Glyndebourne has conquered New York with its acclaimed Billy Budd. The WhatsOnStage Opera Poll winner for Best Revival sailed across the pond last week and docked at the Brooklyn Academy of Music 's imposing Howard Gilman Opera House.
With the fourth and final NY performance of Britten's seafaring opera scheduled for tonight, 13 February, the Sussex company can celebrate a job well done. Reaction to Michael Grandage's intense and atmospheric production has matched its UK success.
Reviewing Billy Budd for The New York Times, Anthony Tommassini didn't shy away from superlatives, declaring that tenor Mark Padmore (as Captain Vere) "gives one of the most memorable performances I have seen in opera".
All the soloists are praised fulsomely, but Tommassini singles out the Glyndebourne Chorus and London Philharmonic Orchestra. "The tumultuous battle scene, ... one of the most grandly operatic episodes in Britten's works, was performed with ferocious intensity by the choristers and the blazing, pummeling orchestra.
In New York magazine's Vulture section, Justin Davidson notes the production's "seamless intensity" and highlights Jacques Imbrailo's "tenderness and unruly energy" in the title role of an opera he feels should be named instead after the tortured figure of Captain Vere. "But," he adds, "it's the music, which Mark Elder conducts with loving detail and precise power, that makes the HMS Indomitable such a thunderous box".
The New York Classical Review's George Grella agrees: "At the core of the music drama are the extraordinary choruses, which are brief and yet visceral". He goes on to extol the staging by Grandage together with designer Christopher Oram and lighting designer Paule Constable. "The main staging element is chiaroscuro; the set is filled with nooks and niches for guns, hammocks and hiding. The main characters are constantly emerging from the crowd, materializing out of dark spaces, as the aged Vere does with stunning effect during the execution scene."
On a technical level the Glyndebourne production of Billy Budd requires a deep stage and a substantial fly tower, so it is unlikely to tour widely in future. It will be back, though, of that we can be sure. There's life in the old sea-dog yet.