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Chinese-style “Noah’s Flood” breaks down the cultural barrier

(People's Daily Online)

08:08, November 01, 2012

On Oct.27, the most eagerly anticipated Noah's Flood by the British composer Benjamin Britten at the Beijing Music Festival was played three times in a row in a single day. In the absence of both amateur performers and fashion, the performance still achieved popularity.

Opera is not a precise description of Noah's Flood. It was composed by Britten in 1957, based on the famous Noah's Ark from the Bible. The drama script was adapted from a medieval mystery play of the same name. The orchestra is simply organized. Except some solo phrases, the playing is easy overall. The onstage vocal solos and choruses are also made as simple as amateur performers can get involved. The reason Britten did all this is for the play to be available at the church, park and elsewhere, and for more music enthusiasts to get involved in the performance to enjoy the music.

The production of Noah's Flood has completely fulfilled Britten’s wishes in design. The play was debuted at the Belfast Zoo in Northern Ireland this summer. After it came to Beijing, the stage performers are still mostly amateur musicians from the Jinfan Symphony of Beijing No. 8 Middle School, Juveniles and Women's Chorus of China National Symphony Orchestra, Boys' Choir of Beijing New Talent Academy. Only several stringed music chiefs came from China Philharmonic Orchestra.

The stage production is full of Chinese elements, including Chinese style animal figures, the boys' choir wearing traditional costumes and the "Ark" made by waste containers printed with "Chinese Shipping." In addition, the director created Noah's wife into the figure of a party animal who likes to shop and watch soap operas, and changed the ancient Western legend into a fashion drama with Chinese style, so the audience can easily understand the story performed on the stage. The ever-present humors are reflected in the details, such as the tiger who boarded on the Noah's Ark with a boarding check in his hand indicated the topic of tickets in the film "Farewell Atlantis."

Although the audience of Noah's Flood is primarily children, the viewers of any age groups will not feel bored to it under Britten's simple but senior creative approach. There are not complex harmonies and the tonality is also not avant-garde, but the theme music with clear melody and psalmody style chorus left a memorable impression on audiences. As a senior composer, Britten amazed the audience in the orchestration though it was played by an amateur orchestra.

As there always is a no small barrier between Western-style script and subject matter and Chinese audience, the director plays a key role in getting through the barrier. Noah's Flood is a successful example and its "modern concept" with Chinese elements and fashion style largely eliminated the cultural barrier. The British opera also received good results in China decades later. This is a victory to both Britten and the stage director of China.

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