by Douglas Neslund
The "Ceremony" performance by the California Boys' Choir had to be unique, since it was devised and copyrighted by Robert H. Rogers, the CBC Stage Director. I had asked him to consider how the various carols could be organized so that a staging, in the form of a medieval pageant, could be devised and performed.
The greatness of the music speaks for itself, and I didn't want to consider changing any of Britten's work either in form or substance. We wanted to stage the work without rearranging the order of the pieces, or leaving anything out.
Bob spent considerable time, studying the score, taking notes, and in meditation. He came to me after a couple of weeks, and said that he had an idea. I told him, go with it, let's see what develops out of it.
Putting Bob's concept into reality meant having authentic Medieval costumes created by a professional in Hollywood. The Parents Association held a series of fund-raising events to provide the means. Also, banners were an important element, which were, like stained glass, used in medieval times to tell a story or focus an audience's attention on a story being told. Two banners represented the central characters: the Boy Jesus, and his mother, the Rose Mary. The other three banners represented Bible stories: the serpent in the Garden, the battle tent opened to reveal the manger, and the sword of Truth menacing the forces of evil. With regard to the costumes, the only acknowledgment of modern convenience was in the cloth used: it had to be wash and wear!
Columbia Artists Management, Inc. of New York took "A Ceremony of Carols" on tour in 1979. It was also performed about every other year in the California Boys' Choir's annual Christmas concerts, and in a special presentation at the Music Center as a preconcert event by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Zubin Mehta came, and sat on the front row!
Lord Britten never got to see our presentation. However, his lifetime friend, the tenor Peter Pears, did. He was in Los Angeles one November on a concert tour, and was performing across the street in a local university from a church where we were to present "Ceremony." We arranged for him to come and to observe our performance, and afterward, presented him with a color photo of the choir in costume, which he promised to take back to England and to show Lord Britten.
He did so. We later received a kind letter from him, stating that although Lord Britten was too ill to write a note, he had asked Peter Pears to convey his greetings and best wishes to the Choir, and to add that the medieval pageant concept by Robert H. Rogers, as expressed by the California Boys' Choir, was in his view the ultimate expression of "A Ceremony of Carols."
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This page was last modified on 10 March 2007