Billy Budd, by the British composer Benjamin Britten (1913–1976), is based on Herman Melville’s eponymous novel and tells the story of that which took place on board a British battleship during the Napoleonic Wars. Britten was fully aware of the destructive power of sexuality, afflicting both hetero- and homosexual individuals (most notably, he treated the subject in his opera Death in Venice). He was also a passionate pacifist, possessed a great sense of justice, and he personally resented violence, be it in war conflicts or committed on individuals. All these topics are afforded a significant role in the opera Billy Budd, in which a handsome, naïve and trustful youth becomes the object of hatred on the part of a sadistic manipulator, master-at-arms Claggart, who falsely accuses Billy of inciting the crew to mutiny. Billy inadvertently kills his torturer and is duly sentenced to death. Captain Vere faces an agonising decision: should he pardon the innocent boy, or should he abide by the law of war? He does not prevent the tragedy and the memory of his fateful failure will haunt him throughout his life.
Billy Budd is a purely masculine and, after Peter Grimes, the second “nautical” opera of Britten’s, in which the sea, the rocking of the waves and the gusts of wind are reflected in every single bar. The premiere performance, on 1 December 1951 at Covent Garden, was conducted by the composer himself. In 1960, Britten revised the score. The National Theatre will present the opera in Czech premiere, in the original version, made up of four Acts.
About the company
The National Theatre is the prime stage of the Czech Republic. It is also one of the symbols of national identity and a part of the European cultural space, with a tradition spanning more than 130 years. It is the bearer of the national cultural heritage, as well as a space for free artistic creation.
Today, the National Theatre is made up of four artistic companies – the Opera, Drama, Ballet and Laterna magika. It artistically manages four stages – the three historical buildings: the National Theatre (1883), the State Opera (1888), and the Estates Theatre (1783), and the more recently opened New Stage (1983). The Opera, Drama and Ballet companies perform not only titles from the ample classical legacy, in addition to Czech works, they also focus on contemporary international creation.