Saturday, July 12, 2008

Te lucis ante terminum

I couldn't possibly express my excitement with words after my first encounter with Britten's "Curlew River". I went to the theatre with absolutely no clue about what i was going to watch (i had only read a synopsis) and i really enjoyed the experience of facing a work with virgin eyes, ears and brains. I had the feeling that after the wonderful performance of "A Midsummer..." the Opera de Lyon wouldn't let me down. And it didn't.

A breathtaking production by Olivier Py for the Edinburgh International Festival,
with set and costumes by Pierre-André Weitz and with the following cast:

Abbot: Konstantin Wolff
Ferryman: William Dazeley
Madwoman: Michael Slattery
Traveller: Ivan Ludlow
Spirit of the boy: Grégoire Boinay
Eight Pilgrims: Jérôme Avenas, Brian Bruce, Fabrice Constans, Charles Saillofest, Philippe Maury, Paolo Stupenengo, Jean-François Gay, Jean-Richard Fleurencois.

I did some research today regarding the work and found these:

" was his experience of the austere, stylized ritual of Japanese Noh theatre that was to be the main inspiration for the three Church Parables, composed at two-yearly intervals between 1964 and 1968. Of the three, Curlew River, the first to be composed, retains the closest link with the original Japanese by being adapted from an authentic Noh play, Sumidagawa (Sumida River) by Juro Motomasa.

In Curlew River, however, the action is transferred to mediaeval East Anglia and given a specifically Christian context, symbolised by the use of the plainchant that frames the action, Te lucis ante terminum, from which the whole piece stems. The result is a work that seems to invent a completely new operatic experience while also containing some of Britten’s most intense and hauntingly beautiful music."

The description of Britten's music as "most intense and hauntingly beautiful music" as given by the Britten-Pears Foundation, is exactly how i would describe it.

By Wiki we learn that

The singers are accompanied by a small group of instrumentalists, dressed as lay brothers. The work is scored for:

  • Flute (doubling piccolo)
  • Horn
  • Viola
  • Double Bass
  • Harp
  • Percussion (5 small untuned drums, 5 small bells, 1 large tuned gong)
  • Chamber Organ

This is what The Guardian wrote on Py's production:

Catholic director Olivier Py's new production is a devastating experience, theologically exacting, yet never for a second swamping naked emotion beneath religious imagery or ritual. Py's basic idea is that suffering represents for each of us a private Calvary. While dressing for the performance of their "mystery", the monks playing the Madwoman, the Ferryman and the Traveller are daubed with Christ's stigmata. The revelation that the child buried by the river is the Madwoman's son is staged as the deposition from the cross, while the appearance of the boy's spirit hints at images of Christ triumphant. Py also implies that the Madwoman is not alone in her agony: the Traveller clutches a picture of an unidentified woman throughout - perhaps his wife, but certainly someone both lost and hopelessly sought.The performances are uncompromising in their emotional veracity
....Profound, distressing and impossible to get through without tears.

Complimenti to all members of the cast and orchestra, complimenti to the production team and special thanks to the Chairman of the Athens Festival, Yorgos Loukos (ex Artistic Director of the Lyon Opera Ballet) for giving us the chance to experience so much, in so little time.


Willym said...

Of the Church Parables Curlew River has to be the most beautiful. I've only ever heard it and this production sounds incredible. You are obviously getting a remarkable introduction to these works. Wish I could have got over for at least one or two of the performances at the Festival - well maybe next year.

Parsifal said...

I'm still wondering why a work as interesting as this is not in repertory. I mean, i dont think that Erwartung is better than Curlew River . Anyway, we still have the Bolshoi Boris Godunov on Tuesday, the Pina Bausch "Orphee et Euridice" at the Epidaurus on Saturday, a new greek opera and then we say farewell to the Athens Festival 2008...