|Photo (c) Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera|
David Robertson led the orchestra in a performance both powerful and powerfully eerie. I thought the delicate moments of the score well-handled, with nicely judged details, especially from the woodwinds. Robertson was attentive to the singers, (and could often be seen mouthing the text of the libretto along with them.) The overall tone was meditative rather than urgent, but I thought it worked. The men of the Met chorus outdid themselves in excellence; the interval audience was abuzz with comments on their superlative performance. From the first, uncanny "Heave away, heave" to the final, inarticulate murmur of outrage, the chorus sang with excellent diction and powerful expression. Theirs was perhaps the standout performance of the evening. This was my first live Billy Budd, so perhaps those more familiar with the opera would say that it is inevitable for the chorus to emerge vividly as a collective protagonist, oppressed by the same systems which enable Billy's unjust execution... in any case, this struck me more powerfully than it ever had in listening to recordings.
Among the seamen there was scarcely a weak link. Elliot Madore was a sweet-voiced Novice's Friend, while the Novice himself was poignantly acted and sung by Keith Jameson. I found The officers Redburn, Flint, and Ratcliffe sang beautifully together, and gave strong individual performances. Kyle Ketelsen sang the role of Flint with admirable tone and phrasing; Ryan McKinny (in his Met debut) gave a vivid portrayal of Ratcliffe as a man deeply troubled by the business he finds himself caught up in. James Morris made a Claggart both authoritative and menacing. His sound was somewhat leathery, but evenly produced, and his attention to text was never less than compelling, especially in "O beauty! handsomeness! goodness!" I could have wished for more of a sense of actual violence in or from Morris' Claggart (for a sadist, he's remarkably non-threatening) but I was more impressed than I expected to be.
|Nathan Gunn as Billy|
(c) Ken Howard/Met Opera