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Billy Budd: Desire and Evil on the High Seas

Billy Budd: Desire and Evil on the High Seas


The L.A. Opera breaks the code on Benjamin Britten's sexually charged opera about sailors alone at sea.


Above: Publicity art for Billy Budd

While Benjamin Britten is often credited with having revived British opera, he could equally be recognized for awakening opera to the mostly untapped dramatic possibilities within the subject of homosexuality. Because he came of age when such things were left unsaid, his hands were tied -- constrained by law and social taboo. As a result, Britten's insurrection was subtle, accomplished by writing in code.

In a moment when gay civil rights are a subject of fervent national debate, L.A. Opera presents Billy Budd -- a work populated by people with secret feelings: composed by a gay man; with a libretto written by E.M. Forster, also a gay man. Forster described the resulting tension in the opera as "love constricted, perverted, poisoned, but never the less flowing down its agonizing channel; a sexual discharge gone evil."

Music director James Conlon has written extensively on the use of code and its meaning in the works of Benjamin Britten.

L.A. Opera's strikingly theatrical production of Billy Budd, conducted by James Conlon and directed by Francesca Zambello, opened February 22 for six performances only, the last one concluding March 16, with ticket prices starting as low as $19 per seat.

Explore photos from the show on the following pages.

The crew of the HMS Indomitable; Liam Bonner as Billy Budd is at lower right.

Greer Grimsley as John Claggart and Liam Bonner as Billy Budd

Liam Bonner as Billy Budd

Liam Bonner as Billy Budd and Matthew O'Neill (holding knife) as Squeak.

The whip!

Liam Bonner as Billy Budd

Greer Grimsley as John Claggart (top) and Keith Jameson as the Novice

Liam Bonner as Billy Budd

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