The Operas of Benjamin Britten: Expression and Evasion

By Claire Seymour | Go to book overview

10

Noye's Fludde

What is home? Calm as deep water. Where's my home? Deep as calm water, Water will drink my sorrows dry And the tide will turn.

Peter Grimes, Act 3, Scene 2

Lord Jesus, think on me, That, when the flood is past, I may eternal brightness see, And share thy joy at last.

Noye's Fludde, Congregation Hymn

In the years following the completion of The Turn of the Screw Britten's only 'operatic' composition was Noye's Fludde, a 'community opera' that was based on one of the Chester Miracle Plays. Britten had had on-going plans to write another children's opera, as a sequel to The Little Sweep, and as early as 1951 had considered composing an opera based on Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Mr Tod. In 1954 he discussed a 'space travel' themed work with William Plomer: 'I did in fact start on [an opera on astronauts] for children, about ten years ago, with William Plomer — who'd written a superb first scene; we occasionally look back at it and I may finish it sometime. It had a character with the magnificent name of Madge Plato.' 1

Noye's Fludde originated in a commission from Boris Ford, then head of schools' programmes at Associated Rediffusion (the London commercial television company), for a new version of one of the English medieval mystery plays. Britten responded enthusiastically, telling Ford that he had been thinking of basing a work on the miracle plays for some time. The subject was taken from the Chester Miracle Plays, 2 and the opera was completed on 15 December 1957 and performed in Orford Church at the 1958 Aldeburgh Festival. The producer was Colin Graham, who also designed the sets, while costume design was undertaken by Ceri Richards.

Britten's working copy of the medieval mystery plays contains annotations indicating which passages of text correspond to specific musical numbers, such as 'recit' and 'ensemble'; the opera is designed as a series of strophic pieces —

____________________
1
Britten in a interview in The Times on his return from Russia in 1964; quoted in White, Benjamin Britten, pp. 83—4.
2
Britten's copy of the miracle plays is housed in the Britten—Pears Library: Alfred W. Pollard (ed.), English Miracle Plays, Moralities and Interludes: Specimens of the Pre-Elizabethan Drama (Oxford Clarendon Press, 8th edn, 1927); GB—ALb 1—9300358.

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The Operas of Benjamin Britten: Expression and Evasion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Operas of Benjamin Britten - Expression and Evasion *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Permissions *
  • Abbreviations x
  • 1 - Introduction *
  • 2 - Paul Bunyan *
  • 3 - Peter Grimes *
  • 4 - The Rape of Lucretia *
  • 5 - Albert Herring *
  • 6 - The Little Sweep *
  • 7 - Billy Budd *
  • 7 - Billy Budd *
  • 8 - Gloriana *
  • 9 - The Turn of the Screw *
  • 10 - Noye's Fludde *
  • 11 - A Midsummer Night's Dream *
  • 12 - The Church Parables *
  • 13 - Owen Wingrave *
  • 14 - Death in Venice *
  • 15 - Conclusion *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
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