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Enigma Chamber Opera to Mount CURLEW RIVER in a Boston Church


This production will also be available for one week on YouTube, starting @ 7 pm on Oct. 29.

Enigma Chamber Opera to Mount CURLEW RIVER in a Boston Church

"Curlew River - A Parable for Church Performance (Op. 71)," one of English composer Benjamin Britten's trio of music dramas designed to be performed in houses of worship, focuses on a journey to find something that's been lost and the difficulty of moving on before resolution is found. Enigma Chamber Opera Artistic Director Kirsten Z. Cairns herself found renewed poignancy in Britten's work as the COVID-19 pandemic raced through the U.S. and her home country in the U.K. last year. Now she and her Enigma team will mount a new, live production of the music drama Oct. 22 & 23, 2021, @ 7 pm, at the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul in downtown Boston.

This production will also be available for one week on YouTube, starting @ 7 pm on Oct. 29.

The "Curlew River" libretto is by William Plomer and based on the Japanese noh play "Sumidagawa (Sumida River)." Its story centers on a woman gone mad over the disappearance of her son who embarks on a meandering journey to find out what happened to him. Granted passage on a ferry, the woman hears the ferryman recount a story of a shrine built on the other side of the Curlew River. Upon arrival, the woman makes her way to the shrine and learns the truth about her child. Her madness lifts, and she is finally at peace.

Cairns says given the current global turmoil in public health and politics, the need for resolution portrayed in the opera resonated for her. "It feels like a time when we must find a way forward, to regain our sanity," Cairns says. "We can't go back, we can't recover the things we lost, but we can try to make peace with it. 'Curlew River' is the parable we need right now." The story's point of a child separated from its parent also echoes recent humanitarian crises on the southern U.S. border, Cairns says.


Britten's story is set in a decidedly Christian environment, although the story's Japanese provenance is rooted in Shinto Buddhism. Cairns says the Enigma production maintains the inherently Christian aspects embedded in the work, but focuses on a message of hope and encouragement that transcends creed. For example, she says, the troupe of monks that opens the performance with chants before transforming into characters of the main story, may reflect a different type of fraternal group.

"I am excited to look at what Britten's 20th century take on an ancient Japanese story means in contemporary times," Cairns says. "This piece of theater and its extraordinary music speaks directly to our current moment, and to people of all faiths."

Cairn's recent work, with Enigma and as a freelance director, has centered on themes of religion, the plight of children, and how art informs and reflects life's challenges. Her open-air performance installation "LadyMass," created last May with The Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard, put a feminist lens and an absurdist twist on Christian rituals. Enigma Chamber Opera's ambitious streaming production of Mozart's "The Impresario" placed the Classical composer's parody of artistic integrity and vanity into a pandemic lockdown scenario where, in a highly "meta" twist, the titular producer and a vain director wonder whether to carry on with a production given pandemic shutdowns (and dueling divas). Cairns directed Enigma's debut production -- a highly regarded production of Britten's supernatural opera "The Turn of the Screw" -- in January 2020, just as COVID began making its way into the public consciousness, much as the ghosts in that story infiltrate the lives of two children and their governess.


"Curlew River" features five male singers portraying the men who bookend the main story, as well as characters in that story. Performers include Matthew DiBattista as The Madwoman, Aaron Engebreth as The Ferryman, David McFerrin as The Traveller, James Demler as The Abbot, and Linus Schafer Goulthorpe as The Spirit of the Boy.

Kirsten Z. Cairns is Stage Director for this production. Edward Elwyn Jones leads the seven-piece orchestra and plays organ. Set and lighting design is by Peter Torpey. Rebecca Shannon Butler will design the costumes.


General admission tickets for "Curlew River'' are $30; $20 for students and seniors. Tickets are available Fri., Oct. 1 at

Attendees are required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the performance time. Audience members are required to wear masks inside the facility.

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