Just in: Geneva bans Britten opera for children

Just in: Geneva bans Britten opera for children


norman lebrecht

June 02, 2015

The FAZ reports this morning that the education authorities in Geneva have intervened in a forthcoming production of Noah’s Flood (Noye’s Fludde), ruling that local children may be seen in it, but not heard.

The performance, conducted by Arie van Beek of the Geneva Chamber Orchestra, is both traditional and respectful of the Bible story. But Geneva bureaucrats, fearful of reviving historic sectarian divisions, have ruled that getting kids to sing in the Britten opera would be unconstitutional – a violation of the state law of religious neutrality.

Ridiculous? We couldn’t possibly comment. Wouldn’t know where to begin.





  • Alexander says:

    As far as I understand it, this is a policy, dating back to the time of the Reformation, of neutrality between Catholics and Protestants. I cannot see how anything in Noye’s Fludde would be offensive to either group. Now, if they were staging a production of Patrick Malone and James Mumford’s “Play The Man”, a play about the Protestant martyrs burned at the stake in Broad Street, Oxford, then I would see how this could be perceived as being controversial, but Noye’s Fludde should surely be acceptable to Christians of all denominations.

  • Charles Clark Maxwell says:

    It’s their loss. NF is a masterpiece !

  • V.Lind says:

    Does the state law of religious neutrality extend to adults? Or what is the cutoff date? Can they perform the St. Matthew Passion there? ir The Messiah?

    Helluva lot of great music — much from their own tradition — eliminated if this stupid rule is applied across the board. They should listen to The Making of Music series currently being broadcast on BBC 4 Extra to get themselves some context.

  • John says:

    There must be some kind of international competition going on regarding the most ridiculous and politically correct decision that can be made. The jury is not in yet…

    • Brian says:

      For sheer stupid bureaucracy raised to the level of fascism this even excels Australia banning Carmen because it promotes smoking. This is why governments should not be the pipers calling tunes in the arts.

  • pooroperaman says:

    They wouldn’t have done this if it had been a story from the Koran.

    • James of Thames says:

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the flood story also figure in Islamic tradition?

      • Alexander says:

        Yes, and in many other traditions besides, in one form or another, but Noye’s Fludde is based on Christian texts from the Middle Ages.

    • Brian says:

      Precisely. One can confidently predict children will be banned from participation in works of Bach, Händel, or the Prologo from Boito’s MEFISTOFELE, often performed in concert. In fact, if they are going to be consistent, they must do so.

  • AZ Cowboy says:

    And I thought stupid things like this only happened in the US…

  • Novagerio says:

    What about the children chorus-parts in the St.Matthew Passion? Or Haydn, Mozart and Schubert Masses with children chanting catholic biblical texts? When did cultural patrimony become a “sectarian offence” to children?… Is the world really going nuts?

  • Peter says:

    You know you live in troublesome times, if religion (or anti-religion) is dragged into the public and given legal superiority over freedom of artistic expression.

  • V.Lind says:

    I know a good number of conductors — who lead Church choirs and instrumental groups as well as secular orchestras — who are utter atheists, yet exalt in music of Bach in particular.

    Music is music — even when it comes with words. God knows what poetry these kids are allowed. It’s Switzerland, so presumably they do not have the teaching of Donne, Herbert, etc. But I would be surprised if their own literature does not include some work of similar intent. And the German, Italian and French (I cannot speak for Romansch) literatures presumably taught in the various cantons certainly has some reach toward God…and are they allowed to look at great art work of the Renaissance and before?

    I am getting seriously tired of this.

  • Haccius says:

    This is probably some kind of knee-jerk reaction to some nutjob who complained. Switzerland is not a world power (although it’s a very rich country) and so isn’t accustomed to providing squadrons of spin doctors to explain every oddball decision. This particular oddball decision doesn’t even affect one hundredth of the population, not even one thousandth – so I’m sure they gave it no particular thought at all.

    It may be in the news here some time in June if the news is really slow.

  • La Donna del Largo says:

    “Religious neutrality” does not mean “all Christians are treated equally, and since everyone in the world is a Christian, that takes care of that.” The Britten opera is on a religious theme and specifically one derived from the Bible. It’s easy enough to understand how in a state based on a strict policy of religious neutrality, the performance of children of a play that includes prayer texts might be considered troublesome.

    There are plenty of works for children to perform that don’t require them to simulate Christian prayer as part of the show.

    • Alexander says:

      So that also rules out performances of Tosca, Dialogues des carmélites, and Cavalleria rusticana.

  • Derek Williams says:

    A vast amount of the great music of the world is religious in origin. Banning a public performance for this reason is one of the most ridiculous decisions I’ve ever read of, and this is coming from an atheist.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    I remember times not so long ago, when the actual question of religion was secondary to the bigger picture. Events in the last twenty years have forced many hands – some maybe beyond the call of duty – to over-analyse what previously was primarily a cultural pleasure in the interests of a supposed balance in social harmony. No-one emerges as winners from this misapplication of unnatural and imposed social engineering. Gone are the days when harmless, Bible-based entertainments (Jonah Man Jazz, The Daniel Jazz, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar etc etc etc) were enjoyed by schoolchildren and adults alike, believers or not; we live in different times and have to endure diktats in the interest of mutual respect. Invariably, this means ceding cultural ground for no recompense.

  • Novagerio says:

    What to say? Paranoia and ignorance rules…..

  • Miles Golding says:

    Is it Boosey and Hawkes who hold the rights, and whose permission must be sought for every performance? They should not grant permission, or withdraw it if they have already granted it. Simple as that. If they don’t they will be seen to be condoning a performance that is a travesty and gross distortion of the composer’s intentions.

  • Novagerio says:

    Good point Miles! Fine Comoedia!

  • Aaron says:

    Don’t people usually agree that children are better seen and not heard?

  • Blanche says:

    That’s incredible, Brian. When did that happen? (I missed hearing about it, here on the other side of the pond). Was it recently, by the current Oz government?