Operas Love Rejection Death
first task was to gather what can be called opera. Quite a few vocal works are
not classified in that genre because they are considered as oratorios as if an
oratorio was not an opera (a musical work entirely sung generally in two tones,
prosodic and psalmodic). That goes back to the Old Testament which is divided
in its accompanying music, written in the margins, in these two tones. It is of
course present in any oratorio, starting in the 13th century in Beauvais
Cathedral with Ludus Danielis.
opera is only the transfer of this religious musical genre into the secular
field. The opera is nothing but a secular oratorio. And can we see a musical
difference between operas and oratorios in Handel and are Bach’s Passions
oratorios or operas? Some purist will tell you the opera was invented in Italy, etc.
Purity leads to closure. This geographic definition of the opera was introduced
in a time when we did not know the musical accompaniment of the Old Testament
probably codified by the music school set up by King David. At that time too
Ludus Danielis was unknown and Italy was torn apart by two styles, one favored
by the Roman Popes and remaining very narrowly religious and traditional, and
another secular and bound to flourish in the Italian opera houses that were
still to be invented and built in the 16th-17th centuries when that artistic
quarrel between the Church and society was starting to rage with Monteverdi.
it does not apply to Benjamin Britten for the simple reason that he does not
differentiate the recitative from the arias. The music is the same in tone and
style from beginning to end. Then the difference between operas and oratorios,
if there is one, is purely because of the religious dimension of oratorios.
That is light and semantic.
hereafter find my notes on the 21 works I classify in this field, in
chronological order, some small, some big, some famous, some less well-known,
but all in a distinctive musical style that is unique and yet that is also very
closely articulated on the music of the 20th century. Benjamin Britten knew his
classics, even the modern classics of his time, and borrowing or imitating are
fundamental: he is able to use the style of anyone and turns it into his own
style that is first of all transformative.
The second point to add here is the fact many of his works are all male
and use many boys’ choirs. The modern tendency though is to use treble choirs
including girls. This is, when it is done, a treacherous breach of the British
tradition of all male choirs and boys’ choirs that developed and prospered in
boys’ schools and universities with countertenors cultivated and respected even
after these universities were finally opened to women. In fact to use mixed
choirs instead of boys’ choirs is a sexist position that negates the
originality of the British tradition. Other composers (and Benjamin Britten in
some works) vastly composed for mixed choirs or even for girls’ choirs, and
that is legitimate.
My last remark will be I have tried to capture the
original intended meaning of these works that systematically present some
outsider, stranger, foreigner, outcast in central position, and the boy who is
the main character is often the victim of mistreatment by society or some
adults, mostly men. It is a trend to consider this is to be connected with
Benjamin Britten’s gayness. I think this is excessive even if this gayness gave
Benjamin Britten a direct taste of being excluded, marginalized or kept under
suspicion. I will rarely allude to this gayness and I will try to avoid seeing
gay innuendo everywhere.
Paul Bunyan 1941-1976 p.
Peter Grimes 1945 p. 13
Rape of Lucretia 1946 p.
Albert Herring 1947 p.
Saint Nicolas 1948 p.
The Little Sweep 1949 p.
Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac 1952 p. 43
10. Turn of
the Screw 1954 p.
of Pagodas 1957 p.
Fludde 1958 p.
Night’s Dream 1960 p.
Requiem 1962 p.
15. Curlew River 1964 p. 104
Fiery Furnace 1966 p.
Golden Vanity 1966 p.
Son 1968 p.
Children’s Crusade 1969 p.
Wingrave 1970 p.
in Venice 1973 p.
Jacques COULARDEAU & Benjamin BRITTEN
at Academia.edu (60)
The Turn of
the Screw, from James to Britten
Presentation of discussion
have to deliver a full article in December on the figure of the stranger in
Benjamin Britten's operas. I have listed 21 works in that field and I still
have six to go. The Turn of the Screw is particularly important because of the
career the opera has had on operatic stages in the world. It is also crucial
because more than with any other work this one has brought a wide - and wild -
critical approach of Benjamin Britten's sexual orientation which is not at
stake in this opera the way I read it, within the others
like The Little Sweep that also deals with children in an upper class family.
It is this way I would like to submit to your discussion and I am quite open to
all ideas though it is quite clear that I will not discuss in my article the
sexual orientation of the composer.
The following comparison of Henry James’ The Turn of
the Screw and Benjamin Britten’s adaptation of this novella to the operatic
stage reveals there are two oceans that are crossed: the Atlantic
Ocean and the ocean of time. In spite of his life spent between
where he was born and where he had brother, sister, father and mother, Henry
James is not English at all. This ghost story is typically American and never
reaches the Gothic level British stories construct or the ironic if not
sarcastic level of Oscar Wilde. It is also the time of the great debunkers of
ghost stories known as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson who do not believe in
ghosts but do believe in criminals and murderers and know from experience that
ghosts are a good cover up for a crime, still used in many TV series.
On the other side Benjamin Britten is British to the core and ghosts cannot be
ghosts because the ocean of time has been crossed along with two world wars,
the two successive births of globalization. We have more or less abandoned the
soul in psychiatry and we have vastly replaced it with the mind and the great
masters of the mind in 1955 were Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Jacques Lacan
already and emerging fast, but not yet Michel Foucault. Each one of these set
the mind in one special place of the body. For Freud the mind is in emotions
and impulses. For Jung the mind is heritage from the old culture we receive
with our milk after birth. For Jacques Lacan it is in the conflict and
construct of two essential dimensions: the basic physiological body and the
concept of authority, both in their conflict and cooperation constructing a
superego he called the Phallus. Michel Foucault sets the mind at the level of
the consciousness of one’s sexual apparatus, in many ways like Wilhelm Reich
but with a mental dimension that Wilhelm Reich never reached, tied up and
locked up in the sexual drives, both penile and anal, or vaginal and anal.
