Fifty children and something else – in an ark
György Philipp, the young head of the Schola Cantorum Budapestiensis, teacher and director of the opera, sits in his changing room with some – healthy – signs of pressure on his face. The audience is flowing into the Kodály Centre, and it appears that all of the almost one thousand seats will be occupied.
The first performances were on 5 and 7 September in the Müpa, as part of the Budapest Mahler Festival. So this performance is the first outside of Budapest.
- Whose idea was it to put Britten’s work on stage?
- Iván Fischer had the original idea, and there were various reasons for this. On the one hand, the young people of today have to be rescued from the dearth of Hungarian cultural events surrounding them, which is perhaps not so difficult. Certainly if we offer them proper musical education. So putting this piece of work on the stage is symbolic; values are being deposited into the ark which we are trying to rescue. On the other hand, generations meet in Britten’s work as they make music together, the children play with the adults, which enables knowledge, experience and values to “be rescued”, to pass into the hands of the young people, and the process continues as they then carry these values forward.
- After Budapest it is now the audience in Pécs that can see and hear the performance. Are you planning a national tour or will there just be a few performances of Noye’s Fludde around the country?
- The idea is that the opera will be performed in gyms and schools, especially because Britten attached great importance to amateur music – and this is what we see when the audience and the performers come into contact through the music, by singing together, and I really hope this will be the same in Pécs. The concert this Friday evening will really be a bit of an anomaly because the opera was not designed for concert halls. And to answer your question, I believe there will be another ten performances this year, for which we are seeking schools in Pest county.
- Who chose the performers? There are a lot of children in the opera.
- The children performing are my students from the Schola Cantorum Budapestiensis, I chose them for the opera; the music schools were delegated by the national schools’ association after an audition. So you can see it is a very mixed ensemble, and the most able children have been given the opportunity.
- You directed the performance, how much does your concept differ from the original?
- The underlying framework sets this performance apart from the others. As the children’s opera is a mystery play, and we have performed many of these at the Schola Cantorum Budapestiensis, we have stuck to this format; I think this is the first time it has happened in the history of the opera. The essence here is that a weather-beaten theatre company arrives at the dilapidated main square of a poor town, and performs the story of Noye’s Fludde with its modest scenery. The scenery is special too; György Árvai and Edit Szűcs created scenery from the Middle Ages in keeping with the opera, and reminiscent of Dürer engravings, in perfect harmony with Tünde Lenz’s projection. This makes the performance a little different from what Britten originally conceived, as, for example, they played with animal heads made by the children at home.
- How was the performance received?
- Very well, though I think it’s hard not to like it as it is full of eager children both playing and singing fantastically. We hope that the audience will be just as enthusiastic in joining in with the singing. The other thing is, it’s basically a very good story, one that my three and four year-old children already understand. But I really like it too, so it is a performance that speaks to children and adults alike, whilst also being entertaining, gripping and enthralling. We would like to take this opera to many places, to schools and even churches, as that is where Britten originally intended it be played, that is where it was first performed. Of course there are physical constraints too as the ark is big enough to take fifty children, and we can’t fit in just anywhere with it; this is why it is a challenge to find places where the scenery can have its full effect.
- How close is the composer to your music tastes?
- I like Britten’s complexity, I like how he got the children singing, and he was a big fan of amateur music-making, which is nice. Incidentally, I have a close personal relationship with Noye’s Fludde because as a child I was part of the Hungary premiere directed by Domonkos Moldován. It’s rather special that I am now directing and conducting the opera, but lucky too, as I am able to draw on my experiences as a child back in 2000 to use in my current position. And I hope that many of the young performers will also go on to enjoy careers in music, inspired by this, their own childhood experience.