Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten tells the story of a handsome young sailor who becomes the object of desire and enmity of his superior, Claggart, who levels false charges of attempted mutiny against Budd. In a hearing before the ship’s Captain Veer, Budd attempts to explain himself but a stutter stands in his way and in his frustration he strikes Claggart, accidentally killing him.
A conceptual opera for Welsh National Opera for the Wales Millennium Centre, it felt important root this production in Welsh heritage and wanted a set that paid homage to the building it would open in. The WMC is made of welsh materials and perhaps the most interesting element for me is the copper, especially considering its maritime ties which lashes it with Billy Budd beautifully. In the 18th century, the 'mutinies' that were happening in the Navy were because men were press ganged onto boats, paid terribly and kept at sea for long periods of time. This all would have been massively influenced by the Navy spending most of their money to copper plate the hulls of their fleets, not on their sailors.
This is the main springboard for the set design; taking inspiration from ship construction, waves and whales. The copper 'cave' is designed for the working men to be able to emerge onstage from the centre, bringing up guns and hammocks it is their torment, and interactive areas onstage that demonstrate the peril that they were put in.
Although many look to the homosexual undertones in the opera, what sings out from opera to me is an incredibly eloquent pacifist's (Britten) viewpoint, understanding the pressures within the war environment for the ruling class, but ultimately the act of war is a selfish endeavour. By starting the show in 18th period costume as time goes on the costumes bleed through time into world war two, until the end where we see a final chorus of men and women in a full array of modern military uniform. Making the statement that the issues of Melville's Budd, is no different to Britten's own experience in WW2 and our own with our own brothers & sisters today in the Middle East.