Benjamin Britten

Billy Budd

10 August - 25 August 2013
Festival 2013

This year marks the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten, born suitably enough on 22 November, the feast day of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music. His powerfully dramatic opera Billy Budd returns to Glyndebourne with Jacques Imbrailo in the title role, Mark Padmore and Brindley Sherratt making their role debuts as Captain Vere and Claggart.

The tense and stifling atmosphere on board a British man of war during the Napoleonic wars, with discipline brutally enforced and danger of attack ever present, is powerfully evoked in this production by Michael Grandage. With the fear of mutiny always at the back of officers’ minds, crew members below deck were obliged to obey orders instantly and without question. As John Masefield, author of Sea Life in Nelson’s Time, put it: ‘A captain of a ship at sea was not only a commander, but a judge of the supreme court, and a kind of human parallel to deity. He lived alone, like a little god in heaven, shrouded from view by the cabin bulkheads, and guarded always by a red-coated sentry, armed with a drawn sword.’

But what happens when the human deity is crippled by doubt? When he is forced to make a terrible decision over life and death? Britten and his librettists E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier present a situation where a man’s innocence, a shining goodness as embodied in the character of Billy, is not enough to save him. And at the heart of it all lies an insinuating emotional ambiguity, making this opera a deeply disturbing and unforgettable experience.

Listen to Billy Budd podcast (26 mins)

Billy Budd (recorded live in 2010) will be in cinemas and online from 19 August 2013, venues and booking details are available on the 'In Cinemas' tab.

A revival of the 2010 Festival production

Sung in English with English supertitles

Supported by The Monument Trust

By kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd

Billy Budd

Benjamin Britten

Recorded live in 2010

Start times are approximate, please check with your local cinema.

Recorded during the 2010 Festival

Sung in English with English supertitles

Cast and Creative Team from the 2010 Glyndebourne Festival

Conductor Mark Elder
Director Michael Grandage
Designer Christopher Oram
Lighting Designer Paule Constable
Movement Director Tim Roden

London Philharmonic Orchestra

The Glyndebourne Chorus

Cast includes

Captain Vere John Mark Ainsley
Lieutenant Ratcliffe Darren Jeffrey
First Mate Michael Wallace
Claggart, Master-at-Arms Phillip Ens
Second Mate John-Owen Miley-Read
Red Whiskers Alasdair Elliott
Mr Flint, Sailing Master Matthew Rose
Arthur Jones Toby Girling
Bosun Richard Mosley-Evans
Billy Budd Jacques Imbrailo
Donald John Moore
Novice’s Friend Duncan Rock
Maintop Peter Gijsbertsen
Dansker Jeremy White
Novice Ben Johnson
Cabin Boy Sam Honywood
Squeak, a ship’s corporal Colin Judson
Mr Redburn, First Lieutenant Iain Paterson
Midshipmen Freddie Benedict, Alastair Dixon, Adam Lord, Pascal Tohouri, Joseph Wakeling

 If you are a cinema venue and are interested in screening our productions please contact

Main Content: 

Act 1

Act 2 

Recorded live in 2010. Follow us on Twitter for the latests news #BillyBudd.

Cast and Creative Team from the 2010 Glyndebourne Festival

Conductor Mark Elder
Director Michael Grandage
Designer Christopher Oram
Lighting Designer Paule Constable
Movement Director Tim Roden

London Philharmonic Orchestra

The Glyndebourne Chorus

Cast includes

Captain Vere John Mark Ainsley
Lieutenant Ratcliffe Darren Jeffrey
First Mate Michael Wallace
Claggart, Master-at-Arms Phillip Ens
Second Mate John-Owen Miley-Read
Red Whiskers Alasdair Elliott
Mr Flint, Sailing Master Matthew Rose
Arthur Jones Toby Girling
Bosun Richard Mosley-Evans
Billy Budd Jacques Imbrailo
Donald John Moore
Novice’s Friend Duncan Rock
Maintop Peter Gijsbertsen
Dansker Jeremy White
Novice Ben Johnson
Cabin Boy Sam Honywood
Squeak, a ship’s corporal Colin Judson
Mr Redburn, First Lieutenant Iain Paterson
Midshipmen Freddie Benedict, Alastair Dixon, Adam Lord, Pascal Tohouri, Joseph Wakeling


Captain Vere, an old man, is haunted by a moment in his life when he was tested and found wanting.

