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Director’s Notes GARETH MATTEY Curlew River is a fascinating work musically and dramatically. When we were considering staging this work, one of the things that resonated a lot with me was that this Western opera is an adaptation of an Eastern play. Sumidagawa, the play on which it is based, is from a radically different notion of theatre to us called Noh. Based on rigour, control and not presenting emotion through normal means, I found the idea of wanting to stage Britten’s work in this manner incredibly appealing. What we decided to do then was to characterise the majority of the cast in this manner but to have the Madwoman, the focal point of the drama, presented in a naturalistic manner - two forms of theatre clash in the drama then as two forms of music are synthesised by Britten. We were incredibly lucky to have a cast so receptive to the practices of Noh theatre as well as a Madwoman (James Robinson) very eager and willing to create as realistic an image of grief and loss possible. It is true that the Noh drama is slightly alien to us but it cannot be denied it is artistic, abstract and thought provoking.

left/right: Theodora Tavener, Gareth Mattey & Phil Barrett


Musical Director’s Notes PHILIP BARRETT East meets West. Britten and Pears visited Japan in 1956 during a 5 month tour of Asia; ‘I shall never forget the impact made on me by the Japanese theatre - [...] but above all the Noh plays. I count the last among the greatest theatrical experiences of my life.’ Written in the midst of the Cold War, Curlew River was the summation of a culture-bridging encounter between nations who were fighting only a decade before. Britten even remarked in a letter, ‘I mustn’t be silly, & must try to like them.’ Britten and Pears realised the power of culture to heal the wounds of international conflict and coined themselves ‘British culture for export’. Curlew River is a response to the universal principles of Japanese Noh theatre, not a pastiche. Britten didn’t exploit Oriental music as an exotic ‘couleur locale’, like Puccini, but ushered this unfamiliar art form into a Western context. Britten realises the sound of the Japanese theatre in his imaginative use of western instruments. The flute, viola, harp and percussion are much like their Eastern equivalents in a Gagaku ensemble and the Chamber Organ grounds this sound world in the Anglican Church. Certain instruments have obvious associations with certain characters and indeed much of their ego lies in their associated instrument. The Horn, heralds the Ferryman, perfunctory and gruff. The Flute’s tender fluttering shares the intrepid fear of the Madwoman and the Viola contributes to her emotional outbursts. The lack of conductor provides the Musical Director with quite a challenge, despite what you might think. A conductor can assist an ensemble in vertical correlations, such as keeping metre, stopping and starting and coordinating changes of tempo. He or she can also aid the development of individual lines,

and so shape the linear elements of the music in the context of their vertical correlation. However, if like Britten has, one removes these vertical correlations, such as regular metrical units and monotemporality, a conductor can only inhibit the making of what must be a collective musical act. The need for the singers and instrumentalists to make their own musical decisions as a group embodies the central Noh principles of depersonalisation and collective expression. There is little to say about this music which isn’t evident on hearing it. It is utterly transparent and speaks clearly to our Western ears. One would yield little in studying this opera from the score since the ‘work’ is only realised in performance. Seeing it from an operatic perspective, the solo passages are excruciatingly simple and in the final chorus, the catharsis of the parable, the whirlwind of notes are not even fully realisable in Western musical notation. It is a privilege to give this opera its CUOS premiere since it is such a valuable commentary and control on the Western operatic canon. Indeed this opera lies in a timeless and spaceless location somewhere between East and West.

Cast & Creatives JAMES ROBINSON




James’ solo work includes Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem, and Stravinsky’s Les Noces. He has sung with Southwark Cathedral Choir, the choral scholars of St Martin in the Fields and currently sings with Gonville and Caius College Choir. His choral singing has seen him broadcast on national radio and television, as well as being involved in numerous CD recordings.

