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Celebrating the centenary of the composer

Billy Budd

opera in four acts
music by Benjamin Britten

3 hours 30 minutes
one interval
enperformed in English (with Russian surtitles)
12+for viewers over 12 years old
Billy Budd
Edward Fairfax Vere Victor Aleshkov
Billy Budd Andrei Bondarenko
John Claggart Graeme Broadbent
Dansker Karen Akopov

Conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov
Libretto: E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier
Stage Director: Willy Decker
Stage Design: Wolfgang Gussmann
Director of the revival: Sabine Hartmannshenn
Music Director: Mikhail Tatarnikov

The production of Wiener Staatsoper, Gmbh, 2001
Sets and Costumes produced by ART for ART Theaterservice, Gmbh, Vienna

Billy Budd is performed at the Mikhailovsky Theatre by permission of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Limited, London

The Mikhailovsky Theatre would like to thank the British Council in Russia for supporting this production

British Council Russia

The Mikhailovsky Theatre is marking Benjamin Britten’s centenary with a production of the opera Billy Budd

British Council Russia
Billy Budd will be presented in Russia for the first time. The opera is one of the most important works in the musical legacy of Benjamin Britten, whose centenary will be celebrated in 2013.

The libretto is based on Herman Melville’s novella about events on board HMS Bellipotent. There are 20 characters in the opera, all of them men. In the stifling atmosphere of the ship and the strict regulations of this ‘male’ world, there is an increasing sense of unease which suddenly explodes into a thunderous drama. The sailor Billy Budd is a favourite with the crew; Claggart, the ship’s Master-at-Arms, cultivates feelings for the simple-hearted youth that frighten him. Powerless to cope with these feelings, he incites the young sailor to take part in a mutiny and, when Billy refuses, Claggart slanders him. This anxiety makes Billy stammer; unable to speak out and plead his innocence, he strikes Claggart in fury, a blow which turns out to be fatal. Captain Vere has no choice but to sentence the sailor to hang, even though the decision brings him great moral suffering. The crew wants to free Billy by force, but the young sailor is convinced that the captain should be forgiven, and the mutiny subsides.

In presenting Britten’s opera to the Russian public, the Mikhailovsky Theatre is recreating the Vienna State Opera’s production of 2001.

In presenting Britten’s opera to the Russian public, the Mikhailovsky Theatre is recreating the Vienna State Opera’s production of 2001.

The Mikhailovsky Theatre would like to thank the British Council in Russia for supporting this production.


Captain Vere, as an old man, looks back on his life at sea and the mysterious workings of good and evil.

Act I

Aboard the HMS Indomitable during the French Wars of 1797. Early in the morning, the crew goes about their work.
A cutter has been dispatched to board a passing merchantman and recruit the most able men for war service. It now returns with three impressed sailors, among them Billy Budd, an open-hearted, good-natured young man. Questioned by John Claggart, the master-at-arms, Billy reveals a stammer when trying to explain that he was a foundling.
His shout of farewell to his former ship, The Rights o’Man, misleads the officers into believing that Billy is a potential source of danger in rousing dissent among the other sailors. They instruct Claggart to keep an eye on him.
Left alone, Claggart voices his bitterness and disdain for the officers. He orders the ships corporal Squeak to use every opportunity to provoke Billy. The old seaman Dansker warns Billy to beware of Claggart, nicknamed Jimmy Legs.

In Captain Veres cabin, the officers express their dislike of the spirit of the French Revolution, which they hold responsible for the recent naval mutinies at Spithead and the Nore. They mention Billy as a potential troublemaker but Vere disagrees and tells them that all he is guilty of is youthful high spirits.
That same evening, the men sing chanties on the berth-deck. Billy wants to bring some tobacco for Dansker and discovers Squeak rummaging through his belongings and attacks him. Claggart intervenes and, realizing his man has bungled things, has Squeak arrested.
His hatred of Billy now stronger than ever, Claggart forces the Novice to try and bribe Billy into leading a mutiny. But the Novices efforts only rouse Billys anger. Dansker appears and calms Billy down. He repeats his warning to avoid Claggart, but Billy is certain he has nothing to fear from him.

Act II

It is several days later. Officers and crew are eager to engage the enemy but the ship is shrouded in mist. Claggart begins to put to Vere his case against Billy, when a French sail is sighted and the air begins to clear. The captain orders to give chase and the men prepare for battle. A shot is fired but misses the target. The wind drops and the mist returns, putting an end to the pursuit. Claggart once again approaches Vere with his complaint that Billy is planning a mu¬tiny. Vere refuses to believe him and sends for Billy to confront his accuser.
Alone in his cabin, Vere reflects on his conviction that the young sailor is innocent. Billy arrives, then Claggart, who repeats his charges. Asked to defend himself, Billy gets so upset that his stammer chokes him. He strikes out at Claggart, killing him on the spot. Vere, shaken, summons his officers and a drumhead court is constituted. Billy admits the deed but cant explain why Claggart should have wrongfully accused him. When the officers turn to Vere for an explanation, the captain refuses to respond. Faced with no other choice, the court pronounces the death sentence.
Early the following morning, Billy calmly contemplates his imminent death. Dansker appears with food and news that the ship is now indeed close to mutiny, the crew determined to prevent Billys execution. Billy tells him to stop them — he has accepted his fate.
At dawn, the sentence is pronounced before the entire company. Billy blesses Vere and is hanged.


The old Vere is still plagued by doubt if what he did was right. He acknowledges that he could have saved Billy, but the condemned mans blessing has given him comfort.


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