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In “The Burning Fiery Furnace,” Enigma Chamber Opera finds a profound exploration of faith and power – Upcoming performance has Malden ties

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Enigma Chamber Opera’s new production of Benjamin Britten’s 1966 opera “The Burning Fiery Furnace” brings to Boston one of the most compelling, yet least performed pieces in Britten’s three-part “church parable” series. Directed by Boston- and Scotland-based Artistic Director Kirsten Z. Cairns, this intimate and emotional opera will be performed live at Boston’s Cathedral Church of Saint Paul (138 Tremont St. in Boston) for two performances on February 16 and 17 at 7 p.m. The performances will be available for online streaming from February 23 to March 1.

“The Burning Fiery Furnace,” with a libretto by William Plomer, is based on an Old Testament story from the Book of Daniel, in which three Israelites (Ananias, Misael and Azarias) are exiled to Babylon, upheld as intellectuals by ruler Nebuchadnezzar and undermined by an ideological astrologer who warns that anyone not worshiping a Golden Idol faces punishment in the hellish device of the title. The Israelites refuse to change their religious beliefs and are condemned into the furnace. They survive unscathed, are hailed as prophets and change the fates of both Nebuchadnezzar and the astrologer.

This is the third of Britten’s three chamber operas that Cairns has directed. Cairns says “The Burning Fiery Furnace” looks at identity, politics and power struggles, and the need for personal integrity in a divided, sometimes poisonous world. “‘Curlew River’ taught us that in tough times, we can find comfort in others,” she says. “‘The Prodigal Son’ showed us how to be of comfort to those around us. In this production we learn that only by being true to ourselves can we survive the fiery furnace of this world.”

The cast for Enigma’s “The Burning Fiery Furnace” includes Malden-born tenor Matthew DiBattista as Nebuchadnezzar, Aaron Engebreth as the Astrologer (and the Abbot), David McFerrin as Ananias, Jesse Darden as Misael, Daniel Fridley as Azarias, Paul Soper as the Herald, and Nathan Halbur, Fausto Miro and Luke Scott as chorus members. Students from St. Paul’s Choir School also perform. An eight-piece orchestra is led by conductor/organist Edward Elwyn Jones. The production team is Stage Director Kirsten Z. Cairns, set and projection designer Peter A. Torpey, lighting designer Paul Marr and Malden-based Costume Designer Rebecca Shannon Butler.


Britten and “Furnace”

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was a renowned English composer, conductor and pianist – widely regarded as one of the leading figures in 20th century classical music. In “The Burning Fiery Furnace,” as in all of his “church parables,” Britten’s composition skillfully captures the tension between religious devotion and political authority, creating powerful music and drama experiences. The opera unfolds with intricate vocal and instrumental textures, employing a chamber ensemble to convey intensity and emotional depth. Britten’s signature use of dissonance and innovative orchestration contributes to the opera’s accessible, modern sound. “The Burning Fiery Furnace” is a thought-provoking and musically rich part of Britten’s repertoire.

WHAT: “The Burning Fiery Furnace.”

WHEN: Fri./Sat., Feb 16 and 17, 2024, at 7 p.m.

WHERE: Boston’s Cathedral Church of Saint Paul, 138 Tremont St. in Boston.

TICKETS: $20-33 – online streaming tickets are $15 – both are available at enigmachamberopera.org

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