Billy Budd

Last night’s performance of Billy Budd by the Los Angeles Opera was… compelling. I know some Benjamin Britten music (especially “Four Sea Interludes”), but had never heard this opera — nor have I ever read the Melville novella, though I was vaguely aware of it.

The staging was dramatic, the singing very good. The music, even being 60 years old now, is still rather too modernistic for some in the audience, it seemed. (There were a few disappearances after intermission.) I grew up listening to a wide variety of music (some from modernistic film scores of the era), and realize it takes two or three or four hearings before some unfamiliar music ‘takes’; some of the greatest music in the world is incomprehensible on first hearing, but becomes essential on repeated listenings (think “Rite of Spring”) (whereas the catchiest music on first hearing is the quickest to become grating).

YouTube seems to have everything, I keep realizing, so this afternoon I am listening to and partially watching a 1966 BBCtv recording of the complete opera, which features Britten’s partner Peter Pears in the role of Captain Vere, a role Britten wrote for him.

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