Monday, April 29, 2013
Along Suffolk Lanes
[Benjamin Britten] adored the company of boys. As John Bridcut revealed in his groundbreaking “Britten’s Children” in 2006, the composer had intense crushes on a string of 13-year-olds, during which the recipients were invited to Aldeburgh and treated like Greek gods. The pattern was always the same. Britten would dazzle each with his charisma, write letters couched in what now seems like creepy, infatuated language, ply them with treats, swim and play tennis with them, whizz them along Suffolk lanes in his sports car, hug them—and sometimes (as with the screen actor David Hemmings, who as a boy had been the original Miles in “The Turn of the Screw”) share a bed.
There is, one should say, no evidence that he went farther. “Am I a lecher just because I enjoy the company of children?” he once spat at the conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, who had quipped that Britten’s “Noye’s Fludde”, with its big children’s chorus, was “Ben’s paradise”.
But then, soon after they reached puberty, the boys were inevitably discarded in favour of next year’s model, often with peremptory callousness (Britten had a notoriously fickle attitude to people who were no longer useful).
Richard Morrison, writing in The Times on 19 January 2013
We did not have the stomachs to sit through two recent presentations of Britten operas in the Twin Cities.
The weekend before last, University Of Minnesota Opera Theatre presented four performances of Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. I dislike the work intensely—the music is weak-as-water—and it would have been a chore for us to endure one of the performances. In any event, the University Of Minnesota has a dismayingly mediocre Music Department—not the case half a century ago—and has not been able to attract a satisfactory level of faculty talent or student talent for twenty or thirty years.
The weekend just ended featured two performances of Britten’s “Paul Bunyan” by VocalEssence, a local organization that—in its former incarnation, Plymouth Music Series—made a famous recording of “Paul Bunyan” more than twenty years ago. Opportunities to hear “Paul Bunyan” are exceedingly rare, but we did not avail ourselves of the chance.
I more or less share the thoughts of Igor Stravinsky, Herbert Von Karajan and Pierre Boulez when it comes to the music of Britten: the music is so second-rate, why does anyone bother?