Dates and Venue 14 & 16 February 2013, 7pm | Church of St. John the Divine, 1611 Quadra St., Victoria
Harpist Annabell Vitek | Chorus Victoria Children's Choir | Noye Peter McGillivray Mrs. Noye Rebecca Hass Voice of God John Krich
Conductor Timothy Vernon Director Alison Greene Chorus Master Madeleine Humer Set design students of Victoria High School Costume design students of Glenlyon Norfolk School
Sung in English
Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson
POV got off to a flying start in the current Britten centenary year offering 3 different operas over 5 weeks. Introducing the Britten Festival is “Noye’s Fludde”, a programme which included, besides the titular opera, a dramatized version of the folksong “The Golden Vanity”, commissioned by the Vienna Choir Boys in 1966 and, as an opener, Britten’s “Suite for Harp in C major, Op. 83”, well performed by Annabelle Vitek.
A solo work, written for the Welsh harpist Osian Ellis in 1959, the Harp Suite is a virtuoso piece which both shows off the performer and is typical of Britten’s work. In 5 movements, the first is an Overture, full of early music influence in its dotted rhythms. The following Toccata balances the fourth movement Fugue, a favourite form, and the last movement closes with variations on a hymn, again typical Britten. The passionate central movement is a Nocturne, lyrical and clear with a low, pulsing ostinato, very inward-looking and dark. The piece requires some effort from the audience. Both the three voices of the Fugue and the theme of the final movement for example, were quite difficult to follow.
Rough and tumble followed with “The Golden Vanity”, half the chorus of young people dressed as the piratical crew of the Turkish ship and the other performing as the crew of the richly laden Golden Vanity. The original commission was made by the Vienna choirboys themselves directly to Britten and they specifically requested “no girls”. Britten obliged but times have changed and there was an excellent contingent of girls on both ships. Madeleine Carr-Cannings was particularly good as the Vanity’s Bosun. The swaggering Ayden Turpel-Stewart as the Captain coped with Britten’s music with aplomb and Khalil Tuff made a cheeky cabin boy. The Turkish officers, Geordie Carroll and Caitlin Troughton were also very good. The staging was simple but effective. Tzenka Dianova’s lively piano accompaniment kept the action moving.
Noye’s Fludde was the heart of the evening. Britten set the text of the medieval miracle in such a way that amateur musicians and children could be part of an opera. The music is written for a children’s chorus and an amateur orchestra as well as for a small professional orchestra and 2 adult soloists as Noye and his wife. The parts of Noye’s children and their wives are intended for young people to perform and even the audience must join in singing the hymns which are an integral and powerful part of the opera.
Peter McGillivray was a robust and energetic Noye, as competent a carpenter and sailor as one might wish to see. His strong, rich baritone which never faltered and confident acting provided a rock-steady base for the excellent but less experienced cast to work with. In this he was partnered by Rebecca Hass as Mrs. Noye, whose warm mezzo exuded sociability and who, with her young women friends, “the Gossips”, triumphantly negotiated Britten’s weird rhythms and harmonies in the drinking scene. John Krich performed the Voice of God, a spoken part, thundering from the back of the church.
Sem, Ham and Jaffett, and their wives were ably sung and acted by young members from the Pacific Opera Chorus. The Victoria Children’s Choir filled the stage as some 50 birds and animals. Two young dancers as the Raven and the Dove, made the best of their choreography in a rather confined space. Besides the professional orchestra, the Victoria Conservatory of Music Strings Program provided a much larger strings ensemble. The remainder of the orchestra on recorders, trumpets, timpani, “slung mugs” and many other instruments ranged from members of the Victoria Symphony and St. John the Divine’s organist to amateur recorder players and the First Metropolitan Bell Choir. This disparate group came together under the very skilled direction of Timothy Vernon to make glorious music, doing fair justice to Britten’s vivid music. My only complaint is that the orchestra was so far off to one side of the church some of its effects were lost.
© 2013 Elizabeth Paterson