Written in 1958, Britten’s opera brings together professionals and amateurs, adults and children to tell the tale of Noah’s Flood – to use modern spelling – and has enchanted generations of participants as well as audiences.
It does so again in Stratford, east London, in this co-production involving some 200 young performers and musicians in the creative process. English National Opera and the Theatre Royal Stratford East can be very proud of themselves.
So can the individual participants – a term that also takes in the audience who join in the three hymns in which they are genially coached by conductor Martin Fitzpatrick just before the performance gets underway.
Visually, Soutra Gilmour’s comic-book designs include an enormous boat to hold all the animals, two-by-two, which Luke Halls’ projections cover with rainbow colours at the end of the show.
Wayne McGregor and Sarah Dowling choreograph complex dance sequences for the Raven (Alyssia Baptiste) and the Dove (Ella Warren-Green), while other young performers take good care of Noah’s three sons and their wives.
Leading the adults are Suzanne Bertish in the speaking role of God, to which she brings natural authority, Marcus Farnsworth’s concerned Noah, and Louise Callinan’s distinctly unconcerned Mrs Noah – clearly a non-believer in divine retribution – who is eventually coaxed somewhat unwillingly on board before the storm breaks.
But it’s the kids who are most memorable, whether it’s the many young players fleshing out a tranche of professional ENO orchestral musicians with their simpler but crucial parts – all placed on top of a cloud; or the numerous children on stage playing individual parts, or those from Brampton Primary School. Some of the diction needs attention, but in all other ways this show absolutely hits the spot.