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Dean sings Britten’s ‘Voice of God’

01 March 2013

DURHAM CATHEDRAL

A place in musical history: a copy of Dean Sadgrove's childhood letter to Benjamin Britten, recently unearthed by the Britten archive: "I never thought I would see [it] again. I just assumed it had been thrown out," Dean Sadgrove said.

A place in musical history: a copy of Dean Sadgrove's childhood letter to Benjamin Britten, recently unearthed by the Britten archive: "I never thou...

AFTER a lifetime spent promoting the word of God, the Dean of Durham, the Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, will tomorrow find himself performing as the Voice of God.

For the Dean, featuring as the Almighty in a production of Benjamin Britten's opera Noye's Fludde in Durham Cathedral is a reminder of his childhood in north London.

In 1959, aged nine, he appeared in a performance at All Saints', East Finchley, near his home in north London. Back then, he played the more lowly role of a goat, but the experience sparked a lifelong affection for the works of Britten.

"The singer Owen Brannigan lived three doors down from us," Dean Sadgrove said. "He had played Noye in the 1958 première. I can't remember exactly what happened, but I think he probably told me: 'They are performing Noye's Fludde in a church down the road. You would enjoy it.'

"I went along, and was signed up as a sheep in the chorus. Then, somehow, on the day of the performance, I got in the wrong queue for costumes and ended up as a goat. I was a bit confused, but just got on with it. It's only now I think of the significance for a priest of being a goat rather than a sheep."

The young Michael wrote to the composer, saying how much he had enjoyed taking part, and how he had liked the music, and enclosed a copy of the programme. "I had been brought up on the likes of Schubert and Beethoven, but this was fascinating modern, contemporary music.

"My mother told me that there was no chance I would get a reply: Britten was far too busy and important a man to bother; but, three days later, back came a personal, handwritten letter. My mother was speechless, but I was thrilled. I still have it."

"I never met Britten, but I think children were very special to him, and they were inspirational for many of his major works. Durham Cathedral is a marvellous setting for Noye's Fludde. He wrote it for performance in the hard, bracing environment of a church, not the cosy comfort of a theatre."

He said that he had done some private practising before this week's dress rehearsal. "The Voice of God is a hard part - as it should be. It uses medieval English, and it is my role to make that as understandable as possible. At least as a priest I have plenty of experience of public speaking."

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