Getting ready for the great flood

Thursday December 27, 2012

PUTNEY -- Now that the alleged Mayan apocalypse has come and gone, the Opera Theatre of Weston is getting ready for the great flood.

And they have a custom built ark built by Putney boatbuilder Graeme King to help them through.

King built the ark for the theatre group's production of the Benjamin Britten opera, "Noye's Fludde," a one-act opera that uses the story of Noah and the biblical story of the flood to confront the challenges of seeking a balance between nature, God and humankind.

King is a world-renowned boatmaker who designs and builds rowing shells from his shop near the Connecticut River in Putney.

These days King spends most of his time repairing and maintaining his hand-built shells, and he only makes one or two boats a year.

A request to King to construct a new boat would otherwise require a three- to four-year wait.

But when his good friends Lise Messier and Nan Nall, who are co-producers of the opera, asked him to design and build the ark for the production, he found the time in his schedule and the boat is ready to take on the great flood.

"As long as the great flood is not more than three inches deep," Kings jokes, showing off his newest creation. "It's not really sea worthy."

But it is stage worthy.

The approximately 12-foot by 22-foot ark did require some intricate design.

King's ark is the only set piece in the opera and the plywood creation stands on stage first as Noah's home and is then transformed into the ark as the opera progresses.

King had to design joints and clamps that were easy to maneuver as the actors on stage take down the house and build an ark in front of the audience.

King is known around the world for his shells, which are made out of both wood and more modern materials, and while his ark did not exactly go through the same intricate design methods, he did have to put some thought and time into building his ark.

He mocked up a 12-inch model to make sure the joints and clamps worked and then went to work on putting together Noah's ark.

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of Britten's birth and the Opera Theatre of Weston's production is part of a world wide celebration of the English composer.

Opera Theatre of Weston General Manager Anne D'Olivo says that since the ark was the only major set piece the company was excited to get a professional boatbuilder involved.

"We wanted a very good set," she said. "Right from the start we wanted Graeme in on this."

"Noye's Fludde," will feature a cast including a children's chorus, and the 32 children will represent the animals who make their way on to the ark to escape the flood.

As Vermont continues rebuilding from the devastation that followed Tropical Storm Irene, D'Olivo said the story of Noah and the flood has a heightened relevance as children and families deal with their experiences and memories from the summer of 2011.

Britten wrote "Noye's Fludde following a deadly flood in Great Britain in 1953 where more than 300 people died.

The opera premieres at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland on Sunday, Jan. 6 and the show will be presented to more than 2,600 children as the opera makes its way across southern Vermont.

During the process teachers, therapists, actors and children will share their experiences and share poetry and stories.

Following the Rutland show, the opera will be presented on Jan. 12 and 13 at the Weston Playhouse.

King is an opera fan, and says he is looking forward to seeing the show and watching the actors transform Noah's house into the ark on stage.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or


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