Billy Budd

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October 2024 Next




Captain Edward Fairfax Vere is an old man. He remembers the time of the coalition wars against France: in 1797, the year of the great mutinies, as commander of the warship Indomitable, he made a huge, irreparable mistake ...

The work is hard on a large warship whose crew is largely made up of forced recruits from various social classes. The particular unrest among the men stems from the recent mutinies of Spithead and Nore, where inhumane treatment by the officers has led to an uprising among the crew. Tensions are highlighted when Mr. Flint, the navigation officer, and the boatswain, exercise their authority and sentence a newcomer to 20 lashes for a carelessness. A recruiting party is returning from a draft. John Claggart, the master-at-arms, inspects the three new recruits.

The first, Red Whiskers, protests against his forcible recruitment and is beaten up by Claggart. The second, Arthur Jones, is intimidated by them. Only the young Billy Budd is looking forward to life on a large warship. With his good looks, freshness and spontaneity, he immediately wins everyone's heart. He has only one fault: whenever he gets excited, he falls into a convulsive stutter. Billy Budd is assigned to duty on the forecourt. This is more than he expected. He cheerfully bids farewell to his former ship: "Farewell, Rights o' Man!" Everyone is deeply irritated.

The French Revolution made the word "human rights" a provocation for the royalist English and for sailors it was synonymous with mutiny. Claggart is instructed by the suspicious officers to keep an eye on Billy Budd. He forces Squeak, who is in bondage to him, to secretly rummage through Billy's belongings in order to provoke him. The newcomer is brought back on deck after the flogging. Billy is disturbed by this senseless brutality. He is warned about the insidious Claggart. Captain Vere addresses his crew with a rousing speech to prepare them for battle. The men are ready to go through fire for their captain. Billy is also enthusiastic: "I'd give my life for you, Star Vere!" he exclaims. With his enthusiasm, he becomes a figure of identification for everyone.

Captain Vere has retired to his cabin to read and think. He invites the leading officers Mr. Redburn and Mr. Flint to join him and drinks with them to victory against France. The two warn him about Billy Budd, who has been talking loudly about "human rights" and is possibly planning a mutiny. But Vere is convinced that this boy poses no danger. When enemy land is sighted, the officers leave the captain alone. Billy discovers Squeak tampering with his duffel bag. A fight breaks out between Billy and Squeak. Claggart separates the two. Cold as ice, he has Squeak put in chains. Left alone, Claggart drops his mask: He is filled with envy and hatred of all that is good and beautiful.

Young Billy has all the sympathy, but he himself can only force the services of the others by force. Now that Squeak has failed, he chooses the unfortunate newcomer to destroy Billy Budd. He is to persuade Billy to become the leader of a fictitious mutiny. The frightened newcomer carries out Claggart's order. When he wakes the sleeping Billy and offers him the gold Claggart has given him, Billy begins to stutter again. It only goes away when Billy is able to tell his friend, old Dansker, everything. Dansker knows that only Claggart can be behind this. Billy doesn't want to believe it, he expects a promotion: the master-at-arms has praised him in front of the whole crew.



The Indomitable is stranded in thick fog. Claggart begins his diabolical intrigue: he warns the captain of a danger from within his own ranks.

However, the conversation is interrupted because an enemy ship has been sighted. The crew feverishly prepares a cannon attack. Under pressure from the officers, Vere hastily fires a shot at the enemy ship. However, the attack fails because it is too far away. It was all in vain. Claggart and Captain Vere continue their conversation, and the master-at-arms accuses Billy Budd of being a paid instigator. Disgusted, Vere demands that Claggart repeat this accusation in Billy's presence.

Billy comes to Vere. But instead of a promotion, he is stunned by Claggart's accusation. His stuttering prevents him from defending himself. He can only help himself with a punch, which immediately causes Claggart to fall to the ground dead. The shaken Captain Vere is convinced of Billy's innocence. Nevertheless, he summons his officers to bring Billy Budd to justice. In times of war, the punishment can only be Death by hanging. Vere himself informs Billy of the verdict.

Billy expects to die. He learns from Dansker that the crew wants to free him. But Billy is ready to die. The crew gathers to carry out the sentence. At the last moment, Billy calls out: "Star Vere - God save you!" Shaken, the crew repeats the exclamation. There is a murmur after the sentence is carried out. But the captain's personality causes the mutiny to collapse.

