the end of Act II.

Roland Wood as the Count with Antonio the gardener and Figaro

The designs by Peter McKintosh involved traditional costumes in an abstract modern setting, and the occasional use of video cameras pulled the whole thing forward in time as if we were looking back on a vanished world. Certainly that world vanished in one part of Europe with the French revolution in 1789, just three years after the first performance in Vienna, and the opera was only shown in France for the first time in 1793.

As with other English National Opera productions using modern translations, the words have an immediate effect, and Fiona Shaw’s production allows the performers to inhabit their roles and work together as if this were repertory theatre.

The result is well worth seeing, and performances continue until November 10 — for details click here.

Parsifal, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2011

17 February, 2011

Easter comes late this year but Parsifal is early, and stepping into the warmth of the London Coliseum from a washed-out winter’s day was a treat. As the first bars came out of the orchestra, Mark Wigglesworth’s conducting showed the clarity and quality Wagner’s music demands, and sent tingles down my spine.

Gurnemanz and knights, early Act I, all photos by Richard Hubert Smith

Act I opens to a scene like something from ancient history. This was the Sumerian KUR, the distant land of the dead, where all is clay. The knights of the Grail are grey in costume and skin, as if made of clay, and into this ancient land beyond the normal world I almost expected the Sumerian goddess Inanna to come breezing in, as she does in the saga of Inanna’s Descent. But it was Kundry who arrived — the only splash of colour in this wasteland, until Parsifal himself enters.

Journey to the Grail in Act I

When Gurnemanz decides that perhaps this young man, who can’t even remember his own name, is the chosen fool who will bring redemption, he takes him to the ceremony of the Grail. Here Parsifal and Gurnemanz are beautifully lit, swaying side by side as if walking, while Parsifal marvels at how swiftly he moves though scarcely taking a step. I love Gurnemanz’s reply, “Du siehst mein Sohn, zum Raum wird hier die Zeit” (You see my son here space turns into time). It was rendered here, as in other translations, by “You see my son here space and time are one”, though Wagner produced this opera in 1882, before the theory of relativity. However, I liked the translation by Richard Stokes, and John Tomlinson sang Gurnemanz with such wonderful diction that the surtitles were superfluous.

In fact all the singing was clear, and when Stuart Skelton as Parsifal sang the word spear in Act III he gave it a tremendous power and lyricism, turning the simple fool of Act I into a truly heroic tenor. Iain Paterson gave Amfortas real heft, both vocally and physically, and Andrew Greenan gave a rich bass tone to Amfortas’s father Titurel in Act I. Both the first and third acts were superb, though Act II suffered slightly by comparison, with Tom Fox as Klingsor and Jane Dutton as Kundry. But the real heroes in this performance were John Tomlinson, and Mark Wigglesworth with the orchestra. I don’t know how Tomlinson does it, but his rendering of Gurnemanz was so gripping that he made the long monologues seem short.

Amfortas with the body of Titurel in Act III

Of course Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s production helps enormously. As that huge boulder rotates during the walk to the Grail in Act I it reveals a bluish light from behind, giving a cosmic feel to the movement of Gurnemanz and Parsifal. And when Parsifal acquires the spear in Act II and uses it to strike the ground, he brings demolition to Klingsor’s magic realm. Then in Act III there is a wonderful moment as Amfortas reaches into the pit inhabited by figures of clay, and drags out the body of his father. This is just before Stuart Skelton’s gloriously sung Parsifal mentions the spear, cutting through the death-like immobility of the knights. Only Parsifal, Gurnemanz, and perhaps Kundry, show any sympathy with Amfortas, and when Kundry and Parsifal walk off, beautifully lit, into the distance they have created the redemption that ends Wagner’s final opera.

The audience reaction was thunderous applause, and in case the ENO do not revive this production again, it’s well worth the price of a ticket, and train ticket if you live outside London. Performances continue until March 12 — for more details click here.

