A few days later, the Bellipotent is separated from the Mediterranean fleet. While on its solo mission, it sees an enemy ship and takes chase. The ship gets away and Captain Vere is frustrated, pacing up and down the deck. At this moment, Claggart approaches him and begins to allude to some problems among the crew. Vere is very suspicious of Claggart, but he can't understand why he would make anything up. He asks him to name names. Claggart names Billy Budd.
In American literature, one writer, Herman Melville, was captivated with the subject of military justice. He wrote about it frequently. Billy Budd of course turns on a court-martial. But an earlier novel, White-Jacket is an extended tirade against the military justice system. In both novels, Melville makes a point which I consider—for all the advancements in military justice today compared to the Articles of War regime that Melville knew from his days at sea—still absolutely true. Military justice operates to reinforce command authority. It is, as it were, a command authority adjunct. Therefore we should never consider military justice to be about the ultimate, namely, justice. It may be about justice on the periphery, but concerns for justice fade when they clash with the authority of the administering command.
‘Under no circumstances to be missed’ (The Guardian), Neil Armfield’s illuminating reading of Billy Budd receives its long-awaited London premiere. In the season in which Benjamin Britten becomes ENO’s House Composer, this engrossing WNO/Opera Australia production is the perfect salute to a great British masterpiece. The all-male cast sees Timothy Robinson making his role debut as Captain Vere, while the charismatic Simon Keenlyside sings the title role and Sir John Tomlinson appears as Claggart. With a sense of motion created through a cleverly abstract set, this Billy Budd is gripping theatre from start to finish.
How would Herman Melville have felt about his unfinished novella Billy Budd being turned into a homoerotic opera steeped in cruelty? Utterly baffled, says James Fenton.