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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - The Play of Daniel; Britten: Noye's Fludde

03/22/2014 1:00 pm
03/22/2014 4:30 pm

Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

On this Third Sunday in Lent we go way back in music history. Long before there was opera there was liturgical drama. Two related plays with notated music are given in the early 13th century Beauvais Manuscript, kept in the library of the British Museum. Both plays are dramatized incidents from the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament. One of them deals with Belshazzar, the other with the ordeal of the prophet Daniel in the lion's den. The New York Pro Musica,under Noah Greenberg's direction, gave the first performance of The Play of Daniel in modern times in 1958 and subsequently recorded it for the American Decca record label. The medieval neumatic notation in the Beauvais Ms. gives only one single vocal line of Latin plainchant. Whenever and wherever The Play of Daniel has been performed or recorded it has been embellished vocally and given accompaniment with parts fpr medieval instruments.

Since 1958 there actually have been quite a few recordings made of The Play of Daniel. In 2008 Harmonia Mundi released the rendition of the play recorded by the Dufay Collective, under the direction of William Lyons. Ten vocal soloists portray the characters of the Ludus Danielis. They are joined by the boy treble Choristers of Southwell Minster and five instrumentalists playing harp, bells, percussion, medieval fiddle, etc. (Their parts are partly improvised.)

Then we bounce back into more recent times to listen to music of Benjamin Britten inspired by medieval liturgical drama. Between 1964 and 1968 Britten wrote a series of "Church Parables," building upon his quasi-operatic dramatization of the life of St. Nicholas (1948). In Noyes Fludde (1958) he created a modernization of the Chester Miracle Play, which sets forth the Genesis story of Noah's flood. He employed children's singing voices and a children's orchestra performing alongside adult professional singers and players drawn from the English Opera Group. Britten retained something of the simplicity of medieval plainsong. He was rendering into song a text in archaic English. Under the composer's direction Noyes Fludde was recorded in 1961 live in performance in Orford Church in conjunction with the Aldeburgh Festival. That recording reappeared on compact disc in 2005 in the British Decca boxed set "Britten Conducts Britten."

This Sunday your "lyric theater" program participates in Marathon 2014, our station's annual week of intensive on-air fundraising. During the course of today's broadcast I will be going on mike to urge you listeners to phone in your pledges of monetary support for opera programming, but also for classical music programming as you hear it throughout the week, and indeed for the full spectrum of music genre shows and public affairs programs that go to make WWUH your true audio alternative in the Greater Hartford listening area.

Keep in mind also that "Sunday Afternoon at the Opera" carries forward into the twenty-first an unbroken tradition of opera broadcasting on Sunday afternoons going all the way back to 1970 with the broadcasts of my predecessor in the timeslot, Joseph S. Terzo. You, faithful listeners, have never failed to help us meet or even exceed our Marathon fundraising goals in years past, so I thank you in advance for your generosity.