Benjamin Britten
1913 - 1976

Opera in two acts
Libretto by Myfanwy Piper, after the story by the same name (1893) by Henry James
First broadcast May 16th 1971 BBC Television, London
First performance May 10th 1973 Royal Opera House Covent Garden, London

Sung in English with German surtitles

About the Piece

Owen Wingrave, based on Henry James' story, is about how an isolated honourable individual clashes with an officially sanctioned spirit of militarism. The system holds fast to the old pre-Socrates axiom that war is the father all things. The young man Owen comes from a three hundred year old officer dynasty. In conceiving his title figure Britten reflects on his own experience in war time, when he gave vent to his pacifistic views to an administrative commission.
When Britten began composing the opera in early April 1969 war was raging in Vietnam. Protests against war were escalating all over the world. In the military academy Owen is being forced to become something that goes against his nature. For his contemporaries Owen is »the misdirected colleague« par excellence. The »obsession« of a system which spits him out, a system that has produced nothing but officers for three hundred years has become as blind with age as the window panes in the house in Paramore, where the opera takes place. His family are affronted. To prove to his betrothed, Kate, that he is not a coward he agrees to spend the night in a haunted room where he is found dead the next morning. Right from the beginning the the musical characterisation of the family portraits conjure up sabre rattling and sporran clinking. Tragedy, ghost story, television film, autobiographical episodes – Benjamin Britten's Owen Wingrave, written to be performed on BBC television, can be viewed in many ways. What is certain is that the composer had a very personal affinity with the Henry James' story on which it is based. As a conscientious objector at the time of World War II he had to defend his stance before a military tribunal and society in general. The lead protagonist stands up for his convictions, but cannot escape his fate. The last in a long line of ancestors; Owen is expected to continue the military tradition of the Wingraves. His decision to refuse to fight causes war to break out within the family. Trying to prove to his fiancée Kate that he is not a coward, as she maintains, he agrees to spend the night in a haunted room in the old family house. A room in which, it transpires, one of his ancestors killed his own, young, son, to punish him for his apparent cowardness. Walter Sutcliffe's treatment of this unusual chamber opera keeps close to the work's origins in television. The stage design allows the scenes to change in almost film-like format. This production was such a success when it first opened at the Bockenheimer Depot that is now being revived for the first time, in the Opera House.

Saturday 10.01.2015

Further performances:
16.01.2015  | 23.01.2015  |
25.01.2015  | 30.01.2015


Yuval Zorn
Walter Sutcliffe
Revival rehearsed by
Tobias Heyder
Stage and Costume Designer
Kaspar Glarner
Lighting Designer
Frank Keller
Agnes Eggers

Owen Wingrave, the last of the Wingraves
Björn Bürger
Spencer Coyle
Dietrich Volle
Simon Bode
Narrator / Ballad Singer
Beau Gibson
Miss Wingrave, Owen's aunt
Britta Stallmeister
Mrs Coyle
Barbara Zechmeister
Mrs Julian, a widow
Karen Vuong
Kate, her daughter
Nina Tarandek
General Sir Philip Wingrave, Owen's grandfather
Michael McCown

Oper Frankfurt's Orchestra

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