BIBLE STORY TURNED INTO OPERA FOR CHILDREN
by June Heywood
Three hundred and fifty-seven children with two adults mingle on stage as
their voices blend in singing with the full-house audience led by a fine
Benjamin Britten takes a 15th Century Miracle Play -- the familiar
story of Noah, his family, and the ark into which a pair of every living
creature clambered to escape the forty days and nights of rain --and turns
it into an opera for children. The story represents human's sinfulness, God's
anger, a command obeyed, forgiveness, and God's promise to humankind.
The orchestra tunes up. The bows and hands are poise but still. The Music
Director/Conductor, Bruce Pullan, mounts the lectern and turns to
the audience. With humour and lightness, Pullan sets the mood as he encourages
the patrons of every voice to practice singing the words to three traditional
hymns that are sung with the cast during the program. The music includes
Tallis's well-known Canon.
The orchestra is made up of individuals playing strings, brass, recorder,
piano (four hands), organ, bugles, and timpani/percussion. The Intermediate
Academy members play violins, violas, and cellos. Langley School District
#35 add to the enjoyment of the music with their handbells. Under Pullan's
leadership this multi-talented orchestra is strong yet unobtrusive.
The opera begins with Noah (professional bass-baritone Gary Relyea)
having trouble with his gossipy wife (also professional, soprano Anna
Tamm-Relyea) and her drinking buddies. She has to be shoved onto the
ark for which he gets a slap on his face. The tipsy women scatter to be later
drowned in the flood, offstage.
Gary Relyea is well cast. He has great stage presence and a rich, round voice
that carries well. Anna Tamm-Relyea is less clear in her pronunciation but
she well makes up for this with her expressive body language. Richard
De Villier, The Voice of God, is appropriately plumy.
On God's command, Noah calls a pair of every creature on earth to join him
on the ark and escape the rising waters. To the repeated chant, Kyrie eleison
(God have mercy), the cast of children stream onto the stage in exquisite,
detailed masks made by Carol Coulson Productions.
The tall animals enter first -- giraffes, elephants, llamas, etc. -- followed
by pandas, tigers, a lion and lioness (such fine detail is typical), and
other medium sized creatures; then the tiny mammals (who stayed in character
throughout with their paws up), and the scurrying bugs. Following behind
them are birds of every hue that glitter and gleam.
They all pack into the
ark, some in the thatched enclosure, some "under" the deck, and the remainder
sleep beneath the rigging and along the starboard. Finally, the whales and
creatures appear among the waves, great and small.
Now the wind begins to blow; gently at first and then louder and louder.
The rain falls faster and faster. The waves swell and crash. The music reaches
a crescendo. All the animals scream in fear at the top of their lungs (the
little ones love this part).
The Stage Director/Choreographer, Carol Coulson, uses the stage to
excellent effect fitting all the creatures/children in the ark and leaving
enough space in front of it for the waves, ravens, and doves to perform their
gymnastic ballet numbers.
The rain stops. Noah
sends out two ravens and then two doves. The doves return with olive twigs
beaks to show that the flood is going down: there is dry land, and
there is hope.
A huge fan-shaped, multi-coloured rainbow appears. The sun comes out, then
a gossamer, pink moon shrouded by a cloud. Finally, out come the glittering
gold stars shimmering and sparkling with comet-like silver tails. The audience
joins the players singing the last hymn and Noah, his family and the two
of every kind melt away to a packed house of thunderous applause.