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Des Moines Metro Opera presents the world premiere of a new version of Billy Budd created for reduced orchestration, recently made available by Boosey & Hawkes.

In 2016, Boosey & Hawkes collaborated with renowned conductor and Benjamin Britten expert Steuart Bedford to create a reduced orchestration of perennial opera favorite Billy Budd. On July 1, Des Moines Metro Opera and conductor David Neely give the world premiere of the version, with the production running through July 14. This revised orchestration creates opportunities for smaller opera houses to present Britten’s classic work.

In its previous version—written in 1951 and reduced to two acts by Britten in 1960—Billy Budd employs the largest orchestra of any of the composer’s operas, though scholars have noted that much of the score features the sharply etched, transparent textures developed in Britten’s chamber operas. Particularly challenging to accommodate in the orchestra pit is the original orchestration’s extensive percussion section.

In his reduced version, Bedford—a longtime collaborator of Britten’s and is roundly recognized as one of the world’s leading Britten experts—worked to bring the orchestration into line with a typical Puccini orchestra. Bedford’s version eliminates two flutes, one trumpet, and one saxophone (which is now covered by the bass clarinet); the percussion parts have notably been modified to accommodate in a new practical rearrangement. The project was fully supported by the Britten estate.

The reduced orchestra scoring is as follows:
2 Flutes (both doubling Piccolo)
2 Oboes
Cor anglais
2 Clarinets in B flat and A (2nd doubling E flat Clarinet and Bass Clarinet)
Bass Clarinet (doubling Alto Saxophone & 3rd Clarinet in B flat)
2 Bassoons
4 Horns in F
3 Trumpets (1st & 2nd in C; 3rd in D)
3 Trombones
Timpani (3)
Percussion (6)*

*xylophone, glockenspiel, triangle, block, tambourine, side drum, tenor drum, bass drum, whip, cymbals, small gong, 4 drums
played on-stage by percussionists from the orchestra; some material for side drum, tenor drum, bass drum and suspended cymbal is played in the wings

>  Further information on Work: Billy Budd (reduced orchestration of 2-act version)

Photo: Edward Mandinian

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