by Benjamin Britten
A Parable for Church Performance
Enigma Chamber Opera
Music Director, Conductor: Edward Elwyn Jones
Artistic Director, Stage Director: Kirsten Z. Cairns
Lighting Design: Paul Marr; Projection Design: Peter A Torpey; Costume Design: Rebecca Shannon Butler.
Ashlee Rose Scott
Live October 21-22, 2022 7pm
The Cathedral Church of St Paul, Boston
Streaming 28 October 2022 7pm ET through 4 November 2022
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Streaming 1 November 2022 7pm ET through 8 November 2022
Purchase Streaming Access
With Omar Najmi (The Tempter/Abbot), Aaron Engebreth (The Father), David McFerrin (The Elder Son), Matthew DiBattista (The Younger Son)
There is nothing much to the story taken from The Gospel According to Luke: essentially, the younger of two brothers, tempted by demonic forces, gets bored with his hard-working and routine life at home and takes off for greater adventures. Ultimately disappointed, he returns to his family; his father accepts him warmly and with open arms, but his hard-working older brother resents how easily his younger brother has gone and returned. Their father’s generosity of spirit prevails, however, and the older brother is persuaded to welcome and embrace his formerly errant sibling.
This whole opera is about one hundred minutes long, and, apart from the temptation of the younger son, his departure, and then return, there is not too much drama. But, given the musical setting by Britten which is full of atmosphere and nuance, the substance of the tale gets told with moving lyricism.
Interestingly orchestrated for flute, trumpet, horn, viola, double bass, harp and percussion, one gets a constant sense of punctuated blips and runs that form the tapestry of this work. Perhaps that is the best image for this musical setting which, like a lot of Britten’s work, is wonderfully rich in atmosphere. Here, it is almost all atmosphere, but the sheer expertise of the players and the warmth and sonority of the vocal players makes this performance a pure delight – or as much of a delight as one is supposed to feel with a liturgical moral tale. Musically, certainly, it is delightful, and the tale, though not what one would call delightful is instructive, heart-warming and inspiring.
This wonderful little British opera company came to Boston last year with a superb performance of Britten’s earlier church parable, based on a Japanese Noh drama, Curlew River (1964). Much of the same cast is present for the current production, and, in both cases, the results are outstanding. The voices are rich, resonant and lithely expressive; the orchestra is precise and eloquent. And clearly both stage and music direction have been carried off with aplomb.
Though the live performances were short-lived – only two in The Cathedral Church of St Paul on Tremon Street in Boston – the streaming version will be available for several days hence. As well, Enigma has made available for a week a streaming version of last year’s production of Curlew River. Both are must-sees for Britten and opera lovers – they are first rate.
An additional treat is to hear Artistic Director Kirsten Z. Cairns’ longish but eloquent introduction. It is thoughtful and moving and well worth the time to sit through it as an adjunct to this excellent performance. During it she promises to bring a third (but second in compositional order) of Britten’s church parables The Burning Fiery Furnace, based on The Book of Daniel, to Boston next year. Can’t wait.
– BADMan (aka Charles Munitz)