“Chest’s Billy would make anyone fall for him”: John Chest excels in his San Francisco Opera debut as Billy Budd

11 September 2019

American baritone John Chest made a triumphant company debut at San Francisco Opera on 7 September 2019 in the title role of Billy Budd, a role he has previously sung at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. He has already received a number of glowing reviews for his performance:

In the title role, baritone John Chest made an impressive company debut with a performance of freshness and vitality. Billy doesn't have much personality - he's a blank, beautiful screen onto whom the other men on board can all project their desires and fears - but Chest's singing, especially in the lovely late ballad "Billy in the Darbies" created a telling simulacrum.

Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

Striking a balance between boldness and vulnerability, easy-on-the-eyes baritone John Chest made a splendid impression in his SFO debut as Billy Budd, who arrives, Messiah-like, and quickly gains the admiration of his fellow hands on deck, who have been beaten down by the system and who see in "Baby" Billy their innocence that has been lost. With warmth and smooth resonance, Chest's Billy would make anyone fall for him; he was especially moving in his Act 2 final monologue."

James Ambroff-Tahan, San Francisco Examiner

The title role was sung with winning exuberance by baritone John Chest, making his SF Opera debut. Chest's Billy was lithe and charming, giving plausibility to the handsome sailor's popularity among the sailors (and attractiveness to Captain Vere). Even more to the point, Chest's singing gave Budd an exciting presence, almost every vocal line imbued with vitality. The ballad-like lament that Billy sang in the moonlight as he waited for the morning of his death was delivered with a plangency that conveyed Billy's still-innocent understanding of the darkness and beauty of the world.

Nicholas Jones, San Francisco Classical Voice

The title role was interpreted by American baritone, John Chest, and with panache. Chest appealed right from the start, his voice beautiful in its sonority, his conviction embedded in each note. His timbre was perfect, the plangent “cri de coeur” never cloying, nor a plea for sympathy. “I am a good sailor” he told the Captain when he stood before him apparently going to receive a promotion. “In my hands, you would be safe.” Indeed, the audience was also safe in his hands."

Lois Silverstein, OperaWire

Billy Budd runs until 22 September 2019 with tickets available from the San Francisco Opera website.

Photo credit: Cory Weaver, San Francisco Opera

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