Brooklyn’s Billy Budd is out of my comfort zone

Brooklyn’s Billy Budd is out of my comfort zone


norman lebrecht

February 14, 2014

Our pair of operavores, Elizabeth Frayer and Shawn E Milnes, have been to see the Glyndebourne Billy Budd at BAM. Way better than advertised, they thought. But the facilities at BAM? Shocking. Wouldn’t be tolerated in a proper opera house. Read on right here.



  • Mark D. says:

    Elizabeth and Shawn,

    Billy Budd is massive, symphonically conceived opera… a formidable, even menacing work in which nearly every bar testifies to the distance — in terms of musical sophistication and narrative/musical structure — traveled by Britten between 1945 and 1951.

    It is a truly through-composed opera: here, Britten has gotten beyond the need for constant sectionalization that marks his first theatrical entries. The score is sophisticated and smart, but its accessibility requires effort.

    It may never equal Peter Grimes in the public eye, but it is in almost every conceivable way that work’s superior.

  • Brian says:

    Shawn wrote: ” I paid $98.50 for a ticket in the next to last row of orchestra and my knees hit the seat in front of me no matter how I contorted or twisted. I’ve never encountered that in any major theatre anywhere. Not even in far smaller off or off-off Broadway venues..”

    Well, Shawn, you’ve obviously never been to Covent Garden. I’m sure it’s changed now, but when I was there in the ’90s the seats in the ring area surrounding the stalls were exactly as described.

  • V.Lind says:

    Who are these two naifs? I get no sense that either of them has any clue that this opera is based upon a very great American classic book. Perhaps if they read that it will enrich their next exposure to Britten’s fine treatment of it.

    (And someone should tell Shawn what the singular of “phenomena” is).

  • Kit Baker says:

    Actually, you’re right. BAM isn’t a proper opera house.

    A proper opera house wouldn’t have produced an all night performance by Robert Wilson four years before the Met compelled him to spend a million dollars for the privilege of mounting Einstein on the Beach for one night, and twenty years before Parisian operagoers were calling Wilson’s production of Madama Butterfly at the Bastille the best opera production they had ever seen. Also, I’m guessing that there’s no proper opera house that has presented world class productions of baroque operas by Les Arts Florissants a dozen times.

    This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a complaint about BAM’s facilities. A very cultured, intelligent, and eccentric gentleman sitting next to me on some weird variations on high chairs at the back of the Harvey once threatened to send BAM his chiropractric bills.

    I’ve seen that gentleman in the audience at BAM a few times since. He complained vigorously about the BAM facilities, but we spent more time in deep and quite fascinating debate about the performance. And he came back. (By the way, they’ve now installed better chairs, and my guess is that he’s found something else to complain about)

    I actually paid ten times as much for my Billy Budd seats than I did for Les Arts Florissants’ production of Hippolyte et Aricie at BAM. I’d say the quality of Glyndebourne’s production was pretty much in inverse proportion. For that and many other reasons, I remain to be convinced that BAM is the right place for Glyndebourne to fly itself into.

    Reading that blog entry, I wish my complaining gentleman had been there and we could have sparred once more about what we had seen. We both know that BAM is not a proper opera house, but we really don’t give a hoot.