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.