In the epilogue, old Vere realizes that he has wrongly condemned Billy. But Billy's forgiveness has redeemed him. He makes peace with the memory.


ACT 1 - 80 MIN


ACT 2 - 75 MIN

Program and cast

Edward Fairfax Vere, Captain of the "Indomitable": Gregory Kunde
Billy Budd, Foretopman: Huw Montague Rendall
John Claggart, Master-at-Arms: Brindley Sherratt
Mr. Redburn: Adrian Eröd
Mr. Flint: Wolfgang Bankl
Lieutenant Ratcliffe: Attila Mokus


Conductor: Mark Wigglesworth
Direction: Willy Decker
Stage Design: Wolfgang Gussmann
Costumes: Wolfgang Gussmann

Photo gallery
Billy Budd
Wiener Staatsoper
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Billy Budd 2
Wiener Staatsoper
© Wiener Staatsoper
Billy Budd 3
Wiener Staatsoper
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Vienna State Opera

Public Transport

Subway lines: U1, U2, U4
Trams: 1, 2, D, J, 62, 65
Buses: 59A
Local Railway: Badner Bahn
Stops: Karlsplatz / Opera

Taxi stands are available nearby.


Parking is only € 6, - for eight hours!

The Wiener Staatsoper and the ÖPARK Kärntner Ring Garage on Mahlerstraße 8, under the “Ringstraßengalerien”, offer the patrons of the Vienna State Opera a new, reduced parking fee. You can park in the Kärntner Ring Garage for up to 8 hours and pay only a flat fee of € 6, -. Just validate your ticket at one of the discount machines inside the Wiener Staatsoper. The normal rate will be charged for parking time greater than 8 hours. The validation machines can be found at the following coat checks: Operngasse, Herbert von Karajan-Platz, and the right and left and balcony galleries.

Important: In order to get the discount, please draw a ticket and do not use your credit card when entering the garage!

After devaluing your ticket in the Wiener Staatsoper you can pay comfortably by credit card or cash at the vending machines.

The machines accept coins and bills up to 50.- Euro. Parking time longer than 8 hours will be charged at the normal rate.


The structure of the opera house was planned by the Viennese architect August Sicard von Sicardsburg, while the inside was designed by interior decorator Eduard van der Nüll. It was also impacted by other major artists such as Moritz von Schwind, who painted the frescoes in the foyer, and the famous "Zauberflöten" (“Magic Flute”) series of frescoes on the veranda. Neither of the architects survived to see the opening of ‘their’ opera house: the sensitive van der Nüll committed suicide, and his friend Sicardsburg died of a stroke soon afterwards.


On May 25, 1869, the opera house solemnly opened with Mozart's Don Giovanni in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth.
The popularity of the building grew under the artistic influence of the first directors: Franz von Dingelstedt, Johann Herbeck, Franz Jauner, and Wilhelm Jahn. The Vienna opera experienced its first high point under the direction of Gustav Mahler. He completely transformed the outdated performance system, increased the precision and timing of the performances, and also utilized the experience of other noteworthy artists, such as Alfred Roller, for the formation of new stage aesthetics.


The years 1938 to 1945 were a dark chapter in the history of the opera house. Under the Nazis, many members of the house were driven out, pursued, and killed, and many works were not allowed to be played.


On March 12, 1945, the opera house was devastated during a bombing, but on May 1, 1945, the “State Opera in the Volksoper” opened with a performance of Mozart's THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO. On October 6, 1945, the hastily restored “Theaters an der Wien” reopened with Beethoven's FIDELIO. For the next ten years the Vienna State Opera operated in two venues while the true headquarters was being rebuilt at a great expense.


The Secretary of State for Public Works, Julius Raab, announced on May 24, 1945, that reconstruction of the Vienna State Opera would begin immediately. Only the main facade, the grand staircase, and the Schwind Foyer had been spared from the bombs. On November 5, 1955, the Vienna State Opera reopened with a new auditorium and modernized technology. Under the direction of Karl Böhm, Beethoven’s FIDELIO was brilliantly performed, and the opening ceremonies were broadcast by Austrian television. The whole world understood that life was beginning again for this country that had just regained its independence.


Today, the Vienna State Opera is considered one of the most important opera houses in the world; in particular, it is the house with the largest repertoire. It has been under the direction of Dominique Meyer since September 1, 2010.

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