The Prodigal Son / The 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
Introductory talks (in German) 30 mins before performances begin and available on video here shortly before opening night
Britten chose 2 parables for his 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«.