Opera in a prologue and two acts, op. 54
Period of composition: 30 Mar - Sep 1954
Date notes

The opera was being considered for the EOG repertoire by May 1951, and it was one of the Group's projects that had to be postponed early in 1952 to make way for Gloriana, op. 53. It was not until July 1952 that the Venice Biennale indicated interest in mounting the EOG production at the 1953 Festival. By the end of January Britten had decided this was impossible, and the Group's visit was postponed for a year. As a result the première was given not in the Biennale itself, but the annual Festival of Contemporary Music.

Work on the libretto began in earnest in 1953. The prologue was added in late August or early September 1954.

First performance: 14 Sep 1954 >>
Type of performance: Staged performance
Location: Teatro La Fenice, Venice
Performance details:

Peter Pears The prologue/Quint, Jennifer Vyvyan The governess, David Hemmings Miles, Olive Dyer Flora, Joan Cross Mrs Grose, Arda Mandikian Miss Jessel, EOG Orchestra

Basil Coleman prod, John Piper design, Michael Northen lighting design, Benjamin Britten cond

Genre: Stage work
Text: Myfanwy Piper (1911-1997), after the story by Henry James (1843-1916)

The line 'The ceremony of innocence is drowned' is taken from W.B. Yeats's poem The second coming; and the Latin words in Act I sc. 6 are schoolboys' rhyming grammatical rules.

Performing forces:

Cast and orchestra

Cast: The prologue ten, The governess sop, Miles trbl, Flora sop, Mrs Grose sop, Quint ten, Miss Jessel sop

Orchestra: fl (=picc and alto fl), ob (=ca), cl in A and B flat (=bass cl), bn - hn - perc (timp, bd, sd, td, tom-tom, gong, cymb, trgl, wb glock, t bells) - harp, pf (=cel), string quintet (2 vn, va, vc, db)

Duration: 101'

Act I: 50 mins;

Act II: 51 mins

Dedication: 'This opera was written for and is affectionately dedicated to those members of the English Opera Group who took part in the first performance'