Benjamin Britten’s The Burning Fiery Furnace is a clever choice for the first collaboration between Scottish Opera and East Lothian’s Lammermuir Festival.
In Haddington’s late-medieval St Mary’s Church, the festival has the perfect venue for Scottish Opera to stage this second of Britten’s three Parables for Church Performance.
The setting of St Mary’s adds to the drama. The singers and eight-strong orchestra process through the nave during the opening and closing plainsong passages from Britten’s version of the story from the Book of Daniel of three Israelite princes, enslaved to Babylon. They process around the whole church again, to pointed effect, when Nebuchadnezzar calls on all people to bow down to an image of his god.
David Stout delivers the central role of the Abbot with real authority, before morphing into Nebuchadnezzar’s trusted right-hand man, the Astrologer
Director Jenny Ogilvie ensures that the Astrologer is a properly evil figure, with a Machiavellian influence on Ben Johnson’s poker-faced Nebuchadnezzar. The semi-staged production is less kind to the three Israelites, whose characters are now reduced to pawns. With little to do, their vocal contributions feel flat. They are redeemed with their emergence from the furnace, the treble voice of their saving angel rising clear.
The lighting doesn’t make the most of the unique venue. When the plain glass east window is illuminated from outside during the finale, there is a glimpse of what might have been.