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Between Worlds

April 16, 2015
Between Worlds - thanks to eno.org

Last night I went with annemariesometimessays to see Between Worlds, a new opera with music by Tansy Davies and words by Nick Drake – I mentioned it a couple of months ago. It’s from English National Opera (from whose website I have borrowed the featured image to this post – I hope they don’t mind), and on at the Barbican. For a decent account of it, check out this review from the Independent. But Oh, my word!

I went, already respecting someone bold enough to try anything dealing with the events of September 11th 2001. I expected to be moved; I expected to admire it; I expected good things all round. What I was not prepared for was how deep would be my emotional response. The music drew me in, especially the choral writing, which was breathtaking, and as Amsss mentioned seemed to capture an insight into crowd response that was also characteristic of Britten. The staging and direction were fantastic – all the photos online are from newspapers which makes it difficult to share them here, but the trailer from ENO gives you a flavour.

As with the whole opera, the title itself has layers of meaning. It refers at once to the worlds of characters who are trapped in an office high up in the North Tower; to the world outside, at street level where their loved ones are (and the street level is where the chorus act variously as witnesses, people who have got out of the building, and onlookers nearby or remote); and to a spirit world above them all, whose sole occupant is The Shaman, alternately prefiguring and reflecting the action below.

At the same time, the “between” part of the title can mean the state of being between life and death. We, the audience, know what the outcome will be but of course the characters do not. And as they are led gently to the realisation – tiptoeing towards the window – it is almost too much to bear. If you can, go to see it. And as Mark Anthony warned:

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.

My immediate neighbours to the left, though, clearly found it quite bearable. Getting up from their seats at the end, She talked in a very matter of fact way about the acting, and He observed that E.N.O. always do “something wacky”. Oh, come on! Didn’t they FEEL anything? I really wanted to shake him roughly by the shoulders; and I might have gone on to mention that if he estimated the size of his clothes with more care then I would not have been subjected to more sight of his belly and buttocks than I usually enjoy at the opera. But I didn’t, but that’s the English for you. And more charitably, perhaps that is what was going on. Perhaps they were moved, and didn’t know how to show it, or were not articulate enough to express it.

Don’t misunderstand me – I like a little English reserve from time to time. But yesterday was not the time. It has often been observed that the human stories that came from that dreadful day are overwhelmingly ones of love. That point was not missed in Between Worlds. Neither were the horror, the fear, the stress and the despair that each character went through in their own manner, until love was the only matter left.

So, no links today. I can’t link to the music of the opera. And nothing else will do.

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One Comment
  1. Anne-Marie Hetherington permalink

    Simon is right. If you can get to it, go and see this. If you have any empathy and imagination, you won’t fail to be moved and the phrase ‘Don’t look down, look out’ will haunt you for a while.

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