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BWW Review: A CHILD OF OUR TIME: ADELAIDE FESTIVAL 2021 at Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

A choir drawn from the state's rich musical resources.

BWW Review: A CHILD OF OUR TIME: ADELAIDE FESTIVAL 2021 at Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Sunday 14th March 2021.

There are few sounds more thrilling, more emotionally compelling, than a choir, orchestra, and soloists in full-throated life. Add to those forces a libretto, a story, narrative, be it a Requiem, like the Berlioz, or this creation of the Second World War, A Child of Our Time.

The choir and soloists, in street clothes, and not concert dress, were spread across the rostra. A nod, maybe, to pandemic induced physical distancing, but they never seemed lost.

It begins with the mezzo-soprano, the wonderful Elizabeth Campbell, telling that the living God will return from exile, in a musical vocabulary that will reappear in his later opera, The Midsummer Marriage. Then the story unfolds, in a nonspecific country in wartime, starving and afraid. The young man, a forthright Henry Choo, is both Everyman and Herschel Grynszpan, whose assassination of a German diplomat provoked Kristallnacht, and the looting and burning of Jewish businesses.

Tippett's employment of American spirituals, a nod to the Bach device of using popular Lutheran hymn tunes, also links the oppression of the Jews and the trials of black Americans. They are frequently extracted from the work for choral concerts but here, in context, they are superb, and superbly delivered by a choir drawn from the state's rich musical resources.

Pelham Andrews, bass, leading the chorus in Go Down Moses, is a deeply thrilling experience. Soprano, Jessica Dean, was glorious, her radiant soprano soaring over the choir and unafraid of the heights.

Brett Weymark, as chorus master, as well as conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, knew from long experience how to keep the forces in balance, with carefully judged tempi.

Tippett wrote his own libretto, and a friend joked to me that it might sound better in German, Ein Kind von Unserer Zeit. The composer's involvement in the works of Jung influences the text. The tenor sings "I would know my darkness and my light. Then shall I, at last, be whole." When the boy shoots the German officer, the mezzo, his aunt, intones, "His other self rises in him, demonic, destructive. But he shoots only his dark brother and he is dead."

Comparisons are regularly drawn between Britten and Tippett, both homosexual for a start, but, where Britten and Pears decamped to the United States, Tippett stayed in England. A pacifist, he registered as a conscientious objector, but was jailed for not carrying out the mandated war-related activities. Prison was a good place to meditate and compose. It was composed and first performed less than a decade after the events which triggered it. It is still relevant seventy years on. British author, John Amis, recounts that it was mainly composed, not on Tippett's piano, but under it, as the composer sheltered from the bombs.

One other thing. In his opera, The Knot Garden, Tippettt introduces a same-sex, biracial couple. I saw it staged in Melbourne in the 1970s. In the centre of the garden was a Hills hoist [an Australian-designed rotating washing line. Ed.]. At the end of the opera, white silk sheets were pulled from the crossbars, pegged up, and set spinning. The director was Barry Kosky.


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