Every January the Opera Theatre of Weston stages a full-scale opera for school groups and families.
That didn’t happen in 2012, when the region was still reeling from Tropical Storm Irene. This year, the company’s back, with an opera about an even bigger flood.
The story of Noah’s Flood is an ancient one. But composer Benjamin Britten wrote the opera in the 1950’s, after a devastating flood struck his home region in England.
The libretto is based on a medieval miracle play intended to bring bible stories to the masses.
Baritone Christopher Besch plays Noah. He says Noye’s Fludde was written as a common man’s opera.
"It was written for amateurs to be a part of and for the whole community to get together and to put on a show."
Britten wrote the opera to include lots of children, which fits in perfectly with Opera Theatre of Weston’s mission: to engage children in this rich and complex art.
The story starts with the voice of God, played by Weston Playhouse director Steve Stettler. God tells Noah that the world has grown wicked and must be destroyed — except for a small remnant.
The voice of God continues: "Therefore Noah, my servant free, a ship now, thou shalt make thee."
The stage is dominated by a wooden house, which Noah begins transforming into an ark, together with his three sons and their wives — all played by high school students.
The animals are played by younger children. They wear colorful costumes, and masks they created for themselves with costume designer Robena D’Arcy Fox.
The animals parade through the audience towards the ark, singing "Kyrie eleison." That’s Greek for "God have mercy."
The only holdout is Noah’s wife, who thinks her husband’s crazy, building a boat in a field. As the sky darkens, her three sons come to persuade to persuade her to join them.
Mrs. Noah, sung by Mezzo Soprano Peggie Tilscher responds emphatically: "That I won’t do, that I won’t do. That I won’t do."
Mrs. Noah is eventually carried into the boat kicking and screaming. But as the storm worsens, she has a change of heart.
The music that portrays the storm is a vivid layering of orchestral instruments and themes. Music director Angela Hines Gooch says it shows the power of opera to convey a story through more than words.
"You sort of feel the rocking of the boat in one layer of the music," she says. "And it builds and builds. You hear the wind, you hear the flapping of the rigging."
At the height of the storm, the families on the ark raise their voices as one in a powerful hymn. Audience members are invited to sing along.
The storm and the entire opera offer a catharsis of sorts for audiences and the many cast members who lived through their own terrible storm a year and a half ago.
Katherine McNally, a senior from Chester, plays the wife of one of Noah’s sons. McNally saw her own house wash away in tropical storm Irene.
"I think it helped my character come to life a little more for me because I could sort of draw on that experience," McNally says. "Although it was very unfortunate in many ways, it helped me to grow and realize what was truly important. Cause my family grew a lot closer during that experience, which I think is very true to the opera."
More than 2,600 school children traveled this week to theaters in Rutland and Weston for performances of this winter’s opera.
Many worked beforehand with the company’s education outreach programs to make art related to their own flood experiences.
The company hopes that connection will help them connect to opera.
Noye’s Fludde will be performed for general audiences at two matinees, Saturday and Sunday, at the Weston Playhouse. For information, go to http://www.operatheatreofweston.com/.