Britten’s opera Noye’s Fludde is both a little gem and a masterpiece.
In the space of 50 minutes – recounting the story of Noah and the Ark, including the domestic it created between him and his wife – Britten combines singing parts for children and professionals, traditional string and percussion ensemble, bugles, recorders, hand bells, organ, the audience and a rack of mugs in a way that makes no compromise in style, quality, or the demands of performance.
The result is a piece of music theatre that is as accessible and colourful as it is challenging, revealing that typical Britten trait of making something thrillingly sophisticated out of the simplest of musical ideas.
Yesterday’s performance, recorded for Radio 3, was a bright, breezy and moving affair, which brought together members of the BBC SSO, baritone Leigh Melrose as the mild-mannered Noah, alto Jennifer Johnston as the wholesomely impetuous Mrs Noah, actor Siobhan Redmond as a female Voice of God, and young singers and instrumentalists from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Junior section.
Under Martyn Brabbins’ direction, it ran like clockwork, even the elements that helped animate the presentation – the animals masked and entering on cue from the rear of the hall, and the gossips scurrying off once Noah forces his wife to join him. And we all got to join in with the “congregational hymns”, making the final reconciliatory moment all the more tangible and poignant. A peach of a work; a peach of a performance.