When cultures collide: new opera links 1066 with modern-day themes of invasion and loss
Themes of invasion, loss and the redeeming power of human goodness are explored in PUSH, a powerful new opera which has its world premiere this weekend, Saturday 1 October, at the De La Warr Pavilion. Cultures collided when William conquered England, and they still do today as people move around, whether displaced by war and poverty or enjoying their freedom to roam as EU citizens. Preview by Nick Terdre. Photos by Pat Pope.
Written by internationally acclaimed composer and arranger Howard Moody, who will also conduct the work, PUSH is inspired by the true story of Simon Gronowski, who survived the Holocaust after his mother pushed him from a train bound for Auschwitz in 1943. The opera also confronts us with today’s difficult issues, drawing on contemporary accounts of those driven from their homes by war or poverty, including the Jungle camp in Calais, the mass arrival of Syrian refugees in Europe, and scenes witnessed at railway stations in Budapest as refugees were trapped on board trains.
Mr Gronowski himself will be guest of honour at the world premiere of the opera inspired by his extraordinary life. “This project is wonderful: marvellous for the opera- and music-lovers, and helpful for the young generations, against the barbarity and for a better world, of peace, democracy, tolerance and friendship between men,” he said.
Howard Moody sees a clear link between the collision of cultures back in 1066 and today’s happenings. “Cultures are colliding in so many positive and negative ways, and we all find ourselves surrounded by so much that mirrors the build-up to the events of 1066,” he said. “PUSH is a story of our times, full of themes of hope and togetherness as well as separation and fear.”
The ambitious project brings together world-class performers with community participants. The production is directed by Simon Iorio, currently a staff director at Glyndebourne.
“We’re relaying a story that continues to happen,” he told HOT. “It’s about a community telling a story to a community, hopefully not with a sledgehammer. It is indeed an opera for our times.”
Ele Slade (best costume designer for Usagi Yojimbo at the 2015 Off West End awards) is in charge of set and costume design, while the soloists are all Glyndebourne regulars – baritone James Newby (this year’s winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Award), bass Matthew Stiff and soprano Tereza Gevorgyan.
The orchestra, including musicians from some of the UK’s major orchestras, will accompany choirs of some 200 children and 100 adults, drawn from across 1066 Country. The children, mostly of primary school age, were selected with the help of the Hastings-based charity Education Futures Trust, while the adults have come from local singing groups and choirs. Students from Rye Studio School worked with Ele Slade to develop the designs.
The experience has proved both educative and enjoyable for the young singers, as Battle Festival intended it to be. “It is exciting and adventurous and I’d recommend doing it again!” said one young performer, and another, “I can’t wait for the big show!”
The adult choir members have also found the experience affecting. “It is life-changing for me and a life-time opportunity to be involved in something so moving and emotional and beautiful,” one said.
For his part Simon has been impressed by the contribution of the amateur choirs, both young and adult. “There’s an immediacy, a rawness, which you don’t always get with professionals,” he said. “And the professionals have also been touched by the lengths to which the amateurs have gone in their commitment to telling this story.
“It’s been a hell of a journey, and a hell of an experience, for everyone involved, but with a couple of days to go, we’re in a really good place and I’m really looking forward to the premiere.”
“PUSH is a very special project that sees world-class artists working alongside community choirs to present a truly remarkable story,” summed up Battle Festival producer Sally Lampitt. “Its central character’s tale is historic, yet the themes of identity, tolerance and peace are completely relevant to everything that’s happening in the UK and Europe right now. PUSH will undoubtedly be a landmark event in the UK’s cultural calendar this year.”
PUSH is a Battle Festival production in partnership with Glyndebourne and the De La Warr Pavilion on behalf of the ROOT 1066 international festival. The production is supported by Arts Council England, Hastings Borough Council, Rother District Council, East Sussex Arts Partnership, Chalk Cliff Trust, Magdalen & Lasher Charity and Battle Partnership, and sponsored by Hastings Direct.
PUSH World Premiere Saturday 1 October at 3.30pm in the De La Warr Pavilion, Marina, Bexhill-on-Sea TN40 1DP, followed by a performance at 7.30pm. Tickets (£15, £12.50 for OAPs and £5 for under-18s) are available here.
A further, semi-staged, performance will be given on Saturday 8 October at 7.30pm at St Mary’s Church, Upper Lake, Battle TN33 0AN. Tickets (£10 and £5 for under-18s) are available online from Battle Festival or in person from Farrago and The Crafty Norman, both in Battle High Street.
The work is in one act, lasting about 70 minutes.
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