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By Emily St. John Mandel
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Flood of Participation
New Orleans Opera's ‘Noye’s Fludde,’ Reviewed
On Friday, the New Orleans Opera Association presented its first of a three performances of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde to a full house at Trinity Episcopal Church.
By staying true to the British composer’s original staging, which makes equal use of expert and amateur performers and encourages audience participation, operagoers were offered something quite different from anything they may have experienced in the Association's usual home at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre. With the sublime score, remarkable talent from professional cast and musicians, and clear enthusiasm from wholehearted newcomers, NOOA’s rendering of Noye’s Fludde made for an immensely gratifying night of opera.
The air in Trinity Episcopal Church was electrified as patrons took to the pews. As the principles from the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra tuned up, their fellow musicians from Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra and Ursuline Academy Recorder Consort prepped at their confined stations. Smartly dressed in a tuxedo, Treyvon Johnson, a sixth grade student at St. Joan of Arc in LaPlace, tested his wind machine. Next to him, LPO member Mary Ann Bulla and Loyola accompanist Yui Asano sat side-by-side at the piano. Minutes after 8 pm, concertmaster Byron Tauchi asked the pianists for an A, and director Robert Lyall strode to the podium.
Before the production began, Lyall encouraged the audience to sing along with the three chorales Britten wrote into Noye’s Fludde, explaining the community-based nature of the program. Then the lights dimmed and Lyall dropped the baton on first bars of the song, “Lord Jesus, Think On Me.” Britten’s elaborate and virtuosic orchestration of the centuries-old hymn, confidently performed by the orchestras, gave the audience a first glimpse into Britten’s preternatural genius. The audience got even closer to the music when Lyall turned toward the crowd and cued all to sing along.
The cast of professional singers carried the majority of the first half of the production. Noah, played with striking composure by gifted bass Arthur Woodley, was joined by his three sons and their wives—all performed with poise and flair by a cast of singers from New Orleans and the region. The hilarious and dynamic performance of Mrs. Noah was played by show-stealing mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood. The earth-shaking voice of God was spoken offstage by WDSU senior news anchor Norman Robinson.
As the threat of the Flood grew nearer, choruses of children from 36 schools in the region joined the cast. Trumpets reverberated from the balcony, and two by two, children dressed as all manner of animals and insects galloped down the aisles singing (and squeaking), “Kyrie! Kyrie! Kyrie, eleison!”—delighting audiences with their costumes and voices. The performances of these opera starlets were remarkably sincere, with most immersing themselves into their roles. The young actresses playing the raven and dove (Lusher student Elijah St. Martin and Trinity Choir member Molly Kane, respectively) were rarely seen moving without flapping their wings.
As the story concluded with one last chorale, the Trinity Bell Choir rang out from the balcony and all members of each orchestra and choir were joined by the audience to sing “What Though in Solemn Silence All.” Before the orchestra could hit the final note, the performers were met with extended applause from the audience. Principals Woodley and Livengood received a standing ovation.
After the applause died down and the lights came up, young percussionist Marley Bogran, whose performance included striking coffee cups with a wooden spoon, gave a thumbs up to a member of the LPO. She responded with a smile and a nod.
New Orleans Opera Association has succeeded in a rather daunting undertaking: collaborating with a number of local organizations to present Britten’s elaborate Noye’s Fludde in a way that was technically straightforward, unfeigned, and a lot of fun to be a part of. It’s not to be missed.
NOOA’s presentation of Noye’s Fludde continues Saturday, November 16 at 8 pm and Sunday, November 17 at 2:30 pm at Trinity Episcopal Church (1329 Jackson Ave.). Tickets start at $20 for adults and $5 for children. Visit the NOOA website or call 504-529-3000 for more information.
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