Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Little Sweep by Britten

Another week is finished, my second using the truncated timetable, and I now know it was the best decision to make - I can teach with energy and excitement, and keep that going when I don't think about pacing myself for a longer week ! Result !

I mentioned in my last post that my young singers are going to mount a magnificent two performances of Britten's The Little Sweep ! It is a wonderful work - a true miniature of real Britten operas, no compromises and all the features which make Britten so wonderfully quirky and yet at times, so heart breaking. Sweep is almost a social statement, the story being an overwhelming tale of rich and poor. The child sold into slavery suddenly flung into the world of the children of the rich country estate, a sort of operatic Downton Abbey !

I am able to produce this opera because for the first time in the 17 years I have lived and taught here in Paradise, this is the first time I have had a large enough group of talented teens to attempt a complete youth opera. I have had, over those long years many very talented teens and twenties, but never a group of 10 all at the same time. This gave me the perfect opportunity to challenge and push them to tackle this tricky and complex music. What a joy !

Many have already learned large chunks of the work - in a relatively short space of time, and others are waiting for their score to arrive.....yet seem to have listened to the fantastic original recording conducted by Britten in 1949, so melodies and even pieces of recitative are already planted in their young brains.

One of my youthful stars S, has listened so closely to the recording she noticed many differences in the dialogue sections written in the score and that which Britten clearly used in 1949. I asked her if she could sort out the new with the original and take it all down so we can be as authentic as possible.....low and behold this week the sheets were there, clearly printed out and giving us an opportunity to add in the extras. I was so proud of her work, her perseverance and her grasp of 'sharing' dialogue around the cast. 

I just love the music, especially the ensembles. It is in reality an ensemble work, no real stars, a completely equal production where musical conversation and vocal communication are the heart of the piece. One older character, Miss Baggot has a substantial aria, but other than that no cast member has more than two or three pages of singing. It is truly inter-dependent performing.

They are so very excited it is going to be fantastic

My singing teacher after I left Betty Middleton was the well known contralto Marjorie Thomas. I was often left speechless when she talked about the eminent folk she worked with, but never was I so astonished as when she would tell me about working in Aldeburgh with 'Bennie'. It took me a few months before I was brave enough to ask her if it really was Benjamin Britten she was referring to, and with such surprise she said, why yes, he was just lovely Bennie ; in the 1950's this group of young singers had no idea quite how world famous he would become in later years ! 

Britten with some of the original children in the cast !

My favourite picture, Britten in his garden with Clytie his beloved dachshund

The living room in the Red House Aldeburgh, Britten's home for over 40 years

It could be a perfect Little Sweep set !!




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