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Prodigal Son & Burning Fiery Furnace

Benjamin Britten 1913–1976

Two Church Parables
First performed in 1968 and 1966, Orford Parish Church, Suffolk
Libretto by William Plomer based on the Bible

Performed in English with German surtitles

There's a chamber music concert in the Bockenheimer Depot on April 16 to tie in with this new production.
Introductory talks (in German) 30 mins before performances begin and available on video here shortly before opening night

A father's elder son and men set out to work in the fields. The younger son, seemingly unhappy with his lot, is easy prey for a tempting inner voice encouraging him to indulge his secret longings. He asks his father for his share of the inheritance, which the father grants, much to the annoyance of the older, hard-working son. He leaves for the city where he indulges in drinking, lust and gambling, losing everything. Repentant and penniless he goes home and begs his father's forgiveness. His father and servants rejoice that the son who was dead, now lives, was lost, is now found, but the elder son is furious. The father asks him to be reconciled to his younger brother, which he does.
Nebuchadnezzar welcomes three young Israelites, Ananias, Misael and Asarias, who he has engaged to rule over parts of his realm. At a celebratory feast he tells the young men their names are now Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. An astrologer constantly tries to turn the King against the Israelites. Everyone's angry at their refusal to feast on their wine and meat and when they refuse to worship Nebuchadnezzar's image of gold the King has them thrown into a burning fiery furnace, but is astonished to see a fourth person in the furnace, and the young men emerge unscathed, saved by their God, which the King decides to worship from now on. 

Britten chose 2 parables for these one-act operas: the Prodigal Son from the Gospel according to Luke and The Fiery Furnace from the Book of Daniel.

A father had two sons: the younger demanded his inheritance in advance but squandered it. When he returns, penniless, his father welcomes him with open arms and forgives him, to the older, hardworking brother’s chagrin: the joy over the return of the lost son outweighs everything.

Three young Hebrews refuse to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image and are thrown into a fiery furnace. A miracle takes place and they survive unscathed. The Babylonian King converts to their faith.

Benjamin Britten wrote Curlew River, based on Japanese Nô theatre, in 1964 at the Aldeburgh Festival, which he founded in 1948 in his beloved home in Suffolk, by the sea. It was followed by these two »Church operas«. All were performed for the first time in Orford parish church. They share the same ritual: an abbot enters the church with his monks and lay brothers to perform the work in question, slipping into their costumes in view of the audience. The composer was inspired by this quasi-liturgical setting to create a new theatrical form combining medieval chorales, the involvement of musicians in the action and use of exotic instruments. The Bockenheimer Depot’s versatility makes it an ideal venue for Brittens »Church parables«.