MADRID: Billy Budd
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In Review > International

Billy Budd

Teatro Real

In Review Madrid Billy Budd hdl 617
Madrid’s Billy Budd, with Jacques Imbrailo and Toby Spence
© Javier del Real/Teatro Real

DEBORAH WARNER'S brilliant new production of Billy Budd at Madrid’s Teatro Real (seen Feb. 24) used simple but striking elements to suggest the world of the HMS Indomitable. There were no sails or props mimicking the form of a vessel, but this Budd was truly seaworthy. The manner in which the men of the Indomitable walked the decks; the ways in which they looked out at the audience, as if they were studying the temper of the sea; the camaraderie of the mock fights that turned dead serious—all helped to create the claustrophobic floating world of an eighteenth-century man-o’-war and the inner lives of the fifty men on board.

Joan Matabosch, the artistic director of the Real, had previously presented this opera during his tenure in Barcelona, but this staging is the first brand-new Billy Budd to be offered in Spain. Warner’s masterful production reminded us that the hypocritical and oppressive society Britten confronted half a century ago is still with us, and Billy Budd remains relevant. The new principal conductor of the Real orchestra, Ivor Bolton, presided over an inspired performance. 

South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo was an unusual Billy, his aspect more on the tender than the dangerous side of “handsome.” Imbrailo’s innocence and fragility made Billy’s downfall and death sentence particularly shocking, and his slender, lieder-sized voice worked well for this timid, reluctant hero. 

Toby Spence used his tenor of Mozartean malleability and beauty to illuminate the shifting moral doubt and sad fate of the captain. Brindley Sherratt imbued his Claggart with a booming, strong evil worthy of a Scarpia. Among the other sailors, Clive Bayley stood out for his pensive, firmly delivered Dansker, the old conscience of the crew.  —Roberto Herrscher 


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