A special Festival screening at Aldeburgh Cinema of Basil Coleman‘s classic 1966 BBC film of Britten‘s opera Billy Budd, starring Peter Pears as Captain Vere.

Britten wrote Billy Budd while living in Crag House in Aldeburgh, which has a beautiful view of the north sea. The opera, based on a novella by Herman Melville, is a seafaring tale concerning Billy, a young, naïve sailor, whose tragedy is to lash out at the wrong moment accidentally killing the Master-at-Arms John Claggart. The cerebral Captain Vere has to make the decision to either spare Billy, or abide by naval law and have him hanged. His decision to adhere to the law haunts him for the rest of his life: the opera is told in flashback by a much older Vere, reflecting on this incident many years later.

This is a rare chance to enjoy one of the great opera films in TV history on the big screen, directed by pioneer of the form, Basil Coleman. Filmed at Snape Maltings Concert Hall with production design by Tony Abbott, Coleman was imaginative in his use of camera movement and angles, and respectful of the text, having worked with Britten since 1948. Coleman had directed the hugely challenging stage premiere of Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden In 1951, in the first of many collaborations with the artist John Piper.

An exhibition of John Piper‘s work, including models for the stage production of Billy Budd, is at Snape Maltings and The Red House, Aldeburgh, throughout the Festival. A film on the life of John Piper will be screened as part of the Festival on 19 June.

Aldeburgh Cinema is one of the oldest continuously running cinema houses in the United Kingdom. Located a stone‘s throw from Aldeburgh Beach, it has been at the heart of the community for over 100 years. The Cinema was rescued from closure in the 1960s by the determination of remarkable individuals, including Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, who devoted time and money to ensuring the little town of Aldeburgh still has its own cinema to this day.

Image courtesy of BBC / BFI