Alate-19th-century ghost story set in an appropriately Gothic country estate and the savage gunning down of students, demonstrating against the Vietnam War, at Kent State University. Somehow those don't appear immediately connected, yet it might have been the impact of the latter on the pacifist sensibilities of Benjamin Britten which lead him to think of returning to the setting of Henry James's tale Owen Wingrave as the subject matter of what would amount to his penultimate opera.
Throughout the 1960s, Britten had worked on his trilogy of Church Parables. The openly allegorical nature of James's original, in which the young Owen rebels against family history by not following in his ancestors' military footsteps, again has the undercurrent of an apt parable for our violent age.
At the same time, Britten was nothing if not the theatrical showman. Having scored a remarkable triumph with his distillation of Henry James's Turn of the Screw some 15 years earlier, part of him no doubt relished the opportunity to return to such atmospheric territory again. And, perhaps in the hope of repeating the success of the Screw, he also returned to Myfanwy Piper as his Jamesian librettist.
With one difference - Owen Wingrave was commissioned by the BBC as a television opera. Britten openly accepted the challenges of writing for the medium whilst still ultimately intending Wingrave to be a stage work. Yet can the fast-moving and almost cinematically intercut scenes be that easily rendered in the theatre? Certainly Robin Phillips's direction and Hashim Ali's designs, when this production was initially staged by Glyndebourne Touring Opera two years ago, more than suggested they could. Now taking its place in this season's summer schedule, and boasting the fine baritone Gerald Finlay in the title role, Owen Wingrave amounts to a perhaps still under-rated Britten classic. This important and vivid staging, supported by a ravishing and no less intricately woven orchestral tapestry, should finally render the process of reappropriation complete.
EYE ON THE NEW
The redoubtable and multi-talented Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie heads south this week. Miss Glennie gives a recital at Oxford's beautiful and historic Sheldonian Theatre (01865 798 600) tonight at 7.30pm. A programme of nine works includes Rosario's Concerto for Marimba, Rzewski's To the Earth and Glennie's own Light in DarknessReuse content