Inherited stories of floods can be found across the world, and as far back as thousands of years ago. Of all the musical settings, Benjamin Britten’s community opera Noye’s Fludde is one of the best loved and most played abroad. Here, we unite children and adults, professional and amateur musicians, in a beloved dramatisation of the Bible’s story about Noah who saves people and animals from a great natural disaster.
The hugely popular medieval mystery plays performed for and by amateurs fascinated Benjamin Britten. In an article, he contemplated the special joy of creating music for children or amateurs – “it is not a bad thing for an artist to try to serve all sorts of different people” – and the opera Noye’s Fludde, Noah’s flood, from 1957 is a strong expression of that. It was written for a mix of amateurs, children of different ages and professional musicians.
The mystery plays usually contained biblical material. The events of Easter week were a common theme, but the text is quite different here. In Genesis, we encounter Noah, the most righteous man of his generation, who receives meticulous instructions from God for how to build a floating craft, a vessel, to save his family and all the animals from the global flood sent to punish mankind for their treatment of the Earth.
In the English city of Chester, during the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi, a total of 24 plays were performed on the same day by representatives of the city’s various trade or craft guilds. The actors performed on large carts that were pulled from street to street so that they could be enjoyed by everyone and one of the plays was Noye’s Fludde. Britten used the Chester text as the basis for the libretto after coming across it in a 19th century collection of mystery plays and supplemented it with liturgical songs such as Lord Jesus, Think On Me and various Anglican hymns.
Britten took pains to ensure that the opera should be performed in churches or large meeting halls, not in theatres or opera houses; it has even been performed in zoological gardens. A children’s choir represents the animals that march into and out of the Ark. The events are narrated by the voice of God. Only Noah and his wife are sung by professional singers; the rest of the roles are performed by children and adolescents. A small professional ensemble is at the head of the large orchestra which also includes unusual instruments such as bugles, mugs and handbells to illustrate the animals’ entry into the Ark, falling rain and a rainbow, signifying God’s promise to never flood the Earth again.
A ballet scene depicts how the raven reveals that land has been discovered by failing to return to the Ark; in contrast to the dove that does return, with an olive branch in its beak. The dove’s melody is then played backwards compared to when it flew out. A nice little detail, typical of Britten’s ingenuity.
Text: Gunnar Lanzky-Otto
The Adolf Fredrik Church’s Treble Choir is made up of children aged 9–12. The choir has a high level of ambition and performs single as well as multi-part works for treble chorus. The choir performs on its own, as well as together with a pianist or organist, various instrumental ensembles or orchestras. Their repertoire is aimed at the classic choral tradition but also includes jazz, folk songs, traditional music, etc. The choir is led by Isabel Josephson.
The Adolf Fredrik Church’s Youth Choir is made up of children aged 14–18. The choir performs classic and newly written a cappella music, as well as major works, together with soloists and large or small orchestras. The Chamber Choir has been collaborating with El Sistema Stockholm since 2013 and is one of the organisation’s collaborative ensembles together with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Radio Choir, the Royal College of Music, and many others. The choir is led by Christoffer Holgersson.
Stockholm’s Ungdomssymfoniorkester (Stockholm Youth Symphony Orchestra) consists of dedicated young musicians who have come a long way in their music tutelage. Indeed, many of them are in the final stages of their education before undertaking further studies at the College of Music. The orchestra was founded in 1978 and fulfils an important role in the Stockholm music scene, as well as in developing the musical skill of its members. The orchestra previously performed its own subscription concerts at Konserthuset Stockholm and now holds regular concerts at Musikaliska, as well as performances at other venues in the county. They have also toured extensively and played in countries including Egypt, China, the Czech Republic, Spain, Austria and Portugal. Glenn Mossop from Canada has conducted the orchestra since 2005.
Västerorts Ungdomssymfoniker (the Västerort Youth Orchestra) is a symphony orchestra within the Stockholm School of the Arts with around 40 young musicians between the ages of 13 and 22. The teaching is conducted by professional teachers within all instrument groups and it has been performing since the 1960s. The orchestra’s repertoire includes both classic works by Antonín Dvořák, W. A. Mozart, Camille Saint-Saëns and Lars-Erik Larsson, as well as popular music and film music. They have performed in many parts of the country as well as on tour in Finland, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.
Andreas Hanson is a well-established concert and opera conductor who has conducted the major Swedish orchestras as well as made notable foreign guest appearances in countries such as Russia, England, Poland and Lithuania. He has conducted several performances at Folkoperan and the Royal Swedish Opera, including Menotti’s Ahmal and the Night Visitors, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro as well as ballets such as The Nutcracker and L’occasione fa il ladro. He made his debut in 2000 as a conductor at The BBC Proms. He is the artistic advisor for children’s and youth activities at the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and band master of the Royal Swedish Army Band. Recently, he has performed with the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra and Västerås Sinfonietta, as well as with the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.
Maria Peterson is a trained designer and costume designer at the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts and the art school Stenebyskolan. She has worked as a costume designer on Jani Lohikari’s Landet Ensamheten at Uppsala Stadsteater, Peter Weiss’ The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat and Anna Vnuk’s Möta hösten tillsammans?. She participated in the Swedish Biennial for the Performing Arts in 2015 and has had her own exhibitions at Hjälmarstrand Art Gallery and Säfstaholm Castle, as well as having been awarded several scholarships for her artistic work.
The dancer and choreographer Sara Ribbenstedt has performed with the opera company Kamraterna in their staging of Renard by Igor Stravinsky and Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins, as well as in the choreographer Anna Vnuk’s play Möta hösten tillsammans? at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern. She has also performed in the acclaimed Nils Holgersson by Susanne Marko and Leif Stinnerbom at Västanå Teater, and in the Malmö-based wecollective’s performance LÅR. She studied at the School of Dance and Circus in Stockholm.
The actor and director Dan Turdén’s roles have included Lambert in Harold Pinter’s Celebration and Benjamin in Strindberg’s Easter. In 2006, he founded the theatre company Kamraterna, which has staged Harold Pinter’s The Lover, Thomas Brussig’s Heroes Like Us, as well as operas such as Mozart’s Zaide and Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief, which Turdén directed. More recently, they staged a much discussed performance of Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins as well as Stravinsky’s Renard///.