A group of Durham musicians are planning the first performance in Durham for fifteen years of an opera written for young people. In the first of two events this year to mark the centenary of composer Benjamin Britten, the Durham Singers are leading a project with local children to mount a fully staged performance of Noye’s Fludde.
This short opera is based on a 15th-century mystery play, and tells the familiar Bible story of Noah’s Ark. Britten wrote the opera with the idea that people of all ages and musical abilities should be involved, from the young children who sing the parts of the animals, to the audience themselves, who have the opportunity to join in with rousing settings of three well-known hymns. The animal parts will be played by Durham Cathedral’s outreach choir – the Durham Cathedral Young Singers, and by younger pupils from Durham Johnston School. Forty-nine different animals are named in the text, from rats and mice to lions and camels, and including a number of bird species. One member of the cast will be enjoying spectacular promotion: The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham Cathedral played the part of a goat in one of the very first performances of the work, and he returns to the work now to play The Voice of God.
The opera is accompanied by an orchestra that includes parts written specifically for young, inexperienced players. These parts will be taken by musicians from Durham Johnston School, giving them a unique opportunity to play alongside professional orchestral players. They’ll also be playing some other rather unusual instruments; a set of mugs hung on a string is used to create the effect of the first raindrops. A group of young singers drawn from the recently launched Samling Academy will take the major solo roles, with 20-year old mezzo-soprano Charlotte Heslop from Spennymoor singing the part of Mrs Noye. Charlotte is currently studying voice with Miranda Wright on the Young Musician Programme at The Sage Gateshead and has previously appeared as Second Witch in the Miranda Wright Singers production of Dido and Aeneas and as alto soloist in the Durham Singers’ performance of Mozart’s Requiem, and this is her first major role.
They’ll be joined by professional bass-baritone Richard Strivens as Mr Noye, who won’t just be leading his flock into the ark – he’ll be leading them musically too, as Mr Strivens will be spending several days prior to the concert working with the young singers coaching them and guiding them in their roles. Musical Director of the Durham Singers, Dr Julian Wright, explained how the idea of sharing musical knowledge and experience is central to this piece:
“Britten wrote this piece specifically to engage young people – both players and singers – with music and drama. Like Britten himself, the groups involved are dedicated to spreading the message of great music and drama to communities and age groups that had not benefited from this. But one of the most important messages will be that of musical humility. Noye’s sons and daughters are up-and-coming singers in their early twenties. They will learn, from Britten’s musical generosity, about how music can be shared with amateurs and children; and that is the message for the Durham Singers as well, as we support this huge collaboration between different musicians of different levels of experience.”
The opera will be preceded with two shorter works by Britten. In keeping with the theme of God’s blessings on his creation, the Durham Singers will sing Rejoice in the Lamb, a vivid setting of an eighteenth-century poem written by Christopher Smart. The concert will open with the Fanfare for St Edmundsbury, a work for three solo trumpets, dispersed around the cathedral.
The concert has been supported by a grant from the Britten Pears Foundation
Date: 2 March 2013
Durham Cathedral, 7pm
Fanfare for St Edmundsbury
Rejoice in the Lamb
Jubilate in C
Tickets: £18 adults, £12 students/children, available from the Gala Theatre box office (www.galadurham.co.uk tel 0191 334 4041)
In the summer, Durham Singers will join forces with an up-and-coming chamber choir called Renaissance to will explore the links between Britten, Purcell, Britten’s contemporaries and those who have come after him. It will include “Where is thy God” by Ben Rowarth, which won the NCEM composition prize last year, conducted by the composer.
Durham Singers is a chamber choir of about 40 adult amateur singers who enjoy performing an adventurous repertory of mostly unaccompanied choral music, to the highest possible standard. In recent years, they have performed music by contemporary composers, such as Richard Rodney Bennet, Paul Spicer and Julian Anderson, alongside a core repertoire of English renaissance and romantic music.
Full details at www.durham-singers.org
Fantastic. I’m not a Britten fan (I do try every now and again) but I do love this piece. It’s one of a handful of his which I think is really, really good. (I think posterity is not yet paying sufficient attention to Michael Tippett – who, incidentally, I think wrote very interesting piano sonatas).