Don Giovanni, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, November 2010

7 November, 2010

In an interesting and informative essay in the programme, Richard Wigmore discusses this Mozart opera, and writes, “Don Giovanni revolves around the tensions of class, sex and aristocratic abuse of power”. I agree, but this production takes a different tack. The Don appears more as a bumbling academic, and the supper to which the Commendatore is invited at the end is a picnic of bread rolls served from a couple of small plastic shopping bags. Giovanni and Leporello have no table and chair, but sit on the stage and bread rolls are thrown.

Leporello and the Don, all photos by Donald Cooper

During the overture men in strange masks prowl the stage while a circular and dramatically lit metal contraption is lowered from above, and an electric storm rages in the background. But despite the electricity this Don lacked magnetism. Iain Paterson, whom I recall singing a sympathetic and powerful Amonasro in the  ENO’s  Aida two years ago, and a strong Mr. Redburn in Glyndebourne’s Billy Budd this past summer, sang with warmth and strength, but lacked the cutting edge for the Don. And while his stage actions showed suitable nastiness, he gave the appearance of being too nice a guy to release his amoral testosterone-inspired aggression on the world. As the Don’s long-suffering servant Leporello, Brindley Sherratt sang very strongly and gave a fine depth to the evening, just as he did as Sparafucile in Rigoletto last year, and as the monk Pimen in Boris Godunov the year before. He also gave an excellent comic sense to the role, and while he is equally at home singing the murdered Commendatore — which he did at Glyndebourne this year — that small but important role went to Matthew Best who sang it superbly.

The Don with Zerlina

As the pretty Zerlina, whose wedding to Masetto attracts the Don’s amorously intrusive attentions, Sarah Tynan did a wonderful job. This is the same singer who was so good as Adina in The Elixir of Love earlier this year, and Ilia in Idomeneo this summer. She is a delight to watch, and I loved the Irish brogue of John Molloy as Masetto. The role of Donna Elvira, an ex-lover who won’t let Giovanni go, was to have been sung by Rebecca Evans, but she was suffering a bad throat, so Sarah Redgwick stepped in and made a fine substitute. As Donna Anna, whose rape by the Don starts during the overture, Katherine Broderick sang strongly but with a vibrato edge that I did not care for, and it affected her diction. Robert Murray sang her fiancé Don Ottavio, a rather thankless role that was not helped by his costume as the only man on stage wearing a business suit.

The Don meets his nemesis, the Commendatore

This production by Rufus Norris with sets by Ian MacNeil had some nice aspects — I liked the dripping water on the murdered Commendatore as he lies slumped in a drinking trough, I liked the Don’s wooing of Zerlina, and I thought the projected images that Leporello produces when he recounts his master’s conquests, warning Donna Elvira what a cad he is, were a clever innovation — but the plethora of good ideas was all a bit too much for me. The director, Rufus Norris is new to the opera world, though well-known as a theatre producer, and I think the ENO is reaching out to theatre-goers who are relatively unfamiliar with opera. This staging may appeal to younger audiences, though not so much perhaps to those familiar with other Don Giovanni productions.

In the orchestra pit, Kirill Karabits gave an enjoyable and well-nuanced performance of Mozart’s music. Singing in English demands good diction, and the singers did so well here that the surtitles became superfluous.

Further performances are scheduled for November 6, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 27, 29, and December 1, 3 — for more details click here.

Faust, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, September 2010

19 September, 2010

As a university professor who has studied very esoteric subjects I appreciate Faust’s weariness with the ultimate point of his research. His willingness to bring everything to an abrupt end gives the devil a chance to intervene and allow him to recapture a lost youth with a girl he desires, but life and death are never quite that simple.