Michael is a Music finalist at Jesus. Greatly interested in contemporary opera, Michael created the role of God in Joshua Borin’s chamber opera, CAIN; other roles include Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro, Parson/Badger in The Cunning Little Vixen, and Father in law in Le Pauvre Matelot. Concert work includes Stravinsky’s Les Noces, Monteverdi’s Vespers and Bach’s St Matthew Passion.

James’ operatic engagements include Acis in Handel’s Acis and Galatea, Schoolmaster in Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen and Male Chorus Britten’s Rape of Lucretia. James has also appeared in several master classes, most recently with Sarah Connolly.

Next academic year Michael will study with full scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, where he will continue working under Mark Wildman. Aside from singing, Michael is a keen composer and closeted violinist.





Robbie is in his final year studying music at Girton College, where he is also a choral scholar. Previous performance experience includes choral repertoire ranging from Schütz to Stravinsky, solo work with choirs accompanied by baroque orchestra and songs by Beethoven, Strauss and Debussy.

Malachy is a choral scholar at Gonville and Caius College, where he studies Music. He began singing as a chorister in St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast, as well as in his school, Methodist College. Recent solo engagements have included recitals in Caius, Jesus, Trinity and St John’s colleges, a BBC Radio 4 memorial broadcast for Sir John Tavener and step-out soloist in the St Matthew Passion in the L’Auditorium de Bordeaux.

Robbie has just finished a run of performances of a student-written opera, Temptations, and will later be performing in a one-per-part concert of Monteverdi and JS Bach with baroque ensemble accompaniment and giving an evening recital of Brahms and Schubert with three Cambridge graduate singers, accompanied by Dr Martin Ennis.


Also ex-principal trumpet of the National Youth Orchestra, Malachy has played with professional orchestras including the Ulster Orchestra and Britten Sinfonia.




Bethany is a choral and senior scholar at Trinity College, where she is in her final year studying music. She began singing as a chorister at Exeter Cathedral aged 8. Bethany is a section leader of the National Youth Choir and sings with its selective chamber choir.

Louis is a third year historian and choral scholar at Gonville and Caius College, where he records and performs with the Choir and the Exon Singers.

Operatic roles include The Magic Flute, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Rape of Lucretia and The Cunning Little Vixen. Recent solo performances have included Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem, Bach’s St Matthew Passion and St John Passion, Monteverdi’s Vespers, and Mozart’s Mass in C minor.

Recent opera credits include: Damon in Handel’s Acis and Galatea, Mercury in Offenbach’s Orphee est Enfers and 1st Senator in the UK premiere of Franz Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten. Chorus roles include Janaceck’s Cunning Little Vixen and Mozart’s Die Zauberflote. Alongside singing, Louis plays upright and electric bass with various jazz and pop groups, and has appeared at various festivals in the UK and Europe, as well as on BBC 2, BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4.





Laurence is in his second year studying History of Art historian at St. John’s College. He sings with the Choir of Clare College and learns with Bertie Rice.

Toby Ward is a first year tenor choral scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, and is reading music. His musical life began ten years ago as a chorister at Leeds Parish Church, where he continued as organ scholar before turning to singing. This past academic year Toby sang as the tenor choral scholar at Gloucester Cathedral, whilst enjoying singing with the BBC National Chorus of Wales, the Exon Singers, and most notably The Tallis Scholars. He studies with Justin Lavender, and in the future will be taking part in masterclasses from Joan Rodgers CBE and Ron Morris. Recent highlights include ‘The Magic Flute’ with CUOS, full participation in the Three Choirs Festival , the Edington Music Festival, and recording Warlock’s choral music for Naxos with the Carice Singers.

He has performed as a soloist with the choir on tours of Europe and America, as well as in concerts in London and Cambridge. On the stage he has performed with the Cambridge Gilbert and Sullivan Society and is looking forward to his role in Cambridge University Operatic Society’s upcoming production of Don Giovanni.





James is the Administrator for Clare College Choir, having sung with the choir during his studies at the Lord Ashcroft International Business School (ARU).

