Floods in the Tithe Barn
THE beautiful Wiltshire town of Bradford on Avon knows all about floods – most recently last year.
The river has been at the heart of the town’s long history, made it an important centre of agriculture, wool and transport, powered its mills and provided the water for its industrial canals.
From Saxon times, the Manor of Bradford belonged to the Abbey of Shaftesbury, the wealthiest convent in England. The produce from the manorial estate was brought to the massive grange, Bradford on Avon’s tithe barn, which is now owned by English Heritage.
When a new charity, Bradford Barnstorn, was set up last year to make more community use of the 14th century building, one of the UK’s finest medieval barns, it was entirely fitting to choose Britten’s Noye’s Fludde as the first production, coinciding with the Benjamin Britten centenary celebrations.
The charity was set up by Judy Eglington, artistic director of the opera and music festival at nearby Iford Manor, and her husband John Edwards, who also commissioned a new work from Harvey Brough. Ona’s Flood brings the idea of the catastrophe and catharsis of a worldwide flood right up to date, including climate change, man-made destruction and our profligate demand for water.
They could not have imagined how timely their project would be, coinciding with the hottest weekend of the year – and one of the hottest for many years (the temperature at the interval on Saturday evening was over 30 degrees in Bradford on Avon) – and with news of the partial destruction by fanatics of one of the great relics of the time of the Crusades, Krak des Chevaliers castle in Syria.
The libretto for Ona’s Flood, by Clara Sanabras, talks of rising average temperatures that by 2100 will result in the “warmest temperatures in the past million years” and of “ancient treasures lost in time.”
The aim is that Ona’s Flood, with its massive community choir, and attractive rhythmic music, will become a regular companion piece for Noye’s Fludde, which was created for young singers and children, with adult professionals singing Noah and his wife.
The soloists in Ona’s Flood are Ona, a young woman with second sight, who foresees the onset of disaster as she and her friend Mel, a climate change campaigner, visit Panta de Sau dam, a submerged village in Catalonia.
Mezzo soprano Carris Jones sang Ona and the rebellious Mrs Noah, with Andrew Slater as the ebullient Mel and Noah, joined by Mark Le Brocq as the coach driver.
Community and local choirs and musicians took part, as well as nearly 200 children from schools all over south and west Wiltshire, and both one-act operas were directed by Ben Occhipinti who is well-known for his work with Salisbury Playhouse.
The colourful and powerful productions were hugely enjoyed by the cast and sell-out audiences, whose ages ranged from toddlers to music lovers and proud grandparents in their 80s.