The Parliament of Fowls

A Comic Chamber Opera in One Act
Music by John Craton
Libretto adapted from Geoffrey Chaucer

The Parliament of Fowls is a one-act comic opera based on the poem by Geoffrey Chaucer. As the text is from the 14th century, the music is designed to reflect something of a medieval/Renaissance flavor but utilizes modern instruments rather than period. It is scored for string quartet or small string ensemble, SATB recorder quartet, oboe, bassoon, harp, and percussion. While designed to be performed as an opera, it also could be done in a concert setting since there is minimal action. The work is dedicated to Erik Buck Townsend.

Technical Information


Nature (soprano)
Tercels 1, 2 & 3 (baritones)
Goose (tenor)
Turtledove (countertenor)
Falcon (bass)
Sparrowhawk (countertenor)
Duck (tenor)
Merlin (baritone)
Formel (mezzo-soprano)
Chorus of countertenors, tenors, baritones, and basses
[Countertenor roles may be sung by females if necessary, though it is best to use countertenors as the characters are male birds.]

SATB Recorders, oboe, bassoon
Violins I & II, viola(s), violoncell(s)
Percussion: glockenspiel, bells, triangle, tambourine, tenor drum, cymbals, gong, wood blocks
[A small string ensemble is preferred, though a string quartet may suffice.]


A woodland

Approximately 45 minutes

Level of Difficulty:
Moderately advanced


The opera focuses exclusively on the last dream sequence of the original poem. Opening with a procession of birds in the form of a short overture, the story begins with Nature convening a parliament on St. Valentine’s Day when all the birds are to choose their mates. Three Tercels (eagles) make their case for the hand of the Formel. As all three desire the same mate, they argue about which of the three is most worthy of her. This dispute causes an unwarranted delay in allowing the other birds to select their own mates so that the birds of lower estate begin to protest. They begin a comic parliamentary debate, which Nature herself must finally end since no progress is being made. Nature asks the Formel her own choice in the matter, and the Formel asks for permission to ponder the decision for another year. Nature grants her the additional year, thus resulting in the male birds having to put off the mating ritual until the following year. The opera ends with the birds singing a hymn to commemorate the yearly departure of Lady Nature and to welcome in the new summer.

Opera Website Libretto Audio Samples

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