Melody Moore and Toby Spence as Marguerite and Faust

The main characters in this Gounod opera are Faust, Marguerite and Mephistopheles, and in a pre-performance talk at the Apple Store in Covent Garden someone asked who the main character is. The panel’s consensus was Mephistopheles — the devil has the best tunes, and he’s certainly the operative force in the opera. But in this performance the strongest characters were Toby Spence as Faust and Melody Moore as Marguerite. She sang beautifully with great purity of tone, and in the final scene as she achieves redemption through death her voice took on new power. Toby Spence sang with effortless lyricism, and being an attractive man who looks admirably young, his youthful rejuvenation was very striking. I also particularly liked Anna Grevelius as Faust’s student, Siebel. Mephistopheles was sung by Iain Paterson, whom I have seen perform very well in sympathetic roles such as Amonasro in Aida, and the first lieutenant in Billy Budd, but as the devil he lacked power and menace, and didn’t quite have the lower register that this role requires. Fine diction from all three main performers, though less so from the chorus, and while the orchestra played lyrically under music director Edward Gardner, there seemed a lack of tension and pathos.

This was not helped by Des McAnuff’s new production — a joint venture with the Metropolitan Opera in New York — which had a phantom-of-the-opera feel to it. The necromancy was missing, though the lighting by Peter Mumford was wonderful and the greens and blues in the last scene were very effective. I also loved the choreography by Kelly Devine in Act II, and thought the first two Acts worked well, though the flash paper tricks were a bit naff, and the still projection of a face that suddenly blinked seemed unnecessarily contrived. Overall some lovely singing from Toby Spence and Melody Moore, but I left feeling underwhelmed.

This was the opening night of the new season, and things may catch fire later. Performances continue on September 21, 25, 30, and October 2, 6, 9, 14, 16.

Billy Budd, Glyndebourne, May 2010

21 May, 2010

The power of evil to destroy good is an integral part of this opera, so a production and its performance must be partly judged with that in mind. This new production by Michael Grandage goes for a sense of claustrophobia inside the ship, darkly lit, with two levels above the deck that the sailors inhabit. I liked the set design by Christopher Oram with its curved edges at the front, as if we are viewing the whole scene through a giant peep hole. The final death of Billy is done off-stage, only the pulling of the rope being visible within the ship.

Jacques Imbrailo as Billy, photo by Alastair Muir

The music — and this is wonderfully powerful music by Britten — was brilliantly played by the London Philharmonic under the baton of Mark Elder. The part of Billy, the cheerfully trustworthy foundling whom everyone loves, was strongly sung by Jacques Imbrailo, who acted the part with a suitably ready optimism. His nemesis, Claggart was Phillip Ens, whom I last saw in the Ring at Covent Garden singing Fafner. He was surprisingly lyrical, giving an impression of Claggart as a more nuanced and less evil man than one normally associates with the role. In his monologue in the second scene of Act II when he sings “alas, alas, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness comprehends it and suffers” it seemed he really regretted being the dark force he has become. The intellectual honesty and sad weakness of Captain Vere was brought out well by John Mark Ainsley, and Iain Paterson sang strongly as Mr. Redburn the First Lieutenant, as did Matthew Rose as Mr. Flint the Sailing Master. The cast worked well together, the chorus was terrific, and Jeremy White showed particular strength and sympathy as Dansker, the older sailor.

Volunteers with Billy, ready to fight the French, photo by Alastair Muir

The costumes by the designer, Christopher Oram were wonderfully drab, suiting Paule Constable’s sombre lighting, but with a flash of red for the marines who escort Billy to the yard arm. If you’ve never seen Billy Budd before then this production has a welcome conventionality that eschews unexpected imagery. It adumbrates the restrained power of a warship that has no immediate battle to fight, apart from the sighting of a French frigate that disappears into the mist as the wind drops. But I would have liked a greater sense of the open sea and the Christ-like aspect of Billy to emerge. Darkness is good, though I felt the shining light of Billy was dimmer than it needed to be, and the menace of Claggart could have been stronger. A greater contrast between good and evil might have left a more lasting impression, but it was a wonderful performance, with powerfully nuanced musical direction from Mark Elder in the orchestra pit.

Glyndebourne’s production of this remarkable opera, an opera having not a single female voice, is very welcome indeed, and performances continue until June 27.