In April Oper Frankfurt presents a new staging of two of Benjamin Britten’s church parables The Prodigal Son (1968) and The Burning Fiery Furnace (1966). The double bill is directed by Manuel Schmitt. Lukas Rommelspacher conducts the Frankfurter Opern- and Museumsorchester in eight performances, sung in English.
Britten’s three church parables began with Curlew River in 1962, and are experiments in dramatic form that straddle the worlds of chamber opera, oratorio, religious ritual, as well evoking Britten’s encounter with Japanese Noh theatre. Oper Frankfurt presents the two pieces in the Bockenheimer Depot, a former tram shed and workshop which now hosts productions of mostly contemporary and Baroque operas for the company, an idiosyncratic performance space that reflects these works’ distinctive theatricality and approach to dramatic form.
The Prodigal Son, with a libretto by Britten’s collaborator for Curlew River William Plomer, tells the story of the titular son whose profligacy is nonetheless ultimately forgiven by his father. The role of the Tempter/Abbot in the 72-minute work is sung by tenor Michael McCown; the father by Magnús Baldvinsson; and the older and younger sons by Jarrett Porter and Brian Michael Moore respectively.
The Burning Fiery Furnace, whose text is also by Plomer, tells the story across 64 minutes of three Israelites condemned by Nebuchadnezzar to the flames for their refusal to worship a golden idol of the Babylonian king; they are saved by divine intervention. McCown takes the role of Nebuchadnezzar, with Barnaby Rea, Brian Michael Moore, and Pilgoo Kang as Hananja, Misael, and Azarja respectively. Jarrett Porter is Herald and Leader of the Courtiers, with Danylo Matviienko as the Astrologer.
Oper Frankfurt have produced several of Britten’s stage works in recent years, including David Matthews’ 2007 chamber version of television opera Owen Wingrave in 2015, directed by Wally Sutcliffe. In 2017 Brigitte Fassbaender directed a Pop Art-inspired realisation of Britten’s first stage work Paul Bunyan to critical acclaim. In 2006 the company presented Keith Warner’s production of Death Venice, and in 2004 a staging of Britten’s vaudeville for children’s voices The Golden Vanity.