CFA Stages a Compelling Cry for Peace Boston premiere of Britten’s Gothic opera Owen Wingrave
By Susan Seligson
Jorgeandres Camargo (CFA’14) (from left), John Slack (CFA’14), Isaac Bray (CFA’14), Heejae Kim (CFA’14), and Peter Brown (CFA‘15) perform in the College of Fine Arts production of the Benjamin Britten opera Owen Wingrave, which opens tonight at the BU Theatre. Photos by Oshin Gregorian
Benjamin Britten’s rarely produced opera Owen Wingrave is a searing, tragic tale of an unlikely pacifist born into a family of soldiers. Britten, an avowed pacifist himself, was commissioned to write the work not for the stage, but for television, where it debuted in 1971 on Britain’s BBC2—a challenge for anyone staging the opera today, says Jim Petosa, stage director of the current at the production of the opera at the Boston University Theatre. The production takes the small screen narrative and interprets it in a way that “yields different riches on the large stage” of the BU Theatre, says Petosa. Playing tonight through Sunday, the collaboration between the College of Fine Arts School of Theatre and Opera Institute marks the opera’s Boston premiere as well as the centennial of Britten’s birth.
Based on a short story by Henry James and written during the throes of the Vietnam War, Owen Wingrave was first performed live at the Royal Opera House at London’s Covent Garden in 1973. The opera swirls around Owen Wingrave’s efforts to avoid military service. The young Wingrave prefers peace to the brutal carnage of his military family and ancestors. “In peace I have found my image,” sings Wingrave, being played in alternating performances by baritones Nickoli Strommer (CFA’14) and Isaac Bray (CFA’14). Cast out by his family and his lover, who accuse him of cowardice, Wingrave is locked on a dare in the haunted bedroom of his ancestral home, where the ghosts of his forebears Colonel Wingrave and his son (who in his day also refused to fight, and was killed by the Colonel) are said to roam. There Owen meets his tragic end.
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