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The Parliament of Fowls

Words and Music: Julian Broughton. Opera,1982

Composer's note

The Parliament of Fowls is a one-act opera based on Chaucer’s poem of the same name. I first came across the poem in 1977; it immediately struck me as a suitable subject for an opera. Surprisingly little had to be adapted for stage purposes since all the necessary ingredients were present in the original: formal expressions of sentiment, brisk dialogue, and even a chorus. However, I had to dispense with the introductory part of the poem in which the narrator dreams that he enters the garden of love, an earthly paradise. It is in this garden that the Parliamant of Fowls takes place, and the opera begins at this point. Chaucer’s exotic descriptions have been replaced by a “dawn chorus” and a “hymn” in praise of the morning Star (Venus).

The story concerns the annual gathering of birds to choose their mates for the coming year. This “Parliament” is convened by the goddess Nature, who has with her a young Formel (female eagle) of rare beauty. No sooner has Nature invited the birds to begin their selection than a rivalry develops between the three male eagles, each of whom claims the Formel for himself. This operatic rivalry is the subject of acrimonious dispute amongst the lesser birds, each of which has his own idea of how things should proceed. Thus the Duck and the goose consider the whole thing to be a pretentious waste of time; but their earthly view of life horrifies the Dove for whom constancy in love is an end in itself. Eventually Nature invites the Formel herself to make a choice between her three suitors, whereupon she pleads youth and inexperience and demands a year’s reprieve to think things over. The over-hasty eagles are left looking foolish and immature by comparison. The opera concludes with an ensemble closely related to the “dawn chorus” of the opening, so that the whole comes full circle.

Julian BroughtonTim Porter

Character list

1st Eagle
2nd Eagle
3rd Eagle


1 flute
1 oboe
2 clarinets
1 bassoon
1 percussion
1 guitar
2 violins
1 viola
1 cello
1 double bass


Autumn 1982