Friday, July 9, 2010
Benjamin Britten and Flora
Yesterday I was interviewed by Hannah Nepal of Gramophone about my childhood experiences with Benjamin Britten. I was in two of his operas. First 'Noyes Fludde' and then 'The Turn of the Screw'.
During our conversation she told me of new play by Alan Bennett of which I had not heard so I went and googled 'The Habit of Art'. I found it all so sad.
The 'Britten' depicted in that play was not the Britten I knew on a daily basis. Since Britten's death it seems to have been open slather on his reputation and I was not surprised to read that Bennett had never actually met Britten.
I had never thought seriously about Britten for years other than it was a magical time but today after reading the 'Habit' reviews I felt saddened. There seems little that can be done now to salvage Britten's reputation which Britten guarded when he was alive. No one would have been allowed to accuse him of pedophilia during his lifetime as Charles Mackerras found out.
I was in a strange position as I was a girl of 15 when I met him. I was 19 when I got to know him although I looked 12 and never once did I see anything untoward during the four years. During 'Noyes Fludde' he only spoke to Michael and I never spoke to Britten until the Wagner Concert on the final night.
David Hemmings who was at school with me only said that I was so lucky to be going to Aldeburgh, that David wished he were me. I was a very lucky, lucky girl and that it would prove to be the most wonderful time of my life and I should make the most of it. He envied me. He said I would 'love it'. He never once said anything bad or warn me to 'look out' and surely he would have done so if I would be in any danger. Although David was a 'ghost' he still loved and admired Britten enormously.
Michael Crawford too has nothing but praise for Britten. Britten was always very fond of Michael. We all were. Michael, like Britten has a magic charisma about him and even though Michael was awful to me as he could see I I was becoming a Britten favourite and he was naturally jealous I still admire him. Never has Michael said anything against Britten.
Britten treated us like adults and colleagues. The British Public school system seems to have had unfortunate effects on many of its pupils. Many never recover. Perhaps if had Britten met or been allowed to meet a young girl at the age of 19 things would have been different. I think I was possibly the only 19 year old girl Britten had ever met that he could talk to as a friend on the same social and intellectual level and he did enjoy my company and I his. I knew he was gay and that was why I found it so surprising that he should even bother with me. I was flattered but he was 44, the same age as my father! Sadly Britten was always a perfect gentleman except for long lingering hand holding for which he is renowned (ref Katherine Duncan, Britten Official Biography, Humphery Carpenter) and the occasional kiss but as the Earl of Harewood said at least I did not get hurt! I survived Aldeburgh.
I can only say that Britten has given David, Michael and I our careers. He saw something in us that he felt worthy of his time and I for one am so grateful and I know David and Michael are too. I did not realise it at the time but Britten was the most important mentor I ever had. He opened a world of art and life that other wise I should never have entered. Britten gave me the confidence to 'have a go' and I have and I still am. Hence this blog!
Rita Thompson got him in the end. Britten loved his nurse and left her a considerable fortune. That must say something!
Now on to life and 'Lohengrin'. It seems Britten could do with a 'Knight in Shining Armor' at the moment!