Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

July 30, 2003

Benjamin Britten festival catalyst for rare U of G course

It would be hard for music lovers living in southwestern Ontario not to learn more about the works and life of 20th Century music icon/composer Benjamin Britten in upcoming months. A 20-day festival devoted to Britten’s art and life in honour of his 90th birthday is being held in five Ontario cities and has been the catalyst for an interdisciplinary course open to members of the general public and the University of Guelph community.

"Benjamin Britten: Music, Text and Contexts," which runs for 12 Tuesday evenings beginning Sept. 8, spans genres and audiences. The course will analyze Britten's art from the perspectives of drama, English and music. There is no prerequisite for the course, and U of G students and members of the general public may register the course as a drama, English or music credit.

Students will come away from the class with greater knowledge not only of Britten, who died in 1976, but also of literary works, staging and production and music history and theory, said music professor Edward Phillips.

“We’ll be dealing with a varied audience among students, so we’ll be careful to explain things without using too much technical language that some of the students will not have,” said Phillips, who is team-teaching the course with drama professor Ann Wilson.

Since there are so many different elements to operatic productions, Phillips said having music and drama professors teaching together makes a lot of sense. "Musicologists often focus completely on the score of an opera, especially when dealing with recordings rather than staged productions. Prof. Wilson will be able to comment on dramatical structure and subtleties of libretto, which are equally important to the impact of such a piece."

In looking at Britten’s music, critics often analyze what impact his homosexuality had in his work. “Many of the authors he’s chosen to take his texts from are gay or the themes of the stories are gay, or both,” said Phillips. The one-time U of G course will involve discussions of Britten’s adaptation of Billy Budd, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and A Turn of the Screw. “We’re looking at the question of how referential music is by nature. Just because a composer is black or white or gay or straight, does it necessarily come through in his music?”

In addition to taking part in lectures, course participants will attend and critique festival productions, listen to operas, read literary works and talk about the presentation of the festival. “I don’t think music is absent from anybody’s life in one way or another,” said Phillips, “but very rarely does anyone talk critically about it and rarely do students who are not music majors talk and write critically about it or consider the people who created it — issues this course will emphasize.”

The festival, Benjamin Britten: A Celebration, runs Nov. 9 to 30 in Goderich, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, London and Toronto. There will be 17 performances of opera, oratorio and chamber music — from War Requiem with a full orchestra and 250-voice chorus to the fully-staged chamber opera The Prodigal Son — eight lectures and numerous films with music by Britten. The artistic director is Nicholas Goldschmidt, founder of the Canadian Opera Company, and the general director is John Cripton, one of Canada's leading cultural brokers, impresarios and producers and a graduate of Guelph’s first drama class.

To register for the course, visit or call the Office of Open Learning at (519) 824-4120, Ext. 55000. For more information about the festival, visit or call festival publicist Barbora Krsek at (416) 534-3337.

Prof. Edward Phillips
School of Fine Art and Music
University of Guelph
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 58452 or

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.

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