Libretto: Edward Morgan Forster and Eric Crozier, based on the novel by Herman Melville
The State Opera Chorus and Orchestra
Billy Budd, by the British composer Benjamin Britten (1913–1976), is based on Herman Melville’s eponymous novel and tells the story of that which took place on board a British battleship during the Napoleonic Wars. 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, in which a handsome, naïve and trustful youth becomes the object of hatred on the part of a sadistic manipulator, master-at-arms Claggart, who falsely accuses Billy of inciting the crew to mutiny. Billy inadvertently kills his torturer and is duly sentenced to death. Captain Vere faces an agonising decision: should he pardon the innocent boy, or should he abide by the law of war? He does not prevent the tragedy and the memory of his fateful failure will haunt him throughout his life.
Billy Budd is a purely masculine and, after Peter Grimes, the second “nautical” opera of Britten’s, in which the sea, the rocking of the waves and the gusts of wind are reflected in every single bar. The premiere performance, on 1 December 1951 at Covent Garden, was conducted by the composer himself. In 1960, Britten revised the score. The National Theatre will present the opera in Czech premiere, in the original version, made up of four Acts.