Noye’s Fludde

“History isn’t something you live. It is something you make.”

Terry Pratchett

Or, if you want an actual English translation, Noah’s Flood.

Noye’s Fludde is an opera (I know, the English Student has gone all cultured) by Benjamin Britten about, well, Noah and his Ark. I went to see it absolutely ages ago at one of the larger churches near my university, and the Thirty Day Book Challenge intervened, and it’s only now that I’ve got around to reviewing it.

So I’m sorry if this is a little vague.

One of the best things, and one of the most unique things, about Noye’s Fludde is the Audience Participation, by which I mean not that awful thing which happens in pantomimes where the actors drag some unsuspecting member of the audience up on stage and you sit there not making eye-contact desperately hoping they won’t pick on you, but the inclusion of three relatively well-known Victorian hymns (“Lord Jesus, think on me”, “Eternal Father, strong to save” and “The spacious firmament on high”) which the audience get to join in with.

For me, this is a stroke of genius, because I love singing, especially hymns, which are generally easy to sing if you know the tune. Those three hymns, at the beginning, middle and end of the piece, are the high points of the opera: quite apart from the hymns themselves, with the audience, if they are anything like me, singing their lungs out and having great fun, there are the echoes of those hymns (especially “Eternal Father, strong to save”, one of the most haunting hymn tunes ever) that run all the way through the opera and are just delightful to spot. Because everyone knows them. And the music for God (yep, he gets a look-in) is especially splendid: “I will destroy“. This is the Old Testament God, fond of destruction and being obeyed, truly almighty and not afraid for people to know it. Not necessarily a God you would like to believe in, but as a dramatic character there’s none better.

Generally, the impression I got from Noye’s Fludde was one of simplicity. Britten wasn’t really aiming for character development: instead we get a story of symbols, almost an allegory of faith and hope. And that came out quite nicely in the production I saw. Sure, you couldn’t hear the sopranos at all, let alone understand what was being sung (but this is opera, who cares about the actual words?), and the schoolchildren playing the animals were also rather quiet, but there was such simple, inclusive joy to the whole thing, you couldn’t help but love it. Plus, they had balloons at the end, for the rainbow. Actual balloons. It was altogether lovely.

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