Act I Scene 1 

Years earlier, on board HMS Indomitable, a British man-of-war, during the French wars of 1797, sailors are at work. A boarding party returns from a passing merchant ship, the Rights o’ Man, with three men impressed for naval service. John Claggart, Master-at-Arms, interviews them but only the last, Billy Budd, pleases the officers, despite his stammer. But his impassioned farewell to the Rights o’ Man is misunderstood as a revolutionary declaration, and Claggart, responsible for discipline, is told to watch Billy. He sets his corporal, Squeak, to harass Billy. A Novice returns from a flogging, and Donald and Dansker caution the new recruits that no one escapes punishment. They warn against Claggart while declaring their devotion to Vere.

Scene 2 

A week later, Vere meets with two officers in his cabin and they discuss the recent naval mutinies at Spithead and the Nore. Vere discounts their fears about Billy’s influence on the men. Another officer arrives to announce that enemy land has been sighted.

Scene 3 

Below the decks, the same evening, Billy discovers Squeak meddling with his kit-bag and they fight. Claggart arrives and has Squeak arrested. Alone, Claggart voices his determination to destroy Billy. He forces the Novice to try to bribe Billy into leading a mutiny. Billy awakens to hear the Novice’s proposal. Furious at the idea of mutiny, he can only stammer. Dansker tells Billy that Claggart is behind it all, but Billy refuses to believe him.

Act II Scene 1 

Some days later, Claggart is telling Vere that there is a dangerous sailor aboard, when a French ship is sighted. The crew are called to action stations and a shot is fired, but the wind fails, the mist returns and the chase is abandoned. Claggart returns to Vere and again accuses Billy of planning a mutiny. Vere orders both men to his cabin.

Scene 2 

Billy arrives in Vere’s cabin to be confronted by Claggart’s false accusation of inciting mutiny. Unable to speak to defend himself, Billy strikes Claggart, who falls dead. Vere summons his officers to an immediate drumhead court martial, knowing that the penalty for striking a superior officer is death. Aware of the injustice of the death sentence in this instance, the officers appeal to Vere for guidance; he remains silent, the officers reluctantly resolve that Billy should be hanged at dawn. 

Scene 3 

The next morning, shortly before dawn, Billy awaits his execution. 

Scene 4

On deck, at four o’clock the same morning, the crew assemble to witness the hanging. Billy’s final words are ‘Starry Vere, God bless you!’ After the hanging the crew turn on the officers in anger. When they are ordered below, their rebellion subsides into sullen obedience.


Vere, now an old man, knows he has failed Billy and himself: he could have saved him. He receives Billy’s last words as a kind of benediction, redeeming him at the last.

Creative team

Conductor Andrew Davis
Director Michael Grandage
Designer Christopher Oram
Lighting Designer Paule Constable


Captain Vere Mark Padmore
Billy Budd Jacques Imbrailo
Claggart Brindley Sherratt
Mr Redburn Stephen Gadd
Mr Flint David Soar
Lieutenant Ratcliffe Darren Jeffery
Red Whiskers Alasdair Elliott
Donald John Moore
Dansker Jeremy White
Novice Peter Gijsbertsen
Squeak Colin Judson
Bosun Richard Mosley-Evans
Maintop Dean Power
Novice’s Friend Duncan Rock
First Mate Michael Wallace
Second Mate Benjamin Cahn
Arthur Jones Brendan Collins
Cabin Boy Charlie Gill
Midshipmen Sebastian Davies,
Tom Foreman, William Gardner,
Quentin Zach-Martins, Will Roberts

