Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd turns Melville’s novel into a gripping psychosexual drama, says Sameer Rahim.

Billy Budd performed by English National Opera. Matthew Rose as Claggart  (left) Kim Begely as Captain Vere.

There is a very funny scene in The Sopranos when the family get into an argument over whether Herman Melville’s Billy Budd is a gay novel. Carmela, who has seen the 1962 movie version with Terence Stamp, claims it’s “the story of an innocent sailor being picked on by a cruel boss”. But her daughter Meadow is certain the boss is “picking on him out of self-loathing caused by homosexual feelings in a military context”, and tells her to read the critic Leslie Fiedler. Meanwhile Tony Soprano, a self-loathing mob boss, cracks jokes about Billy Budd being the ship’s florist.

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