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Reviews of Billy Budd, Opera North 2016


A must-see new production of Billy Budd from Opera North, with a spine-tingling chorus and a gripping production. In a production as strong as Orpha Phelan’s new staging for Opera North, the formal structure amplifies the emotion, archetypes become living humans, and the emotional effect is overwhelming. A thoughtful, atmospheric and grippingly tense production. Richard Bratby, The Spectator, 2016


Staged with potent skill by Orpha Phelan. The period style is traditional, the story well told. The relationships are very precisely geared by Phelan and entirely believable with no overacting. In fact it’s the best-cast performance of the opera I have seen, without a single less than immaculate performance.

Tom Sutcliffe, The Critics' Circle, 2016

Opera North's new staging is the work of Irish director, Orpha Phelan, who lets Britten's harrowing opera speak for itself. Phelan tells the story honestly and effectively.

Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times, 2016

Orpha Phelan's attentive, top notch production brings this tremendous work into focus. The shattered wall is, as we move into extended flashback, hoisted to suggest, ingeniously, a sail... At the end, Billy memorably makes a virtue of simplicity, facing death, on an empty stage, with soaring stoicism.  ****

Kate Kellaway, The Observer, 2016

Clarity and strength are the assets of Orpha Phelan's new production for Opera North: no gimmicks, superb company work and three principals for the battle of good and evil all equal to their dramatic challenges at a level I haven't seen for decades....The opera frames the action with the tortured memories of old Vere, wandering in a crumbling mansion of the mind. Its grey walls remain a framework for the action on the ship: no masts and sails here, only hammocks, but Leslie Travers' spiral of splintering planks delineates above and below decks with startling simplicity, his costumes colour-scheme in greys, whites and blues with significant splashes of red, and Thomas C Hase's superb lighting, especially fine on giant shadows, does the rest. There are no surprises other than the famous interlude of major and minor triads when Vere goes to talk to the condemned Budd; usually it's left to the imagination, and the possibility of the "love that dare not speak its name", whereas here the captain goes to sit quietly alongside the able seaman, backs to the audience. ****

David Nice, The Arts Desk, 2016

Irish director Orpha Phelan takes up the challenge for Opera North, creating a staging of Billy Budd that succeeds equally in realising its mystery and transcendence.... The show is regularly visually striking. ****

George Hall, The Stage, 2016

More than merely claustrophobic...the production put the focus on issues of freedom, democracy and attitudes to dictatorship...sullen resentment at its most intense, yet it managed to be fierce and alert...****

Richard Wilcocks, Bachtrack, 2016




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