Noah's words in Britten's opera announce the building of the ark (called a "shippe" throughout the text, based on the Chester Mystery Play). And it is put together during the performance.
And so I am drawing, drawing, drawing, trying to find interesting ways of interpreting the iconic ark for the Cheltenham Music Festival production that I'm designing.
I began with free sketches and doodles. What came to mind, time and again, was Tewkesbury Abbey, where the opera will be performed in July. Terrible floods in recent years have spared the Abbey, seen in many pictures rising above the water like a great ship.
And so that has been my inspiration.
To begin with, I played around with a boat decorated like the ceiling of the Abbey. But this wasn't enough for me. I wanted something more striking.
It is likely that scaffolding will be erected in the Abbey for this wonderful event. 15 metres of it! If this is approved and goes ahead, it will make a thrilling platform for the performance to take place on, in the round. Indeed the scaffolding will become the ark and the flood, with the orchestra inside the scaffolding structure.
I am mindful of the need to have areas where people can be seen by the audience, who will be standing and sometimes singing along during the performance - this is very much a community opera (indeed often described as the first of it's kind!).
And so my current thoughts have a castellated ship in medieval fashion, but the stern is based on the Abbey itself. Other decorations and motifs come from the Abbey interior (ceiling mottes, leaf motifs etc). The figure-head is a dove, hence the winged sides. The mast is a tree (from which branches will be cut during the building scene). Canvas will unfurl over the orchestra to show the floodwater. And the sail will unfurl to show a storm... and perhaps the final, forgiving, rainbow.
This is all an early stage. The next is to see what the director thinks, and how much of this can actually work! Something much simpler may be necessary in the end - and visually preferable perhaps - as we have to accomodate a huge number of animals, two by two, and Noah and his family too. So let's call this work in progress...
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