But, and that’s my main point, Benjamin Britten moves away from the ghosts to
deal with mental memories or constructs that replace the parents these children
do not have any more, but he refuses the innuendo Henry James invested in his
novella all the time in the form of extreme sexual obsession in the nameless
Governess. He brings the kids back to their ages, eight and ten, and at ten a
boy needs a male model and not a male sexual partner. This model is a father
substitute when the father is absent or a father extension that brings into the
mental father of the boy new elements to build his superego, or Phallus to use
And Benjamin Britten shows his deep consciousness that with any maternal figure
in that situation who would be too possessive and in this particular case a
power and control (sexual) freak, the boy might be mentally destroyed to the
point of desiring to get out of this world back into the world where his mental
model is living, since Quint is dead and not dead at the same time.
Simultaneously that boy, in the most innocent way, will punish the maternal
substitute who dared push him into non-existence by dying in her arms, in her
lap, his big death punishing the mother-torturer-executioner who dared provoke
some ripples in the field of his still unawake little death without
understanding that you cannot play with that impulse even with a boy of ten
without running the risk of destroying him because it is castrating if you
frustrate the dim satisfaction of it and traumatic if an adult takes advantage
of it to satisfy his or in this case her phantasms.
This is part of a longer study due in December on the figure of the stranger in
Benjamin Britten’s operas, still six to go out of twenty-one.
Child and adolescent mental health, Mental Health, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Opera, Mental Representation, Trauma Studies, Benjamin Britten, Henry James, Post traumatic
stress disorder, Mental Imagery, Mental Models, PTSS,Ghost stories,
and Control Freaks
Jacques Coulardeau at Academia.edu (55)
BENJAMIN BRITTEN’S OPERAS
BENJAMIN BRITTEN’S OPERAS
DEATH – MARGINALITY – TRANSCENDANCE – LOVE DENIAL
On the basis of the very first steps in that project for Avignon’s University, I submit to discussion
the following notes. Britten sounds to me like a spiritual transcending chant
and song of death beyond life in the heart of life itself. That love, that
life, that transcendence is like the figure of the boy killed in Curlew River
or some other operas, since I will only deal with operas, including of course
Death in Venice, the perfect sacred garden and cemetery of Benjamin Britten,
the graveyard of his belief that life can only be in death, or if you prefer
that death can only exist in life.
Here are the operas I will consider after collecting them. Some are ballets,
some are vaudevilles, some are operettas, but all are about that strange
foreigner who is the only stranger in our life that counts: death, death our
friend, death our lover, death our life partner.
Thinking of it now, just at the beginning of this search and hunt, I feel death
is the most beautiful experience man can have, and that is not morbid because
any “Danse Macabre” is not a simple ordinary dance. It is a trance that leads
us to bliss and full mental orgasmic enjoyment.
One of my starting block is La Chaise Dieu’s Danse Macabre and I add to this
first lap my review of two books on this Danse Macabre.
is only the beginning of this research. Benjamin Britten is a phenomenal
composer and yet his works are scattered and there is no comprehensive
presentation of his music divided among various publishers or producers and
with repeats from one to the other and many works published separately. What I
am interested in is the figure of the stranger or the foreigner in his operas
and other stage productions. That leads to death most of the time, particularly
the death of young boys, or young men. This
and the Christian inspiration leads me to look into the way death was
considered in the past centuries, particularly in the Middle Ages and the 15th
century, the century when plague, war and economic collapse could have had
unpredictable consequences. I found a lot on this subject in the direct
Benedictine heritage in my corner of the world. A strong Christian presence can
be seen in his various productions, at times directly imported from the Bible
with the theme of being rejected for one reason or another, and also being
forgiven or even saved, be it only after death or after some martyrdom. This
denial of love in the midst of the assertion of love is poignant and
disquieting. The full paper is due for December and I have to explore some 18
works, whose list is provided at the beginning. If you think I have missed one
or two please let me know.
Jacques Coulardeau & Paul Bunyan
at Academia.edu (62)
from wilderness to consumer's society
In the project going on right now to cover the figure of the stranger in
Benjamin Britten's operas I have reached the first opera after many more I have
studied before. This one is more a manifesto, musical and political, on Auden
and Britten's side than a purely evanescent "entertainment neither true
nor beautiful nor witty."
The revival version though has cut off two essential scenes. But what is
important here is the fact that Bunyan reaches both the level of the epic hero
of a picaresque adventure and that of a myth, a legend, a folkloric character
that becomes universal in his all-encompassing historical vision of his
conquest of the west, like in a way the Chinese Monkey of the Buddhist Journey
to the West.
Is teh stranger, teh eternal guest as he calls himself, that Bunyan is in our
world an ideal, a prophet, a guru, or just a friend to accompany our dreams of
a better world?
The figure of the stranger in Benjamin Britten's
operas is more and more a stranger from outside that completely perturbs the
status quo of where he arrives, or a stranger from inside that makes one
confront his or her real circumstances or real deeper self. Too often it has
been associated with Benjamin Britten's sexual orientation and in this case his
collaboration with Auden increases the tendency especially since it is about an
all-male environment in which there is ONLY one woman, and also one dog and two
cats, all of them sung by women as Auden notes in his introduction to the
libretto.. Yet I feel that it would be a mistake to consider the question only,
first of all or in any priority way as having to do with Benjamin Britten's
sexual orientation, just as much of a mistake as connecting his approach of the
American conquest of the West with his dentist of a father whose drill he would
try to run away from.