What joy last night to experience a surfeit of Benjamin Britten. My four years at HGO coincided with the beginning of that company's exploration of this modern master's music. We started with Billy Budd, which was a company milestone in many ways, and performed Midsummer Night's Dream and Turn of the Screw during my tenure. I was lucky enough to perform a good chunk of his extensive song literature as well - Les Illuminations, the second Canticle, a brace of Purcell arrangements. It was invigorating to be part of an entire group of artists exploring this work together.
Last night I had the extreme pleasure of taking all that experience out into the theater to simply enjoy the performances of others. The singing and playing was terrific (an inspiration and joy in itself, only amplified by the fact that I know how much work goes into making Britten's pieces flow easily from the assembled instruments). But I was struck more than ever before by the depth of his work, the ineffable or profound places he can reach. I started my evening in Theater an der Wien with Lucretia and Tarquinius, and made it back to my theater for the end of Billy Budd. I didn't love everything about the Lucretia production and yet it was excellent, leaving me moved and disturbed in ways impossible to articulate. The end of it - Lucretia dead and the Male and Female Chorus (here an alcoholic University professor and his student) in their separate cells, dumb with grief and mumbling platitudes - felt so hopeless, a cry of pure grief, free of the judgment and analysis implied by the professor's great wall of books. I walked out into the damp night shaken, and after that to walk backstage at the Staatsoper just in time for "Look..." - well, there was an equally pure statement of hope, love, redemption. The Philharmonic played Britten's great series of chords (light on the water, the swell and ebb of the heart) with breathtaking color and care as the men of the ensemble gathered for their last entrance. "Ein Meisterwerk", said Mr. Flint to me.