BECAUSE Britten deliberately suppressed the Japanese side of Curlew

River, the fifteenth-century Noh play he transformed into the first of

his church parables, some of today's producers have deliberately

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reintroduced it; but the RSAMD's opera department, with Margaret Gordon

as director, last night adhered to the composer's wishes, even if by

transferring the action from church to the stage of the Stevenson Hall

something of the work's original atmosphere was lost.

But things were also gained, good sightlines, clear articulation, and

sharply projected instrumental timbres among them. The sad simplicity of

the story -- of a madwoman who is ferried across a river in search of

her dead son -- was upheld. Decor was confined to polished wood, a

narrow ramp, a pair of crosses, one of them doubling as the ferryboat's

mast. The music cast its ritual spell.

It did so, moreover, with the aid of some very assured singing and

instrumental playing. Though the performance was conductorless, the hand

of Philip Ledger, one of Britten's best disciples, seemed everywhere

apparent. Douglas Telfer's Madwoman, though less wild, less grotesque

than Peter Pears's, was passionate and powerful. Robin Greenway, Iain

Paterson, and Richard Burkhard, as Ferryman, Abbot, and Traveller, sang

with poise and the sort of stillness that riveted attention.

As an operatic mystery play, however, the work was inevitably damaged

by the hall's clinical surroundings, which deprived the music of the

special resonance Britten built into the choral and instrumental parts.