Noye's Fludde

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Noye's Fludde (Noah's Flood), Op. 59, is a 1957 opera by Benjamin Britten. The text is based on an edition by Alfred W. Pollard of an early 15th-century mystery play from the Chester Mystery Cycle. The opera is written to be performed by a cast primarily of amateurs, and Britten requested it be performed in a church or a large hall but not in a theatre.

Like a Baroque concerto grosso, the orchestra calls for a small concertino ensemble of professionals, consisting of string quintet, recorder, piano (four hands), organ, and timpani. The amateur ripieno orchestra calls for strings, recorders, bugles, hand-bells, and percussion. The audience, which Britten refers to as the "congregation", is invited to join in by singing along in the three hymns inserted into the original text.

The first performance was on 18 June 1958 in Orford Church, Suffolk, as part of the Aldeburgh Festival, with the English Opera Group and a local cast. Owen Brannigan sang Noye, and the conductor was Charles Mackerras.

Performance history[edit]

Quickly following the premiere performances, Associated Television (a British television company) broadcast a relay of the performance on 22 June.[1] The next four performances took place over two days in November 1958 in Southwark Cathedral, featuring the same principals as the première; all four pages of the programme are reproduced in the Facts and Figures category of the Noye's Fludde Harpenden blog, as well as some detailed recollections of the project by one of the chorus of animals, Richard Jones.[2]

In the United States, the opera was heard on the radio in New York City on 31 July 1958[3] and, also in New York in the School of Sacred Music of Union Theological Seminary on 16 March 1959, the US premiere was given.[3] The first complete radio broadcast was given on 30 November 1964 by the BBC Northern Ireland Home Service.[1]

Performances have been presented by community organisations in churches and schools. One of the early US productions of this type was given at The Potomac School in McLean, Virginia under the direction of John Langstaff.[citation needed]

In September 2005 Noye's Fludde became the first opera to be produced in a zoo: this was a production by the Internationales Kammermusikfestival Nürnberg in Nuremberg Zoo, directed by Nina Kühner, conducted by Peter Selwyn, with Jonathan Gunthorpe (Noye), Andrea Baker (Mrs Noye) and Gerd Lohmeyer (God).

"Noah's Flood": special performance in a rehearsal hall at The Santa Fe Opera, 11 August 2013

Subsequent productions in zoos have been presented by the NI Opera in Northern Ireland and the KT Wong Foundation, in Belfast Zoo, directed by Oliver Mears and conducted by Nicholas Chalmers, with Paul Carey Jones as Noye and Doreen Curran as Mrs Noye.[4] The same production was also performed in October 2012 at the Beijing Music Festival, this being the Chinese premiere of the work, and the first full performance of a Britten opera in China.[5][not in citation given]

Britten's centenary year 2013 prompted numerous performances across the UK, with many presented by school groups in public places such as cathedrals, churches, schools, or community centres. Some were mounted by music festivals such as the Cheltenham Music Festival[6] and the Thaxted Festival.[7] The Britten-Pears Foundation also supported performances in June.[8]

Professional opera companies including the New Zealand Opera,[9]The Santa Fe Opera,[10] and the New Orleans Opera, which mounted its first production of any Britten opera,[11] used local children singing and performing alongside professionals.

An Aldeburgh Festival production to wrap up the centenary year was staged in November in Britten's home-town of Lowestoft with Andrew Shore as Noye,[12] and was nationally broadcast in Britain.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 18 June 1958
(Conductor: Charles Mackerras)
Voice of God spoken role Trevor Anthony
Noye bass-baritone Owen Brannigan
Mrs. Noye contralto Gladys Parr
Sem treble Thomas Bevan
Ham treble Marcus Norman
Jaffett treble Michael Crawford
Mrs. Sem girl soprano Janette Miller
Mrs. Ham girl soprano Katherine Dyson
Mrs. Jaffett girl soprano Marilyn Baker
Mrs. Noye's Gossips girl sopranos
Children's chorus of animals and birds; congregation


Noye's Fludde opens with the congregation singing "Lord Jesus, think on me" as Noye enters. The spoken Voice of God tells Noye to build "a shippe". Noye agrees and calls on his family to help. His sons and their wives enter with tools and materials and begin, but Mrs Noye and her Gossips (close friends) mock the project. The cast build the ark on stage.

God tells Noye to fill the Ark with animals, and they enter in groups from all parts of the church, singing or squeaking "Kyrie eleison!" Noye orders his family to board, but Mrs Noye and the Gossips refuse, preferring to drink; the sons carry Mrs Noye on (she slaps Noye's face). Rain begins (roughly tuned teacups called "slung mugs" are struck to give the sound of the first raindrops), building to a great storm. The storm is represented by a passacaglia in which each statement of the theme a new aspect of the storm is represented: for example, trills in the recorders represent the wind and scales in the string section signify waves. At the height of the passacaglia, the congregation sings "Eternal Father, Strong to Save", a Victorian naval hymn by John B. Dykes. When it is calm, Noye sends out a raven saying "If this fowl come not again it is a sign sooth to say, that dry it is on hill or plain." This is a dancer, accompanied by a cello; he never returns. Noye, now knowing that the raven has discovered dry land, sends out a dove accompanied by a solo recorder (played with fluttering tongue to imitate a dove's cooing), which brings back an olive branch. Everyone leaves the Ark, singing "Alleluia" accompanied by bugle fanfares. To the sound of handbells, God promises never to send another flood, with the rainbow as a sign. The cast file out singing Addison's "The spacious firmament on high" to Tallis's Canon, leaving Noye alone to receive God's blessing.


Year Cast:
Noye (Noah),
Mrs. Noye,
Voice of God
Opera House and Orchestra
1961 Owen Brannigan
Sheila Rex,
Trevor Anthony
Norman Del Mar,
English Chamber Orchestra and East Suffolk Children's Orchestra and Children's Chorus
Audio CD: Decca (London),
Cat: 425,161-2
Decca, Cat: 436,397-2 (Also contains a recording of Britten's The Golden Vanity).
1985 Wolfgang Pailer,
Beatrice Lienert,
Siegfried Baumgartner
Irmingard Goubeau,
Orchestra and Chorus of Albert-Einstein-Gymnasium.
(Recording of a performance given in a German translation by Ludwig Landgraf).
Cat: 53 754
2007 José Antonio López,
Marisa Martins,
Emilio Aragón,
Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid.
(Sung in a Spanish version under the title El Diluvio de Noé)
Audio CD: DG,
Cat: 002894766374




Other sources

External links[edit]