London Philharmonic Orchestra
The Glyndebourne Chorus

Billy Budd, Glyndebourne Festival 2013. Billy Budd (Jacques Imbrailo). Photo Richard Hubert Smith
Billy Budd, Mr Redburn (Stephen Gadd), Captain Vere (Mark Padmore) and Mr Flint (David Soar). Photo Richard Hubert Smith
Billy Budd, Festival 2013. Captain Vere (Mark Padmore). Photo Richard Hubert Smith
Billy Budd, Festival 2013. Claggart (Brindley Sherratt) and Billy Budd (Jacques Imbrailo). Photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
Billy Budd, Glyndebourne Festival 2013. Novice (Peter Gijsbertsen) and Claggart (Brindley Sherratt). Photo Richard Hubert Smith
Billy Budd, Festival 2013. Novice (Peter Gijsbertsen) and Billy Budd (Jacques Imbrailo). Photo Richard Hubert Smith
Billy Budd, Festival 2013, Photo: Robert Hubert Smith
Billy Budd company, Festival 2013, Photo Richard Hubert Smith
Claggart (Brindley Sherratt), Captain Vere (Mark Padmore) and Billy Budd (Jacques Imbraiio) Photo Richard Hubert Smith
Billy Budd, Festival 2013. Captain Vere (Mark Padmore) and Billy Budd (Jacques Imbrailo). Photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
Billy Budd, Glyndebourne Festival 2013. Billy Budd (Jacques Imbrailo). Photo Richard Hubert Smith
Billy Budd, Glyndebourne Festival 2013. Claggart (Brindley Sherratt) and Squeak (Colin Judson). Photo Richard Hubert Smith
Billy Budd, Festival 2013. Novice (Peter Gijsbertsen) and Novice’s Friend (Duncan Rock). Photo Richard Hubert Smith
Billy Budd, Glyndebourne Festival 2013. Claggart (Brindley Sherratt). Photo Richard Hubert Smith.
Billy Budd, Glyndebourne Festival 2013. Billy Budd company. Photo Richard Hubert Smith.

“…this is Glyndebourne at its matchless best.”
Rated 5* by the Daily Telegraph

“…a perfect piece of musical storytelling. It should be mandatory viewing for lovers and haters of opera alike.”
Rated 5* by The Arts Desk

“…not only the undisputed highlight of the Glyndebourne season, but also of the operatic year so far. (D)o whatever you need to do to secure a ticket for one of the remaining performances as it's hard to imagine any other contribution to the Britten centenary outshining this extraordinary evening of music theatre.”
Rated 5* by What’s on Stage

“This stunningly powerful production must surely be a high point of this year’s Britten centenary celebrations.”
The Stage

"Glyndebourne's Chorus is on unbeatable form"
Rated 5* by the Guardian


A superb Don Pasquale has been followed by an even better Billy Budd. It is good to see that Glyndebourne can show excellence in both delightful comedy and disturbing tragedy.The Billy Budd production was brilliant; an imaginative design concept delivered with realism, simplicity and clarity; a wonderful example for other directors.
There were so many fine musical contributions but I think especial praise should go to the chorus.
This season has been a fitting testament to the work done by Vladimir Jurowski who leaves an opera company in very fine shape.

Simpy stunning. A superb audio-visual experience. Can you get Michael Grandage to do all the productions, or at least approve them.

Billy Budd badly showed up the big production "misses" of Glyndebourne 2013, the misfiring Hippolyte in particular. Lovely music and good singing let down by a production almost as irrelevant as poor Rameau got from the ENO with their Castor and Pollux a couple of years ago.

Stunning - Opera at its best - go if you can

Saturday 17th August but more like an October day rather fitting this opera. Thinking back over the years I really cannot think of an opera performance to equal this except perhaps the same production on 15th!

Great opera; very very good performance. Once again a large number of idiots in the audience booed Claggart at his curtain call. Do these people understand what they've seen? It's not the Christmas panto folks. Glyndebourne - please exercise some quality control with regard to your audiences.

To the excellence of the 2010 production Andrew Davis, Brindley Sherratt and Mark Padmore added that rare thing, musical wisdom. An outstanding performance last night of this astonishing work which gains stature with every encounter. Well done Glyndebourne.

Glyndebourne do Britten proud and this is spectacularly good. Andrew Davis steers his ship impeccably. I found it worrying in the first act that I was finding Claggart really a very nice chap. However that is me. I cannot dissociate his voice from Superintendent Budd in Albert Herring. Unlike some I heard every word of the prologue and epilogue but that may be because I am reasonably familiar with them and had a seat which I know is especially good for hearing the words. Chorus master Jeremy Bines deservedly got hauled into the front row for the curtain calls.

Accompanied by friends who had not been to Glyndebourne before,this production was truly captivating and will live with us for sometime-beautifully highlighting Britten Brilliance!

Visually and vocally powerful, with moments of though provoking tenderness that were surprisingly heart breaking. Even days after the opening night I still feel the emotion of the performance.

Simply outstanding - well done to all involved. I find it hard to image that it will ever be bettered.

