Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Billy Budd in Paris - 2nd go

I couldn't resist and this past Monday I went to see Billy Budd  at Opera Bastille again. So it's been 10 days since I saw la prima --that I liked very much (see this entry)-- and now I could appreciate more the details of this production. At the premiere I particularly enjoyed the Act-2 because that's where most of the action occurs. This time, instead, I enjoyed Act-1 more:  Francesca Zambello really did a brilliant job to introduce the characters and define relations among them in a basically spontaneous way. She never resorted to decor to do her job. The sets are there to support the action and not to define the personal side of the show. This show kinda makes for all the disappointment I felt after seeing her Carmen and Don Giovanni at the ROH.

 Jeffrey Tate

This time I also enjoyed the subtleties of the Maestro Jeffrey Tate's conducting.  You could tell he feels this music deeply, and when added to his huge experience with Britten's music, you get this singular style that makes this score breathe an extra life. He keeps all the dramatic moments perfectly at their place, but the intensity of music never falls, his attention to every line of the score remains constant and the result is delightful. One element that I liked very much (that the Puccini fans probably wouldn't like) is that Tate emphasizes the emotional moments dramatically too, but with no pathos at all.  Nothing vulgar - just plain classy!
Tate's conducting is maybe that extra-reason why I liked this time Act-1 more than Act-2.

  Kim Begley and Gidon Saks

I also enjoyed Gidon Saks more than I did the first time. I definitely felt he was better than on the night of la prima. His scenic and vocal authority were absolutely remarkable. As for the others, I stick to my previous comments and admire the show, the cast, chorus, orchestra...

  Lucas Meachem

Lucas Meachem is only in his early 30's so his voice is still wonderfully flexible, but it's big, and he's in total command of it. Big guns and he knows how to use them! His voice is leaning towards the dramatic side of the spectrum, so I don't expect to see him in any of the lacrimosa roles. He was superb like on the premiere. He cleverly sang through Act 1 to save the best for the last half hour or so, when both him and Kim Begley rocked! I should also mention the excellent performance by François Piolino. He got a big ovation of the crowd too.

This production is musically similar to that of Werther this season at the Paris Opera: all the roles are sung impeccably, chorus and the orchestra are at their best too.


  1. Go see the Frankfurt one, I beg you! :)
    I will see it on Sunday, hurra!


  3. Excellent! Many thanks. Peter Mattei is wonderful and Richard Jones certainly did a great job to transpose the action.

    That's a complementary way to see this opera. The production by Francesca Zambello is traditional/classical/descriptive -- but it's wonderfully done. Combine the two production and you cover a full spectrum of Billy Budd :)

    I wish I could see that production but this month is simply impossible for me to go anywhere (apart from I have one trip to Berlin planned since a year ago or so).

  4. Hm, this production has been bought by Amsterdam, (very smart of them), so you could still go for it next season ;). It looks like it has Clive Bayley in it again, who is irreplacable in this production in my opinion because of his very special Claggart. ... Peter Mattei didn't sing on Sunday, but Christopher Maltman, who had learned this production in 24 hours and boy did he do a wonderful job with it. It was a great all-British affair: British composer, director, conductor, Budd, Claggart, Vere - quite unusual really.

  5. Many thanks! I'm jealous actually :)
    Hopefully I'll catch it in Amsterdam next year then.

    Chris Maltman is a SUPERB singer. If you get to see his Don Giovanni (Guth's production) from Salzburg, please do. He's as close to a perfection as it's humanly possible for that role. He never lets the character of Don Gio to become one-dimensional as it's practically the case in every production I've seen so far.

    You should have seen this Zembello production in Paris with Tate, Meacham, Saks, Begley... The action is not at all transposed (classical staging) but it's brilliantly done.

  6. It was an odd weekend. I had booked two operas in Frankfurt for ages. On Saturday Calleja in Lucia was replaced last minute (on the actual morning) by Andrey Dunaev (Lenski in Tcherniakov's DVD) and on Sunday Mattei was replaced last minute by Maltman - they couldn't really be called replacements though, their performances were too good for that. That Lucia by Brenda Rae was absolutely stunning by the way - incredible. - That Billy production requires a really huge stage apparantly - it seems it cannot be done in Covent Garden for example for that reason. I have now also come to the conclusion that it cannot be done without Clive Bayley :), who was present fortunately (and got a lot of those bravos that we did). It was quite a "Sternstunde" - it was amazing how much Maltman was "in" that production and also having all mother tongue singers with this libretto was wonderful. - Mr.
    Maltman will do that odd Don Giovanni that we have in Munich, which really is not a good production. So I will go see him in that one - the last time I saw it they had tuned it down a bit - cut out some of the more stupid elements and allowed the singers quite a bit of room, so maybe he can work around it as well ;).

  7. Many thanks for your note. I saw 4 operas in Berlin last week that I should blog about as soon as I get back home.

    Maltman is GREAT. I don't know if you saw his Don Gio in Salzburg in the production by Guth (which I liked). He'll be in the same production this summer in Salzburg too. Maltman or Mattei, it was bound to be good BBudd.
    I'll really try and see that BBudd in Amsterdam next season.

    BTW, I didn't see the Munich new production of Don Giovanni, and I don't plan to [many reliable people said it was half-cooked and badly produced, so...] :)


    reviews on the two nights with Malti ;) (first and last night).

    do see it!

  9. Thanks for that. It's on my must see list for the next season ;)