In Edition 5 we’re going to look at the story line of the opera and how it develops musically ... this is called the synopsis ... a sort of bite size version of the opera.
Benjamin Britten loved to create music for the community to perform ... children ... brothers and sisters, mums and dads, grandma’s and grandad’s, teachers, butchers, bakers ... everyone!
That is why there are only two professional opera singers in this piece, even though there are hundreds of performers.
The opera opens with the audience singing a hymn, ‘Lord Jesus, think on me …’ as the hero Noye enters.
We hear the voice of God, angry with the world, speaking over a rumbling percussion that creates a scary atmosphere as though something bad will happen. God tells Noye to build a boat. Noye agrees to do this and asks his family, his sons and their wives to help (the Children of Noye). The Children enter the scene with tools and start to build the boat with Noye whilst Mrs. Noye and her friends the Gossips, laugh at all the activity. Nevertheless, the Children and Noye build the ark.
God tells Noye to fill the ark with Animals, and we see seven processions of different groups of animals entering the ark, singing ‘Kyrie Eleison,’ which is Greek for ‘Lord have Mercy upon us,’ or ‘Lord save us from what is about to happen.’
There are big animals with deep voices, middle sized animals with middle sized voices, and tiny little animals with squeaky little voices!
Each procession is introduced by a fanfare on the bugles…
Noye urges his family to get on board the ark, but difficult Mrs. Noye and her silly Gossips refuse and continue to drink and ridicule Noye. Finally the sons carry Mrs. Noye onto the boat after a scuffle, just before the rain and the storm begin …
We hear as slowly the raindrops start to fall ... the sound of raindrops is created by a member of the percussion section striking different sized teacups to make different sounds ... at first each teacup is struck one by one and quite slowly, introducing the storm ...
Benjamin Britten asked for mugs to be hung on a clothes line ... the same idea as striking a triangle in an orchestra ... this imaginative idea of Britten’s is an example of very early street percussion in a way … a bit like some of those drummers we saw in Artcycle in Edition 4. Why don’t you try to make a similar kind of percussion instrument …with some clothes line, and some different things hanging from it … they could be mugs, or pans … anything with a handle ... and you could strike them with wooden spoons or metal forks ... listen to the different sound effects you can create ...
A huge and wild storm follows, truly terrifying, with recorders playing, lots of percussion sound, strings ... and all the singers and everyone watching the opera sing a second hymn ... we hear wind (trills played by recorders) waves (scales in the strings) ... and in our production all sorts of other stormy sounds….
Finally the storm calms down and a raven is sent out of the ark to search for land ... this is represented by a tune played on the cello. The raven doesn’t return, meaning that Noye knows land is close by. He then sends out a beautiful white dove, which is represented by a Recorder melody that sounds a little like the cooing of a dove.
The dove soon returns with an olive branch and Noye allows the animals and his family to leave the ark. As they leave they sing ‘Alleluia’ in celebration, accompanied by bugle fanfares again.
Once the last animals have left the ark, we hear the magical sound of handbells echoing around the space. God promises never to send another flood and a beautiful rainbow appears.
The final hymn is sung in a particularly beautiful way, and Noye is left alone with God, who blesses him.