City Opera Vancouver.
The evening opened with a riveting performance by Denise Fujiwara interpreting the Noh drama Sumidagawa, as a solo dance on a bare stage with austere lighting. The story is based on a 15th-century play about a grieving mother who is searching for her kidnapped son. The experience has deranged her, but her grief is resolved when she finds his grave and hears his spirit's voice, which restores her mind.
Britten was captivated by the drama and, in Curlew River, gave it a British medieval treatment, using a Christian rather than a Buddhist context. The Madwoman was sung with depth and inspiration by tenor Isaiah Bell, who communicated the solemnity and abject sorrow of the women seen in medieval altar paintings at the feet of the crucified Christ.
Baritone John Minagro (the Abbot) was appropriately sonorous, as were the members of the Vancouver Cantata Singers. Bass-baritone Joel Klein gave a well-studied and projected characterization as the Traveller, interacting with the Ferryman, sung by baritone Sam Marcaccini with powerful vocal acumen. The Boy Spirit, exquisitely sung by Christina Lewall, was modelled on the vocal clarity of English choir boys. Barber, who had created a unified whole collaboratively with director John Wright and scenographer Robert Gardiner, conducted the seven-piece orchestra sensitively.