The moral conflicts and ambiguities of life in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars were conveyed extraordinarily powerfully by the music and the set. The tension and brooding evil of Claggart were almost palpable.
I don't think the concept of human rights was a feature of life in this country then!
A wonderful music drama.

Outstanding production. We saw it in 2010 and were keen to see it again. I thought Brindley Sherratt's Claggart was even better, with a bigger, darker voice. Perhaps the new Vere was a little too subdued, but beautifully poetic.

One annoying feature was the (presumably deliberate) absence of surtitles for Vere's opening and closing soliloquies: however clearly sung, many of his words could not be understood and it is particularly important to follow the argument here. This really should be reconsidered.

What a sensational performance! Wonderful singing, great production - breathtaking. We were very happy to see the revival, thank you all for a wonderful opera evening.
Elli M. Switzerland

A wonderful, moving experience. The production was as fresh as in 2010 and the singing of an extraordinary quality. A outstanding tribute to a great composer in his centenary year!

Attended Billy Budd on Saturday 10th August - a magnificent production; enjoyed it better than last time (2010?) - with Mark Padmore as Captain Vere interpreting the role with great sensitivity and this time a believably evil Claggart. It was a King Lear of an opera with superb orchestral playing and overall a deeply moving opera experience. Thank you to all concerned: for the sets, cast, musicians and soloists, not forgetting the magnificent chorus.

Billy Budd on Saturday was incandescent: it glowed and grew. I saw it two years ago and this time it was like a new production, tauter and finer. The Vere, the Claggart and the Budd, all of whom seemed to own their roles, the sinuous, rich conducting, got to the heart of this great work. I have never heard it better done.

We saw this production two years ago and thought it terrific. This year we thought the performances even better, especially Padmore's Vere and Imbailo's Billy - the latter showing much more strength of voice to add to the vigour of two years ago- but there was not a single weakness in the singing or the acting. Nor did I think Davis suffered by comparison with Elder. Altogether another really memorable evening at our favourite place, and the ovation at the end was fully deserved. Thank you.

Booked a box for 7 people ... all members of my family plus a friend ... for Billy Budd on 10 August. We all enjoyed the production immensely ... especially the stunning stage set and the musical evocation of the sea / the claustrophobic atmosphere of life on board an 18th century warship. One of our group had never been to Glyndebourne before and was rewarded with a stunning performance, made all the better by a delicious supper in the Mildmay.
Also, well done for reverting to a much more attractive design for the commemorative mugs ... bought eight.
Thanks for a great experience once again.

I doubt that I'll still be around for Britten's bicentenary in 2113, but I suspect it will take at least 100 years to produce a finer Billy Budd than this one. Still a few tickets left - sell your granny NOW.

A great production...We really got into the characters..

The finest production I have seen at Glyndebourne in more than forty years. Banish all your upstart directors with their patronising ways and treasure this Grandage.

To that pantheon of Glyndebourne greats - productions which cannot be bettered and which live on in the memory (remember Intermezzo, Arabella, Porgy and Bess, Midsummer Night's Dream, Albert Herring, Turn of the Screw - to name but a few - is now added the 2013 revival of Billy Budd. Great when new two years back, now matured and superb. Design, singing, acting, movement, production could not be bettered. Not a concept in sight but well produced drama sung to the highest possible musical standards. I am not going to mention individual singers for they were all good - even the smallest part being played with skill and conviction. This is what opera can be like - Britten will not have a better production in his centenary year. Thanks to everyone concerned.

It is hard to imagine a better night in the theatre of any kind, anywhere. I thought so when we saw Billy Budd in 2010, and if anything this revival exceeded my expectations. It was a privilege to be there.

This has been very helpful in preparing me for Glyndebourne on Thursday to see Billy Budd...I know little about opera, and even less about this one!
Thank you.

Gosh! The reviews are stunning. 5 Stars all round.

I can't wait till 22nd for the treat!


Attended the opening night on 10th August. I had a seat on the back row of the Upper Circle, but never felt too far from the action. This was a wonderful production, at times quite intimate and at others so powerful.It was gripping entertainment. Mark Padmore seemed just right for his role and all the soloists came across well. Andrew Davis handled the conductor's job with aplomb. Well done to all involved!

Breathtaking and heart aching

Viva voce

A triumph

Billy Budd - just as mindblowing as in 2010. To the directors of Ariadne auf Naxos and Hippolyte et Aricie I would say "Watch and learn"...

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