A Parable for Church Performance
Benjamin Britten (1913 - 1976)
The processional entry into Christ Church Cathedral of the musicians and singers as cowled monks singing plainsong , sets the deeply contemplative atmosphere for this ritualistic opera. With the ceremonial robing of the monks as the opera characters, the sense of involvement in a religious experience is intensified. Presented on a raised dais with a simple backdrop, musicians and actors are full view of the audience and each other.
There is no conductor. The instrumentalists and actors work in harmony. The controlled gestures of the chorus in unison and the stylized movement of the principals are rhythmical and disciplined The current of the Curlew river flows smoothly and relentlessly..
The singing of the leading characters and the choir is impeccable. Mark Pedrotti's Ferryman is strong and commanding. Benjamin Butterfield's Madwoman moves to tears in his outstanding singing and characterization. The voice of the Spirit of the Boy soars spine chillingly in its purity.
Bruce Pullan's musical direction could not be better. The simplicity of the monk's robes and the distinctive costumes of the leading characters were designed by Tricia Boyko, and the masks by Del Surjik. They are in keeping with the concept of traditional church drama in that the masks make the actors impersonal, but the clothes emphasize and distinguish the characters. Deryk Houston's red boat sail, well-managed by the acolytes, adds a dramatic splash of colour to the river journey.
As far as is possible to judge, this production is perfectly in keeping with Britten's concept of Curlew River. It is a privilege to experience this beautifully performed and dedicated production.--Jane Penistan