Owain is an Organ Scholar at Trinity, alongside Stephen Layton and the wo r ld - re n ow n e d choir. Many of his prize-winning compositions have been performed internationally, by UK ensembles such the Tallis Scholars and the Aurora Orchestra, and on BBC Radio 3 and 4 and Classic FM. The Choir of Trinity College and Wells Cathedral Choir have also made recordings of his work. In 2013, Owain founded chamber choir Vospiri, and he is also assistant conductor of the RSCM Millennium Youth Choir. Owain is a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists (FRCO), and was awarded the Dixon Prize for improvisation.

Past operatic roles have included Count Almaviva in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Manoah in a staged production of Handel’s Samson, Sylvano in Cavalli’s La Calisto and Adam in Patterson’s Entr’acte, (commissioned for World Event Young Artists 2012). James has also sung with the Chapel Choir of Royal Holloway University whilst an undergraduate (gaining a 1st in Music), Ex Cathedra, London Bach Choir and Convivium Singers.

WILL GEESON CHORUS Will is a first year at King’s College Cambridge studying Human, Social and Political Sciences. He began his choral career as a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral under the direction of, now John’s based, Andrew Nethsingha. Having acted as a deputy lay clerk as part of Gloucester Cathedral Choir including membership of the Three Choirs Festival Chorus, he became a choral scholar at King’s in October 2013 where he is taught by Justin Lavender

GARETH MATTEY | DIRECTOR Gareth is a second year English student at Trinity Hall. He has been involved in directing theatre over the last year and a half including Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and the ETG 2013 production of Richard III, and has developed a special interest in opera having assistant directed Le Pauvre Matelot and The Magic Flute. This is the first opera he has been director of and has enjoyed every last minute.

PHILIP BARRETT | MUSICAL DIRECTOR Philip is a Choral Scholar at King’s College. He made his debut as an MD when conducting Bach’s Motets with his own choir in Jesus College Chapel. Since then he has conducted the KCMS orchestra Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and devised a concert of Medieval Music in King’s College Chapel centred on Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame. In this concert Philip directed his own ensemble, The Well-Appointed Ensemble, playing Richard Causton’s arrangements of the Kyrie and Sanctus. The King’s Men, of which Philip is a member, also sang. This is Philip’s second taste of directing opera after being the AMD for The Magic Flute.

JAMES BARTLETT | ASSIST. MD James is a choral scholar at St Cathatines’s College and sings with the University Chamber Choir. As a pianist, he has performed at the Royal Albert Hall and on national radio and plays frequently in pit bands in and out of Cambridge. James directs Scatz, the St. Catharine’s voluntary choir and directed his school choir when in sixth form. He has been musical director of several musicals in West Wales and worked as the AMD for performances of The Phantom of the Opera, Annie, Beauty and the Beast and We Will Rock You.

THEODORA TAVENER | ASSIST. DIRECTOR Theodora has been passionately involved with theatre and music since she was very young. She was a music scholar at Sherborne School, where she was enthusiastically involved with numerous theatre productions. Her first experience of working with opera was a school production of Dido and Aeneas. She has since delighted in the opportunities to play music and direct theatre at Cambridge, alongside her degree in Theology and Religious Studies.

JONATHAN PACEY | PRODUCER Jonathan started singing in Winchester Cathedral Choir aged 7. He then gained a music scholarship to Charterhouse, and is now a second year choral scholar in Trinity College Choir. Whilst usually a singer rather than producer, he has been Artistic Director of Trinity College Music Society and Junior Treasurer of the Cambridge University Opera Society. This is the first full scale project Jonathan has produced, and it has proved a fascinating and fruitful experience. SINCERE THANKS TO: Harriet Webb | Associate Producer Tanya Basi & Phoebe Hill | Set Designers Sam Ward, Solene Fercocq, Dan Jones & Georgia Ware | Set Builders Craig Slade | Publicity Designer

Curlew River Programme  

Trinity College Chapel, February 2014

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