Preparing for Owen Wingrave – Samantha Crawford

Welcome! It’s only a few days until the whole cast gather in Aldeburgh ready to bring this year’s new production of Owen Wingrave to the stage. I can think of no better place than Benjamin Britten’s own hometown to study, sing and perform his opera. As a Britten-Pears Young Artist I am thrilled to be playing the role of Mrs. Coyle (and was fortunate to perform it as part of the Britten Centenary celebrations last year on the Guildhall’s Opera Course). With the Wingrave family spanning four generations in this opera it will be wonderful for the BPYA’s to work alongside the leading professionals in the cast; Susan Bullock, Janis Kelly, Richard Berkeley-Steele and Jonathan Summers. Having read the Henry James novella that inspired Britten to compose Owen Wingrave for the BBC2 broadcast in 1971, I am struck by how many intimate conversations form the frame of the piece. I particularly enjoy the dinner table scene, where opinions escalate fast!

Owen’s family comes from a long line of serving in the military, yet he does not see the glory in war. It will be really interesting to work out a family dynamic where the issues of status, loyalty, duty, family expectations and pacifism are passionately discussed. What does it mean to fight? As this year marks the centenary of the start of World War One we are also preparing to take this production to the Culture and Conflict themed Edinburgh Festival, in August. It will be fantastic to absorb all that both festivals have to offer on this opinion-dividing subject, whilst bringing our own contribution to it. After a bit of research I found this quote from James’ notebook in 1892 to understanding Owen’s thoughts on becoming an army officer.

He determines to reject it for himself – to break with it and cast it off, and this in the face of every sort of coercion of opinion (on the part of others), of such pressure not to let the family honour breakdown.

Something I love about Mrs. Coyle is that she brings some much needed warmth in a fairly fraught time. She has a maternal love for Owen and watches with pride the journey the young men take at Mr. Coyle’s training establishment. Described by James as a ‘fair fresh woman,’ I look forward to bringing this out in her voice with guidance from Mark Wigglesworth and Neil Bartlett, our conductor and director respectively. However, as I’ve just been laced into my 1890s corseted dress at first my costume fitting, I suddenly feel my plans for the famous Aldeburgh fish & chips changing fast…

I’ll be sharing my top tip bits as the action unfolds through this blog, Facebook & Twitter. In the meantime, a little snap of Britten’s original Owen Wingrave, the wonderfully warm Benjamin Luxon, coaching me for last year’s Guildhall production.

Benjamin Luxon and Samantha Crawford working on Owen Wingrave  in 2013.

Benjamin Luxon and Samantha Crawford working on Owen Wingrave in 2013.