Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was one of the most eminent 20th century British composers. The idea for this opera came to him during a meeting with the author E.M. Forster (famous for "Howard's End") who hugely admired Melville's novella of the name, and was to be one of its co-librettists.

As, arguably, Britten's most famous opera, "Peter Grimes" also proves, he had a fascination for the sea and the fates of those who go to sea.

In this work, the eponymous hero is a baritone rather than a tenor, although there is a very rich tenor role in the form of Captain Vere, originally and memorably sung by Britten's lover Peter Pears, who performs the prologue and epilogue.

On board the HMS "Indomitable" in the 1790s, Billy makes an enemy of the villainous Claggart, and things come to a head when Billy strikes him dead in a fit of rage. Inevitably, a court-martial is called, and a sentence of death is passed on Billy. Although he and Billy have become close, Captain Vere feels he has no choice but to carry it out - and before his execution Billy tenderly tells his friend, "Starry Vere, God bless you."

The work, which has an unusually small orchestra for an opera, has remained popular and become part of the operatic canon, with many performances and recordings.

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