Britten’s Curlew River in Edinburgh

Curlew River, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

By David Murray [Financial Times, 18 August 2005]
Benjamin Britten’s opera _Curlew River_ was inspired by the Noh plays he saw on his 1956 visit to Japan, after which he asked his regular librettist, William Plomer, to adapt Sumidagawa for him. Eight years later, the opera was composed. Since it lasts only an hour and requires a highly stylised kind of performance, it has never been a favourite with regular opera houses, but it makes for excellent festival fare. The Edinburgh Festival has mounted its own production, directed by Olivier Py, which is well worth catching.
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Curlew River
Tim Ashley [The Guardian, 17 August 2005]
Benjamin Britten’s church parable Curlew River is widely regarded as one of the few truly great religious music dramas of the 20th century, though its harrowing impact could also be said to transcend any given belief system. A Christian reworking of the Noh play Sumidagawa, it centres on emotional reactions to the ill treatment and murder of a child – acts that, in themselves, call into question the existence and nature of an omnipotent and benevolent deity. The opera posits the idea of divine grace as being necessary to make such arbitrary cruelty bearable to those who live in its aftermath, though the austere, tortured music also leaves us questioning whether grace in itself is ever adequate for such a task.
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