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"The singing, playing, conducting and direction of this production were each of the highest standard, but it was the convincing unification of every contributing element that made this version simply unforgettable." - Rye News
This opera presents challenges of staging, requiring numerous quick scene changes between interior and outdoor environments. The solution was to create a modular, helical structure, describing two thirds of a circle. The five sections, of differing sizes, were constructed from corrugated cardboard, papered with a collage of scans from 1960s school text-books. This reflected the time period chosen for the production, and also referenced the libretto - latin declensions (from 'The Lesson' scene), maps of seas (from Flora's recitation in 'The Lake' scene). The scans were produced in positive and negative; each section had a dark face and a light face, emphasising the inherent duality of this piece, which is full of double meanings. The light face was also perfect for projecting video, such as the train ride chosen to illustrate 'The Journey' (Act 1 Scene 1).
The lightweight design enabled the pieces to be quickly moved by the cast into a different configurations for each scene; in fact, the set changes formed a set of variations in their own right - a visual analogue for the 12 Variations in Britten's score. There was power-play to this choreography - the set was manipulated by whichever characters were dramatically 'in charge'. The helical shape was crucial to enable sections to be inverted and stacked. It was possible to create almost any abstracted setting - windows, rooms, waves (the pieces laid flat and rocked) and even a piano. One of the most striking configurations was 'The Bells' which requires the action to take place inside, with a church in the distance; the children are playing throughout, and in this production build a fort from the set pieces during the Variation. When the scene proper begins, a lighting cue reveals the shadow cast by the fort to be a church with spire.
Directed and designed by Alisdair Kitchen.
Cast: Josephine Goddard, William Wallace, Isabelle Atkinson, Anna Cavaliero, Elspeth Marrow, Louise Fuller.
Conductor: Christopher Stark
Music staff: Jonathan Musgrave (repetiteur and orchestral piano/celesta); Alisdair Kitchen (musical supervisor)
Euphonia Chamber Orchestra (leader: Sophie Lockett)
Video & stills from a projection for Act 1, Scene 8.
This 'liquid light show' was created by filming combinations of coloured oil and water sandwiched between two curved glass plates, which were agitated to produce bizarre shapes in response to the music. The takes were then edited using overlay and re-timing techniques. Its psychedelic effect is both a response to the period in which this production was set (1960s) and also the drama of the scene, in which the two 'ghosts' seduce Miles and Flora with fantastical promises and imagery.
(N.B. The video here is only a section of the full projection and is set to Britten's recording of the music for demonstration purposes.)
Model development process and set construction